Poetry Friday: Jane Kenyon

I’ve never had a concussion. But since the election, I’ve felt that woozy disorientation and dull pain I associate with what it must feel like when your brain has been bruised.

2016 is a blurry memory. This is not about a year going by quickly. It feels cut off at the legs. To ease the pain, in December, I read: historical fiction, humor, and crime novels. Indulgent reading. Choices that minimized the “reality” presented by the “news.”

Yesterday, I picked up a gift from my dear friend Tara, Jane Kenyon’s  A  Hundred White Daffodils.  I can’t put it down. Each essay, poem, interview helps me breathe. Kenyon lived with depression yet fought through it to write poems that lift me up. Venture to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings for a link to Kenyon’s wise words for poets and writers.

Kenyon’s Peonies as Dusk notices intense beauty.  Time to “draw a blossom near,”  cherish, and support the peonies in our world.

Peonies at Dusk

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.

Today the world is wet. Our desert basin is accumulating rain water; brown hills are growing a green stubble, and my xeriscaped backyard has come to life.

rain reveals slate
iron — orange tipped succulents
gutters overflow

Thank you, Donna, for hosting the last Poetry Friday of 2016. Read other posts at her blog, Mainely Write.poetry-friday-1-1


Haiku Thinking

I’ve found writing a haiku a day has helped me this winter. It has turned me away from confusion and towards hope and inspiration. It has gotten me to notice, to see the value in small, and to focus on what matters. Millions of thank yous to Mary Lee Hahn for her wisdom in starting the #haikuforhealing challenge.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of how a classroom might benefit from haiku thinking; practices that mirror some haiku attributes.

Haikus are predictable structures.
As the new year starts, I want to re-establish a daily and weekly arc of predictability that allows each student to participate knowing what’s expected.  Kids need predictable. No surprises. That empowers.

Haikus are small and focused.
It’s time to take the predictable structure to small, focused, predictable practice centered in meaningful texts (read aloud, articles of the week and podcasts) and designed to build and strengthen inferential skills necessary for meaning making.

Haikus are purposeful — they convey simple messages.
I want students to walk out of the classroom able to tackle troubles they encounter as they read. I want them to be able to write in ways that in fact, communicate what they want and believe.

small daily doses
purposeful predictable 
slowly they add up 


Celebrate: Traveling Mercies Haiku

This week, I celebrate haiku style.
I celebrate the time and effort it takes to be with loved ones.
Happy Holidays.


Traveling home clouds
dancing backlit characters
passing performers.

Dragons and bunnies
fight for daylight remnants
adapting vapors.

Distant sun rays point toward
sheltered harbor — a respite
for the next journey.

“…most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of the people around you.”  — Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for encouraging celebrations each week at Discover, Play, Build.


Celebrating Inspriational Lives with Picture Book Biographies

I’m on a biography kick instigated by my students, my personal reading history, and a big gift of books from Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. These beautiful picture books are tributes to people who stood out and up when most didn’t dare. These men and women approached life their own way, as they saw fit. They faced challenges and kept going to say and do what was in their hearts and on their minds. These outstanding people are diverse. They come from all walks of life; they are pursuing differing dreams. But, there is something about each one that ties them to the other. Those connections and how each reader connects is a journey I know my students will love.

This week I want to celebrate the lives of these amazing people and the gift of the storytellers, artists, and generous friends have given picture book biographies my students.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, img_4582by Don Tate, tells the story of slavery, but also a story of finding freedom and pursuing dreams. Tate writes in his author’s note,”I hope that young readers will see themselves in the story of George Moses Horton –a person of talents and hopes and dreams, and a desire to be free. Just like them. Horton’s passion to learn to read and write is inspirational, no matter where you are in your literacy journey.  A remarkable man; offering timeless poetry.”


The cimg_4626over of Edward Hopper Paint His World by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Wendell Minor pulled me in immediately. That iconic Nighthawk scene is one of my favorite paintings. What struck me about Hopper was the way he found a space for the way he saw the world, even when the way he saw differently. He passionately pursued his realistic renditions of the world in a time of revolutionary abstract art movements.  Hopper’s quiet and studious personality explored art his way and found his unique style. He preserved.  And believed, “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist.”

img_4633The Iridescence of Birds A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper captures early days of the young master. He grew up in a gray mill town, with little light. Interestingly he grew up to be a painter who painted with wild colors the “Fauves” or wild beasts. Matisse credits and this book highlights, the influence of his mother. He found color and light in gray days from the red rugs his mother put on the dirt floors of their cottage to the pigeons his father gave him. The movement of color was all around the artist to be. The Iridescence of Birds is a tribute to Matisse’s love of birds and the love of his mother. “My mother loved everything I did.”

