A Mirror to Nature: Poems about Reflection by Jane Yolen

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection is Jane Yolen’s newest poetry book. The photographs in the book are absolutely stunning and are taken by Yolen’s son, Jason Stemple.

Each poem is based on a picture taken by Stemple and each picture is of a reflection in nature: seven wood storks with seven reflections, a frog sitting atop a floating bottle, a solitary cockle made less alone by its reflection. The poems are brief but powerful, describing the scene in each picture and digging deeper. One of my personal favorites is the frog on the the bottle, which Yolen points out is not biodegradable- yet the frog doesn’t know the difference between it and a log.

This is a gorgeous book, with full-page, full-color photographs. I shared it with my class today as a mentor for our observation door poetry and it was a big hit. The pictures drew a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” and the poems brought out laughs and sighs of agreement. A great book to share with students of all ages, this is a must-have for your poetry collection! It is also a great book to use for science/language arts connections, as each photograph is accompanied by a brief caption giving more information.


Poetry Unit of Study 2009

My favorite unit of study during the year is our poetry unit.  We read and explore poetry all year, using a variety of resources (especially Nancie Atwell’s Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons) so that my students are familiar with poetry and not as wary of it as they might be. However, I still leave the unit until rather late in the year because I know that we need to be close as a class and community in order to open up our hearts and minds when sharing our own poems. I don’t think I would get the same results earlier in the year.  

I began the unit this week with an exploration of the genre, which is my normal protocol when beginning a new unit o study in writing.  My students had two days to complete poetry centers, which allowed them to read through poetry anthologies and picture books, listen to poems read by their authors, crack open words, illustrate their poems, and more.  I think it went really well this year!

Here are the centers I used, with huge thanks to Georgia Heard and her amazing book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School (my poetry bible- if you don’t have a copy, get one ASAP!) :


Using the centers as an exploration of poetry really allowed my students to delve into poetry as a genre by reading poems and playing with language.  They enjoyed themselves and were surrounded by amazing words and authors for two full days.  I also gave them a packet of poetry that I put together, with poems by “cool” authors that they already know and love and new poets that I knew they would like; Walter Dean Myers, Valerie Worth, Jack Prelutsky,  Naomi Shihab Nye, J. Patrick Lewis, Douglas Florian, Nikki Giovanni, and many more.  The kids are always amazed to find out that “poets still exist today” because all too often they think of poetry as a genre that has come and gone, a genre that isn’t still written today.

After spending two days exploring poetry, we began to dig into our own lives and write as poets.  I teach poetry using Georgia Heard’s doors of poetry and it has always been a success for me.  This week we started with the heart door (or the feelings door, as my kids refer to it).  Without a doubt, the day we begin our heart poems is one I always treasure.  Without fail, I end in the class in tears, with at least 2-3 students also crying.

The heart door allows us to write poems about what is true in our lives- feelings like grief, sorrow, happiness, stress, anxiety, love, etc.  I begin by sharing poems written by my former students and talking to my current kids about what poetry looks like in our writer’s notebooks.  I assure them that it’s ok to write their poems in a more paragraph-like form, because line breaks, spacing, and punctuation will be dealt with in our revision stage.  At this point, I tell them, I just want them to get comfortable getting their ideas down on paper.  I also let them know that they will never have to share these if they are too personal, but not to be afraid of writing a sad poem or an anxious one.  Poetry can be an excellent way to work through feelings they might not be comfortable sharing with their parents or their friends.  

Some students always begin writing immediately.  Others take a little longer.  Those who are stuck might start with a list of events they could write about or they may go back to their heart maps from the beginning of the year. Within 10 minutes I usually have everyone writing.  And I allow students to share as they finish, because I tell them that hearing their classmate’s read their poems might inspire other poets in the classroom. 

This year’s heart poems were absolutely phenomenal.  I was so proud of my students because they truly opened their hearts and poured their feelings onto the page.  One student wrote a powerful poem about her step-sister’s death earlier in the year.  She shared it with the class because she told me she wanted them to understand why she had been so quiet this year.  She asked me to read it for her, because she wouldn’t be able to get through it- my heart broke.  I was barely able to read the words aloud.  But when she shared her words and her feelings, my class drew around her like a huge hug, embracing her as a family would.  After she shared, another student tentatively raised her hand and said, “Miss M., I was afraid to write a poem about my Poppy because I thought it would make me cry.  But when  A. shared her poem I saw how brave she was.  I’m going to write about my Poppy now, because she inspired me and showed me it’s ok to cry when I write”.  At this point, my heart just shattered.  These sixth-graders have become so mature in the last few months and I am so proud of them that I could just burst!

