Tag Archives: humor

NOOKS AND CRANNIES Interview with Jessica Lawson & Giveaway!

Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Jessica Lawson, author of THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER, and NOOKS & CRANNIES, which releases June 2nd.

Cover- Nooks & Crannies

Tabitha Crum, a girl with a big imagination and love for mystery novels, receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted.

There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed-a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

What was the genesis for Nooks & Crannies? How did the story idea come to you?

First of all, thanks so much for having me on the blog! I tend to come up with main characters—their situation, their hopes/fears, their voice—before I come up with clear plots. Originally, I had Tabitha Crum’s character being sort of like Anne Shirley, and the story was going to be sort of like Anne of Green Gables in the Lake District of England. But somehow, after months/years of having this girl in the back of my mind, the cottage I had her being sent to turned into a manor house, and the adopting man/woman/couple became a mysterious Countess who was keeping secrets. Before I knew it, five other children were begging to go to the house as well, and then, well, the mystery-in-a-manor house idea was set.

As a big Austen fan, I love that so much of the book is set in the Lake District of England. How did you choose and research the area?

As I mentioned above, my original intentions with Tabitha Crum were for her to be sent to the Lake District as an orphan. I love Beatrix Potter (author/illustrator of Peter Rabbit and other delights), who lived in the Lake District for a time, and thought I might even work her into the narrative. And Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so I was familiar with the area from many of her novels. For research, I checked books out of the library, looked up historic village information, and learned about various backgrounds and lifestyles of Lake District residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early idea stage, I imagined all sorts of outdoor splendor/activities/adventure, but then a nasty snowstorm became part of the plot, ruining any chance of outdoor fun. The setting became the house, which meant that I spent long periods of time looking up historic manor homes in the Lake District, which, as it sounds, was heavenly.

Nooks & Crannies is about a group of kids who receive invitations to a mysterious Countess’s mansion. It reminded me a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at times. Is that an intentional choice you made?

The book was actually pitched to my publisher as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue. When I was drafting, I wasn’t writing an intentional tribute to one of my favorite books by Roald Dahl, but once Tabitha was joined by several other children, the comparison was a bit unavoidable (mysterious invitation, famously reclusive host, etc.). And there is definitely a Veruca Salt-ish character among the children ☺

Yes, there is, and she’s wonderfully drawn. One of my favorite characters in the book is Pemberley, Tabitha’s pet mouse and confidant. (I used to raise mice as a girl. ☺) What was the inspiration behind this character?

Pet sidekicks have always been a favorite with me and, for a girl who sleeps in a musty attic, a mouse seemed like the perfect companion. A clever mouse seemed even better. Tabitha is a big fan of Inspector Pensive novels (my fictional version of books like Sherlock Holmes) and needed an equivalent of the Inspector’s partner, Timothy Tibbs (aka, the Watson of the I.P. books). With Pemberley, Tabitha has a loyal friend and a go-to partner to bounce her ideas/theories off of.

You did a great job with the language of the novel, making not only the characters but the writing itself feel British. How challenging was that for you?

I hope I did an okay job! It was a lot of fun to write ☺ I adore the novels of Charles Dickens (and—some of—the movie adaptations!), and have always been drawn to MG novels with a British voice and setting (from Mary Poppins to The Secret Garden to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books by Maryrose Woods). I’ve always loved British accents and British films/tv. I grew up loving shows like “Are You Being Served?” and Monty Python skits and the like, so my wording may be a bit of a caricature of all of those influences. It may sound odd, but during the writing process I just sort of tried to adopt a British voice in my head and hoped it would sink into the writing.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Oliver (one of the children invited to the mansion) and Tabitha, and think Nooks & Crannies will appeal to boys as well as girls. Could you talk about the importance of boy-girl friendships for middle-graders? How do you feel about books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books” based on the gender of the main character or book cover?