“It all staimg_4631rted with a chicken who could walk backwards and forwards.” So begins The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam and pictures by Natalie Nelson tells the story of the young Flannery O’Connor. Her passion for more, persistence, and belief in her own ideas shows through in this tale of a little girl who grows up to be a life-long bird lover and writer who wrote honestly, no hold’s barred, about what she saw and thought.

img_4632Dorothea “… wants to show the world what she sees.”  She saw things others couldn’t, things others missed. Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Gerard DuBois shares Lange’s life. Through her challenges, (polio, her parents’ divorce, and loneliness) to her calling as a photographer in a time when women did not do such things.  Dorothea’s Eyes discover the world. Once the stock market crashed and depression hit, she took to the road, documenting what she saw. She helped the country notice people who were not seen, the jobless, the hungry, the sick, during a difficult time in our nation’s history.

img_4630Nothing but trouble. That’s what everyone said about Althea Gibson. But she didn’t care what they said. She had so much energy and ability there was no way she wasn’t gonna be somebody. Nothing but Trouble, The Story of Althea Gibson by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Greg Couch takes readers from her tomboy antics in Harlem to Wimbledon champion. Her talents got her noticed and people stood up for her. Dedicated to mentors everywhere, this book is a great tribute to a talented and driven female athlete and those who helped her along the way.

While Dorothea’s Eyes led her to greatnesimg_4628s, John Coltrane was all ears. Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls is a feast of images and words, “he heard hambones knocking in Grandma’s pot, Daddy strumming the ukulele,… he heard Grandpa’s Sunday sermons, Mama playing hymns…”   This beautiful book highlight Coltrane’s early influences and influencers that fed his musical gifts.

I tooimg_4625k those bright colors for granted. But before Bob and Joe Switzer, they did not exist. The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani is all about the invention and marketing of colors that glow in the daytime. The book tracks the brothers’ unplanned success in creating and marketing colors that glow in daylight.

Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box by David img_4624McPhail traces Potters early years painting the animals around her. Her wealthy parents gave her art lessons, but she refused to change her style which would become the drawings for the “little books for little hands” that are still famous today.

Claire A. Nivola’s book Life in the Ocean introduced me to the oceaimg_4623nographer, Sylvia Earle. As a young girl, Sylvia was an explorer and an observer of animal life. When her family moved to Florida, her “investigations” of life moved to the ocean. The study of the ocean has been her life’s work that continues.  This biography contains a plea to educate ourselves about the ocean to care for it.  Sylvia writes, “Looking into the eyes of a wild dolphin – who is looking into mine – inspires me to learn everything I can about them and do everything I can to take care of them… You can’t care if you don’t know.”

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Bartoimg_4622n and illustrated by Don Tate is a tale of the spirit of invention and inventors. Lonnie was one of those kids and is one of those adults, who is driven by creation and wonderment. Growing up in Mobile, Alabama he was always building and designing.  He studied became an engineer, worked for NASA and all the while he was still at work in his own workshop inventing.  The Super Soaker water gun was one of those inventions that every kid will recognize. The coolest thing about Lonnie is he is still busy working, solving problems and inventing.

The Nerdy Book Club’s recent post offers other biographies and nonfiction titles you can find here. Our children are lucky. We are lucky. Biographies engage on so many levels. They can be read as a story or as an invitation into the world of art, science, or athletics. This week I celebrate the joy of nonfiction picture books.

Thank you, Ruth, for having a place to celebrate weekly.  Find more celebrations on her blog Discover, Play, Build.

celebrate link up





Slice of Life: Power of Biographies

As a kid, I wanted to like books.  I could read, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t connect. The one book I remember in elementary school was a collection of biographies of women athletes.  The whole idea of a female athlete, a champion, was captivating.  I poured over this book. Read it again and again. There was a fascination in the drama of athletics and in overcoming difficulties. It was a hero’s quest. And maybe, because they were female, one I wanted to identify with.

Last week I was talking to Melinda* about books. She told me she had read every book on Martin Luther King, Jr. Everyone. I handed her Powerful Words and asked if she had read it.  She opened it and searched for her hero. Then she devoured it. This kind of interaction happens a lot in my classroom. Kendra* is an Anne Frank expert. Loves to read anything about her. Cassie* has read and re-read everything written about Helen Keller. Every year, this happens.  The Who Was… series of books is as popular as graphic novels. They are the kind of books that go underground passed from kid to kid.

