Last day in Paterson

Hi everyone,

Over the past three days I’ve been visiting students in Schools 24, 26, and 29 in Paterson, NewJersey. I’m enjoying the hospitality here and, of course, the opportunity to spend time with children in grades three, four, and five. I’m here as part of a grant-funded project to promote poetry in the classroom to enhance learning, stimulate a love of writing, and model teaching strategies.

I’ve presented Word of the Month Poetry Challenge as well as half a dozen other strategies, including reading and writing poems for two voices. The favorite? Poems for two voices. Kids in all three grades love to read them and nearly every hand goes up when I ask for volunteers. For those of you who teach elementry school or have children in the family in that age range, consider adding poems for two voices to your library. Reading aloud together with a young person quickly turns into a favorite time for both parties. Not only that, this is an activity that improves reading fluency and understanding.

I don’t want to nag but contributions to our Woza Woza Poem and our game of Poetry Tag have fallen off to nothing. If you have any new ideas to add, please get us going again.

I’m looking for my next Guest Reader. If you haven’t been featured and would like to send me your story about your journey as a writer — or anything else germane to children’s literature — get in touch and we’ll see about getting you posted.

I’m also working on a list of new Featured Guests. It has been a while since I sent out invitations but I hope to get back on task soon.


Thanks again to recent guests

Hi everyone,

Sometimes in my rush forward I forget to pause to really thank those who have done me the favor of appearing on my blog. Over the past couple of months I’ve had notable guests who have shared their wit and wisdom here and today feels like a good time to say once more that I’m grateful. To revisit their appearances, click on the links with their names and pictures.








Guest Reader, K. Thomas Slesarik today

WOZA WOZA POEM UPDATE: Sorry I fell behind on posting new lines to our poem. This is our 11th day so here are the first ten lines. If you notice, I’ve done a bit of revising to smooth out a line or two and I’ve also added a line that was inspired by Cory Corrado. So far we have Cory, Mary Nida, and Sandy Asher to thank for the poem’s progress. We’ve gone from swirling leaves to elves who claim Woza Woza as their ancestral home. What comes next is up to us. We can leave the elves to their merry making and continue our stroll through the forest, or not. We could use more help!

Today I witnessed something I’d never seen before —
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfed the forest floor.
The reason for the swirling suddenly dawned on me —
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that cinnamon sea!

Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats
Trimmed with golden feathers! Can you imagine that?
They danced in whirling circles, singing to themselves.
I blinked my eyes in wonder, these tiny folk were elves!

They sang of distant places, they sang of sea and foam,
They sang of Woza Woza where elves return to home.

Hello everyone,

I was happy to hear again from K. Thomas (Ken) Slearik and to read his report from a recent conference and encouter with an agent. Thanks to Ken for sharing his experience and giving me this chance to share it with you. Somehow we have to keep faith in ourselves and our futures as writers. Somehow. No matter what. Ken speaks beautifully to this issue.

Luck of the Draw

By K. Thomas Slesarik

Last month I attended a regional writer’s conference and had a pre-conference critique with a well known literary agent. I was particularly enthusiastic because “my agent” just so happened to represent a few children’s poetry authors. I usually approach these situations with a realistic, yet optimistic bent, but this particular encounter I stood taller than usual and with calm assertiveness. I just knew I would soon be welcomed into the fold and decided not to play hardball when she offered representation, instead I would just sign the formalities and my journey would begin.

I entered the room and immediately knew I was on the wrong movie set as I could not seem to locate her. After some searching I found her and we exchanged pleasantries and delved into my critique. The critique itself went very well. It was her comments about the poetry market that threw me for a loop.
“Ken you will be wasting years of your life waiting to be discovered by the four houses that will even accept poetry. You need to do mid grade or even picture books. What else ya got for me?” My answer was “Well nothing. I’m a poet”. She spoke for a few more moments about how incredibly difficult it is to break in as a children’s poetry author and that being talented is not enough. You also have to be very lucky.

Throughout the rest of the conference her words kept playing in my head. I pride myself in being resourceful, so I sat deep in thought, almost ignoring the speakers in the break out sessions as I kept wondering how I could beat the odds and create my own luck. Perhaps I could attend the big New York conference and during the keynote presentation light my lower torso on fire? Surely some publishing house could use the tax write off and sign me if only to help pay for the skin graphs? How much is kerosene anyway? Or maybe I need to start taking acting lessons and win an academy award first to catch the attention of an agent or publishing house? That would increase my luck!

By the end of the conference I was still deep in thought. While they were wrapping things up and giving away cups, pens and these plants by drawing names, I was thinking about just how far I’ve come as a writer and the complete joy I have when I write something truly unique and then I heard my name called. Thinking I won a plant I was confused at why people were clapping so enthusiastically for my plant and not so much for the previous plants. Relax people, I don’t have a green thumb. It’ll die in a week. It turns out my name was picked, but not for a soon to perish plant. I just happened to be the grand prize winner and won free registration to the next conference! It took a few days, but I came to the realization that I was indeed very lucky and it’s for that reason that I keep pressing on.


