Friday, October 21, 2022

2 Mentor Poems to Try and Then Teach

Howdy Campers! Happy National Day on Writing (this week) and Happy Poetry Friday! My poem and the link to PF are below.

Today's topic? Anything I want to share with you. Hooray!  Let's dive in.

The UCLA Extension Writers' Program offers an Annual Instructor's Retreat. It's well-run and much-needed, connecting instructors from all over the world to share wisdom, teaching challenges and conundrums and more.

I wanted to share my love of mentor texts with fellow instructors. Here's my proposal:

A Mentor Poem Exercise That Changes Everything.

1) I'll share two poems

2) You'll write your own version of one of them.

3) Your mind will explode.

4) The End.

The Program Director thought it was funny, and I was given the go-ahead.

If the term is new to you, here is how an author on an episode of a podcast at the National Writing Project defines it (slightly paraphrased):

Mentor texts are pieces of literature that you — both teacher and student — can return to and reread for many different purposes. They are texts to be studied and imitated … Mentor texts help students to take risks and be different writers tomorrow than they are today. It helps them to try out new strategies and formats. They should be [texts] that students can relate to and can even read independently or with some support...And of course, a mentor text doesn’t have to be in the form of a book — a mentor text might be a poem, a newspaper article, song lyrics, comic strips, manuals, essays, picture books—almost anything.

In my session I offered attendees a choice. They could either riff off a long poem or a short prompt.

1) The long poem (I first read it on Alison McGhee's wonderful blog):

by Cathy Ross

If the moon came out only once a month
people would appreciate it more. They’d mark it
in their datebooks, take a walk by moonlight, notice
how their bedroom window framed its silver smile.
And if the moon came out just once a year,
it would be a holiday, with tinsel streamers
tied to lampposts, stores closing early
so no one has to work on lunar eve,
travelers rushing to get home by moon-night,
celebrations with champagne and cheese.
Folks would stay awake ’til dawn
to watch it turn transparent and slowly fade away.
And if the moon came out randomly,
the world would be on wide alert, never knowing
when it might appear, spotters scanning empty skies,
weathermen on TV giving odds—“a 10% chance
of moon tonight”—and when it suddenly began to rise,
everyone would cry “the moon is out,” crowds
would fill the streets, jostling and pointing,
night events would be canceled,
moon-closure signs posted on the doors.
And if the moon rose but once a century,
ascending luminous and lush on a long-awaited night,
all humans on the planet would gather
in huddled, whispering groups
to stare in awe, dazzled by its brilliance,
enchanted by its spell. Years later,
they would tell their children, “Yes, I saw it once.
Maybe you will live to see it too.”
But the moon is always with us,
an old familiar face, like the mantel clock,
so no one pays it much attention.
why not go outside and gaze up in wonder,
as if you’d never seen it before,
as if it were a miracle,
as if you had been waiting
all your life.

(Isn't that poem glorious?)

2) The short prompt: write a poem in which all events occur simultaneously.

All at once...

Here's an example:

At the very moment the phone rang
the meringue fell
the baby fell out of the swing
the earthquake toppled Tokyo
at that moment
I decided to leave him

~ author unknown

3) What the moon poem inspired me to write:

by April Halprin Wayland

If my sister came by only once a month
I would appreciate her more. I’d mark it
in my datebook, take a walk with her, notices
how her smile glowed like the moon.
And if my sister came by just once a year,
it would be a holiday, with tinsel streamers
tied to lampposts, stores closing early
so no one in our family would work on Sister Eve,
I’d rush to get home before she knocked,
we’d celebrate with non-alcoholic champagne and non-dairy cheese.
I’d stay awake ’til dawn
to watch as she left my house and disappeared down the road.
And if my sister came by randomly,
the world would be on wide alert, I would never know
when she might appear, friends would scan the skies for her plane, the internet for her arrival info
weatherpeople on TV would give odds—“a 10% chance
of your sister coming over tonight”—and when suddenly there was a knock (!)
everyone would cry “your sister’s here,” crowds
would fill the streets, jostling and pointing at us,
happy for us and envious we had a sister.
Night events would be canceled,
My Sister’s Here signs posted on my door.
And if my sister showed up but once a century,
ascending luminous from Southwest Airlines flight #274 on a long-awaited night,
all humans on the planet would gather by their screens
in huddled, whispering groups
to stare in awe, dazzled by her brilliance, my brilliance,
our love; enchanted by this spell of sisterhood. Years later,
they would tell their children, “Yes, I saw them together once.
Maybe you will live to see them, too.”
But my sister is always with me,
a beloved familiar taste, like stew, warm and full of comfort
which no one appreciates much.
I am outside and gaze up in wonder,
as if I’d never seen her before,
as if she were a miracle,
as if I had been waiting
all my life.