I was like my students.  And, I’ve found that, like me, many students who are not avid readers love biographies.  Perhaps the power lies in that real life hero’s journey.  Perhaps it’s the pursuit of excellence in the face of real obstacles. We want a part of that. This love of biographies made me think of my kiddos’ responses last week to this question: “Why are you here, in school?”

They want to learn —

 about stufff grown ups do in life

so that in life — in case we have to do something, we have a guide

They want life mentor texts.

Literature is the ultimate “how-to-be-human” guide,  but I think for some of our kiddos this type of connection needs to be assisted by a teacher. They can’t do it on their own, yet. Perhaps, biographies are more of a direct how-to/inspirational mentor text.

Our kids need and want mentor texts for life: books that speak their language, that contain characters that look like them, and books that provide a road map to real success, like biographies. The value of literature is evident for many readers; for those who don’t see the connections to their life yet, biography can provide a direct bridge.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.


DigiLit Sunday: Celebrate

I’ve not written a celebration post in a few weeks.
Done other things.
I’m not beating myself up about it,
just realizing —
celebrating weekly is a practice
that honors the good and needs to be done.
When we meet dark days,
points of light are essential.
The practice of celebration is a one way to find shimmers of hope.

Thank you, Margaret Simon, @ Reflections on the Teche for extendslide11ing the invitation celebrate this week for DigiLit Sunday


and thank you, Ruth Ayers, @ Discover Play Build for hosting weekly celebrations.

celebrate link up

The tree outside my classroom has been shedding red five-point leaves. They fall and land on the walkway. This week two separate times, two different girls rescued a perfect red leaf and gave it to me as we walked to lunch.  The first I put on my desk. It dried and folded. When I touched it, it crumbled.  The second I preserve here.  This week I celebrate the small gifts that touch our hearts.

Every year out school celebrates winter holidays with a concert. When I got to school on Thursday, the line for the 8:20 performance wound down the street.  Every performance (there were four) was packed with parents, grandparents, siblings and recording devices. No one left early. Kids sang their hearts out. Played guitars. Shook shakers. Danced. Teachers guided. Prompted. And we all smiled. Students were beautiful. This week I celebrate the joy in song and the love it brings out in us all.

On Friday, Trevor* handed me a card and said, “There was a white envelope that went with this. There was a Barnes and Noble gift card. It was for you, but I can’t find it. If you find it, it’s from me. I thought maybe because you like books, you might buy one for yourself. Or one you could read to the class.” I told him I’m sure it will turn up. This week I celebrate that my students know I love books and they want to be read to.

My students and I spent our last day of 2016 together shopping for books. I handed them new book baggies with glittery pens. Each went off and found three. One for each week. A little bit of the classroom to take with them. This week I celebrate the gift of books.

At the end of November, the brilliant Mary Lee Hahn started a daily haiku challenge. A haiku a day for healing. This week I celebrate the power of these small doses of poetry and all who share this daily meditation. Find your daily dose on Twitter at #haikuforhealing.

haiku harmony
powerful packages pull
at our heart — mind — soul



Poetry Friday: Joyce Sidman

The day before the winter break is filled with tension.  Teachers are tired, and every possible way of exciting kids is present. There are no routines. Weather is wet and windy. It is the perfect recipe for a bit crazy.

Some kids can’t wait for the vacation, the sleeping in, the time to laze around.

But for some kids, three weeks away from the predictability of school puts them into a panic. They act out. Today that tension of being home full time walked into my room and let loose. Fear flew and ricocheted off kids who got in the way.  Before you knew it, what seemed like a day to book shop, exchange candy, and finish a read aloud, turned into something entirely different. Anger exploded out of nowhere today, kids looked stunned. They had been working on getting along. But they weren’t. That angry belligerence was a symptom of deep pain.

For many kids, school is a safe zone. Leaving is hard and scary.  They are the ones that break my heart but at the same time bring me back with more. They are the reason I’m not tired anymore. Those kids are my kids.

At the end of the day, I sat, with the cricket that chirps in the corner and opened Joyce Sidman’s What the Heart Knows, Chants, Charms, and Blessings. I was looking for a salve for this day and found a blessing.

Blessing on the Downtrodden
Should you think we are strangers,
I will prove we are not.

Should you think you know me,
I will surprise you.

Should misfortune bind your wings,
I will fly before you to find us shelter.

