Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Being a Reckless, Glorious, Girl, a guest post by Ellen Hagan


It is March 2021. I am combing through my old journals – the ones that start in the fall of 1993 when I was fourteen years old and well on my way to being wild and more than a little bit reckless. I take a few down from the shelves and brace myself, because I remember who I was back then. 8th Grade Sucks one of the pages says, colored in with lime green and magenta crayons. I would almost believe it, if the page after wasn’t covered in Doritos dust and a series of: hahahahah’s, stick figure drawings and looped, lyrical script that tells me otherwise. Middle school was a constant back and forth of ache and junk food, rowdy laughter and doubled over in tears. I see it in every entry – a manic holding on of experiences, of heartbreak, new love and that first moment of freedom – when you realize you are your own person – wholly removed from your family. You have all the time in the world to become who you want to be, and to make all the mistakes and missteps along the way. I was just at the beginning of that road, just barely on the verge. I am both exhilarated and horrified, keep opening and closing each book. It is there in those early pages that I was becoming a documentarian, an artist – just at the start of writing it all down and crafting a life around me. I was building a roadmap – figuring out how to study the world, watch it close and take notes.

Poetry and lyrics spoke to me early. Growing up in Bardstown, Kentucky in the late 80’s and 90’s made me full of angst and fire. Energy and electricity. My mix tapes were loaded with Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, Shania Twain, Paula Abdul and Hole – a combination of hip-hop, country and grunge. I was complicated and scrambling to figure out who I was, how to fit in and how to carry the words that were looping through my mind. I wrote down the lines of my favorite songs and studied the way words could carry heart and meaning. My first poems were imitations and anthems – were trying to match the emotions of my favorite music. My freshman year, I found a book called: The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy. It was my first poetry collection and I dog eared almost every poem. All of them full of longing and wild, reckless women. I could suddenly see myself in those poems. See the way she wrote about the body, politics, the world around her. I wanted to make change with words – see if the poems could lift, sing, shake and move in my hands – trying to navigate my way at every turn.

I was seventeen years old when I made it into the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. It was a three-week summer program for artists around the state. Kelly Norman Ellis was my teacher that summer, and she transformed everything for me. An Affrilachian Poet (from the Affrilachian Poets – a group of writers of color living in the Appalachian region) who was raised in Mississippi, she taught me to love the South, where I come from and who I am. Showed me how to love all of my complicated and out of control ways. Be tender with myself. Offered up all the ways to honor the rolling hills, my Middle-Eastern roots, the size of my nose, my still changing body. How to love the drawl of the words: mamaw and papaw and y’all. Taught me to love my country roots and the sizzle of cornbread in the cast iron skillet. How to use words to ask questions, push back, organize, rally, rage, resist and most of all, love. I think so much about the mentors and teachers who helped me maneuver my way – to see the best path ahead and figure out how to get on it. Always thinking of the people who held me up, constantly trying to be like the artists I met in Kentucky – who held that land and those stories so close.

When I say poetry saved me, I do not mean it lightly. I mean that it became a salve for me. A way to look back and reflect on who I was – a way to grapple with my own identity and who I wanted to be. Poetry is a forever pin on the roadmap of my life. Dropping down on every moment and memory. A way to hold onto my first kiss on the dunes of the Jersey shore, car rides through the winding roads of the Bluegrass with the music turned up all the way and the windows down – wind rushing past me. Poems about moving to New York City and climbing the 65 steps to my first walk-up apartment in the East Village. They are legacy and ancestry. They hold my whole history and tell the stories to my daughters. We are documenting our lives in words. Holding them close.

When I am teaching young people how to see the world in poetry, I am asking them to love themselves. Their languages, traditions, their ancestry. Asking them to look to the brilliant poets around them: Aracelis Girmay, Vincent Toro, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Renée Watson, Elizabeth Acevedo – asking them to find the voices that speak to them. Hoping they will be tender with themselves and their families. Gather stories and histories. Honor who they are and where they come from – even if that is sometimes hard to hold. When we write poems, we can be vulnerable, soft, kind to our memories. And we can also be fiery and ferocious. Speak loud and unapologetic. We can be that mix tape, we can be that journal covered in anger and hearts drawn in red magic marker. We can make our own maps – become the journey. We can be our full, whole selves. That’s what poetry has always meant to me – has always done for me.

