Tag Archives: Giveaway

Interview with Laura Shovan + Giveaway

As we look forward to National Poetry Month, I thought it would be a nice time to have a poet on the blog. Laura Shovan is a celebrated poet whose debut novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, comes out on April 12th. Read through to the end for an opportunity to win it!

Laura Shovan

Photo credit: Karen Leigh Studios.

Why is poetry appealing to kids?

Children love the idea that words can create pictures in their minds. I sometimes play a game with them where I say, “An elephant is not standing on your teacher’s desk.” And we all laugh about the elephant who suddenly appeared in our imaginations, in spite of the word “not.” Prose has imagery too, but the white space of poetry allows those images to breathe. The pause we naturally make between one line and the next gives the reader time to absorb the sensory images and ideas, and to make connections.

For kids who haven’t discovered poetry yet, what are some good places to start?

I love Calef Brown’s books for early experiences with poetry. At home, we started with his Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks. The poems are short and funny. They include quirky rhymes and great characters, like Olf the terrible pirate (“terrible” as in really bad at being a pirate) from Brown’s book Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers. Nursery rhymes are great, as are tongue twister books such as Charlotte Pomerantz’s The Piggy in the Puddle and Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks, which both feature wordplay.

As children move through elementary school, I like poetry books on subjects they are interested in, such as Marilyn Singer’s Echo Echo for fans of Greek mythology, Jeff Moss’s dinosaur book Bone Poems, and Laura Purdie Salas’s A Fuzzy-Fast Blur: Poems about Pets. Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog is a wonderful introduction to novels in verse.

Can you recommend some exercises to get kids writing poetry?

The first thing I recommend is to focus on a single poetry-writing skill in each workshop, at least with elementary schoolers. One of my favorite workshops to begin with is onomatopoeia poems. I ask students to write about a place they know well, or an activity they like to do, using as much onomatopoeia as they can. We make it into a riddle poem. The poet will read his draft out loud to the class and everyone guesses where he is or what he is doing in the poem.

The fun part about this workshop is that, as we move ahead and write other poems, the onomatopoeia words stick. The children naturally incorporate them into their later writing. This and other writing prompts for kids are included in the back of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

Can you share any stories about your work with kids and poetry?

I hope you don’t mind a sad story.

I was doing a fourth grade poetry residency one winter. There was a boy in the class whose mother had died. He hadn’t been participating much, but sat with an aide in the back of the room. Then one day, he wrote a poem wishing his mother could come down from heaven and scold him for not doing his chores. All of the adults started tearing up. I found out later, it was the first time he had talked about his mother’s death at school.

There is something about making space in the school day, or at home, for writing poetry, that allows young people to open up. I think it’s because the writing task is different from the usual school assignments, which focus on analysis, persuasion, and earning a grade. When we ask children and teens to write about their experiences, the things they feel deeply about, we’re letting them know that they are valued not only as students, but as full human beings. That’s a powerful thing!

last fifth grade cover

Laura Shovan’s engaging novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. The students grow up and move on in this big-hearted debut about finding your voice and making sure others hear it. To win a copy of this lovely story, leave a comment below by midnight EDT on Friday. For two entries, tweet about this giveaway! (Please make sure your email address and twitter profile are included in your comment.)

Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and is currently serving as the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s Writer-in-Residence. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, her novel-in-verse for children, will be published in April 12 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who has loved poetry since a teacher handed her Gwendolyn Brooks’s We Real Cool in fourth grade. You can read her middle grade book reviews, including of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and @SuperKate.

It’s No Mystery. The Winner is….

Last Friday’s post about Middle-Grade Biographies included a GIVEAWAY of the newly-released Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini.  Nineteen people commented by the deadline, so tonight, nineteen sticky notes went up on the goat gate. Because that’s how every giveaway works, right?

Giveaway 1

Picking the goat who would pick the winner was the hardest part! They all wanted to be part of the action.

Giveaway 2

I chose Kristoff because he’s the youngest. And he loves to read mysteries.

Giveaway 3

After tasting a few, Kristoff took this name off the gate and proceeded to chew.

giveaway 4

My daughter had homework up to her ears, so I was left to attempt this all by my selfie.


Next time, maybe I’ll choose a barn animal who will sit still for photographs.

But, for now, Kristoff and I are happy to announce that the WINNER of a *signed* copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini is…

giveaway 5

Congratulations, Dee!

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center

When you read an article like this about diversity in children’s literature, you are likely to see statistics cited. Those statistics often come from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, or CCBC, which has been tracking trends in children’s literature, with a special emphasis on diversity, for decades.

Multicultural Stats Graphic 2002-2014 (1)

The CCBC is a research library on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus devoted to books for children and young adults. For over fifty years, the CCBC has been serving the University community as well as teachers, librarians, and book lovers statewide.

If you are in Madison, you can visit the CCBC and wander aimlessly through the stacks or you can have one of the very helpful librarians help you find what you are looking for.  You can attend book discussions and presentations by the very helpful librarians, and lectures by famous writers and illustrators. For example, the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture  is held every fall. Past lecturers included Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and Rita Williams-Garcia. Some of the lectures have been archived on video. This year’s lecture will be presented by Yuyi Morales.

The CCBC has recently moved to a larger space. They took their old friend Paul Bunyan with them.

Paul Bunyan closeup

He’s been in the CCBC, wherever it’s been located, since 1963.

There’s a new feature in the new space, a mural based on Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow. (Since it’s on window instead of a wall, should it be called a fenestral?)

CCBC flower wall

If you find yourself in Madison, check out the CCBC, but there’s one thing you can’t do at this library—check out books.

Even if you can’t get there in person, you can still use many of the resources at the CCBC. One of the most unique is the online exhibit of drafts of Ellen Raskin’s Newbery-award-winning book The Westing Game, along with notes, galleys, and an audio recording of Raskin talking about the manuscript.  It provides a wonderful insight into the writing and book design process.

One of the most popular resources is CHOICES, the annual best-of-the-year book published by the CCBC. Each issue of CHOICES includes an essay on that year’s publishing trends, a description of each book (there are 259 in this year’s issue), and author/title/illustrator and subject indexes. You can get the list of this year’s books here.  If you want to get your hands on the book itself, go here (or enter the giveaway at the end of this post).

choices 2015


The Charlotte Zolotow Award is presented by the CCBC every year and recognizes outstanding writing in picture books for children.

On the website, you will find pages full of information about Harry Potter and graphic novels. There are videos highlighting great new bookspodcastswebcasts, and interviews. The carefully curated bibliographies and booklists cover a wide range of topics from poetry to bullying to food. And don’t miss the CCBlogC for the latest news and books.

The CCBC provides services to Wisconsin librarians and teachers who are facing book challenges.  There are also resources for anyone dealing with intellectual freedom issues.

Many of the activities of the CCBC are supported by the Friends of the CCBC. The Friends help out with the publication of CHOICES, the events and awards, and with outreach by the librarians.  And the book sale. Oh, the book sale! The CCBC receives thousands of books each year. Even in the new, bigger space, they can’t keep them all.  Twice a year, the Friends sell the extra books to raise funds for their activities.  A couple of weeks ago, I scored a grocery bag full of some great books at the spring sale. I also picked up five issues of CHOICES (2011-2015) to send to one lucky winner. Enter here:


Jacqueline Houtman has used the collection at the CCBC to study books with autistic characters while she was working on The Reinvention of Edison Thomas, and to study biographies for young people while she was working on Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist.  She served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the CCBC  for three years.