Thank you! I love the friendship between Tabitha and Oliver, too. I think that friendships are very important for middle-graders, regardless of gender, but boy-girl friendships have a special place in the middle grade years. I think they go a long way in showing younger people that physical gender differences do not equal emotional/cognitive and ability/interest-based differences—that no matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you can have similar interests, dreams, problems, and feelings. Stereotypes learned during childhood regarding what each gender is suited to can too often develop into adult gender-based assumptions and prejudices that I’m not so fond of.

As for books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books,” I think booksellers and librarians and teachers and parents are always going to have their own opinion on which books seem more attractive to certain readers, but labeling books according to gender simply because a cover has a boy or girl doesn’t really seem inclusive. Author Shannon Hale has written a series of posts on why it’s important to remember that books like The Princess in Black can be (and are) appealing to both genders, and targeting them toward a single sex can do a disservice to readers.

There are so many fabulous details in this book, making every scene so easy for the reader to visualize. Can you talk to writers about the importance of setting in a novel, and how you create such thorough and satisfying descriptions?

Setting is what grounds the reader in time and place, and without establishing a firm setting (or settings, depending on your novel), plot and character development simply don’t feel as rich or authentic. The setting in this novel is (with the exception of the first few chapters) the manor house. Because the Countess is an eccentric character who travels a lot, I was able to combine style elements and get away with it. I spent lots of time trying to figure out what the furnishings might be, what rooms might be like, what clothing would be worn, what food would be served, and then I threw out a whole bunch of stuff because as much as I’d like to, cramming in every fact you learn never makes for the best world-building. The voice and tone of this book allowed me to take liberties with the setting that I might not have taken if I were doing straight historic fiction, but creating a setting that was authentic and rich for this story was important to me. My favorite details to research were the food dishes, both common and ones that would have been fancier in 1906.

Could you tell us a bit about your current work-in-progress?

Sure! Waiting for Augusta is about an eleven-year-old runaway who travels from Alabama to Georgia in order to make peace with his dead father. It’s a story about miracles, watercolors, knowing yourself, keeping secrets, golf, barbecue, magic, friendship, wanting to make your parents proud, living up to expectations, setting your own expectations, and second chances at connection. The book will be out next summer from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

It sounds like another fabulous book, Jessica! Congratulations!

Jessica is giving away a signed copy of Nooks & Crannies to one lucky commenter. We’d like to know about a favorite pet you had as a child (real or imaginary) who was a best friend to you. OR, if you’d rather, tell us about your favorite book set in England.
BIO:Jessica Lawson- Author Photo- Black and White (web)
Jessica Lawson does not live in a fancy manor house, but she does deal with mysteries on a daily basis. Most of those mysteries involve missing socks and shadowy dessert disappearances. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
LINKS:
Website: http://jessicalawsonbooks.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JS_Lawson
Blog: http://fallingleaflets.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531

The Stars of Summer-Giveaway & Chat with Tara Dairman

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In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley.

As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper and sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when it turns out her hot dog assignment was a dirty trick by a jealous reviewer, Gladys’s reviewing career may be over forever.

My kids and I were thrilled to read an ARC of THE STARS OF SUMMER, as we’d loved ALL FOR STARS. Today I’m delighted to be talking with the books’ author, Tara Dairman.

Hi, Tara! One of my favorite things about your writing is the way you present girl/boy friendships, making your books appealing to all kids. (My son really enjoyed THE STARS OF SUMMER!) Did you have boys as close friends growing up? How important do you think it is that we move away from labels like “Boy Books” and “Girl Books?”

Thanks so much, Louise! I’m so glad you and your son enjoyed Gladys’s relationships with her friends, male and female. Sandy, Gladys’s best friend, isn’t based on anyone in particular from my real life, but I did have good friends who were boys as a middle-grader and teenager. And now, as a homeschool writing tutor, I love putting great books in the hands of my students regardless of the reader’s gender and of whether there’s a boy or a girl on the book’s cover. I think that we’re really shortchanging kids if we give them the message, from such a young age, that certain books are not for them. If we only ever consumed stories about characters who were exactly like ourselves, the world would be a very boring place.