Meet the author

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the co-author with Renée Watson of Watch Us Rise. Her poetry collections include Hemisphere and Crowned. Her work can be found in ESPN Magazine, She Walks in Beauty, and Southern Sin. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. Raised in Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her family. www.ellenhagan.com | @ellenhagan | http://www.ellenhagan.com/blog

About Reckless, Glorious, Girl

(See Amanda’s review here.)

The co-author of Watch Us Rise pens a novel in verse about all the good and bad that comes with middle school, growing up girl, and the strength of family that gets you through it.

Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring. 

This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?

A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.

ISBN-13: 9781547604609
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 11 Years

Book Review: Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Publisher’s description

From Children’s Literature Legacy Award-winning author Nikki Grimes comes a feminist-forward new collection of poetry celebrating the little-known women poets of the Harlem Renaissance—paired with full-color, original art from today’s most talented female African-American illustrators.

For centuries, accomplished women—of all races—have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts. 

In this poetry collection, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of these groundbreaking women-and to introduce readers to their work. 

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting female African-American illustrators, including: Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, Pat Cummings, Nina Crews, Laura Freeman, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Harrison, Ekua Holmes, Keisha Morrison, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Pippins, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

Legacy also includes a foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, and poet biographies, which make this a wonderful resource and a book to cherish.

Amanda’s thoughts

I thought maybe I’d read a few poems in between reading other things. I did not do that. Instead, I read the entire book in one go, went back to read favorites, and started googling the writers I learned about in this book. How is it that my undergrad degrees are in English and Women’s Studies, and I took multiple classes on women poets, American literature, AND Harlem Renaissance writers and knew none of these names?! Thank goodness this book showed up to teach me.

Grimes set out to rescue and celebrate the voices of Black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance era and did a phenomenal job with this collection. A preface talks about how many men writing in this era were (and are) well-known, but gifted, prolific women were overlooked and forgotten. These women were not just poets but also editors of literary magazines and anthologies and played large roles in what was happening at this time. Grimes teaches readers a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance, like the conditions, movements, and ethos of the time. She explains the roles played by the Great Migration, the Nineteenth Amendment, women pursuing education, Black-owned newspapers/literary magazines/journals, and the new literati. All of this lays a foundation for the poems and illustrations that follow.

As she did in One Last Word, Grimes uses the Golden Shovel form here, creating new poems from a short poem or line from a poem. She presents the original work, then presents her own poem in conversation with that (using the Golden Shovel form), and then an illustration follows. Taken all together, these three elements create a stunning picture that shows so much power and emotion. I started noting which poems were my favorite as I took notes and ended up with nearly a dozen that really stuck with me. These poems are full of pain, power, pride, feminism, hope, community, identity, and strength. They deserve to be widely known.

The collection includes extensive resources, poet and artist biographies, and sources. This beautiful and moving collection deserves a spot in all libraries. What a wonderful addition this would be for poetry units. Not to be missed.

For more on this collection, please see my interview with Nikki Grimes.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781681199443
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month, Week 4 By Lisa Krok

This year’s National Poetry Month has certainly been different than usual, but poetry is still here for you, even while quarantined! Writing poetry can also be very cathartic. I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers, and here for the round-up from week one ,  week two, and week three. On to the final post for National Poetry Month, week four.

Day 22: House Arrest by K.A. Holt


Tim never thought he would be on house arrest for the next year. He thought probation was something that happened to other kids, not to him. As he checks in weekly with both a therapist and a probation officer, he keeps a journal. After his father leaves, Tim takes it upon himself to assist his mom financially and help with his sickly baby brother, while chronicling his thoughts in the journal.

