Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - Susan Cooper (b.1935)

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Unbeknownst to me until a few days ago, this poem was written by children's author Susan Cooper for The Christmas Revels, an annual celebration that takes place in Cambridge, MA, each year. If you're ever in the Harvard Square area in December, I highly recommend seeing and hearing this ever-changing group of performers.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Author Amok. Be sure to check out my tongue-in-cheek original holiday poem, as well, at my other blog, Rockhound Place.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday - Linda Kroll

from Winter, Awake!
by Linda Kroll

The sun hung low in southern skies.
The days grew short; then nights were long,
With bright Orion striding high
Above the quiet farms and towns.
At last the harvest work was done.
The stalks of corn were stacked in shocks.
Potatoes, pumpkins, apples, plums
Were picked and canned and stored and packed.
The wren and robin young were grown.
Their songs had ceased; the flocks were gone.
Great vees of geese had honked good-bye.
The monarch butterflies had flown.
But still fall lingered, fair and fine,
With misty mornings, hazy days,
While waiting nature watched for hints
Of cutting cold and biting winds,
For sullen skies of snowy flakes.

But Winter would not wake.

This is the text on the first page of Linda Kroll's and Ruth Lieberherr's beautiful book, Winter Awake. The rest of this lovely poem and gorgeous illustrations fill the book, which is perfect for this time of year here in New England. The weather keeps flip-flopping, and only the tiniest little flakes of snow have been seen, much to my children's chagrin. But the signs are all around. The trees are mostly bare, the geese have come and gone, the tops of ponds are slushy even when daytime temperatures reach fifty degrees. We're looking forward to celebrating the solstice here in just a little over two weeks, so books like Winter, Awake are at the top of our list of favorite winter books.

Other wintery books that are either books of poetry or poetic in nature that we like include A Snowflake Fell--Poems about Winter (compiled by Laura Whipple; illustrated by Hatsuki Hori), Winter Poems (selected by Barbara Rogasky; illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman), Winter Lights--A Season in Poems & Quilts (by Anna Grossnickle Hines), Winter King, Summer Queen (written by Mary Lister; illustrated by Diana Mayo), and Winter Lullaby (by Barbara Seuling; illustrated by Greg Newbold). I'll be posting more of our favorite winter and holiday books soon. Happy December, everyone!

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday - Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849)


by Hartley Coleridge

The mellow year is hastening to its close;
The little birds have almost sung their last,
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast--
The shrill-piped harbinger of early snows;
The patient beauty of the scentless rose,
Oft with the morn's hoar crystal quaintly glassed.
Hangs, a pale mourner for the summer past,
And makes a little summer where it grows:
In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day
The dusky waters shudder as they shine,
The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way
Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define,
And the gaunt woods, in ragged, scant array,
Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy twine.

Hartley Coleridge was the eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Yat-Yee Chong. Head on over and see what poems are being rounded up today!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday - Dixie Wilson

The Mist and All

Dixie Wilson

I like the fall,
The mist and all.
I like the night owl's
Lonely call--
And wailing sound
Of wind around.

I like the gray
November day,
And bare, dead boughs
That coldly sway
Against my pane.
I like the rain.

I like to sit
And laugh at it--
And tend
My cozy fire a bit.
I like the fall--
The mist and all.--

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted at Check It Out. Head on over!

Photo courtesy of Jim Wegryn.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Poems for kids

Acting upon a suggestion from a founding member of my oldest child's poetry club, my ten-year-old son will be memorizing a poem about Thanksgiving to recite at this month's poetry club meeting. I'm thinking that my seven-year-old and even my almost-four-year-old may want to join in on the fun here at home, at least, so to that end, I've been ILL-ing many books with holiday poetry in them. In case anyone else is searching for something similar, here's the list as it stands right now. Let me know if you have any suitable titles to recommend, and I'll add them to the list, as well.

The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving, told by Joseph Bruchac; illustrated by Murv Jacob.

Thanksgiving Poems, collected by Myra Cohn Livingston; illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Merrily Comes Our Harvest in, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrated by Ben Shecter

Holiday Stew with Seasoning, Too! A Kid's Portion of Holiday and Seasonal Poems, by Jenny Whitehead

The Book of Thanksgiving--Stories, Poems, and Recipes for Sharing One of America's Greatest Holidays, by Jessica Faust and Jacky Sach

It's Thanksgiving! by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Marilyn Hafner

Over the River and through the Wood, by Lydia Marie Child; illustrated by David Catrow (in this particular incarnation, anyway)

Thanksgiving with Me, by Margaret Willy; illustrated by Lloyd Bloom

Friday, October 31, 2008

Poetry Friday - Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)

For those of you who will be out with children trick-or-treating tonight, here are some nice images from the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables.

An Autumn Evening

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Poetry for Children.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday - Robert Frost

After Apple Picking
Robert Frost
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spik
ed with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at the blog where it all began,
Big A little a.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


My older son (age 10) is part of a poetry group whose similarly-aged members meet monthly and recite for one another. Recently, another mom and I have started taking turns talking to the kids about a form in poetry when recitations are finished. Having had an excellent introduction to haiku last month, the kids learned about the ballad at this month's meeting. Since I have a bit of a musical bent, anyway, this seemed to me like a good style into which to delve.