Gladys gets an “assignment” to find and review the world’s best hot dog. The results are hilarious! I have to know: Do you like hot dogs? And how many of the varieties presented in the books have you actually tasted? Any favorites?

I love hot dogs. Even when I was writing some of the grosser hot dog scenes in the book, I would find myself craving a hot dog!

Like Gladys’s friend Parm, I was a very picky eater growing up, but hot dogs were always a hit. Then, as an adult, when I backpacked around the world, I was surprised at how universal hot dogs were—they kept popping up in so many countries, with so many fantastic variations! Every international hot dog that Gladys eats in the book I have eaten as well; in fact, the ones I chose to have her cover for her review (Chilean completo Italiano, Icelandic pylsur, Thai battered and fried hot dog, New Mexican Sonoran, Nathan’s famous, and South African Gatsby) are all favorites of mine.

Aaaand now I want a hot dog.

Speaking of the scrumptious and often “exotic” food mentioned in THE STARS OF SUMMER, how do you research all of these delicious dishes Gladys reviews and makes? Do they spring from your own personal globetrotting experiences?

Yes, exactly. I wrote a lot of ALL FOUR STARS before I went world-traveling, so the foods in that book are based more on foods I tried as a teenager and young adult in New York City. But THE STARS OF SUMMER draws heavily on cuisines I sampled in my travels. I sometimes had to go back to my travel blog or do some sleuthing online to confirm my memories of certain dishes, but for the most part, not a lot of extra research was required.

I love the plot surprises and twists in your books. As a writer, I’m curious to know how much pre-plotting you do before you write. Did you find writing the sequel more challenging than writing the first book? Do you have any advice for writers working under tight deadlines?

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman CoverFor me, these two questions are related, so I’m going to answer them together. I found writing THE STARS OF SUMMER much easier than writing ALL FOUR STARS, and I think there are two main reasons why. Firstly, I spent so many years working on ALL FOUR STARS that, by the end, I knew my characters inside and out. That made it so much easier to stick them into a new situation in the sequel, because I already knew what their passions were and how they’d react to just about anything I threw at them. And secondly, I outlined THE STARS OF SUMMER very fastidiously before I started to write it (I explain my process in detail here: http://taradairman.com/2013/09/19/first-drafting-now-96-faster/). Of course, details always change in the execution, but knowing where all the major plot turns were in advance helped me feel confident as I drafted the book and get the work done quickly.

I’ve heard Book Three is in the works. Congratulations! What can you tell us about Gladys’s upcoming adventures? Do you know a release date yet?

Thank you—I’m excited that the series is continuing! Book Three should be out in Summer 2016. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that Gladys will be starting middle school, and will be getting an unexpected houseguest and an even more unexpected (or should I just say less expected?) job offer.

Oooh, unexpected houseguest AND a new job! Now I’m speculating… 

Tara is graciously giving away a copy of THE STARS OF SUMMER to one very lucky commenter! We’d like to know your favorite hot dog toppings/flavor, or favorite foreign dish.

 

Tara Dairman headshotTara Dairman is the author of ALL FOUR STARS, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Connect with Tara:

 taradairman.com

twitter.com/TaraDairman

facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor

instagram.com/allfourstars/

 

 

National Poetry Month: Making Poetry WOW!

April is National Poetry Month, and today’s post is all about poetry!

There are many perceptions of poetry these days, and one of them is that it’s boring.

As a young child, I listened to my parents read poetry by Carl Sandberg and James Whitcomb Riley. As a young adult, I found Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and read them to myself. The classical poetry canon many of us grew up with is lovely, but there are so many different kinds of learners and we need to try to reach more of them. Wouldn’t it be great to help them find the wow of poetry? One way to do that is to explore a varied collection of poetry forms for the varied collection of readers we all want to ignite.