Poetry journal activity:

Writing in a journal can be a way of releasing stress on the page. Tim attends therapy as part of his probation, and keeps track in a journal. “A journal is a place to express yourself, to record your thoughts, feelings and observations, and to cultivate your poetic style. The cool thing about your journal is that it’s yours. You can keep it secret or share it with your friends and family. You might even read some of your poetry out loud at a talent show or poetry jam. Whatever you decide to do with it, a daily poetry journal will keep you writing. And the more you write, the better writer you become!”, (Nesbitt, 2019). See Kenn Nesbitt’s suggestions for writing in poetry journals : https://www.poetry4kids.com/lessons/how-to-start-a-poetry-journal/

Day 23: Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz


On a disastrous day in March 2011, Kai loses almost everyone and everything he cares about when a tsunami devastates his Japanese village. Ten years later, he is offered a trip to New York City to meet kids who lives were affected by 9/11, and he realizes he has the chance to find his estranged American father while there. On the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Kai visits Ground Zero and decides the way to make something good come out of something bad is to return home and help rebuild his own town.

Although a work of fiction, the author was in Tokyo, Japan when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami hit on March 11, 2011. Fortunately, from her relatively close but “safe” home, her family was all okay. Her idea of a boy who loves soccer was inspired by a boy she met in the disaster zone.

Haiku activity:

Japanese Haiku pairs well with this book.


Day 24: For Every One by Jason Reynolds


Jason Reynolds is a self-professed dreamer. He has been working to make his own dreams come true, but they take time…not just for Jason, but For Every One. Kids who may be scared to dream, or don’t even try because they have never seen one of their dreams come true: Jason wants you to know that just having the dream is the spark you need, and to take a leap of faith from there.

Dream poetry activity:

Poet Langston Hughes was also a dreamer. First, share his poem Dreams, (1926). https://poets.org/poem/dreams

Encourage teens to explain what they think the poem means. Next, share Hughes’ poem Harlem, (1951).


Foster discussions debating the differences between these two poems, and the messages and moods they convey.

Reynolds narrates the audio version of this book himself. Play that for the group to listen to while they are writing their own dream poems. Since dreams are personal and very open ended, teens select their form of choice for this activity. This can also evolve into spoken word poetry for those who are inclined.

Day 25: American Ace by Marilyn Nelson


After Connor’s grandmother dies, a letter is found with a confession that shakes up their close Italian American family. Connor’s grandpa, the man who raised his father, is not his birth father. When the only clues to the identity of this man are a pair of pilot’s wings and a class ring, Connor decides to investigate himself. What he discovers will change the understanding of identity and race within their entire family:

his biological grandpa was actually a Tuskegee Airman.

Identity poetry activity:

Nelson’s poem Beyond Skinon page 117 in American Ace takes on identity and what it means to each of us. What does it mean to be a descendant of a Tuskegee Airman? What is Nelson trying to say in “Beyond Skin”? Identity can encompass a variety of designations for a single person. I may see myself as librarian, author, daughter, sister, friend, White, short, blonde, smart, Irish, and Hungarian. Someone else may see my identity a different way, depending on whose point of view it is, or in what context they know me (or don’t know me). Encourage teens to think about what they know about their own identities. Do pieces from your past affect who you are today?  Teens write poems in free verse about their own identities. This could be the identity they feel themselves, or how they think others perceive them.

Day 26: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee


After his father commits suicide, Will begins walking…and walking…and walking. But walking doesn’t take away his urge to recreate his dad’s famous cornbread recipe, which he just can’t seem to get right. When he learns his friend Playa has been raped at a party, he decides to do some good in the world to avoid his own sadness. He begins leaving small gifts for people in his life, from the homeless guy “Superman”, to neighborhood kid “Little Butterfly Dude”, to his dear friend, Playa. By helping others, he begins to move past his own trauma. This novel in verse is told in 100 poems of 100 words each.

