Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Slice of Life 2/28/17

A friend of mine is waiting for purple martins to return with spring. She has readied the bird houses on the ridge. I enjoy her expectancy. It’s nice to be expected. I was telling my daughter about this on a walk through the woods yesterday as we heard the first robins of our spring sing around us.

As I was telling my daughter about the martins, and listening to the robins, a distinct memory from when I was in first grade flew up in front of me. Mrs. Maker assigned a purple-lined ditto page of a bird each week. We learned bird names, colored the bird as realistically as we could, heard calls from records, and learned a little bit about why the bird lived in our neck-of-the-woods.

Purple Martin

One day as my school bus rolled over the railroad tracks toward home, I spied a red-winged blackbird in the marsh along the tracks. I gasped with six-year-old excitement. It was there just for me to see. I knew that bird's name and watched it as long as I could through the windows.

Such an unexpected memory affixing itself to my friend waiting for purple martins and my daughter chattering about a boy in school, robins newly arrived home, thrilled me. Filled me.

My joy was not the kind to interrupt my daughter’s lament over a boy that doesn’t know her name (I’ll bet he’s a bit of a blue jay anyway). It was a memory for savoring, like a peppermint. After it's gone and the memory of sweet lingers.

But, I thought I’d tell you.

I wish you birdsong today.

Red Wing Blackbird

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday 2/24/17

In the middle school library where I work, we LOVE A BOOK for Black History Month. Pink conversation hearts are gently taped to the book spines by Black authors and illustrators or are about Black History or have Black characters.

Inside the heart are two simple questions. What book did you read? How did you like it? All of the hearts are gathered for a drawing on February 28th. The winner gets a trip to our prize box!  Our goal is to combine the energy of Valentine’s Day with Black History.

I loved-on Black History books right along with students. I read and reviewed One Last Word a couple of weeks ago and have been using that book and many others in lessons with seventh and eighth graders. I just smiled one day when a student came in and said, “I just love Black books!”

One book, in particular, has had me in its sites for a while now. I’ve checked it out and back in a few times….never quite getting to it. But, I know that book has wanted me to read it. I haven't avoided it because of the serious and difficult content…it has that. Emmett Till was middle school age student lynched in 1955.  It’s not because it’s not my style…its poetry. It’s because

I have
lived in fear of

As I’ve worked to learn and grow as a reader and writer of poetry I have put off reading and attempting to write sonnets. It’s really my fear of tackling and understanding Shakespeare that does it. I’ve never really cracked the code for falling in love with the Bard. I know, its embarrassing!

This year, for Black History month I  finally read, A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Phillipe Lardy (Houghton Mifflin 2005). This book was a Printz honor book in 2006.

A Wreath for Emmett Till is everything I thought it would be….cruel, sad, torturous but…..in the deceptively simple sonnet chain, a beautiful, tender mentor text.

Nelson allows me to get into sonnets without worrying about ye olde English. She includes all sorts of symbols and nods to cultural milestones. And, she explains them at the back of the book. She is such a good teacher.

I can’t believe I’ve put off reading this book. Shame on me. To hear Marilyn Nelson speak about writing the book and introducing the true horror story in a 5:30 minute NPR clip, click here.

Nelson took on the monumental task of telling the story of the lynching and public funeral of Emmett Till to teenagers. And, she does it masterfully. There can be terrible things in beautiful words. We can deal with the terrible things with the right words. Nelson brings young people closer to dealing with Emmett Till’s murder as history but also as issues of injustice and race.

If you haven’t tackled the sonnet….or a subject as horrific as lynching as a poetry reader or writer I encourage you to check out A wreath for Emmett Till. This is not a flippant comment or recommendation. I cannot imagine a reader not learning, growing and pledging to be an agent for justice after reading it.

Someday, I may share the sonnet I started after finishing A Wreath for Emmett Till. It's not ready yet. But, I'm not afraid to count syllables, meter, and rhyme. 
Nelson helped me a lot with that.
I would LOVE recs for other books of sonnets...watcha got?

Please join Poetry Friday friends at Karen Edmisten's blog with a shockingly clever title. She's a love for hosting this week. Thank you, Karen!

