Thursday, December 22, 2022

Winter Poem Swap Treasures

Happy Poetry Friday! Today I'm thrilled to share the wonderful winter poem and gifts I received from my Poem Swap partner. First though, a HUGE thank you to Tabatha Yeatts for coordinating the Winter Poem Swap. You'll find Tabatha's blog here.  

I'm relatively new to the Winter Poem Swap--this is only the second time I've participated. This year, I was paired with Tricia Stohr-Hunt. Tricia is a professor at the University of Richmond, where she prepares future teachers. At her blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, she writes about "children's literature, poetry, and issues related to teaching children and their future teachers."

For the swap, Tricia sent an envelope filled with marvelous treasures, including two notebooks and a bag of sweet-smelling scented soaps!

It wasn't until I read Tricia's note inside the lovely "Book Leaf" bearing a George Kingsley quote that I discovered she had made both of the notebooks! The small folded notebook with the beautiful butterfly design on the front contains pockets--they held the poem she'd sent plus a series of prompts to inspire my own poems. The second journal is meant to hold those new poems. 

Here's a peek inside the folded notebook:

What a terrific idea! I'm looking forward to trying the prompts in the new year--almost all of them are for forms I've never written before. 

And it was obvious from the poem Tricia sent that she'd done her homework. We've never met, but she knew of my math background. She labeled her poem accordingly:

Holiday Poem Swap 2022
To: Carmela (a fellow math lover)

A Mathematical Pi Poem.

In case you aren't familiar with this form, the number of syllables per line in a pi poem must equal the numbers in pi up to that point. For example, in a 3-line pi poem (often called a pi-ku or π-ku because it has the same number of lines as a haiku), the syllables per line equal 3, 1, 4, to represent the first three digits of π: 3.14. Since pi is infinite, there’s no limit to the number of lines in a pi poem. The longest  I've ever written contains eight lines. Tricia's Mathematical Pi Poem is 36 lines long and is quite splendid!  (If you have difficulty reading the poem in the photo below, you should be able to click on the image to enlarge.) 

I love everything about this poem, and I especially connected with these lines:

There is wonder in
how the world
arranges itself.
Mathematicians across time
find universal delight in
the perfect arrangement of
lines in a plane, or in quadratic

I also love the last stanza (which cleverly follows a blank line to represent the digit 0):

Where will
beauty find you? It sure finds
me in the mystery of math.

I'm so grateful for this opportunity to get to know Tricia a bit. She definitely feels like a kindred spirit.  In addition to loving math's mysteries, I'm intrigued by the intersections between math and poetry. And Tricia's pi poem is a marvelous example of that!

December has been an exceptionally gray month here in the Chicago area. Receiving the envelope of treasures from Tricia really brightened my day, week, and month! And the gifts will also brighten the New Year as I put them to use. Thank you, Tricia!

If you'd like to read the poem I sent Tricia, you can find it in her post here. I hope you'll also check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup being hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

I wish all of you, our TeachingAuthors readers, a blessed and happy holiday season. Esther will be back on January 6 with a special book giveaway to kick off the New Year! 


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Oh! Oh! Oh!


Remember that old marching song:

99 bottles of beer on the wall

99 bottles of beer

Take one down, and pass it around,

98 bottles of beer on the wall.

Its repetitive melody helps you find your rhythm when hiking trails or jumping ropes. It’s an ear worm that keeps you steady when the task at hand seems monumentally tedious. It diverts your attention from the monotony to the goal. That’s what I feel when I revise. When I finish a first draft, breathing a sigh of relief and accomplishment, I move on to the first revision. Only to discover another plot hole. A character acts out of character. First person slips into third person. Or worse, the history is wrong.


You know what? I hate beer. And this particular morning, after a week of finals, I’m not liking revision. It’s hard, hard, hard work.

Indeed. Instead of spending all those hours writing, typing, outlining, researching, deleting, cutting, pasting, I could bake a pie. I could learn a new hobby, learn to sky dive and jump off a cliff, plant another garden, or two, or three…


 True enough, I have enough gardens. Besides, it’s cold outside. And I have enough hobbies, which mostly centers on books and more books. And I haven’t had a baking oven for over a decade.  And sky diving? What?

Besides, this character, for all her flaws, is getting really interesting. If I could just…

Fine. Back to work.

By the way, wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday.

O yea, speaking of which, I should tell you:

I now have an agent! Sarah N. Fisk is an Associate Literary Agent in the Tobias Literary Agency! I am immensely honored to be working with Sarah!

 As the saying goes: watch this space!

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, December 2, 2022

4- and 5-Year Olds Share Their Favorite Books

As I’ve stated before, one of the most magical things about teaching young children is the new perspective one gets from the authentic point of view of a child when that child allows you in for a peek.  As both a kidlit author and a teacher, I wondered what my 4- and 5-year-old students would say if I asked them, “What is your favorite book?” I was curious about how their insights were different than my own adult point of view.  So, in a true Reggio-Inspired teaching approach I documented verbatim what they said (as I do every day).  

I wanted to  hear from the age group I often write for. I wanted to understand how they truly connect with the literature that is read to them since most are not yet independent readers. I wanted to know what engaged them and stayed in their memories and why. 

It started very simply.  I asked them, “What is your favorite book?” I wasn’t even sure if they would be able to name any. I wasn’t sure if they had the context to name titles like adults do, having had a much broader experience reading. 