Penny poetry activity:

Alison McGhee’s poems are brief but mighty in this book. Adding one deliberate word at a time, she doles them out like pennies until she gets to 100 on each page. The number 100 has significance in multiple ways in this story: there are exactly 100 poems of exactly 100 words each, one dollar (100 pennies) is the cost of each item that Will buys to give others. This activity is open ended in that it is free verse, but specific in that penny poems must be 100 words each. Advise students to choose wisely, and to use a thesaurus to substitute words or phrases as needed so they reach exactly 100. Ninety-nine won’t do it. No change given, so don’t go over one dollar! 

Day 27: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes


Wesley Boone sparks an interest in reading poetry aloud when he goes first at school. The weekly poetry sessions soon evolve as an outlet of sorts for the group, as they reveal their inner thoughts about each other and themselves. In doing so, they uncover what lives behind the eyes, beneath the skin, and beyond the masquerade.

Cypher poetry activity:

Mr. Ward’s school assignment evolves into poetry via open mic, and Wesley’s classmates bring their own topics and concerns  to the mic. The emotions presented in open mic poetry sometimes progress into poetry slams.

A cypher is a group of poets who take turns picking up and adding on to the poetry from the person before them. Or, in a poetry slam, a circle of poets who take turns reciting poems, which can expand into a hip-hop freestyle battle. Cypher poetry is very open ended and can be written or spoken. The key is to keep going and not break the circle. Pass the paper or pass the mic. Try it on paper first to become comfortable and create a rhythm of sorts, then advance into an open mic version.

See this example of a cypher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFyBURoUSE4

Day 28: They Call Me Guero by David Bowles


Guero is a pale skinned boy living on the border with his loving Mexican American family. He is wise beyond his years, wondering things like if he is Catholic and his friends are Mormon and Christian, how can everyone be right? After the death of his dog, his sister’s Quinceanera provides the family with a bright ray of sunshine. Guero’s teacher buoys his writing, telling him, “Poetry is the clearest lens for viewing the world.”. Together with his Bookworm Squad friends, Los Bobbys, he manages a bottle rocket fiasco and attempts to get the girl he is crushing on hard.  When he encounters the school bully, help comes from an unexpected place.

Couplet poetry activity:

Guero uses couplets to describe his days in the poem “Sundays” on page thirty-eight.

A couplet is two lines of verse together that are linked by both rhythm and rhyme.

The quick pacing and concise language of couplets are used by poets to make their poems grab the reader’s attention. A couplet is considered closed when the two lines form a bound unit of grammar, like a sentence. Have teens choose a day of the week to write about. First, they brainstorm a list of rhyming pairs that come to mind about their day of choice. Next, they sequence the pairs and write couplets. Some may be closed, while others may continue to the next stanza of lines. Remind students to use a thesaurus for help finding synonyms and antonyms to fit their rhymes.

Day 29: Saving Red by Sonya Sones


As part of her community service requirement for school, Molly Rosenberg volunteers to participate in the annual homeless count in Santa Monica. When she meets Red, Molly is determined to reunite the spirited homeless girl with her family in time for Christmas. This is easier said than done, as Red is tight lipped about her past, while Molly has her own things from the past she won’t discuss. When she realizes Red is exhibiting signs of being mentally ill, she desperately tries to keep her safe until she can figure out how to get Red back to her family.

Homelessness poetry activity:

Homelessness in the U.S. is on the rise and this complex issue impacts people from of all ages and backgrounds. Read below to learn more about homelessness and how you can respond to it with your words—and your actions.


Remember that teens have the right to privacy and may not want to share their poems, but use it for their own self-awareness and catharsis. This activity is meant to look within or to dig deep to think about ways to advocate for others, not out anyone or make them uncomfortable in any way. Since homelessness and mental health can be very personal subjects, free verse is a recommended option for this activity.

Day 30: Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen


You may THINK you know the story of Baba Yaga…but you do not. When Natasha gathers her strength to leave her harsh, controlling father, she comes upon the magical house in the woods…the legendary one that walks on chicken feet with a fairy tale witch inside. The theme of a young woman discovering the power to take control of her fate and speak up is both timely and timeless.

Imagery poetry activity:

Imagery is the process of using vivid, descriptive words to give the reader a detailed picture of what is going on in your writing so that they can easily picture, or visualize, it in their own mind. Page 417 introduces what happens after a knock, knock at the door:

“I see the bony hand first,

knuckles broken on the wall of time.