15 Words or Less

Click here to see Laura P. Salas' 15 word warm up. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Slice of Life

Last Thursday was "A Day Without Immigrants". I could see, at the school where I work, that some attention was paid to this movement in response to the President's rhetoric and plans to limit immigration to my country.

This is what I saw in my world....

A teenager from the Middle East politely asking for a dictionary in his native language. They knew how to say please, thank you, yes and no, in English, perfectly.

Another teenager said, My Dad came to this country so we could have a better life, I'll be in school every day I can.

A group of pre-teens ran....yes, they were running....into the library to the far wall where shelves of books in their native language are. It's always a race for Diary of a Wimpy Kid no matter what language it's printed in.

Every Slice of my Life encounters immigrants...., For those students that showed up to continue your learning of what American means, bless you with a hug and a high-five. You are already living the dream.

books in the library where I teach

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday

Some days, searching my poetry roots leads to dozens of cousins....join us for Poetry Friday, hosted this week at Check it Out Thank you, Jone!

This week, I've been fascinated by the work and words and photos of Mary McLeod Bethune. Her words below pair well with the art of Larry Zox in his, Diamond Cut.
Quote enhanced by Diamond Cut." Art Object Page. US National Gallery of Art, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Bethune was known for many activities and interests: Christian Living, Education, Racial Dignity, and Leadership for starters. She also endured criticism for her commitment to vocational training for young people, especially women, of color over classic academics. 

Her hope, faith and extraordinarily loving will is nothing less than poetic. I am drawn to learning more.

I like to focus my lens.

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune


A woman born to

Slavery's sure survivors 

grew to lead...persist 

God on Mary's side
Mary leaned in constant prayer
between them souls thrived


Barriers to Black
barriers to skirt were not
Mary's barriers 

In 1904
one dollar and fifty cents--
her school, their future

Then, look for words that paint a story. This paragraph accompanied the commemorative US postage stamp issued in 1985.


Search for poetry in prose. Even though Bethune isn't known as a poet.....these words of her last will and testament read as a prayer poem. Click on the caption to see the entire document. It is beautiful.

Now that I've gotten to know Mary Jane McLeod Bethune a little bit.....I'm off to write some poems about her legacy. I'm going hunting for forms that will help me do that. Join me? What do you suggest?

15 Words or Less 2/16/17

Photo: Laura Salas 15 words or less challenge

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Poetry Friday

My OLW for 2017 is LOOK

Recently, a blog entry by Rebecca Newland, former LOC Teacher in Residence popped into my in-box. I love seeing LOC e-mails...and especially Ms. Newland's. I met her at a conference and was impressed by her power of story-telling backed up with primary source documents from her playground, The Library of Congress.

The Teacher's Corner post was titled,


After reading Newland's post, I jumped onto the LOC search engine with my OLW.

The photograph of this young man looking into a frame of President Lincoln and his family has a copyright of 1898.

I played around with some of the exercises suggested by Ms. Newland and came up with several poems from prompts and challenges over the past few weeks of Poetry Friday.  Thus far, I have poems for this image in these forms: haiku (always start with haiku...it's like using a lens to see better), golden shovel, decima, reverso and free verse. I'm not sure how much more I will look at this image. But, I have a feeling it isn't done with me yet...and that's OK.

Focus the lens:


Family portrait
your kin held in this oval
mine in a fish net

When you ended it
Slavery – did you picture
me looking at you?

When he ended it
Bullet – to your head did you
count me family?

4. Chin resting on fists
a new generation looks
for family trees    

I may share more of the poems from my time with this image from time to time. For now, I'm enjoying some alone time with this photograph and the words that flow from looking at it.  

Thank you to Katie at The Logonaughts for hosting Poetry Friday today.

15 Words or Less

Photo by Laura Purdie Salas

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Slice of Life: Cheerleader, Finally!

Recently, I dashed off a quick Facebook post about how great it was to meet with nine middle school kids, after school to plan and implement a Kindness Week celebrating National School Guidance Counselor’s Week. 

The group represented several nationalities, ethnicities, religions and native languages. I literally floated out of school feeling like we’re going to be OK. If we are going through some rough political times right now, tomorrow’s leaders can be trusted.

