The winners and the new word!

My thanks to everyone who participated in December’s Word of the Month challenge. We had a record number of adults and students who wrote poems inspired by “bone” and shared their work for us all to enjoy. As of midnight last night CST the final count gave us our December Hall of Fame Poets and runners-up:

In the adult category our December Hall of Fame Poet is Linda Kulp from Frederick, Maryland. Congratulations, Linda! Second place goes to Marjie DeWilde from Springfield, Missouri and Steven Withrow from Cumberland, Rhode Island, placed third. Mimi Cross from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey garnered the second highest vote tally even though as our October Hall of Fame Poet she is ineligible to win again before October, 2010. Way to go, Mimi.

Our Young Hall of Fame Poet for December is Priya Shah from Monocacy Middle School in Frederick, Maryland, who ran away with the contest. Congratulations Priya! A number of young poets clustered around second and third place. Finally it was Josh from Boyd Elementary in Springfield, Missouri, Hope Murphy from Maumee Valley Country Day in Toledo, Ohio, and Karena Amy(also from Maumee Valley Country Day) tied for second place. Good going kids! We’re very proud of you and we know that your teachers, family, classmates, and friends are too.

And now for the new challenge word for January 2010. A little drum roll please. The word is “time.” What can you do with time? I am eager to read your efforts!



Last day to vote. Also, see me on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog

BULLETIN: Tomorrow I’ll post the word for January. Don’t miss it!

My thanks once again to Mary Jo Fresch for her great guest blog yesterday! Please don’t hesitate to let Mary Jo know if you have comments or questions spurred by her remarks. I know she’ll be happy to respond.

I was out of town and failed to tell you when Cynthia Leitich Smith posted my interview on Monday, but I’m happy to be there and want to direct your attention to her note below. I hope you’ll drop by Cynthia’s and read the interview.

Dear David,
Your Cynsations Craft, Career & Cheer interview is live today (12/28) at:
It’s also crossposted to LJ, MySpace, Facebook, JacketFlap, and (later) Twitter).
Congratulations on your success, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Happy New Year,

Today is the final day to vote for your favorite poets — one adult and one student. Even if the polls remain active after midnight tonight CST, I’ll stop counting the votes. Some students and adults haven’t received many votes or comments yet. I hope you’ll take the time to let all of our poets hear from you and know that we appreciate their work and hope to see more of their efforts in the future.

Mary Jo Fresch

BULLETIN: Top vote getters right now are Linda, Mimi, and Marjie with three others in a pack for third. Students in the lead are Priya and Josh followed by six others within one vote of one another.

Today I’m proud to introduce my friend and writing colleague, Mary Jo Fresch. You’re in for a treat.

The Secret Life of Words
Mary Jo Fresch

I love words. I’m not saying that because I’m Italian and we use lots of words to talk or write about even the simplest of topics (just ask an Italian about what they had for dinner last night…you’ll probably get the whole recipe). I’m saying I love words because they have histories. Some are old…like the word “sister” and some are more recent, like the word “unibrow.” Without doubt, they all have interesting stories to tell (except for words like “blight” and “cuddle”, which are of unknown origin). I love storytelling and I love that words can be powerful expressions of our emotions. Whether I am writing or speaking, the 600,000+ words in the English language can help me convey every nuance of feeling that I have.In the movie Bee Season (which I did not watch just because Richard Gere was in it…but that didn’t hurt), the child in the story, Eliza Naumann, isn’t very good at most things. But she could see and spell words like a champ. In fact, she ends up going to the National Spelling Bee. The movie opens with her voice saying, “My father told me once that words and letters hold all the secrets of the universe, that in their shapes and sounds I could find anything.” Indeed, Eliza, words tell the secrets of English. Why do we say “cow” for the animal, but “beef” when we eat it? Why do we sign letters as “sincerely?” Who was Reverend Sylvester Graham and why are we eating his cracker?

Words tell us the story of their “life” if we dig into their histories. Knowing these histories can enrich our knowledge of English, expand our vocabulary, make sense of why words are spelled the way they are, and provide a fun way to tap into interesting words to use in our writing.

