Feb 22, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Evoking Emotion

One of poetry’s most important functions is to convey the emotions of the writer to the reader.  There is a latent power in written language; words and phrases strung skillfully together can raise a lump in readers’ throats, make them laugh, provoke their anger, deepen their appreciation, rouse their empathy, spur them to action…and the list goes on.

When writing poetry, there are many things you can do to engage your readers’ emotions. Vivid imagery, poetic devices (such as metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, etc.), rhythm, meter, and beautiful word choices can all pull some serious emotional strings. And by tapping into your readers' senses, you can often evoke memories and experiences that have meaning for them. 
Consider this poem by the English poet John Masefield, one of my all-time favorites:

                                                                  SEA FEVER                                                                         by John Masefield (1878-1967)
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Masefield’s beautiful poem has the ability to evoke strong emotion, both in me and in countless people through the years. When I read it, I am transported to a shell-scattered beach and the sky is a pearly, pinkish gray. The waves crash and roll, and then cool water washes over my feet as they sink into the sand. I feel the spray of the water, smell the beachy breeze, and taste the salt in the air. And it makes me happy and sad at the same time.
As I pondered this post, I dug deep to determine exactly why this poem creates such vivid images for me. Then I recalled that in the eighth grade I memorized and recited Sea Fever to my class for a (terrifying) language arts assignment. And then I looked even further back, and had a “light bulb” moment—until I was 3 years old, I lived with my parents a few blocks away from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida. My earliest memories are of walking barefoot along the shore, each of my hands in one of theirs. And I remember them swinging me UP in the air between them, jumping the waves. This was before my two younger sisters were born, before responsibility, before care. Before growing up.

John Masefield, though long gone, still makes an emotional connection with me each time I read his poem. And if we actively engage our readers’ deepest selves with our own writing, we can make strong emotional connections, as well.
And that is the whole point of poetry, isn’t it?   

Feb 19, 2013

HEROES in Life and in Literature

On a teacher workday last week, a friend and I took our kids to the newly renovated Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, NC. I went hoping for an interesting experience that would entertain my boys (and hopefully teach them something), and neither I nor my boys were disappointed. The museum’s presentation of aviation history is impressive, as are the many different types of aircraft on display. But their newest exhibit made the biggest impression on us all.

In August, the museum added an exhibit that focuses on United Airlines Flight 1549—otherwise known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane. The actual Airbus A-320 is there in the hangar, with an extensive exhibit focusing on the events of January 15, 2009, as well as a video featuring key people involved in the crash and rescue effort. Passengers’ belongings recovered from the bottom of the Hudson are on display, and storyboards explaining every detail surround the plane.  

As we explored the exhibits and watched the video, I gained a much deeper understanding of this incredible story than what I had read online or watched on the news. It truly was a “miracle” that the plane landed safely on the water, and these were real people who were miraculously scooped out of an icy river in the dead of winter! And so many heroes were made on that day—Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his First Officer Jeff Skiles, of course—but also the flight crew, ferry captains, rescue workers, etc.

This caused me to start thinking about heroes, and how they inspire us—in life and in literature. Our heroes are sometimes people we know in real life (like influential relatives or friends) or people we count on to protect us (like those in the military or police, firefighters, etc.). However, some of the most inspiring heroes are found in the pages of books; a spider named Charlotte, for example, who gave up everything to save a friend, or the Pevinsie children in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, who restored order and beauty to a cold, barren world, just to name a few.

Whether we meet them in life or in books, our heroes inspire us to be better, work harder, and aim higher. And they plant tiny seeds within us that can grow into stories, articles, poetry, songs, or books. I am not sure yet exactly how, but I am certain that our afternoon at the museum will contribute to something I will eventually write—something that is now just a tiny speck of inspiration deep within me.
So think about your own personal heroes the next time you sit down to write, and take the time to discover where that inspiration can take you. And THANK YOU to all of the “real life” heroes out there!  

Since this is a blog for writers, I feel obligated to mention that Captain Chesley Sullenberger currently has two books available, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's LeadersI have not read either one yet, but they look interesting! Also, if you live near Charlotte, NC or are ever in the area, check out the Carolinas Aviation Museum. It is definitely worth the time!  http://www.carolinasaviation.org/

Feb 16, 2013


This is a bonus post for all of my friends who are suffering from colds and flu right now (and there are many). It is also snowing and raining where I live today (my boys dubbed it “snaining”), and is a perfect day to try this out! For the past several weeks, I have been battling a particularly stubborn winter bug. About a week ago my wonderful next-door neighbor Yin, who is from China, suggested that I make some ginger tea. “It will at least make you feel better!” she said. So I followed her simple recipe, and ended up with a lovely, spicy, soothing tea that warmed me up and attacked the most annoying symptoms. 