Here are just a few ways you can help kids explore poetry. You might even make poets of some of them!

Novels in verse can be particularly interesting for Middle Grade readers (I have found them to be fearless about trying something new, myself), but also for those readers who are developing their stamina and excitement about reading in general. Synopses are from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, 2015 Newbery Medal, 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor

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‘With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering, ‘ announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (“He Said, She Said” 2013).

Diamond Willow, 2009 Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year and Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013 , both by Helen Frost

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Twelve-year-old Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents’house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it’s just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences . . . And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again.

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Anikwa and James, twelve years old in 1812, spend their days fishing, trapping, and exploring together in the forests of the Indiana Territory. To Anikwa and his family, members of the Miami tribe, this land has been home for centuries. As traders, James’s family has ties to the Miami community as well as to the American soldiers in the fort. Now tensions are rising—the British and American armies prepare to meet at Fort Wayne for a crucial battle, and Native Americans from surrounding tribes gather in Kekionga to protect their homeland. After trading stops and precious commodities, like salt, are withheld, the fort comes under siege, and war ravages the land. James and Anikwa, like everyone around them, must decide where their deepest loyalties lie. Can their families—and their friendship—survive?

May B and Blue Birds, both by Carolyn Starr Rose

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May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
National Book Award, 2015 Newbery Honor, 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, 2015 Sibert Honor, 2015 Claudia Lewis Award for Older Readers

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Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Picture books of science-themed poetry are another wonderful way to connect with readers. Picture book treatments may seem simplistic but they are one of the best ways to grab a reader of any age in the shortest possible time. There are many new ones being released all the time, but here are just a few. I wish there had been books like these when I was a budding science enthusiast!

Step Gently Out and Sweep Up the Sun, both by Helen Frost with photographs by Rick Lieder

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What would happen if you walked very, very quietly and looked ever so carefully at the natural world outside? You might see a cricket leap, a moth spread her wings, or a spider step across a silken web. In simple, evocative language, Helen Frost offers a hint at the many tiny creatures around us. And in astonishing close-up photographs, Rick Lieder captures the glint of a katydid’s eye, the glow of a firefly, and many more living wonders just awaiting discovery. Fascinating facts about all the creatures pictured may be found at the end.

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Baby robins, pen-beaked in their nest. Mallards winging to a new clime. Whether chickadees or cardinals, sparrows or starlings, here are commonly seen birds in their natural settings, captured in photographs of rare beauty and grace. In perfect synchrony, a lyrical narrative evokes images of play and flight, perseverance and trust.At the end, readers will find profiles of the featured species. 

An Egret’s Day, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple
National Outdoor Book Awards Honor book

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Poems and photographs take readers up close to observe the daily life of the extraordinary Great Egret. A Great Egret rarely rests. This majestic bird, with its big feet, even bigger beak, and breathtaking lacy wings, is a treat to watch. With his camera, photographer Jason Stemple takes us close to these magnificent creatures to witness their physical–and quirky–beauty as well as their daily habits and behavior–soaring, hunting, preening, nesting–which most of us never get a chance to see. Meanwhile, celebrated poet Jane Yolen offers her keen observations in carefully-crafted poetry that is at once whimsical, thoughtful, and thought provoking. Interesting facts about the bird accompany each poem.

Insectlopedia, by Douglas Florian

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The windows are open and bugs are everywhere!

Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems, by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Virginia Halstead

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Showing that science is not a dry subject at all–rather it’s a way of looking at the world–these poems, by poets both beloved and new, cover a wide array of topics, including tools of science, weather, seeds, animals, and the processes of freezing. Full-color illustrations.

The Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom, edited by Jack Preultsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Culled by Jack Prelutsky from the works of more than 100 highly acclaimed poets of the twentieth century, here is a poetic parade of the animal kingdom that ranges from the lowly earthworm to the majestic whale and just about every creature in between. Some of the poems are playful and funny; others are insightful and thoughtful–but all are brief and fun to read aloud. Whether by Ogden Nash or Seamus Heaney, William Carlos Williams or Marianne Moore, the striking images of each poem are captured in the deft brushstrokes, sure sense of color, and lyrical compositions of Meilo So, a brilliant young watercolorist.

Fanciful and funny poems are the ones we turn to most often to capture kids’ imaginations, and they exist in abundance. Here are just a few which have delighted the Middle Grade students I’ve taught.

Once I Ate a Pie, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider (this is one of a series featuring animal images and poetry)

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It’s a dog’s life!  Every dog has a tail to wag . . . and a tale to tell. Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest asked a collection of canines to speak up—and so they do, in words, barks, and yips. Captured here are accounts of happy days filled with squeaky toys, good smells, plenty of naps, and the very important jobs they do for the people they love to love.

The Dragons are Singing Tonight, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis

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Prelutsky and Sis…bring to life so many sorts of dragons: the large, the small, the ferocious, the technological, the gentle, the ominous, and the disconsolate.(from Booklist)

Don’t Bump the Glump and Runny Babbitt, both by Shel Silverstein

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It’s a zoo in here!

Have you ever . . .

Seen a Gritchen in your kitchen?
Dared to dance with the One-Legged Zantz?
Declined to dine with the Glub-Toothed Sline?

You haven’t? Well then, step inside—but only if you are ready to be amazed, tickled, astonished and entertained by this most unusual bestiary of silly and scary creatures.

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Welcome to the world of Runny Babbit and his friends Toe Jurtle, Skertie Gunk, Rirty Dat, Dungry Hog, Snerry Jake, and many others who speak a topsy-turvy language all their own.

Oh, Theodore! Guinea Pig Poems, by Susan Katz, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

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Come meet Theodore: a plump, fuzzy guinea pig with a big appetite, a lot to say, and a personality all his own. As you, and his new owner, get to know him, you’ll find out what he eats and how he speaks. You’ll also discover the work involved in caring for a pet: feeding, cleaning, and taking him out for exercise. But it hardly seems like work once your pet becomes your best friend.
With the popularity of guinea pigs as family and classroom pets, Theodore’s antics are sure to ring true to many readers. And for those who haven’t had a guinea pig of their own, these short, funny, and accessible poems will create a vivid first impression.

In addition to reading poetry, one way to understand it is to dig into its different forms for yourself by writing some! Here are a few books to get you started exploring different styles of poetry with students.

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka

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In this splendid and playful volume — second of a trilogy — an acclaimed creative team presents examples of twenty-nine poetic forms, demonstrating not only the (sometimes bendable) rules of poetry, but also the spirit that brings these forms to life. Featuring poems from the likes of Eleanor Farjeon (aubade), X. J. Kennedy (elegy), Ogden Nash (couplet), Liz Rosenberg (pantoum), and William Shakespeare, the sonnet king himself, A Kick in the Head perfectly illustrates Robert Frost’s maxim that poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net.

R is for Rhyme : A Poetry Alphabet, by Judy Young, illustrated by Victor Juhasz

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From acrostics to ballads to meter and metaphor, enjoy this collection of poems that illustrate poetic tools, terms, and techniques. Each term and technique is demonstrated.

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Prelutsky has invented a method he calls ‘poemstarts’ to help children get started in writing poetry. He provides several introductory lines of a simple poem and then offers some open-ended suggestions for its completion. In this thematically organized collection, Prelutsky offers ten poemstarts on different popular themes, complemented by three short poems on the same subject by different authors.

Need more help with ideas to share the wow of poetry with students? Here are some resources for teachers.

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/calendar-activities/april-national-poetry-month-20478.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/poetry/
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/national-poetry-month-activities
http://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/poetry
http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy National Poetry Month!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press and blogs at the Best of It.