So, let’s think about what we can share with our students that can make them inquisitive about the language and learn the vocabulary that can enrich their literacy work. A wonderful place to start is to explore the meaning of their name. Baby name books or web sites (such as give the original meaning of names. Why does Cameron mean “crooked nose” or Lindsay mean “island of Lincoln?” Sometimes we know the story, sometimes we do not. Offering the opportunity to write the history of the meaning of your name can be a fun writing exercise and can lead to ways to name characters in fictional writing (why do you suppose J.K. Rowling named her lead character Harry – meaning “ruler of the house?”).

Wondering why words are spelled the way they are can start our hunt to uncover the secrets of many words. Reverend Sylvester Graham, an 1800’s minister who was concerned about healthy diets, created the graham cracker (of course, naming it after himself). Other eponyms, or words that came from people’s names are leotard (Jules Leotard was a French aerialist), the gardenia (after Alexander Garden – the botanist who discovered it), Ferris wheel, Fahrenheit, Celsius, and many more! I could go on…but a look into this type of word can provide lots of interesting secrets.

And what of cow vs. beef, deer vs. venison, and chicken vs. poultry? These words evolved into our language through the merging of Germanic based words used by the peasants (cow, deer, chicken) and the French Latin words used by the ruling Normans (beef, venison, poultry). A difference in the class system tells the secret of hoof vs. on the plate.

How do we do engage students into this sort of word wonder? We ask….hmmm, I wonder about this word…what is the history of it? What does that tell me about how it is spelled, how I can use it in my writing, what other words are like it? Sincerely is just such a word. When you sign a letter “sincerely” you are basically saying “without wax.” In the times of marble sculptures, an artist who did not try to hide flaws, chips or cracks in the marble by filling them in with wax could sell his piece “sin cera,” or “without wax.” The sculpture was true, sound, and whole. So are your sentiments when you say “sincerely.”

We can discover these stories by finding an unabridged dictionary. Following the word entry is the etymology, or origin of the word. For instance, look up “easel” and the dictionary provides the origin as Dutch, ezel meaning donkey. An easel is a “beast of burden” invented by the Dutch artists. Stories abound….use your content studies, writings, self-selected literature, or poems to inspire this sort of word study. Students will soon be wondering, searching and unlocking the secrets of words. What a wonderful way to expand vocabulary, inspire our writing, and give real meaning to the word study we do.

Thanks Mary Jo! I always enjoy hearing you speak and reading your remarks.

Please let Mary Jo know if you have comments or questions.

Mary Jo Fresch

Tomorrow we’ll hear from my blog guest Mary Jo Fresch who is a professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University at Marion. She teaches graduate courses in literacy and children’s literature. Mary Jo’s primary research focus is the developmental aspects of becoming a speller and its relationship to teaching and learning.

She has published a number of articles, books, and classroom materials related to this research. Her articles have appeared in The Reading Teacher, Reading Online, Language Arts, Journal of Literacy Research, Reading and Writing Quarterly, and Reading Horizons. She has co-authored two books on teaching spelling (Scholastic), a grades 1 through 6 classroom series (Spelling for Writers, Great Source), a book on using picture books in middle school (The power of Picture Books; Using content area literature in middle school, NCTE), and edited a history of reading (An essential history of current reading practices, IRA). Mary Jo loves her copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged)!

You are going to enjoy Mary Jo’s informative and friendly remarks so don’t forget tomorow!

Poem of the Week

December 30 — Voting ends at midnight CST.

by David L. Harrison

No words
are as big as a mountain,
blue as a summer sky,
flickering quick
as a hummingbird’s wing,
bright as a butterfly.

No words
taste as sweet as wild honey,
glow like a setting sun,
howl at the moon
like wolves in the night,
leap like a stag on the run.

No words
can paint pictures of nature,
they’re poor shabby symbols at best
that only remind us
beauty surrounds us,
the heart must supply the rest.

From Wild Country
Boyds Mills Press, 1999