Should your armor crack,
I will hold the pieces steady.

Should the crowd turn against you,
I will turn against the crowd.

Should hate mask your true face,
I will look into your eyes and read your story there.


finding true faces
infuse energy and hope
purpose reignites


Happy Poetry Friday! Thank you, Tabatha, for hosting at The Opposite of Indifference.




Slice of Life: When Students Question

My students aren’t shy. They tell me what they are thinking, and they ask questions. Sometimes that gets me in trouble and sometimes it stops me in my tracks.

It happened last week. Tia* shared her true essay. Her initial idea was “school is a waste of time.” As she wrote, her idea morphed to “school is something that grownups put on kids.” By the end of her essay, she got to the idea that “adults do school to kids because it was done to them.” She’s pleased with her essay. I’m pleased with her essay. It was a journey of thought that challenged thinking. What more could I ask of a fifth grader?

Tia is the kind of kid that questions rules and structures. She reads. All. The. Time. The only time she willingly closes her book is for read aloud. Anything that isn’t reading or writing fiction is met with protests.Tia essay tugs at my heart. I can’t let it go. While few students can match her reading zeal, many may share her point of view about school. She just the one articulate and bold enough to put it out there.

Thinking about this, I’m reminded of a round table session at NCTE. Each table had  Atlanta middle school students asking teachers questions about school related issues. The students challenged ideas about reading, technology, learning, and social issues like bullying. They asked teachers why and why not. And, they aired their opinions.

Why not organize a similar type of session with our students. They can come up with questions, and we can try to answer. Maybe we can get some ideas.

We’ll start tomorrow by identifying topics that concern them at school. Then, using the Question Formulation Technique protocol they can come up with questions to explore with teachers.

I’ve been wrestling with Tia’s essay. Her bottom line assaults my idea of how I want kids to see school. I realize what I want for students doesn’t always translate. The only way I can get closer to understanding is by openly questioning, listening and perhaps answering each other.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

Poetry Friday: Haiku for Healing

It’s Poetry Friday (actually Saturday morning). Thank you to Jone at Check it Out for hosting.


At the end of November, I saw Mary Lee Hahn’s haiku challenge. A challenge to heal our souls with a little poetry.

At the time, I thought, how perfect. A place to check in and take a breath. I shall read.  I’m a fan of short and simple.

And then, I thought, perhaps I’ll try. Counting gives me fits, but it’s  only three lines. No pressure. So for the past ten days, I sit and play with words. A daily journal.

Thank you, Mary Lee and all who share a #haikuforhealing.
Your words make my heart smile.

First Ten Days

red sky daybreak brings
patchwork blue and white morning
sparkling evening

sunlight sneaks above
the darkness silhouetting
bravely undressed trees

hummingbirds hover
above California blooms
sweet winter whirring

refracting waves wash
worn pebbles, tidepool critters
breathe deep, in and out

cloud cover tries to steal
the hope of day still light leaks
promises to keep

impending winter
solstice stars and planets rise
nature’s adornment

chilly nights evoke
cravings for piles of blankets
cups of steaming soup

strange silent classroom
empty chairs, lights out, door shuts
crickets come to life

dreams and hope hang
on little shoulders walking home
uphill climb ahead

haiku thoughts sprinkle
early morning late night hours
moments of solace



Slice of Life: Toys, Turtles, and Plans

K pulled out a My Little Pony and lipgloss. She placed them on her desk along with an extensive assortment of colored markers.

Meanwhile, R raced a tiny blue car across the table. B rolled it back.

After class, D came up to me and asked, “Mrs. Harmatz, do you need a class pet? I have two turtles, Michelangelo and Donatello, and my mom wants me to get rid of them. Would you like them?” He looked at me with earnest eyes, “I named them.”

Still in their childhood. Still playing with dolls, cars, and naming their pets after cartoon characters.

Later, I found this on our blog. It’s titled, My Plan.

I plan help this country, with laws and problems. This is the greatest place with lots of history. I plan to disagree and agree with other people about things . I plan to run for president in 2048 and serve this country with respact and all causes. I plan to upgrade inportent Jobs and schools and millitary . I plan to make america safe . I plan to help homeless and poor family’s .I plan to make more hospitels and jobs . I love this country from the bottom of my heart and I all ways will. 

Kids come to fifth grade with their toys, their worries, their dreams.  Each sliver of a story gives a clue to that child. Their vulnerabilities, their little kid-ness, their belief in what is right, their sweetness.  It is an honor to be their teacher.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.