I have made this tea every single day since then, sometimes more than once! As I have been writing this week, I have also decided that it makes the perfect writer’s drink—it has a hefty spice that stays with you even when the tea itself cools, making “warm up” trips to the microwave much less necessary (I always drink tea when I write, and must stop from time to time to warm it up again).
I did some research and found out that ginger has some pretty amazing health benefits, as well. I was well acquainted with its more commonly-know uses, such as easing nausea, motion sickness, etc. But ginger can also reduce pain and inflammation, and is known to help digestion issues, heartburn, cold and flu symptoms, stomach flu and food poisoning symptoms, and migraines. Ginger can also benefit your cardiovascular system; it makes platelets less sticky, which ultimately improves circulation. These are just a few of the many benefits of ginger, and I must say, after drinking this every day, I do feel much better!

So stay well, wrap up, and try this great recipe to warm yourself up! HAPPY WRITING!
Here is how to make your own Ginger Tea:
* Fill a small saucepan with about 3 cups of water, and put it on the stove to boil
* Wash a piece of fresh ginger, then slice off several thin pieces (I use 4-5 per serving)
* Add honey to taste (I use 1-2 tablespoons)
* Bring mixture to a full boil, then bring down to a gentle rolling boil
* Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with a whisk
* Pour into your favorite mug and ENJOY (preferably while writing something brilliant!)

Feb 15, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Acrostic Poems

Today I am launching my “Poetry Friday” series with a look at a poetic format that is always popular with kids—the ACROSTIC POEM.

When I was teaching and assigned my students a “free choice” poem to write, many of my kids would choose the acrostic format. It was so popular because it is simple, fun, and has several different variations.
The acrostic format has been around a long time; acrostic poetry was discovered during the archeological digs at Pompeii, and there are several acrostics in the Hebrew version of the Bible. Many well-known writers throughout history have employed the acrostic format (including Geoffrey Chaucer, John Keats, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others), and during the Renaissance Sir John Davies wrote Hymns of Astraea, a book of 26 acrostics in which each poem spelled out the name of Queen “Elizabetha Regina.”     
The most common variation of the acrostic poem we see today has a subject spelled out vertically (down the left side of the page). Each letter in the subject word serves as the beginning of a word or phrase relating to or describing the subject.

Here is an acrostic poem my boys wrote for me for Mother’s Day a few years ago:
Makes us happy                                                                                                                                        Organized                                                                                                                                Magnificent                                                                                                                                   Musical                                                                                                                                                   Yellow

Simple and sweet, but so special!
Another option is to have a line of text beginning with each letter of the subject line:

Smiley face                                                                                                                                               Nose made of carrot                                                                                                                       Outside my front door                                                                                                                       White and cold                                                                                                                               Mittens for hands                                                                                                                                     A scarf to keep you warm                                                                                                                   Next winter I will see you again
Here is a much more elaborate version of an acrostic poem, written by Lewis Carroll. This poem has a deliberate rhyme and meter, and the subject is family friend Alice Pleasance Liddell.

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky                                                                                                              By Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking Glass, 1872)
A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —
Long had paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

Yet another variation is the double acrostic, which spells out the subject at both the beginning and the end of each line. For an even more complicated twist, the word on the right side can also be spelled out from bottom to top. In addition to all of the above-mentioned examples, acrostics can also include palindromes and be incorporated into puzzles. Like every great art form, its only limitation is the artist’s imagination.
So take some time to explore this wonderful poetic format, and have fun! 

Feb 12, 2013


I am thrilled that my first “real” post can celebrate one of my very, VERY favorite authors—the extremely talented and versatile Judy Blume! Growing up, Judy Blume was one of my main go-to authors for great reading material (along with Beverly Cleary, Shel Silverstein, and Laura Ingalls Wilder). Judy’s books are warm, funny, and insightful and explore universal themes in a way kids can understand and relate to. She is truly one of the most gifted authors of our generation.

As a third grade teacher, I read TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING to my class each year. I never tired of re-reading this book, and when it was over, the kids always wanted more. Luckily, I had a shelf of Judy's books I could point them towards! When my boys were four years old, I switched from reading only picture books at bedtime to reading chapter books, as well. TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING was the first chapter book I read aloud to them, and I am still amazed when I remember how engaged my very active preschoolers were with this book. They were hooked on Peter and Fudge’s story from page one, and (miracle of miracles) they actually sat quietly and listened! Six years later we continue to read together every night, and have discovered and discussed many great books, both old and new.

So THANK YOU, Judy Blume, for sparking a love of literature in my children, my students, and in me! Our world is a better place because you are in it!

Here is a list of Judy Blume’s books:
The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo
Iggie's House
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Then Again, Maybe I Won't
Freckle Juice
It's Not the End of the World
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
Tiger Eyes
The Judy Blume Diary
Smart Women
The Pain and the Great One
Letters to Judy: What Kids Wish They Could Tell You
Just As Long As We're Together
The Judy Blume Memory Book
Here's to You, Rachel Robinson
Summer Sisters
Places I Never Meant to Be

Feb 10, 2013

My first post

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for stopping by! After many years of reading blogs by other authors and industry professionals, I have decided to join in the fun. My posts will discuss writing, reading, and children's books. From time to time I will also examine different writing elements commonly taught in the elementary curriculum.

In the comments section, please feel free to make suggestions for future topics. I am excited to see where this new adventure will lead!