While learning that a ballad, simply put, is a poem that tells a story and is or was meant to be sung, I was fascinated to learn that one of the oldest existing printed ballads is about that heroic figure, Robin Hood. Printed around the late 1400's or early 1500's, "A Gest of Robyn Hode" is almost certainly a compilation of earlier versions of the legends that existed in the oral tradition.

I began, however, with a recording of the song, "The Grey Selkie," as su
ng by the band Solas on their Words that Remain cd, and then gave the kids a simple definition of the ballad. After this, I mentioned the titles of several ballads I knew the kids knew (as they had all sung at least two or three of them in the recent past). The list of traditional ballads is long, but these were the ones I mentioned--

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Oh, Shenandoah
The Rising of the Moon

The Highwayman

Tam Lin
Barbara Allen

A Gest of Robyn Hode

One of the children read a few stanzas from "Robyn Hode," and from there we began to talk about rhyme schemes. The kids were all given a copy of "The Great Selkie of Skule Skerry" from the Evan-Moor book,
Read and Understand Poetry (Grades 5-6+) to figure out what rhyme scheme this particular poem follows (AABB). Then I read a bit from "The Highwayman" and "Casey at the Bat" and had them find the rhymes. From here we went on to discuss other common aspects of ballads, including

regular rhyme schemes (often AABB or ABAB)

regular rhythm

unanswered questions

unhappy and sometimes abrupt endings

dialogue between characters

sparsity of narration

in medias res form of storytelling (pronounced ĭn mē'dē-əs rās, as I found out afterwards with the help of a trusty dictionary)

I left the kids with a challenge to find a news story with which to use their imaginations and the facts to create a story featuring two individuals. They will also need to invent some dialogue between the characters, and use the story and dialogue as the basis for a ballad, relying on the possible components of that form listed above to help them. After creating their ballads, they will hopefully bring them to next month's meeting and share them. Since I challenged them, I suppose this means I should work on one of my own, hmm? Stay tuned. . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday - Traditional

The Wind and the Leaves


Come, little leaves, said the wind one day,
Come over the meadows with me and play.
Put on your dresses of red and gold.
For summer is gone and the days grow cold.

Soon as the leaves heard the wind's loud call
Down they came fluttering, one and all.
Over the fields they danced and flew
Singing the soft little songs they knew.

Dancing and whirling the little leaves went,
Winter had called them, and they were content
Soon fast asleep on their earthly beds,
The snow laid a coverlet on their heads.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Botany Books for kids

This list is by no means exhaustive--it's just what we've used and are using right now for the plants portion of our Life Science study (begun last year with animals and the human body). I've found that my participation in the 100 Species Challenge has come in handy as inspiration to get the kids excited about plants, and about identifying mystery plants. Who doesn't like a mystery?


Plant Classification (The Life of Plants), by Louise & Richard Spilsbury. I really like the way this book is laid out--easily digestible 2-page spreads, but enough knowledge to keep my ten-year-old learning. Great photos! Currently checked out from the library but also in my Amazon cart.

Plant (DK Eye Wonder), by Fleur Star. Same 2-page chunks, but less information. Again, nice photos. Just about right for my seven-year-old.

A Seed is Sleepy
, by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long (a favorite). Gorgeous illustrations. Conversational tone. A good bit of information snuck in, too. Great for all three of my kids (10, 7, and almost 4). Have this one out from the library but it's in my Amazon cart to buy soon.

What Kinds of Seeds Are These? by Heidi Bee Roemer and illustrated by Olena Kassian. Aimed at the 4-8 crowd. Shows how seeds travel and what kinds of packages in which seeds come.

What Do Roots Do? by Kathleen Kudlinski. Gives a great view to what happens underground. All three of kids really liked this one.

Trees of North America (Usborne Spotter's Guides)
, by Alan Mitchell. A lot of information packed into a small, take-along book. The only thing I wish is that it was two books--one for the Eastern Region, and one for the Western. Recommended.

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Trees, by Jim Arnosky. I love this series of books. Crinkleroot is like Santa Claus meets John Muir as imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien. The books have a nice tone, and the illustrations are sweet. Perfect for my seven-year-old.

Tell Me, Tree--All about Trees for Kids, by Gail Gibbons. We have many books by this author and they're all great. A good amount of information for ages 4-8.

Plants that Never Ever Bloom
, by Ruth Heller. This author is a recent find for us--many of her books are now out-of-print, but I believe some of them are being reprinted. This particular title is a little out-of-date (pub. 1984), as well, as it places mushrooms and other fungi in the plant kingdom, but it is still worth checking out if you don't mind explaining how classification can change as scientists gain more knowledge about different species. The book does a great job of covering non-flowering plants, such as mosses, lichens, algae, etc. Highly recommended for ages 6-10.

