Poetry Friday: From “Upstream” by Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jama Rattigan @ Jama’s Alphabet Soup

What a week.

It began with such a sense of elated optimism, sure that I’d be celebrating the election of Hillary Clinton, a woman I’ve much admired, as President of our great country. Then came Tuesday night’s nightmarish conclusion.  Shock.  Revulsion. And such utter sadness.

We have elected a President, but this is not my President.

And here I am, at week’s end, hearing all sorts of sorry news about hateful acts unleashed by this President-elect.  The shoe is on the other foot, I want to take back my country.  I don’t recognize an America where a race baiting, misogynistic, ignorant excuse of a grown man can be elected to hold the highest office in the land…to take the place of our current President, a man of honor, grace, and dignity.

I want my country back…four years is an eternity to wait.

Today, I lost myself for a while in Mary Oliver’s new collection of essays:


Her quiet voice took me to a place of contemplation and peace.  Through her words I could hear the rustle of wind through woodland trails, the steady roar of the ocean, the mysterious habits of small creatures … the serene world of Mary Oliver who observes nature with such reverence.

I needed this break from the all too real world of this election’s aftermath,and its most pressing concern for me: how to keep my students focused on kindness, how to keep empathy at the center of our world view, how to grow the seeds of compassion and respect for our common humanity…how to do the work of positive teaching in a larger climate of negativity and hate.

And I needed to keep returning to this passage:


I will be thinking of this passage on Monday, when my students return to our classroom. Attention and devotion – the pathway to a better world.

#pb 10 for 10: Reaching for picture books from the past

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for this yearly celebration of picture books that teach and delight. Join in to share and learn here.

It’s time share my 10 for 10  picture books, and this year I reached deep into my bookshelves for favorites from times past:

all in a day

Cynthia Rylant has the great gift of writing texts that enter into one’s heart and stay there.  A boy spends his day in the country, noticing all around him.  In these small encounters are big ideas of hope and seizing each moment of every day:

“You can make a wish,
and start again,
you can find your way back home.”

Nikki McClure’s extraordinary cut paper artwork gives the spare text additional power.  This is a wonderful picture book to inspire deep thinking and writing.

one today

The first three months of the school year will intersect with the presidential elections, and the events of this summer have already shown us that this election is an ugly one, with incitements of violence and hate. Richard Blanco’s poem, delivered at President Obama’s second inaugural, seems idealistic and almost naive, given today’s political climate.  But its message is one to share with our kids as a reminder of what our country is really all about, and what we should aspire to:

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always, always – home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country – all of us –
facing the stars
hope – a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it – together.
One Today is a beautiful and important picture book –  Blanco’s poem is illustrated by Dav Pilkey’s warm and vibrant artwork.
whispering cloth
Mai’s grandmother teaches her to make the traditional Hmong pa’ndau storycloth while they are living in a refugee camp in Thailand. She  weaves her life, fears,  and dreams into her pa’ndau, wishing for freedom and uncertain about what that freedom will look like.  The Whispering Cloth is a story about life for those fleeing war and crisis – one that our kids should hear about since this is an ongoing humanitarian issue.  The artwork by Anita Riggio and You Yang is unique, and contributes so much to this powerful story.
separate is never equal
The fight for equal access to great public education is, unfortunately, an ongoing one.   Separate is Never Equal is the true story of  Sylvia Mendez and how she and her parents helped end school segregation in California.  Our students tend to think about school integration as a battle fought and won in the sixties, and this book serves as an important reminder that it includes African-American kids in the 1950s and 60s, but also includes Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and many more.
I loved Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do With An Idea? but I think I love this book even better.  What do you do with a problem that follows you around and seems to want to stick around?  If you can’t run away from it, you might as well face it…and discover that the real problem, very often, is your own mindset.  This is a perfect book for opening up discussions about the possibilities and the confidence that can come from adopting the habits of a growth mindset.
migrant 1 migrant 2
I learned about Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker by José Manuel Mateo through my friend Myra Garces-Bacsal who posted her customary thoughtful  review on her blog here.  I ordered it right away, as another example of the sort of literature that I think my sixth graders ought to be reading about and thinking about these days, when the word “immigrant” seems to have taken on such a dark and dangerous meaning.
What can I say about a book that begins in this magical way:
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.40.18 AM
other than to profusely thank the author, Elinor Lander Horwitz, and the illustrator, Barbara Cooney for this journey into beautiful language and the power of imagination?
terrible things
In The Terrible Things, Eve Bunting uses the allegory of forest animals to tell the story of what happens when ordinary creatures allow for terrible things to happen because they cannot summon up the courage to speak up and take action.  Written as a way to allow children some access point into understanding the Holocaust, this is really also a book for our times, and for all times.  Stephen Gammell’s evocative illustrations give readers as much to think about as the does the text.
grand mosque
The Grand Mosque of Paris is the true story of how the Muslim community of Paris helped to rescue Jews during the Nazi occupation of World War II.  It begins with this line found in the sacred texts of both religions:“Save one life, and it is as if you’ve saved all of humanity”, and is a moving story of the kindness that can be found in all humanity, regardless of color or creed.  This story was new to me, and my sixth graders were spellbound by it.
night in the country
Night In The Country is another Cynthia Rylant treasure – a story rich in sensory detail and beautiful language. Mary Szilaggi glorious illustrations make this a wonderful book to share with students in writing workshop.