Tag Archives: writing ideas for kids

Happy International Dot Day

15 Sep


Today is International Dot Day, a day to connect, collaborate, create and celebrate all that creativity inspires and invites. If you have a chance read The Dot  by Peter Reynolds, and share it with someone if you can. Even the ordinary can be extraordinary.

With that in mind, I wanted to share Families Around the World  by Margriet Ruurs.


Based on real people who Ruurs met, Families Around the World   shares what life is like for families  including Chinese immigrants in Canada, a Texas ranch family, a Mayan village family in Mexico, several European families, and a kibbutz family in Israel. Families in Saudi Arabia, Kenya (a Maasai village), Pakistan, South Korea and Mongolia.

Each family’s story fills a tw0-page spread and introduces us to the food, language, custom and tradition of each. There is a biracial family and a family with a single dad. I thin the biggest downfall of the book is that the entire continent of Africa is represented by one family. That said, this is a good introduction to global ideas and might send young readers off in search of more information.

This could be nice way for kids to do a little writing about their own families and create a class book.

Poetry Comes Alive

24 Apr


In honor or today,Poem in Your Pocket Day, I have collected a pocketful of online poetry resources you can use.

1. NaPoWriMo  or National Poetry Writing Month, is an annual project in which participating poets attempt to write a poem a day for the month of April. Although designed for an older audience, there are some daily prompts that can be adapted for younger writers. 

2. Scholastic has some fun resources to use with younger students.

3. Poets.org (The Academy of American Poets) has a page for educators. Activities are suitable for students of all ages.

4. Poetry Out Loud has a downlodable teachers guide and other resources.

5. The BBC also has some great resources.

6. The Poetry Foundation also has tons of resources for teachers.

7. Teachervision has slideshows, printables, activities that connect poetry across the curriculum…..

8. The Poetry Archive has a wealth of information, lesson plans and ideas.

9. The Favorite Poem Project  is dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives. It has resources for all levels. 

10. Read Write Think has lesson plans for k-12 teachers.

11. Reading Rockets has videos & lesson ideas suitable for elementary grades.

12. The National Writing Project offers an impressive array of resources to help teachers and students celebrate National Poetry Month, an annual 30-day event that celebrates and promotes the achievement of American poets.

13. You’d expect the NAtional Council of Teachers of English to have some good resources. You can select information based on

14. The NYC Department of Education has lesson  and unit plans you can use.

15.Eductopia provides some online and interactive poetry resources.

16. Education World editors have gathered poetry resources from our archive of lesson plans, activities, projects, articles and Resources.

17. You can learn more about  Verselandia on their blog.

If you have some favorite online  resources, please share them in the comment section below. I will add them to my list.

Here is the booklist from the OASL Regional conference April 26th.

Poems to Learn by Heart 

Leave your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry

Firefly July

The Crossver by Kwame Alexander

We Go Together by Calef Brown

Your Skeleton is Showing by Kurt Cyrus

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

Shiver Me Timbers – Pirate Poems  by Douglas Florian

A Dazzling Display of  Dogs  by Betsy Franco

Dear Hot Dog  by Mordicai Gerstein

I, Too, an America by Langston Hughes

Requiem by Paul B. Janeczko

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Loking by Alan Kurtz

The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub by Susan Katz

Against Butterflies by Ann Lauinger

When Thunder Comes  by J. Patrick Lewis

World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis

Cat Talk by patricia MacLachlan

Dizzy in Your Eyes  by Paat Mora

Hi, Koo!  by Jon Muth

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

Stardines Swin High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky

Bookspeak by Laura Purdie Salas

My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak

Swirl by Swirl  by Joyce Sidman

What the Heart Knows  by Joyce Sidman

Follow Follow  by Marilyn Singer

Everyone Out Here Knows  by William Stafford

Digger Dozer Dumper  by Hope Vestergaard

Literally Disturbed  by Ben H. Winters

The Watch that Ends the Night  by Alan Wolf

Pug and Other Animal poems  by Valerie Worth














Poetry in Motion

3 Apr

Are you old enough to remember the Gnomemoblile? It was a Disney movie from 1967.

It probably wouldn’t hold water with a lot of kids these days. But for kids who like cars, J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian have a cool collection  of crazy car poem ins Poem-Mobiles, creatively illustrated by Jeremy Holmes.


Full of humor and wild adventure, the book takes readers on a road trip through a fantastical world in which cars can be made out of anything. The budding environmentalist might be interested in the Eel-ectric Car, “a battery-powered automobeeeeeeeeeel!”


A busy person, who is not shy, might love to ride in the Bathtub Car. I would rather not, but it is funny to think about.