Autumn Leaves, by Ken Robbins. A basic look at a few trees and their leaves in full autumn splendor. Worth getting from the library. Ages 3-6.

The Flower Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Leslie Evans. We've liked a lot of Palotta's alphabet books, and this one is a favorite. Will definitely dig it out again in the spring when everything starts to bloom again.

Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children, by Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto. Good for inspiration but not concrete enough for me. For example, we used the family tree of plants idea from this book, but had to pull information from other books to complete the project.

Shanleya's Quest: a Botany Adventure for Kids Ages 9 to 99, by Thomas J. Elpel and illustrated by Gloria Brown. This one will appeal to any Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers out there. Teaches about plant identification through story. My ten-year-old liked it. I've ordered the author's other book, Botany in a Day via interlibrary loan.

A Forest of Stories--Magical Tree Tales from around the World, retold by Rina Singh and illustrated by Helen Cann. As with most books from Barefoot Books, the artwork in this book is top-notch. The stories are well told, as well, making this yet another want-to-have in my Amazon cart. All three of my kids listen with full attention when I read from this book!

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle. Follows the story of a seed. Ages 4-8.

A Tree Can Be. . .
by Judy Nayer and illustrated by Anna Vojtech. A sweet illustrated poem about all the things a tree can be to different people and animals. For ages 2-4.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The City of Ember, Pt. 2

Dave at Night has been deleted from FB's fall line-up. It's one I hadn't preread--I had read Ella Enchanted (also by Gail Carson Levine) and had read somewhere that Dave at Night was the author's favorite book she had written. The story deals with some brutality experienced by the main character while in a NYC orphanage, though, and, given the make-up of our group, with younger kids in it than originally planned and every member in it (including their fearless leader) on the sensitive side, we're going to pass on this book for now.

On to the second day we spent on The City of Ember. We began with some general questions, which you can find here (click the link and a pdf should download). The kids had a lot to say--it was an excellent discussion. After the kids had talked themselves out, we moved on to an online animated visual aid of how a hydro-powered generator works, with additional photographs of actual generators on the same page. Then we also watched the trailer for the movie and talked about how the story can often change in being translated from book to screen.

The previous week we had read aloud the part of the story when Clary sees Lina's bean plant beginning to grow on her windowsill, and this week we planted bean plants in individual plants which the kids took home.

The kids's enthusiasm for this book made it an easy one to discuss. They liked the first book they read for the group (Chasing Vermeer--look for a blog entry about this book soon), but they loved The City of Ember. Most of them are currently reading The People of Sparks, with plans to finish the series.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The City of Ember, Pt. 1

FB (Favorite Books, the book discussion group at our co-op) just finished The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. I had no idea what good timing it would work out to be--the movie opened yesterday!

The group was set up to have activities the first week of two spent on a book, and discussion the second, but I've found that it works better to mix the two up. And since Monday is Columbus Day, the co-op isn't meeting, and I've decided that Dave at Night (by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted), our next book, can be squeezed into one week.

During our first week spent on Ember, we discussed where everyone was in the book (only one child, mine, hadn't yet started it), read the introduction aloud, and talked about what we knew about Ember from these few pages, and what we didn't know. Then we read aloud a bit in the first chapter where Lina (pronounced LY-na, according to the author, which the movie disregards) and Doon are given their job placements. The kids picked mock assignments from a green felt bag I whipped together Sunday night and read aloud from job description sheets I made. We talked about how it would feel to be assigned to a profession for at least three years and to have very little choice in the matter. The kids responded with ways they would get out of jobs they didn't like.

Then most of the children participated in making a book of Crawling and Flying Things, which I will color-copy and give to each child to make into a book of their own. The plan was to bring my computer the second week to input descriptions of the bugs they created (from cutting and pasting ETC clipart insects), but we didn't end up with enough time the second week to do so, so I will let each child fill in the descriptions for each bug by hand on their own.

For the remainder of the first week's time, the kids decoded a "secret message" (a la the Instructions for Egress) I created by writing a note to them, and then leaving out 1-3 letters in each word. To make it easier, I put a list of the letters the would need at the top of the page (A A A A C D D E E, etc.). This was the biggest success of the day.

When I figure out how to post my pdfs for each activity, I'll put a link here. In the meantime, here are some links I found helpful for week one:

Teachers@Random--The City of Ember
Literature to the Rescue by Lynne Farrell Stover (a pdf) City of Ember

Part 2, coming soon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beginning Anew

My other blog, Rockhound Place, has taken on a life of its own as a place to record music, poetry, and trivia, plus occasional whining sessions and even more infrequent opinionated pieces. Books are getting shoved to the side (literally), and I don't like it! If I had to choose between books and music, I would be agonizingly hard-pressed to make a decision between them. Luckily, I don't have to choose, and have started this blog to record specifically any children's or YA books that are being read in my house, either by me or my kids.

I'm currently running a book discussion group for kids reading at or above the fifth grade level at our homeschooling co-op, so I may record what we've done in that group from time to time, if I think others might eventually wind their way here and find what I've pulled together on a title useful.