Poetry Challenge #4

Counting by Words

Line 1 can have only 1 word today. Line 2 can have 2 words. Keep going in that pattern up to line 10. Extra credit if you can work back down from 10.

If you’re stuck for a topic, write about something you can see right now or your favorite color.

Remember: This doesn’t have to take long. Set your timer for 7 minutes. See what you come up with. Surprise yourself!

Poetry Challenge #3

Grab your pen or pencil and your notebook. Set the timer for 7 minutes and WRITE!!!

In honor of poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and children’s author Shel Silverstein’s birthday (Sept 25, 1930) write a silly-funny poem about a made-up animal–or the perfect birthday party. For inspiration, read one of Shel Silverstein’s Birthday poems:

Happy Birthday Shel Silverstein.jpg

Birthday Snake Shel Silverstein.jpg

Poetry Challenge #2

Back to School—ABC’s

I remember the excitement of going back to school every year, both as a student and a teacher. Friends to see, things to learn, books to read! I barely slept the night before. Always, I loved getting back to the schedule of fall.

Write one line—five words—that begin in order with the letters A, B, C, D, E.

This line will be the first line of your poem.

Add four more lines. Try to begin line 2 with B, line 3 with C, line 4 with D, and line 5 with E.

That’s it! If you try this, let me know in the comments! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Remember the rules:

                                         Read the prompt

                                   Set the timer for 7 minutes

                                         Start writing!

Don’t think about it too much; just do it. Write a poem, paragraph, or story. If the prompt moves you, follow it. If it sparks something else, go with it! Our 7-Minute Poetry Challenge is not about writing great poetry; or writing what is expected; it’s not even about writing anything good. It’s about one thing, writing IT!

Seven Minute Poetry Challenge

Five hundred and forty three days ago, my friend Kelly and I challenged each other to write a poem every day. 543 days!!! We promised each other we would spend at least seven minutes each day and have gone through two books of prompts.

Now we’re creating our own prompts. We’ll be posting samples of our prompts each week. We hope you might try them and post them to either Kelly’s or my blog.

The rules are simple:

                                              Read the prompt

                                   Set the timer for 7 minutes

                                         Start writing!

Don’t think about it too much; just do it. Write a poem, paragraph, or story. If the prompt moves you, follow it. If it sparks something else, go with it! Our 7-Minute Poetry Challenge is not about writing great poetry; or writing what is expected; it’s not even about writing anything good. It’s about one thing, writing IT!

Challenge #1    Ready for School!?

On the first day of school what things do you bring? A backpack? Pen? Paper? Maybe you’ll wear a new pair of jeans or sneakers.

Think about it: Not only will it be your first day of school, it will be that “things” first day of school, too.

How do you think those “things” feel about going to school for the first time? Write a “First Day of School” poem from the point of view of one of those things.

Note: It can be the first day of anything. Just tell the story from the point of view of one of the things you bring with you that first day.

For inspiration read: School’s First Day of School, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), the story of the first day of school as told by Fredrick Douglass Elementary—a brand new school building.

To see samples from this prompt (and a cute picture of my niece and nephew) visit Kelly’s blog: http://kellybennett.com/blog/2017/9/seven-minute-strrretch

Setting Goals

I set goals a lot. I set them for exercise, for writing, for reading, for cleaning the house–really, for anything I can. The trick I’ve found with goals is that they need to be enough to mount up, but not too much to discourage the goal-setter. If I feel successful, I’m more likely to continue with whatever the goal is.

In December, when I was discouraged with how long it was taking me to read through my current pile of books, I set a goal of reading 50 pages a day. More on that in a minute.

When I was teaching, we had a Readathon every year between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. For those three or four weeks, every class (or most classes at least) began with ten minutes of silent reading. When we started the activity, the principal was impressed with how much it calmed down the entire school. But way bigger than that was the fact that students were reading for an extra hour a day. I had my students keep track. They wrote down the page number they started on in the morning and at checkpoints during the day.

Reading 30 or 40 or 50 pages during the day was a new experience for many students. They were completing large chunks of books in a day. Students who had never read books at home were now invested in what they were reading and read at home as well. They began to finish books. And they began to enjoy them.

It’s been three years since I’ve been at that school, but I was happy to see they are still having the readathon. I know how valuable it is.

The same thing happened to me when I made my December goal. Because I was reading more, I wanted to read even more. In the 31 days of December, I read every day. There were only 4 days in the month that I didn’t make my goal of 50 pages. The total # of pages I read was 2596 with an average of 84/day. The highest # of pages was 239 one day followed the very next day by the lowest # of pages: 3. (There might be a message in that.)

And I wonder whether other people keep track of pages read or books read or anything to do with reading.

I’ve continued to keep track in January–and continued to read more. It’s a very good thing. With the ALA awards announced this morning, I have a lot more books to read!

Too Many Books

I can’t find enough time to read.

I read before bed every night. I read on the treadmill every morning. I read while I’m waiting for appointments or on the school playground waiting to pick up my nephew. I always have a book with me.

But I still can’t find enough time to read. There’s writing to be done, my job to do, dinner to cook, friends to talk to.

Sometimes I think I read more while I was teaching. At least then, I read with each class–usually at least an hour a day, plus before bed and at meals (when no one else was around. I’m not that rude. Usually.)

Here’s the pile of books that I want to read (note, this does not count the bookshelf next to my computer that is loaded with books I have wanted to read at one time or another. Or the pile on the bedside table. Or the shelf of adult books people have given me. This is the pile of books I want to read right now.):
Most of these I have from the ALAN workshop in November where participants receive a huge box of books when they arrive. Some I bought in the exhibit hall. A few I bought at my local independent bookstore and at an indie near a friend. And I go to the library at least once a week.