Today’s Guest Reader, Jackie Huppenthal

Hi Everyone,

To Kristi Holl, my gratitude for joining us yesterday with her wise advice for WRITERS AT WORK. If you missed her, she’s just one scroll back!

BULLETIN: Balloting for October poets got off to a great start yesterday. Early leaders were Lisa Martino and Emily Rigby. The polls remain open until this Saturday night, October 30, at 10:00 CST. Lots of time but don’t forget. Meanwhile, our judges are also deliberating over their own selections. I’ll announce all winners on Sunday and give you the Word of the Month for November.

REMINDER: If you haven’t checked the applicable circles in my quick survey of readers, please take the time now. It helps me to know more about who you are and how the blog can serve you better. Thanks!

I love it when friends of my blog agree to step on stage and tell us about themselves. Many of you are familiar with Jackie Huppenthal from her frequent contributions to Word of the Month poems and supportive comments to others. Now I’m happy to “officially” introduce you to our friend, Jackie.

I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Child Development and Family Studies from Purdue University. After graduation I worked in a domestic violence shelter and another one for youth. I usually worked twelve to sixteen hour night shifts and had to be prepared for anything at anytime.

Later I taught healthy life skills as well as drug and violence prevention programs to elementary students and various community groups in Illinois. Most of the time I was able to develop my own programs and adapted them to the needs of the students and community that I was helping. I liked having the freedom to be creative and come up with something that made learning about serious topics more enjoyable.

At the present time I am raising 4 boys with my husband in Dyer, Indiana. I just started working again, this time as a part-time preschool tumbling teacher at the YMCA. I enjoy step aerobics classes and running in 5K races. Obstacle races are particularly fun and challenging. I try to volunteer at my children’s schools and the local VFW whenever possible.

I have always enjoyed reading (every genre) and writing (some poetry, but mostly journaling). I especially cherish the times I get to spend reading to children. Our home is full of books. When it is nice outside, the kids and I sit on a picnic blanket and read, or do homework.

When I help my kids with their weekly readers I look forward to the about the author and illustrator sections that follow every story. I believe those short bios prompted and inspired me to become more serious about writing. Writing for children seemed like a logical progression with my background and experience, but I didn’t know where to start.

I eventually found and took two adult continuing education classes last fall – specifically on writing for children and marketing. Shortly after, I joined a few established writers’ groups. Some of my work will be in a local publication due out next month. A classmate and I also started our own writing group called Magic Hour Writers. We support and encourage those who write primarily for children and young adults.

So far I have sent one manuscript into publishers, sent a poem and photo to a magazine for children, and entered a few poetry contests. I am hoping to receive some positive feedback soon. I am still finalizing my watercolor illustrations for my “fractured fairy tale” and am working on a book of poems and pictures. I love photography as much as writing. Much of what I write about comes from simple everyday conversations or experiences around the house and yard. So much beauty that surrounds us is so often overlooked. I want to help my children and others notice and appreciate everything nature has to offer.

Featuring Jana Smith and more great work by her students

Hello Everyone,

As many of you know, I love to feature special people on Wednesdays as my Guest Readers. Jana Smith does far more than read this blog. She supports and encourages her students at Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo to write poems that she can post, and we all receive the benefit of her work.

I asked Jana to let me feature her today along with her students. Here is a brief bio to give us a chance to know her better.

I earned my undergraduate degree in Education from Auburn University, my Masters in Literacy from the University of Colorado. This is my 13th year teaching 5/6 grade at Maumee Valley Country Day School (an independent K-12 school) in Toledo, Ohio; this is my 13th year here. I teach Reading and Social Studies to combined 5/6 classes, and Writing to 6th graders. I am also the English Department Chair for the school. I love what I do; the kids inspire me daily!
In my free time, I hang out with my husband (Doug), my daughters (Ella and Lila), play Scrabble, cook, and run.

Did you enjoy the handiwork of Jana’s student, Cecily White? I loved it so much I begged for more. Jana was kind enough to share three others so while we’re into student movies based on their poems, I thought I would bring these new ones out today all together.

For your viewing pleasure, here are last year sixth graders, Anne Fox-Strauss, Sarah Boyk, and Ilya Fedorchuk.

We start with Anne. Her poem, “Joyous Little Dog,” was inspired by BONE, the word of the month for December.

Our next treat is by Sarah who entered a local contest sponsored by an interfaith council where the topic was “Erase the Hate.”

Ilya’s poem is written in the form of a tritina. If you have forgotten what that is, I’ll tell you after you enjoy his poem, “Truly Alive.”

A tritina is a ten-line poem composed of three sets of three lines (tercets) plus a tenth line. The final words in the first three lines are repeated as the final words in the other two stanzas but in different orders, like this: ABC, CAB, BCA. The last line uses all three words and in the original ABC order. These words don’t need to rhyme and the poet is free to select a meter that fits the purpose.

Thanks kids! Thanks Jana! It’s nice to have fun while we’re learning. Have I mentioned that I’ve accepted an invitation to visit Jana’s school (Maumee Valley Country Day) in Toledo this coming April? I’m looking forward to it!

By the way. I’m certain that many other teachers have learned to put technology to use in helping their students experience the connections among words, dance, music, and art. If you know of other good examples of this, please let me know. I would be happy to feature others and their work.