I’m celebrating NaPoWriMo (National poetry Writing Month) with my Literacy Differentiation group. Each day we meet, we are writing a new poem. I think I will bring this book into class, share some ideas and then turn the kids loose to see what cool cars they can create.


What’s Your Favorite Animal?

27 Feb

In their interactive journals,the 4th graders often ask their correspondent about their favorite animal. I usually answer “otter”, because I like their playfulness in water and the nimbleness of their hands. And they are cute.

Imagine the answers if you asked book illustrators! Here’s what you’d get:


Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter  McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems all answer the question. Each draws their animal and tells a little bit about themselves and the animal of their dreams.

Some are simple


some more complex


but all are delightful.

Aside from the obvious “draw & write about your favorite animal” lesson, this book has plenty of classroom applications: author/illustrator studies, art lessons, genre writing lessons…..

All the royalties from book sale are planned to be donated to theEric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Anna Was Here: Author Interview with Jane Kurtz

24 Feb

Some people are uncomfortable with portraits of Christianity in children’s literature. To my way of thinking, we should be no more uncomfortable with Christianity in kid lit than we are with portrayals  of Judaism, Islam or any other religion.


Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz is a beautifully written novel that shows  the faith of a family in an honest way.

Ten-year-old Anna Nickel’s worst nightmare has come true. Her father has decided to move the family back to Cottondale, Kansas–where he grew up–in order to become the minister of the church there. New friends, new school, a new community, and a family of strangers await, and what’s even worse, it’s all smack-dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Anna has always prided herself on being prepared (she keeps a notebook on how to cope with disasters, from hurricanes to shark bites), but she’ll be tested in Cottondale!

Author Jane Kurtz lives in Portland and I had the opportunity recently to have an e-mail interview with her, in which she talked about the book, her life and her writing process.


What planted the seeds for Anna Was Here?


A friend says, “I remember sitting in the car looking out at my second grade friends and bawling my heart out.”  I can’t even remember leaving Portland for the first time—but I remember plenty of other times of bawling my heart out. Also, when my kids were about Anna’s age, we also moved…from Colorado to North Dakota, stopping for a couple of weeks in Kansas, with the cat under the seat.


We all know it can happen. Of course we do. But somehow we also think it won’t. In 1997 when flood waters caught up with our family and our whole neighborhood was destroyed, I learned that most things we lie awake at night and worry about don’t happen, but some do.

Anna thinks moving is the most massive disaster of her life—of course that’s before she faces a water balloon in the face and starts seriously preparing for tornadoes, blizzards, and feral hogs. It’s before she lives through a tornado. Anna is partly me and partly my friend who says that when she read The Cat in the Hat, she always identified with the fish.

Some kids are born intense and others probably get that way when the ground starts shaking under them. For me, I imagine it started when my idealistic dad decided he could do the most good in this world if we moved from Portland to Ethiopia. He and my mom had a four-year-old, a two-year-old (me), a one-year-old…and although they didn’t realize it when they made the decision, another baby on the way. I believe I knew (in that way kids do know) that they were in over their heads. Somebody had better be in control. Clearly that somebody had better be me.

By the time I was Anna’s age, I had moved from Addis Ababa to a remote village in southwest Ethiopia and then, when I was seven, to a house near my grandparents’ farm in eastern Oregon, where I went to school for the first time, back to the Ethiopian village that felt like home—to get ready to leave for boarding school in Addis Ababa. Sure I knew that God watches over sparrows. But that didn’t seem too comforting when I wondered what would happen if I got chased by a wild boar or when I watched my dad dangling by a waterfall or on our grass roof as he tried to put a tarp over the grass on an extremely windy day.

Those are the seeds that grew into Anna Was Here.

Tell me about your life as a reader.

Books and stories got me through that somewhat chaotic and confusing if very interesting childhood.  My mom—an avid reader—taught me how to read taught me that books were precious. Books showed up every Christmas and birthday.  Stories grounded me and thrilled me and still do.

What is your favorite childhood book memory?

I got to read aloud at the dinner table one evening.  I think the book was Caddie Woodlawn, and I remember that I proudly mispronounced the word beau because it was obvious looking at it that it was related to the word beautiful.  Another powerful memory is reading Charlotte’s Web to my brother Chris. He cried when Charlotte died—it sticks with me because I saw so vividly that stories make us empathize and make us feel things.

Did you always plan on a writing career? Did a teacher or mentor influence you in pursuing a writing career?

I never met any authors when I was young.  I’m sure if I had, I would have wanted that more than anything.  As it was, I thought I’d be a teacher—and I’ve taught at the elementary, high school, college and now masters level—or a storekeeper.  (Since I was growing up in a place that didn’t have any stores, the latter goal didn’t have much of a chance.) It was really reading aloud to my own children and watching their delight that made me determined to publish a book, and then I drew on my mom’s passion for reading and writing, my dad’s passion for telling stories, and everything I learned about books and stories from a string of teachers after that.