Dirt under long fingernails,

It signals me in.”

Use the first line as a writing prompt to create creepy poems using imagery and personification.

-Lisa Krok

Find these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Request it at your Indies.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Crash Course: Recent poetry books for younger readers

This post wraps up my crash course series in books for younger readers. Hop back to Tuesday/Thursday posts from this month to see my previous posts in this series.

Summaries of these books are from WorldCat/the publisher. All titles are from the past couple of years.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator), Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth (2017)

A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree’s New York Times best-selling ode to poets who have sparked a sense of wonder.

Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award–winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, present original poems that pay homage to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Stunning mixed-media images by Ekua Holmes, winner of a Caldecott Honor and a John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown (2015)

This is the first longer-format, middle-grade collection from #1 New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator Calef Brown. Moving away from the picture book format offers Calef the opportunity to tackle a variety of themes and poetry styles as well as reach a slightly older audience. Hypnotize a Tiger is chock-full of Calef’s zany black-and-white artwork and features his wonderfully inventive characters and worlds—from the “completely nonviolent and silent” Lou Gnome to Percival, the impetuous (and none-too-sensible) lad who believes he is invincible, to Hugh Jarm (who has a huge arm, natch!). It’s a whimsical world: creative, fun, and inspiring!

Underneath My Bed: List Poems by Brian P. Cleary (2016)

When is a list also a poem? When it’s a list poem! List poems can be funny or serious, rhymed or unrhymed. Award-winning author Brian P. Cleary explains how these types of poems work—and shows some of the many ways they can be written.

Underneath My Bed is packed with goofy poems on subjects ranging from summer camp to dinosaurs to messy bedrooms. And when you’ve finished reading, you can try writing your very own list poem!

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis (2015)

When words in verse are paired with the awesomeness of nature, something magical happens! Beloved former U.S. Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis curates an exuberant poetic celebration of the natural world in this stellar collection of nature poems. From trickling streams to deafening thunderstorms to soaring mountains, discover majestic photography perfectly paired with contemporary (such as Billy Collins), classics (such as Robert Frost), and never-before-published work.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, Julie Morstad (Illustrator) (2016)

Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano’s skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad’s charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry.

Wake Up! by Helen Frost, Rick Lieder (Illustrator) (2017)

The world is wide awake — are you? Stunning photos and poetic text usher readers into the early moments of life all around them.

Wake up! Come out and explore all the new creatures being born — just-hatched birds in the trees, tadpoles in the pond, a baby fawn in the woods. In their latest collaboration, poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder, the creators of Step Gently Out, Sweep Up the Sun, and Among a Thousand Fireflies, invite readers to wake up, open their eyes, and see the awe-inspiring array of new life just outside their door.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (2017)

Inspired by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of master poets like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, and others who enriched history during this era.

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting African American illustrators—including Pat Cummings, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, and many more—to create an emotional and thought-provoking book with timely themes for today’s readers.

A foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, poet biographies, and index makes this not only a book to cherish, but a wonderful resource and reference as well.

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls (Illustrator), Selina Alko (Illustrator) (2018)

How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth grade poetry project? They don’t know each other… and they’re not sure they want to. Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relatable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners.

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies by J. Patrick Lewis, Johanna Wright (Illustrator) (2017)

Thirteen classic poems by poets such as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and David McCord are paired with parodies written by J. Patrick Lewis that honor and play off of the original poems in a range of ways. For example, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is paired with “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening” to hilarious effect, whereas the combination of Emily Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” with Lewis’s “‘Grief’ is the thing with tissues” is profound, and both David McCord’s “This Is My Rock” and Lewis’s “This Is My Tree” hum with a sense of wonder. This playful introduction to classics will inspire imagination and wonder even as it tickles funny bones.

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka (2016)

Who says words need to be concrete? This collection shapes poems in surprising and delightful ways.

