Tag Archives: librarians

Happy Clerihew Day!

What is a Clerihew, you ask?

It’s a comical poem made of four lines – two couplets and a specific rhyming scheme, aabb. It was created by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) at the age of 16 and duly named after him. In a Clerihew poem, the first line names a person with the end of the second line rhyming with the person’s name. Most often, these poems make light of or take the serious out of the person being focused on. They’re funny and light-hearted.

If you’re unfamiliar with rhyming scheme and all the differences, here’s an informative video for you to peek at.

How does Clerihew poetry play into middle schoolers reading and writing? Just that – play. And it can actually play into more than the R and W of school, too. Clerihew poems are all about being silly and causing giggles. They’re all about fun and seeing things in a different way.

Everyone is probably familiar with Garfield the cat. He’s lazy, overweight, has an aloof attitude about life and pretty much everything. His constant picking on Odie in the comic strips is presented in a silly or funny way, even though some of Garfield’s actions really aren’t funny.

That’s what a Clerihew poem does. It takes a person (most of the time famous or well-known) and sheds them in silly or humorous shadows, presenting them in an altered way. It makes light of who they are and shows the flip-side of that person in a nice way. By doing this, it forces the writer to see more than is visibly there, plugging into their creative mind and exploring possibilities. What a great exercise to have middle grade readers/writers do. And they can be silly to boot!

Here’s an example:

Garfield the cat
On his rear he sat.
Eating lasagna galore
All about the decor.

Copyright © 2000 James & Marie Summers

Here are a couple videos about the art of Clerihew poems I think you might find helpful. Here & Here. Take a view and then try an exercise with your students or kids. I remember doing exercises like this with my kids to pass the time as we traveled to yet another of their travel hockey or soccer games.

Have you ever written a Clerihew poem? Why not give it a try in the comments and share? We’d love to read!

Video Conferencing: Authors at Your Fingertips

Author S A Larsen

You’ve just finished reading a fantastic book with your class. The kids are engaged and the story is the topic of conversation. Go beyond the traditional project or book report and transport the author to your doorstep.

The Digital Age:
We live in a digital age, and fortunately for our schools, many authors are available to video conference. Location and time differences are no longer a deterrent. Many authors list video conferencing information on their websites. An internet search can also help you find available authors. Some authors charge a fee and some don’t. Chat with your author to see what terms can be reached. Link To Mixed-Up File Authors

If your school doesn’t have a budget for author presentations, be creative:

  • Take book orders from the students. Many authors are happy to sell and ship personally signed copies.
  • Ask the PTO to purchase class sets for the grade levels.
  • Offer to post  a review of the book on strategic websites.
  • Feature the book in the school newspaper or on the school website.
  • Post the book and video conference snippets on the school Facebook page.
  • Display the author’s name and book title on the school billboard.
  • Invite your local newspaper columnist to cover the class video chat.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Annabelle Fisher, author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, Skypes with a class of readers

So, you’ve booked the author. Now what?

Ask the author:
First, ask the author what they offer. Some will talk about their book and the background it took to write it. But, if it’s a science author, they may have a favorite demonstration to share. If it’s a picture book illustrator, they may draw the character for the kids. If it’s a fantasy author, they may demonstrate how to create imagery through descriptive writing from a new world.

Does the author request questions before the video conference? This helps the author give informed and well-thought-out answers. Poll your students. What do they want to know? Was there a fascinating section of the book they wanted to know more about? What about behind-the-scene events? Why did the author create a certain character? Did the author use traits from real people? Were any of the events in the book part of the author’s life? Were there unanswered questions in the story line? Help students focus their questions so they pull out unique elements of the author’s work. This is the benefit of video conferencing. You have the author’s ear! When conference day comes, let the students take turns asking the questions.

Student Created Games

Do students have something to share with the author? 

Did they create a skit? Did they write an alternative ending to the story or insert a chapter in-between? Did they write a quiz show or create a game that targets details from the book? Did they create trading cards of the different events and characters? Or perhaps your students would like to dress in character and the author has to guess the character’s identity.

Using Google Maps with author interview:
Also, consider things like Google maps. Students have the ability to bookmark a location on the world-wide map with their own information and facts. This is a great option for historical novels or any story that travels. Consider having students interview the author about the different locations and the importance of each site. Besides being a great project where students research and enter information on the world-wide map, people from around the globe get instant access to the information your students have entered. Extend the project by collaborating with other classes (from anywhere in the world) and build a map together.

Before you read:
Think forward. Invite the author beforehand to share background information and tidbits before you start reading. Why did they write this book? Did they face challenges? Does the story relate to their own life or the life of someone else? Who or what influenced them? Meaningful introductory conversations set the stage for an engaging beginning.

Authors love sharing and the age of video conferencing has opened up a new set of doors.

The Power of Empowered Kids (in middle grade lit)

The Power of Empowered Kids in Middle Grade Literature

Middle Grade Lit Empowers Kids

Can’t is a dangerous word. It’s one of those words that gets pulled out a lot by adults these days. You can’t say that. You can’t believe that. You can’t do that.