4) What the poem the prompt inspired me to write:

by April Halprin Wayland

At the very moment my hot cocoa spills in the car,
and its marshmallow lands in my wet lap --
a white island in a tsunami of hot, dark liquid --
a squirrel shoots across the street
and our dog jumps joyfully out of the open sunroof,
onto the asphalt.

That's when I know
that no one is an island,
we all need the love of a dog,
the thrill of the chase,
and a crossing guard
or green light
to watch over us.

both poems© 2022 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Now it's your turn: pick a poem, a picture book, song lyrics--anything--and write your version of it, focusing on a topic that's close to your heart. Or follow the prompt and write what I call an All At Once poem. 

Then pass the magic onto your students, kids, friends, or that guy wearing the Dodger cap at the drug store. 

Please join my next UCLA class, An Introduction to Picture Books for Absolute Beginners on November 19, 2022 from noon-3pm Pacific Time! Enrollment begins November 5th

Thank you, Bridget, for hosting this week's Poetry Friday at wee words for wee ones !

Posted by April Halprin Wayland, who has one more thing to say: 

Please vote. America needs you to. If you don’t know who to vote for, do some research. Ask one of your very smart friends, then, make an educated guess.  Don’t hand your vote to someone else by not voting. Your voice matters. So thank you for voting. Thank you for helping to save our democracy.

drawings© 2022 (If you use any of them, please credit April Halprin Wayland. Thank you!)

Friday, October 7, 2022

The One Book That Struck Me This Year… Like a Bolt of Lightning!

Consider today’s post the caboose, pulling up the rear of our 

summer train of themed blog posts about the one book that each

of us learned from this past year.

(Or in April’s case, the one book that changed her.)

Of course I’ve known from the get-go the book I’d be choosing, 

and the twist on our theme it demanded - i.e. the book that struck 

me like a bolt of lightning: My Own Lightning (Dutton, May, 

2022), Lauren Wolk’s sequel to the Newbery Honor Winner 

Wolf Hollow (Dutton, 2016). 

I leave the compelling and surprising plotlines of both books to 

future Readers. 

Suffice it to say, when I left 12-year-old Annabelle McBride in 

western Pennsylvania’s Wolf Hollow in 1946, her heart was heavy, 

weighed down with matters of truth-telling and justice and 

kindness, of personal responsibility “when doing right can go 

very wrong.”  She was telling her story first person, past tense, 

years after the action that showed her she mattered. She grabbed 

my heart and refused to let go.


So imagine my delight when she beckoned me again, this time at 

the start of summer of that very same year. Except now her spirit 

lay lowMight-have-beens and if-onlys distracted her, she shared. 

What-ifs consumed her. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, 

her world once more “tipped on its axis”! The lightning that struck 

her that stormy June day heightened her sensibilities, especially to 

emotions, and changed her outright. Or rather, eventually and for 

the better, outright and inward. Empathy has a way of setting 

straight misunderstandings, teaching us how to forgive, both 

others and ourselves. The story’s illumination of such Truths 

caused me to “fizzle and crackle” right along with Annabelle,

despite the difference in our ages, as if we were both still full 

of lightning. 

My own lightning, indeed.


Katherine Paterson superbly described the kind of magic Lauren 

Wolk conjures up.

     “What happens is a reciprocal gift between writer and reader:

       one heart in hiding reaching out to another.”

Each of Lauren Wolk’s “Book Daughters” as she calls them in this 

interview with Horn Book’s Roger Sutton, has gifted me 


Crow in Beyond the Bright Sea, a story set on the Elizabeth Islands 

off the coast of Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1925.

Ellie in Echo Mountain, a story set in Maine in 1934. 

A fifth grader recently queried Ms. Wolk if she might write a story 

featuring all three of her young female characters, resurrecting a 

story idea she’d put aside. 

We Readers can only heartfully hope.

Thanks to Sarah Grace Tuttle for hosting today’s Poetry Friday. 

May a story strike
you soon!

Esther Hershenhorn