Here’s the pile of books I read since the conference (all books I highly recommend!), missing six that I’ve already given to other people (The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, Counting by 7’s, Master of Deceit, Boxers, Almost Home, Impossible Knife of Memory):

I have a small notebook filled with lists of books I want to read. SLJ’s Battle of the Books titles, upcoming titles by favorite authors, titles that have shown up on Mock Newbery lists in the last couple months.

Next Monday, I’ll tune in to the awards ceremony. I’ll add titles and titles of books that win awards and honors: Newbery, Printz, Sibert, Morris, etc. I’ll read the next issue of VOYA and add titles to my little notebook. There’s no end to what I want to read.

If I stopped reading reviews and blogs about books, stopped talking to anyone about titles, stopped visiting the bookstore and library so often, I’d have enough reading material to keep me reading for a long, long time.

I’m not going to do that.

I’ll have to find more time.

Books Read 2013

Plus 6 manuscripts that will be books to bring my total to 72 for the year. Of these, 3 were non-fiction, 5 were adult, and 5 were graphic novels. Also, I read 12 Newbery winners in order this year 1971-1982.

66) MASTER OF DECEIT by Marc Aronson
65) ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
64) REALITY BOY by A. S. King
63) THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson
62) ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry
60) BOXERS by Gene Luen Yang
59) ALMOST HOME by Joan Bauer
58) THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson
57) UNITED WE SPY by Ally Carter
56) THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER by Kevin Henkes
54) THE WAKING DARK by Robin Wasserman
53) JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson
52) SUBWAY LOVE by Nora Raleigh Baskin
49) THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson
48) A GATHERING OF DAYS by Joan W. Blos
47) TRANSATLANTIC by Collum McCann
46) THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskins
45) ELLEN FOSTER by Kaye Gibbons
44) BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson
43) ABOVE WORLD by Jenn Reese
42) THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE by Nicole Griffin
40) CHANTRESS by Amy Butler Greenfield
38) ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor
37) LINCOLN’S GRAVE ROBBERS by Steve Sheinkin
36) UNWHOLLY by Neal Shusterman
35) DOLL BONES by Holly Black
34) BABYMOUSE BEACH BABE by Jennifer Holm
33) THE LEMONADE TRICK by Scott Corbett
32) UNWIND by Neal Shusterman
31) TEMPLE GRANDIN by Sy Montgomery
30) WILL SPARROW’S ROAD by Karen Cushman
29) SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS by Sara Pennypacker
27) THE GREY KING by Susan Cooper
26) LITTLE DOG, LOST by Marion Dane Bauer
25) THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen
24) FOURMILE by Watt Key
23) THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage
22) ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
21) UNGIFTED by Gordon Korman
20) AFTER ELI by Rebecca Rupp
19) M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT by Virginia Hamilton
18) THE GOOD NEIGHBORS by Holly Black
17) ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes
16) GHOULISH SONG by William Alexander
15) GHETTO COWBOY by Greg Neri
12) SLAVE DANCER by Paula Fox
11) TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt
10) JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Elizabeth George Speare
9) HOKEY POKEY by Jerry Spinelli
8) CORALINE by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)
6) SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz
4) MERCURY by Hope Larson
2) P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita Williams-Garcia
1) THE UNDERDOG by Marcus Zusack

Chocolate Kiss Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

5 dozen foil-wrapped chocolate kisses

1) Preheat oven to 375.
2) Beat butter and peanut butter until well blended. Add sugars. Beat until fluffy.
3) Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients.
4) Shape into 5 dozen balls. Roll in sugar.
5) Bake 8 minutes. Remove from oven. Press chocolate kiss in top of each cookie. Bake 2 minutes longer.


Chocolate Mint Filled Cookies

1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar

1) Melt chocolate chips.
2) Beat melted chocolate and all ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat until well mixed. Wrap dough and refrigerate (at least 1 hour).
3) Shape dough into 96 balls. Roll in sugar.
4) Bake 12-15 minutes at 350 (I bake them about 10 min). Immediately remove from pan and place mint between 2 cookies. Let sit for a minute. Press together slightly.

ALAN Conference

My favorite conference of the year! It’s always great to be surrounded by librarians, teachers, and authors who love books. And to hear about and receive piles of books that make my TBR pile dangerously tall.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the conference (and, yes, I heard each of these authors speak and have each of their newest books):

Jack Gantos  (From Norwell to Nowhere)

I love the smell of books in the morning.

(there is) a pillar of books that you’ve read that raise you up…that have influenced you.

(when you’re very young and you’re reading and realize) you might be a book…the hungry caterpillar has a hole in it and you have a belly button.

Tamora Pierce (Battle Magic)

My father had three daughters. That meant I was the oldest boy.

Holly Black (Doll Bones)

Inspired by mom who said the house was haunted and told her, “Don’t astral project.”

big, elaborate story with friends growing up. Hard to give that up.

Nancy Werlin (Unthinkable)

Stories are not childish. They nourish us, give us courage, teach us how to empathize.

When you’re young, you don’t know you can repair yourself.

Chris Crutcher (Period 9)

You can tell who the good teachers are because they like the same stories/characters you do.

Education doesn’t happen unless you get into the imagination.

Joan Bauer (Almost Home)

What does hope really look like? Where was it lost? Where is it hiding in the story?

Meg Rosoff (Picture Me Gone)

Secretly I’m writing for middle-aged women. I don’t know why children like my books.

The idea that we have to give kids hope is … I don’t have any to spare.

I hope I come up with another idea so my family doesn’t starve.

Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory)

Good books build strong, resilient souls.

English class is where you learn the tools to survive.

family pain that is the scars, love story that is the muscle.



Next year’s conference is the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving in Washington, DC. Go!