Can’t is a natural part of the language definitely has its role in our world, but it’s come to mean a lot of different things. Things it was likely never meant to be in the first place. More importantly, it’s an imprecise word that people use as a substitute for other, more meaningful words, like mustn’t. And in its imprecise form, can’t can be very dangerous when applied to kids.

Can’t is a limiting word. A word that takes something away from the person it’s used on. And in this world, we can’t afford to be taking things away from the coming generations.

Now, I’m not talking here about the word shouldn’t, another limiting word that’s sometimes used interchangeably with can’t. “You shouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways” is a far different sentence than “You can’t cross the street without looking both ways.” Because what the word shouldn’t takes away is an imperative to do something.

Can’t takes away ability. It steals the power to do a thing. And it’s that deprivation of power we’ve got to look out for when we’re talking to kids.

Disempowering Narratives Limit Everyone

I hear the word can’t a lot when people refer to kids in stories—especially middle grade adventure stories—and when I do it’s usually with a snicker, or a scoff, or a slightly curled lip.

  • “Kids can’t really think like that.”
  • “Kids can’t accomplish that much.”
  • “Kids can’t be depended on to make decisions like that.”

And worse, I’ve heard it applied to real world kids as well.

  • “Kids can’t lead their peers.”
  • “They can’t be trusted with that kind of responsibility.”
  • “Girls can’t…” and “Boys can’t…”

When those people say things like that, I believe that they mean it. They’ve bought into a fallacy that a thing is impossible, when really it’s just improbable, and what’s worse is that they’re convincing others, especially young people, that they really are that limited.

But I’m convinced that middle graders can do a lot more than society gives them credit for. I’ve seen kids in this age group accomplish some pretty amazing things. They’ve written stories and plays. They’ve organized campaigns to fight the global slave trade that still exists today.

Don’t believe me? Look up kids like Dylan Mahalingam, or Katie Stagliano, or Zach Hunter, or Ryan Hreljac.

There are countless others who’ve done things like these but never saw recognition for it, which to me sets them apart even more. I’ll never forget watching a young boy named Austen listening to and comforting a surly old guy after the man made a disparaging remark about him–responding to disdain with compassion. Just yesterday an 11-year-old girl named Becca bestowed on me the privilege of reading the book she’s started writing. I’ve watched middle grade kids challenge hate, raise beaucoup bucks for those in need of relief, lead bands, and survive hardships that would bring many adults I know to their knees.

If a kid feels empowered, they can do all sorts of amazing thingsKids who believe in themselves can shake the world.

At least, they can when we’re not telling them they can’t.

Figures like Anne Frank and Beethoven had a huge impact on culture, despite their youth.

We forget the fact that historically this was the age that kids started to be treated like adults. They learned trades. They stepped into responsibility. They made decisions to take care of their families. Some kids in this age group were queens and kings. Kids like these composed symphonies and led rebellions and kept diaries that reported on the horrors of war.

Middle grade literature gets this simple truth in a way that’s often all-but-forgotten in our culture today. When we read about the kids in well-drawn books we see a world full of wonder and possibilities, where kids battle injustice, or fight for the safety of their families, protect the hurting, even take over the world.

Stories like these are important, because they tell kids what can happen. I’m not talking about Harry Potter magic… I’m talking about making decisions. Taking responsibility. Stepping into the world to make it better, to make their mark, to show compassion. It’s not about whether you have a tiny dragon riding on your shoulder or whether you live in a town where words have a peculiar sort of power or have powers of your own—it’s about whether you will step into this world and take action.

The Difference between Natural Limitations and Imprinted Limitations

That’s not to say that these kids don’t have natural limitations. Their parents aren’t going to send them off into dangerous situations, nor should they. Their developmental state informs what they value. They’re unproven, untrusted, untested.

“When someone won’t let you in, eventually you stop knocking.”
– Ransom Riggs

And that’s okay. That they’re not allowed does not necessarily mean they are incapable. Just because they aren’t quite ready for something doesn’t mean they can’t do it. We humans can accomplish a great many amazing things when our options are limited.

That’s where we need to be careful. Kids this age are in a developmental stage where they’re finding their own limits, internally. They’re discovering just how far the world extends beyond the walls of their homes, and if that discovery is presented as only “for someone else,” they may never even attempt to take hold of it. We’ve imprinted our own thoughts about who they can be on them, and by doing so we’ve closed the door on what might have been, had they explored it on their own.

That’s the beauty of the world that middle grade literature provides. It shows kids what they could be, not just what they are. Through these exercises of imagination, a child can step into a universe of responsibilities, try them on for size, and learn what fits and what doesn’t.

In a world where everyone tells kids they can’t, it’s important to have a place where they can. Otherwise how will they learn what it means to take charge of who they’re going to be? How will they learn they can be responsible? That their care for others is valuable? That they’re smart, or that they really can stand up to the bully, or that they can survive whatever this world throws at them?

So believe in these kids, and give them starting points to believe in themselves. They won’t be this young for long, and if they can get it into their heads that they can bring good to the people around them, we will all be better off for it.

Books mentioned:

Jumping girl photo edited from 
Photo by Danka & Peter on Unsplash
Door photo with Ransom Riggs quote adapted from 
Photo by Viktor Mogilat on Unsplash

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