It was fun watching the “likes” and “loves” and comments from friends in response to my post. One friend said I must be enjoying discussing the current political climate with students and I had to respond that I don’t. As a Teacher Librarian I listen, support, provide resources and cheerlead. The same friend responded again to say, “CHEERLEADER has always been your strong M.O.”

Her comment took me right back to eighth grade, sitting on the bleachers at a basketball game watching the cheerleaders do their thing. I leaned over to my friend and commented that if we worked really hard to get in shape and practice all the cheers and moves we could be on the team next year.
I had no real intention of doing any such thing. I was ‘just sayin’. But, then, I was shocked and a bit crushed when a year later my friend had gotten in shape, practiced the moves and the cheers, made the team and drifted off into a new group of friends. In the way of frosh-girls, I was jealous jilted.

I know. I had a lot of growing up to do.

Fortunately, that friendship survived my growing pains. I admire the work she does in her professional and personal life and I am working as a Teacher Librarian supporting, providing resources and cheerleading for students in a public school. I am NOT in any kind of shape to wear the shorty-short skirt or shake pompoms---well, maybe pom poms. But, I am most grateful that I am involved in work I literally feel I was born to do. And best? My friend cheers me on too.

Illustration Credit: Bookshavepores. "Stuff Your Eyes with Wonder." Stuff Your Eyes with Wonder. N.p., 12 June 2012. Web. 06 Feb. 2017. .

Give me an R
Give me an E
Give me an A
Give me a D
What's that spell? READ!
What do we do every day? READ!
Morning, noon and night? READ!

Who wins with READING? WE DO!!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dear Nikki Grimes: Review of One Last Word

It's too scary to write a review of work of a poet I admire so much....but I can write a fan letter since to me, Nikki Grimes is a rock star. 

Thank you to Penny Parker Klostermann for hosting Poetry Friday today over on her blog: A Penny and Her Jots.

Dear Nikki Grimes,

I am a different person, a different teacher, librarian and a different poet after reading One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomsbury 2017). 
Grimes, Nikki, and Cozbi A. Cabrera. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.

Thank you for bringing me to back to poets from Harlem Renaissance days that I admire….and poets new to me. Reading their words and feeling their sharpness is bitter-sweet. These poems will help me bring my students into a deeper understanding of our past including a favorite, Mother to Son. We all have needed this art and teaching tool.

I have always believed, no, known that art is essential for human existence. The art of these souls from Harlem writing their truth in a time that was so blatantly difficult caused moments I had to put One Last Word down. Poetry always slows me down--in a good way. But sometimes, I needed to ponder difficulties over the dishes, then pick the book up again. There are hard things in beautiful words.

Your response poems are beautiful, powerful. Each draws cords tight between our past and today. I can bring One Last Word to my students. They will get it. 

Nikki Grimes, your poems encourage people to put their energy into words. I wish more adults were doing this for young people. I’m so glad I can point to you, your body of work and especially One Last Word as a way into art. I’m glad for the conversations we readers can begin with…Jamar and Dina, Helena and Damian, Tanisha and Josh. They are in our families....and in your pages.

Thank you for a short and sweet description of the golden shovel form, the Harlem Renaissance, and the preface. Today, we get so little time to teach history that short descriptions are welcome diving boards. Even the index is a text structure I will use with my library students...it’s a detail important in my world.

Finally, I am in awe of the graphics in this book and the bios of each artist that include ways to see more, learn more. Pathways to further learning are a gift. And, I must add that the artistic notebook line graphics between poems are an invitation to write our own truths. Genius!

Nikki Grimes, One Last Word, is spectacular. I can only imagine the care put into creating this beauty. You have always set a high bar as a poet….but this book, One Last Word, is a masterpiece. I predict many awards. 

Thank you again and again for the love you are sending out to our world.Your friend and student,


PS: Don't take just my word for One Last Word. There are more reviews that applaud Nikki Grimes' work.

(click) School Library Journal

(click) Kirkus 

15 Words or Less

Thank you Laura Purdie Salas for the weekly challenge of a poem in 15 words or less....it keeps me from obsessing about the headlines!