I started by modeling what I meant. I picked a book that has been my favorite for years.  It’s not a current title so I wondered if any of my students had ever had it read to them.  It’s a much longer book than the current 500 -700 word stories. It was written during a different time.

“My favorite book is The Velveteen Rabbit,” I stated, reminding them not to pick mine and to pick their own.  

Here are the delightful recommendations from the Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten students.

Lydia – I like the silver one with the golden.  It’s about…don’t touch the golden one.  The name of the story…You Have To Do The Page.  God is inside. Heaven and God is inside the book.

Hazel – I like the book that’s not for reading. (What’s the name of it?) I don’t know. (What’s it about?) Animals finding things.

Emma – I brought a chameleon book that I really like.

Archer – I like a book at my house that’s called, My Heart Is My Love Feelings.

Lilly – My favorite book at my house is called, Bible. And I read it at night with my bear and my mom. And then, it’s called Two Bibles In Love.

Arianna – My favorite book is Water Protectors.  I like it so much that I want to look at it right now.

Abe – My favorite book is your book, Hello, Little One. But first, my baby brother got that book. But today, I’m going to get that book after school.

Vivian – I have four favorites.  One of them is Zeena’s book.  I like your book. The second one is Olive the Other Reindeer.  When I went to Wendy’s for Thanksgiving, she had it.  She’s not a kid.  She’s a grown up.  My third one is We Are Water Protectors. And the fourth one is No Voice Too Small.

Jacob – My favorite book is Find Spot cause one of them are a lion.

Rowan – I have a favorite book at my house called, Octopus Alone.  So, it’s two seahorses trying to think that the octopus is having fun and wants to play.  And the seahorses play along with the octopus, but the octopus wants alone time.  And then, it went into the dark, dark sea.  And then it changed, camouflage. And the seahorses tried to find it. And that’s it.

Isaac – The Red Book because it’s my dad’s favorite book and he wants me to read it to our class.

Patrick – It’s my Number Blocks book.  Lift the flaps book and the book that…it’s called Number Blocks Big Numbers.  And that’s not all. The last thing I need to tell you is that I have two new ones coming out. And also, I still have work on the second one.  The first one is done.  But the first one wasn’t done today.  I think that it was done a year or two ago. And that’s all.

Mari – The Room On The Broom because it has witches and I like witches.

Alexa – The Bunny.  It always hop around.

Olivia – I have two.  I like all dinosaur books.  I love all dinosaur books.  And, I also like Wing Of Fire.  I have two books of them.  One is about a Black Fire Dragon and the other one is about an Orange Fire Dragon.

Willie – My favorite is No Voice Too Small because the author that we met named Keila, wrote that book.  I like Water Protectors because they protect the water and they don’t want the water to get higher because the Black Snake will suck up the water and poison the land.

As I read over the documentation, I was struck by a theme that emerged. The books that held meaning for many of my students were those with relational connections.  Books that were read with parents. Books that were owned by friends. Books that came from home. Books that were read with their first teacher. Books that were written by authors that the students had personal connections with. The books had meaning because the context in which they were introduced had specific meaning for these young children.

After exploring this theme and engaging in discourse with my friend and longtime critique partner, Andrea J. Loney, I discovered that I too had a relationship with my favorite children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. Not only was I touched by the story.  I had directed the play years ago for the Burbank Civic Light Opera.  Of all the picture books that I have read in my lifetime (hundreds I’m sure), it is the one that has lodged in my memory and stands out as my favorite.  My relationship to the story goes well beyond the random reading of a book I read long ago. It is a story that is grounded for me in warm personal memories and relationships with members of the Burbank Civic Light Opera.

From our conversation, Andrea thoughtfully posed this question: “How is the story you’re writing, reinforcing and fostering those social emotional bonds between the adult reader and the child audience?”

As an author I will carry this question with me as I continue to write picture books as the evidence is strong that this is the secret sauce that makes picture books memorable for young children.  Maybe you will too!

By Zeena M. Pliska

Author of Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story  Illustrated by Fiona Halliday

and  Coming April 18, 2023  Egyptian Lullaby  Illustrated by Hatem Aly

you can find me here

@zeenamar Instagram

@zeenamar1013  Twitter

@Zeena M. Pliska on Facebook

Andrea J. Loney is an award-winning author of picture books including CURVE & FLOW: THE ELEGANT VISION OF LA ARCHITECT PAUL R WILLIAMS, DOUBLE BASS BLUES, and BUNNYBEAR, as well as the new futuristic chapter book series ABBY IN ORBIT.

@andreajloney on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

@author.andreajloney on Facebook

out now


ABBY IN ORBIT: BLAST OFF! (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company)

ABBY IN ORBIT: SPACE RACE (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company)

VIP: STACEY ABRAMS VOTING VISIONARY (illus. Shellene Rodney, HarperCollins)

DOUBLE BASS BLUES (illus. Rudy Gutierrez — Caldecott Honor Title, Penguin Random House Knopf)

BUNNYBEAR (illus. Carmen Saldana — ALA Rainbow List, Albert Whitman & Company)

TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VAN DER ZEE! (illus. Keith Mallett -- 2014 New Voices Award Winner, NAACP Image Award Nominee, Lee & Low)

NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY Picture Book Anthology (illus. Jeanette Bradley, ed. Keila V. Dawson & Lindsay H. Metcalf, Charlesbridge)

coming soon— PRE ORDER

ABBY IN ORBIT: ALL SYSTEMS WHOA! (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company April 1, 2023)