Are you in a writer’s group? If so, how does that work?

Before I moved back to Portland, I wasn’t in an area that had a lot of published children’s book authors. The writing group I’ve been part of for about 15 years consists of authors who don’t live near me. We meet for a retreat somewhere near Boston once a year, when we write all day and take turns reading to each other at night. Just before Anna Was Here went to copy-editing, I read the entire manuscript out loud to a friend on one of those retreats.

I’ve also reached out to authors from that group when I need someone to read a chapter or an entire middle grade novel—it’s hardly ever easy getting feedback but it is crucial to a story’s becoming what it could be. Here in Portland, I love seeing other authors occasionally to talk about where we are with our work or about the publishing life.

 Tell me about writing and collaborating with your brother, author Christopher Kurtz.

I first admired Chris’s writing when he was in Ethiopia as a young teacher and writing letters about his experiences. When he returned to the U.S. we wrote two picture books together that were rooted in his recent experiences in Ethiopia, Only a Pigeon and Water Hole Waiting. Then we wrote a trilogy about three sea-faring brothers. It was under contract until the editor moved to a different publishing house and our book was orphaned. I still want to get back to it someday. I’ve never laughed as hard in my writing life as when I’m working with Chris.  I love seeing him take risks and try new things—and visiting his third grade class to interview kids or try out an idea or hear what he’s reading aloud.

Do you have any writing tips for kids?

When I do author visits, I like to talk about the power of details. Even though I was a good writer when I set my goal of getting published, I didn’t really grasp how to hunt for and find a vivid, surprising detail. I also thought of writing as something that came out of a place that was mysterious…which is somewhat true, but somewhat not. Now I realize most of my details come from memory, observation, or research.  The final thing I never learned how to do as a kid is revise. I thought the point of being a good writer was to do it perfectly the first time. My drafts have gotten looser and messier as I publish more and more books.

What are you working on now?

My new middle grade novel is almost finished (at least its first draft) and this time it’s set in Portland, so I’m getting to look around me for the details. I’m also writing some new ready-to-read nonfiction books about four states and loving all the research.

You can read more about Anna Was Here  and jane Kurtz at her website.

Classic poetry for Dogs

4 Feb

Many people wonder what their dog might say if s/he could talk. Sometimes the girls look at me as if they are on the verge of speech.I shudder to think.

But imagine a world in which dogs channeled long dead poets. Which poet would your dog channel? What would they wax poetic about? Well, the answer is here. Jessica Swaim, has written a brilliantly funny book of poems written by dogs with names such as Elizabeth Basset Browning. You can see what this is so appealing to me.

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 5.38.58 AM

It is not just a basset thing, though. This book is really wonderful. for each poet, whose name incorporates some sort of poundage, Swaim rewrites a classic, in the voice of that dog. Funny, yes, but way a marvelous way to engage students who fear or dislike poetry. A few of the poets included are William Shakespaw, Edgar Allan Pug,Henry Wagsworth Longfellow ,Emily Doginson,  Walt Whippet, Rudyard Kibble, William Corgi Williams,  P. P. Cummings, Droolin’ Thomas, and Anonymutt.

Let’s look at what Swaim does with one of my favorite poets to use in the classroom, William Carlos Williams, aka William Corgi Williams.

First, she creates a biography and a picture  (by illustrator Chet Williams) that blends the poet on whom she is basing her work with the breed of dog.

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 5.51.15 AM  images

Then, she writes poems in imitation of the poet. I like to use WCW’s poems because they are short and the language is simple. Here are two poems that I, and many teachers, often use, in the voice of William Corgi Williams.

Red Fire Hydrant

so much depends upon

a red fire hydrant

gleaming in the sun

beside the relieved Dalmatians.

Oh, By the Way    

I have gobbled the bratwurst you left on
the counter,

the fries,
the kosher pickle, and two-ply napkin

then threw them all up
on the new rug in the foyer.

Forgive me,
but was white
a wise
choice of colors?

Poetry lovers, dog lovers, people who teach poetry to teens, will all enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book from a pdf provided by the author. The book will be published March 1st. You can get more information about the book at  Jessica Swaim’s website.


Some poetry for the end of the year

29 Dec

As 2013 winds down and people start reflecting on the new year and the changes they might want to make, let me introduce you to 2 little books of verse that you can use to reflect on your interpersonal relationships.


We Go Together: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse by Calef Brown offers the reader eighteen short poems celebrate love and friendship in silly verses. Acrylic illustrations accompany each poem. My favorite is this one

Because of You

I was once

a half-emptyer.

Now I’m a half-fuller.

Because of you –

the together-puller.

So if I should smile

and say something sunny,

don’t look at me funny

or act surprised.