Lest you think that only my girls were working hard at becoming poets, let me tell you about my second class.  As I was explaining the heart door, I saw one of the popular, cool boys in my class with his head over his notebook, pen moving furiously across the page.  Within minutes of setting the class loose, he raised his hand and asked if he could share the two poems he wrote.  “Of course”,  I said.  Well, those two poems were some of the most emotion-laden poems I have ever heard in my classroom.  Dedicated to his grandfather who passed away a few months ago, this young man bared his heart and soul to his classmates, showing them the empty space still in his life and the ache in his heart everyday.  He read the poem with flushed face, tears in his eyes, and his voice wavering.  When he finished, he walked over to the tissue box and took a few minutes to compose himself while his classmates slowly went back to writing.  You could hear a pin drop in the room.  And I have never been prouder.


Poetry Friday

Popping in quickly to share one of my all-time favorite poems (introduced to me by a fellow blogger last year!).  We just began our poetry unit in school and it’s been a huge success.  I’ll blog more about that later!

Each year I begin by giving each of my students a packet of poems.  They are all by “cool” poets, I tell them- Walter Dean Myers, Valerie Worth, Eloise Greenfield, Jack Prelutsky, and many more.  My favorite is the last poem in the packet, by Kate DiCamillo.


Snow, Aldo

By Kate DiCamillo

Once, I was in New York,
in Central Park, and I saw
an old man in a black overcoat walking
a black dog. This was springtime
and the trees were still
bare and the sky was
gray and low and it began, suddenly,
to snow:
big fat flakes
that twirled and landed on the
black of the man’s overcoat and
the black dog’s fur. The dog
lifted his face and stared
up at the sky. The man looked
up, too. “Snow, Aldo,” he said to the dog,
“snow.” And he laughed.
The dog looked
at him and wagged his tail.

If I was in charge of making
snow globes, this is what I would put inside:
the old man in the black overcoat,
the black dog,
two friends with their faces turned up to the sky
as if they were receiving a blessing,
as if they were being blessed together
by something
as simple as snow
in March.

News Around the Kidlitosphere

It’s been a busy day here- I was visiting a sick friend after school and didn’t get home until late!  But here are a few links I have been saving up for a few days.

  • Check out the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are.  I think it looks great!
  • SLJ kicks off Battle of the Books!  As an avid fan of both March Madness and children’s books, this sounds like it will be a lot of fun.  Be sure to check it out!  I’m rooting for quite a few of the books.
  • It’s National Poetry Month!  There is a lot going on out there, so here are a few great links-  30 Poets/30 Days over at Gotta Book sounds like it is going to be awesome.  30 different poems by 30 different poets!  He’ll be posting a previously unpublished poem by a different poet for each day in April.
  •  The Miss Rumphius Effect features Poetry Makers.    She’ll be interviewing thirty-six awesomepoets during the month of April. The schedule is here.

Poetry Friday

This week I altered a lesson from Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor to practice with our schema. The lesson involved listening to a song, reading the lyrics, and jotting our text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections on a graphic organizer. I had never heard the song before but I loved it and wanted to share a bit.

Rachel Delevoryas

(Randy Stonehill, from Wonderama [Stonehillian/Word, 1992])

Rachel Delevoryas

With her thick eye glasses and her plain Jane face

Sat beside me in my fifth grade class

Looking so terribly out of place

Rachel played the violin

And classical music was out of style

She couldn’t control all her wild brown hair

Her nervous laughter and her awkward smile and

CHORUS • It was clear that she’d never be one of us

With her dowdy clothes

And her violin

And a name like Rachel Delevoryas


Read the rest here.

10th Anniversary of Speak/ Poetry Friday

This March, the 10th anniversary of Speak (10th Anniversary Edition) by Laurie Halse Anderson will be released.  I can’t believe it has been ten years since it was first published.  I remember reading Speak back in high school, when it was first published!  I keep meaning to reread it, but it never seems to make it to the top of my pile.  But this weekend I promise to get to it!  What has moved me to grab it once again?  Reading this poem, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  

Laurie wrote the first and last stanzas, but the rest of the poem is composed of lines from letters and emails that she has received from readers over the years.  It is extremely powerful.

Love Story (Amiri And Odette) by Walter Dean Myers

While browsing in Barnes and Noble today, I happened upon a display of Love Story (Amiri And Odette) by Walter Dean Myers in the Teen section of the store. The gorgeous cover drew me in, and I was curious to see what a picture book aimed at teens would be like, so I picked it up and began to page through it.  Before I knew it, I was completely enwrapped in the story and could not put it down.

This is a gorgeous book.  The illustrations by Javaka Steptoe are in mixed media and the contrast of colors in each page is just stunning.  And the poem, the love story of Amiri and Odette (based on Swan Lake) is breathtaking.  In the poem, a boy searches for his love among the Swan Lake projects, only to find that she belongs to an evil street lord who means her harm. It is only through perseverance and undying love that the girl is returned to the safety of her one true love. It is a gorgeous book and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my students.

I think this will appeal to some of my “cool” readers, those who live and breathe New York and hip-hop.  What a fantastic way to infuse poetry into the lives of students who don’t always think of poetry as the coolest type of writing.  I’ll be sure to share their reactions to the book when we get back to school!