Concrete poetry is a perennially popular poetic form because they are fun to look at. But by using the arrangement of the words on the page to convey the meaning of the poem, concrete or shape poems are also easy to write! From the author of the incredibly inventive Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word comes another clever collection that shows kids how to look at words and poetry in a whole new way.

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, Josee Masse (Illustrator) (2016)

What happens when you hold up a mirror to poems about Greek myths? You get a brand-new perspective on the classics! And that is just what happens in Echo Echo, the newest collection of reverso poems from Marilyn Singer. Read one way, each poem tells the story of a familiar myth; but when read in reverse, the poems reveal a new point of view! Readers will delight in uncovering the dual points of view in well-known legends, including the stories of Pandora’s box, King Midas and his golden touch, Perseus and Medusa, Pygmalion, Icarus and Daedalus, Demeter and Persephone, and Echo and Narcissus.

These cunning verses combine with beautiful illustrations to create a collection of fourteen reverso poems to treasure.

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads by Hope Anita Smith (2017)

Who is your hero? Who’s your best friend?

Who says he loves you again and again?


Told through the voice of a child, Anita Hope Smith’s My Daddy Rules the World collection of poems celebrates everyday displays of fatherly love, from guitar lessons and wrestling matches to bedtime stories, haircuts in the kitchen, and cuddling in bed. These heartwarming poems, together with bold folk-art-inspired images, capture the strength and beauty of the relationship between father and child.

Otherization of Sikh Women, a guest post by Jasmin Kaur

Today we are honored to host this moving guest post by author Jasmin Kaur.

Eyes wide with apprehension, lips parted with a sudden inhale, it was the same look of shock I’d grown used to. On this particular occasion, the white woman’s fingers furiously typed on her phone, perhaps to a friend. Her gaze bounced to each of my friends’ turbans and beards and finally landed on me. I had heard that Australia could often be inhospitable to immigrants and people of colour, but I didn’t think that in Melbourne, one of its most diverse cities, people would display their discomfort at the sight of Sikhs so unabashedly. Among the dozen of us waiting to be seated at the restaurant, I was the only one from out of town.

As painfully familiar as the woman’s wide-eyed glance was the feeling of otherness. Of my heart thumping with a sudden desire to be invisible. I turned to my friend, whispering that we were being watched.  Then, my friend did something that I was too emotionally exhausted to do: she asked the woman why she was staring.

“I recognized Jasmin Kaur. I think I follow her on Instagram.”

After we had a thoughtful conversation with the woman and my friends commented on how wonderful it was that this reader recognized me half away across the world from home, my mind was still spinning. I’d had many emotionally intense run-ins with strangers before, but never anything like this. Never a person staring at me in public with nothing but a kind word to say.

When I chose to tie a dastaar (Sikh turban) back in high school, I knew it would come with attention. In fact, this identity was made to draw attention. When the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, formalized our visible identity, the dastaar was an important element in rendering Sikhs unique and distinguishable from members of other faith communities. As a child, I distinctly remember sitting on the fir-green carpet of our local gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) listening to a speaker explain the story of why it was so important for us to stand out. When the tenth Guru’s father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, attained martyrdom in defence of a persecuted group of Kashmiri Hindus, Guru Gobind Singh questioned whether many Sikhs were present to witness the event. No one was sure because no one could tell who, exactly, was Sikh. It was in this moment that the guru declared that they would make Sikhs so distinct that even in a crowd of thousands, we would be unmissable.

There is beauty in being unmissable, in being so in love with your sovereignty as a kaur (Sikh woman) that you declare it with a crown. But there is also struggle. Each time I step out of the comfort of my own home, I enter a world that views my body as an artifact. By this, I mean that I am constantly on display to be studied, critiqued and openly discussed by strangers, often as though I am not even there. As though I am an object that can’t talk back. When I step into public spaces, I constantly move as though I am bracing myself for a tidal wave. The glares, the stares, the hateful comments exist within the memory of my tense muscles, my thumping heart, my lowered gaze that is too tired to observe which strangers happen to be ogling today.

