Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine

A planted seed grows.

Recently, I listened to Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime.  Noah, born in 1984 South Africa of a Caucasian Swiss father and a Black South African mother was literally a crime. Noah spins story after story about his difficult growing up in South Africa in apartheid before he became a famous comic and current host of The Daily Show.

The experiences that Noah expressed were beyond anything I can imagine. Never have I been so acutely aware of the privilege I enjoy as when I listened to his life story. A seed of curiosity of  South Africa was planted in me.

This post is not about Trevor Noah. His book was the seed.

Kathryn Erskine’s picture book biography of Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa! (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux 2017) just came out.  I had an opportunity to hear Kathryn speak at a gathering at Bookworm Central and I picked up this book…the seed was growing.

I have to admit….I had never heard of Miriam Makeba. Mama Africa! is a beautifully crafted work of the life of Makeba. Makeba’s singing was banned in South Africa and then she, herself, was banned from returning to South Africa after testifying about apartheid to the United Nations.

What endeared Makeba to her fans was her song in African languages: Xhosa, Zulu, and Swahili. She sang truths white Afrikaners could not face.

Debut illustrator, Charly Palmer brings Makeba's vivacity alive with his beautiful paintings and coded text.

I don’t know how one can read Mama Africa! and not run to youtube to hear her music. (Thank goodness for youtube). Since reading Erskine's book, I find myself searching for just one more song. One youtube video has a summary of Makeba's life with some song. See it here.

Liberian poet and Penn State University Professor, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley penned a memorial poem about Makeba on the occasion of her passing in 2008.  Enjoy the poem, read the book, listen to the music…feel Mama Africa’s rhythm. It is a heartbeat.

My review on Goodreads (same as review on Amazon)

I sure am thankful to Carol's Corner for hosting Poetry Friday this holiday weekend. Thank you, Carol!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Swimming in Poetry

Oh, it’s good to be home.

I’ve been conferencing. While I was learning and speaking about librarianship, poetry surrounded me. I love how poetry is a part of all that I do as a person. 

Jump into Poetry Friday with me and this week’s host, Jane, at her blog, Rain City Librarian. She’s a poetry person too!

As I was packing bags between conferences these beauties showed up at my door. Some were ordered, some were won in giveaways….it was painful to set them aside until I could get back to enjoy them.

While at the National Association of School Librarians Conference in Phoenix, I had an opportunity to visit with a group of incredible authors and illustrators including Jack Gantos, Molly Idle, Mike Venezia, Juana Martinez-Neal, Wendy Watson, Lynn Avril.
It's always a good idea to sit next to
Lynne Avril, illustrator of Amelia Bedelia

We met at the home of librarian and kidlit bibliophile, Mary Wong. Every inch of Mary’s house is covered in original illustrator art--including the walls of her dining room where she invites kid-lit luminaries to illustrate and sign. She has shelves and shelves of first-edition kid-lit books, many autographed. To enjoy the company of so many creatives at once was beyond my wildest dreams.

Jack Gantos illustrating/signing Mary's Dining Room

You will be thrilled to know that there were sessions on reading and writing poetry for and with kids at conferences at my state and our national level.

Kwame Alexander caused an entire Shush of Virginian Librarians to swoon when he shared poems with us and a peek at his Newberry Medal. Although Kwame is famous for his most recent works, he’s been at poetry for a while. Our young people are in good hands with Kwame’s words.
Kwame Alexander with Newberry

Charles, Irene and me....yeah, we're friends!
In Phoenix, I was thrilled to meet and speak with Irene Latham and Charles Waters. They were sitting shoulder to shoulder writing something new….but graciously allowed me a selfie.

I also attended an author panel that included Irene and Charles. They brought an entire room of Librarians to tears with a reading from their forthcoming book, Can I Touch Your Hair?  And, did I mention that the panel was led by Carole Boston Weatherford? Poetry heaven!

I could not make every poetry session at AASL in Phoenix. However, I did attend a fantastic presentation by Jill Work, Media Specialist at Stuart Country Day School in NJ who shared how she uses poetry in her library teaching. She invited her audience to create right on the spot.

My little ditty from this session has a real-life connection!

But wait--there’s more! As I meandered through the exhibit hall, publishers and book vendors gave out ARCs of soon to be published works. These beauties were just calling to me and I snapped them up fast.

With so much poetry lacing my conferences I truly felt like I was happily swimming in poetry. I’m delighted that winter is fast approaching with dark chilly days and nights to snuggle up with so many beautiful works to read.

Update early Friday morning: I'm thrilled to add that I've been included in The Best of Today's Little Ditty 2016. This is a work of love by Michelle Barns and you can find out more about the collection at her blog, Today's Little Ditty

Writing Radar by Gantos is not an's out in the world and great!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

This week's Poetry Friday host is a favorite blogger at Jama's Alphabet Soup where Jama stirs literature with recipes for readers.  Stop over there and enjoy. 

Thanks for stopping by. I'm out conferencing with:
  • American Association of School Librarians

Centennial. “1934: Eleanor Roosevelt.” Celebrate 100 Years, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, centennial.journalism.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Poetry Friday is with the talented Linda Baie this week at her blog, Teacher Dance. She's celebrating with gratitude. Stop over there and enjoy. 

Thanks for stopping by. I'm out conferencing with:
  • Virginia Association of School Librarians
  • Virginia Conference of Social Studies
  • American Association of School Librarians

Centennial. “1934: Eleanor Roosevelt.” Celebrate 100 Years, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, centennial.journalism.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Poem Pairing with The Incredible Magic of Being

Written for a visit by Kathy Erskine to Prince William School Library Association Meeting.....but really, a review and poetry pairing.