Because of you,

I’m optimized.

On a more serious note we have What the Heart Knows: Chants Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman.


The book is a collection of poems to provide comfort, courage, and humor at difficult or daunting moments in life. It is joyful and serious, heartfelt and heartbreaking. It is a beautiful book with illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. It opens with

Chant to Repair a Friendship

Come, friend, forgive the past;
I was wrong and I am grieving.
Tell me that this break won’t last–
take my hand; forgive the past.
Anger’s brief, but love is vast.
Take my hand; don’t think of leaving.
Come, friend, forgive the past;
I was wrong and I am grieving.

So, if you have a hankering for some poetry, I encourage you to read these two books. I think both books would lend themselves nicely to some writing activities with kids.

Of JAWS, Neil Gaiman, and the funny things dads do

2 Dec

My Uncle Don died in the summer of 1975. The funeral was far away (Timmins I think) and Mom went to the funeral, alone,  by train. She left us my twin sister and I alone with Dad for a week. Before she left she packed the freezer full of casseroles and gave explicit directions to everyone. We managed pretty well. The best weird thing that happened way that Dad took us to the drive-in theater. Guess what was playing.


That wouldn’t have happened if Mom had been home.

In Fortunately, the Milk, his new book for young readers, Neil Gaiman explores the idea of what might happen when Mom is gone and Dad is left in charge.


Like my mother, the mother of the story leaves two kids alone with their dad. She also leaves instructions and a freezer full of food. Gaiman’s mom leaves with the ominous reminder “Oh, and we’re almost out of milk. You’ll need to pick some up.”

They make it through the first night, but the first boring, Dad uses up all the milk in his coffee so there is none for the kids’ cereal. “You poor children,” he said. “I will walk down to the shop on the corner. I will get milk.”

The poor children have to wait a long time. When their father finally returns he has a story to tell that will knock your sicks off. His adventure is filled with hot air balloons, dinosaurs, aliens, ponies, vampires and a talking volcano. This is a fun and quirky adventure. It is also a short read that is enhanced by Skottie Young’s illustrations.



This would be a fun read a loud and I can imagine kids writing their own tale about what happens when someone other than their main caregiver is left in charge of their home.

U-G-L-Y this dog’s got an alibi

26 Nov

I’m a sucker for a dog book. Good, bad. I’ll give it a try. I especially like sad  dog stories with a happy ending like you’d see in a Hallmark movie. What a delight it was to pick up Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe by Debra Frasier.


First let me show you the way cool art. Who knew you you do so much with old blue jeans!!!! Here are a few samples of what Frasier can do.




Having worked on dog rescue for many years, I know there really are people cruel and irresponsible enough to leave their pet tied up and drive off. In fact, before I lived where I do now, I had neighbors who left their dog in the garage. The neighbors on the other side and I broke into the garage to make sure the dog was OK, gave it food and water, etc. Then we closed the door and called the police. The officer who showed up clearly knew we had broken the door and didn’t say a word about it. He was a dog lover, too. But I digress.

Spike gets left behind by an irresponsible person, but is lucky enough to be found by someone who loves him, a boy named Joe. Spike worries about being sent to the pound because Joe’s family doesn’t have a lot of extra money. Spike tries to be clean and quiet. he even asks a cat for advice. There is a happy ending, but Spike doesn’t know that til the very end. Written in Spike’s voice, this book is perfect for any animal lover.

One more thing:

So far this year, we’ve worked on persuasive and personal narratives in writing with the 4th graders. The bak of this book has a nice, kid friendly article entitled  “How I Draw Dogs”. It would be a great intro to the expository writing unit coming soon to a 4th grade class near me.

The Art of Teaching Writing

25 Nov

Most of my job this year is teaching writing. It is one of my favorite things to teach so I’m always happy to find new resources. When those resources are both funny and helpful, it feels like my birthday.

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Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and marvelously illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is for a younger audience. Loosely based on “Little Red Riding Hood,” Red Pencil gets lost in the adjective forest, adds too much conjunction glue, and faces the drama of adverbs. When she follows a tail to the principal’s office she discovers something horrible has happened to Principal Granny and she must draw upon her courage to help everyone in the school.

Thrice Told Tale  by Catherine Lewis is more appropriate for  a YA audience. Using the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” Lewis explains writing terms with clever examples.Each term is presented in 1-2 pages with the story of the ill-fated mice taking twists and turns to model the idea and a summary concluding the main idea at the bottom of each page. As cute as this idea is it is really not for a young audience. Some of the terms and examples are complex and two chapters ( “F_ _K” and “Sex”) clearly make it a resource for older writers. It is a wonderful book, though and I actually read it cover to cover because I enjoyed seeing what the author was able to do with “Three Blind Mice”.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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