I have the pleasure of welcoming author and our friend, Kathy Erskine, to our gathering at Bookworm Central. 

As you know, Kathy has won acclaim for her YA and MG novels. She has that wonderful amalgamation of curiosity, smarts, talent, open-mindedness in her very big heart for young people and the young at heart.

I've read almost all of Kathy's books. Mama Africa How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song was published almost simultaneously with The Incredible Magic of Being....which puts me a little bit behind -- but not for long.

If you have not had a chance to take a peek at The Incredible Magic of Being, I hope you do soon. This book is perfect for ages 7-14. The mission of its main character and unisensor, Julien is to let us know's going to be all right. The Universe really is an incredible place and none of us are going to slip through its cracks. Just take time to stop and notice. And, there are funny threads too like talk of burning s'mores and FARTS (Facts and Random Thoughts).

In the voice of Julien, Kathy asks readers to notice the unknown..the incredible...the magical and persist with questions even in the face of doubt, because it's how we all achieve the impossible.

What a beautiful message for today.

On her blog, author-poet Laura Shovan sometimes pairs newly published kid-lit novels with poetry. I'm going to give that a try. The Spinning Earth, by Aileen Fisher, suits Julien at age nine, the age he is in The Incredible Magic of Being.

The Spinning Earth

    The earth, they say
    spins round and round.
    It doesn't look like it from the ground,
    and never makes
    a spinning sound.
    And water never
    swirls and swishes
    from oceans full
    of dizzy fishes,
    and shelves don't lose
    their pans and dishes.
    And houses don't go whirling by,
    or puppies swirl around the sky,
    and robins spin instead of fly.
    It may be true
    what people say
    about spinning
    night and day...
    but I keep on wondering anyway.
    Aileen Fisher

    This next poem is for us, the readers -- grown-up Julien's. I think grown-up Julien would inscribe these words on his telescope.

    When I heard the learn’d astronomer, 
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, 
    When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, 
    When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, 
    How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 
    Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, 
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, 
    Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
    Thank you for joining us and sharing some of the magic of the universe with us tonight, Kathy.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spooked as a Child--You Too?

If you haven't had a chance to meet author Carrie Clickard, I recommend it.

I was introduced to her by Michelle H. Barnes in her SPOTLIGHT ON interview at, Today's Little Ditty, two weeks ago. 

Each month, Michelle holds a DMC (ditty monthly challenge) and I try to keep up with the rest of the poets that always have the best ideas.

This month's challenge is: Write a poem about a person, place or thing that spooked you as a child.

I accepted the challenge but then the blank page loomed large. I have no shortage of spooked experiences....but how to encapsulate even one. 

I shouldn't have fretted. Kat Apel saved me by introducing a cool poetry form, tetractys, She shared some on her blog last week. I knew this form was perfect for a spooky topic.

In an update to my posting on Thursday night, Kat and I had an e-mail chat. She is so kind. As it turns out, my Double Tetractys are missing a line! Once the poet reaches the first line of ten syllables, the next line needs to have ten, then four, three, two and one. So, these double tetractys are going to go back in the oven a bit over the weekend. For now, enjoy the first attempt. 

Free-Photos. Free Photo: Forest, Snake, Arts, Trees, Path - Free Image on Pixabay - 336496, Pixabay, 3 May 2014,

afraid of
slithering snakes
hiding in the tall grass, shadowy shapes.
Sometimes long sticks
look like snakes
and I

Once I got started, I kinda couldn't stop. So, I will limit this post to three tetractys. The first one is shared on the DMC PadletHave fun being creeped out over there!

“Sump Pump Gallery.” AquaGuard Foundation Solutions, Aqua Guard Foundation Solutions, 7 Oct. 2016,

Oscar awaits
in the cellar under the sump pump door.
Uncle Tom gently
opens the hatch.
He roars --

This week's Poetry Friday is hosted by Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life. And, you can find her moderating #TeachWrite in her spare time (ha!) She's working hard in grad school these days but is graciously making sure we all have some poetry to enjoy this week. Thank you, Leigh Anne.

Slightly Different. “Free Image on Pixabay - Stairs, Light, Dark, Gloomy, Night.” Free Photo: Stairs, Light, Dark, Gloomy, Night - Free Image on Pixabay - 2799299, 30 Sept. 2017,

of basement
stairs – deepest dark;
shadows, cobwebs, spiders, hanging out there.
I’m less afraid
though, when my

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Aubade Practice

Happy Poetry Friday

Last week, Irene Latham shared several aubade poems on her blog,  Live Your Poem

As I read them I had an, I want to try that, feeling. There are several places in my current work in progress to place an aubade. However, I've never written one before.

I needed a mentor text to practice with. I went in search of poems of goodbye. The lyrics to Taps work even though the song is a vesper. All the feels are still there, don't you think? 
“Taps Lyrics.” Scout Songs, BSA,

My practice aubade is a riff on Taps prompted by this stunning autumn sunrise photo from my first home in western New York. Much applause to John Kucko for capturing this shot from Portageville and posting it on facebook--and friends for sharing it.

Be sure to enjoy Poetry Friday fun with this week's host, the aforementioned Irene Latham at her blog, Live Your Poem. You will love all her writing. I am so looking forward to meeting her in Phoenix at the American Association of School Librarians conference coming up in November. 

Brace yourself for a selfie, Irene!