I grew up in Abbotsford, a large-enough city in BC, Canada with a strong Punjabi population. White people are familiar with us. They see us every single day. And yet, I seem to exist here as a perpetual surprise. The other day, after a long stretch of writing from my bedroom, I decided to switch things up and work from a coffee shop. As soon as I swung open the door, two tables of middle-aged and elderly white people halted their conversations to stare at me. Eight people, to be exact. Their eyes followed me to my table, their necks twisting to keep up with my movements, until I sat down and they could finally let me go.

This type of staring is a common occurrence throughout my day. I’ve gotten it since I entered middle school when I began to tie a ramaal, a small headscarf that is much more subtle than a dastaar. Sometimes when people stare, I’ll smile. This will result in them either smiling back in embarrassment or looking away in surprise. As a woman of colour and a Sikh woman specifically, I don’t think I owe strangers a constantly positive, pleasant, model-minority attitude, though. Just like you, I could be having a bad day. Just like you, I could be caffeine-deprived, exhausted and just looking to quietly reach my next destination. I don’t need to be on all the time, maintaining my best “customer-service” attitude for strangers who consider me nothing more than “the other”. I don’t need to prove my humanity to white people. I don’t owe you a smile for your stares.

The stares and glares are irritating, but they are definitely not the worst. I’ve had more than my fair share of overtly racist run-ins with strangers, from local drivers shouting “terrorist!” at me as I walk down the street, to train passengers in Australia swearing at me for sitting next to them to store-clerks in Spain serving the white people standing behind me in line and simply pretending I don’t exist. These experiences add up, they pile one on top of the other and pack themselves at the back of my mind. They don’t make me want to remove my dastaar but they do remind me of the violence that comes from non-conformity in a world that seeks to synthesize everyone into a singular image.

“Usually when people stare at me in public spaces, it’s because of my Sikh identity.”

When I shared this with the white woman at the restaurant, she was flustered. Shocked to hear that I could be treated so badly by strangers. The two of clearly experienced the world through very different eyes.

I was quiet when we finally sat down to eat, trying to make sense of this strange concoction of emotions that arose from the interaction. Like many people of colour who experience microaggressions and overt racism in public spaces, my experiences have left me with a sense of guardedness. I don’t feel bad about it, though: I have more than enough reason to be anxious.   

Jasmin Kaur is the author of the YA poetry & prose release When You Ask Me Where I’m Going (October 1; HarperCollins), her debut book of poetry & prose that tells the story of 18-year old Kiran as she flees a history of trauma in Punjab and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America. Kaur’s writing is a powerful salve and formidable reclamation of self-acceptance and love in a world that often ignores, erases, or ridicules women of color and undocumented immigrants.

Book Review: Light Filters In: Poems by Caroline Kaufman

Publisher’s description

light filters inIn the vein of poetry collections like Milk and Honey and Adultolescence, this compilation of short, powerful poems from teen Instagram sensation @poeticpoison perfectly captures the human experience. 

In Light Filters In, Caroline Kaufman—known as @poeticpoison—does what she does best: reflects our own experiences back at us and makes us feel less alone, one exquisite and insightful piece at a time. She writes about giving up too much of yourself to someone else, not fitting in, endlessly Googling “how to be happy,” and ultimately figuring out who you are.

This hardcover collection features completely new material plus some fan favorites from Caroline’s account. Filled with haunting, spare pieces of original art, Light Filters In will thrill existing fans and newcomers alike.

it’s okay if some things

are always out of reach.

if you could carry all the stars

in the palm of your hand,

they wouldn’t be

half as breathtaking


Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve been using this summer to try to catch up on a lot of the books from the past few months that I haven’t had time to read. This one has been sitting in my pile since May and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers, please get this book and put it out in various displays. This collection of poems about mental health, the aftermath of sexual assault, help, and hope is an important one. This is a beautiful, raw, and extremely moving book that so many will be able to relate to for so many reasons. There are references to self-harm and other topics that some readers will find triggering, FYI. Told in four parts, Kaufman moves from crisis to processing what she’s been through to help and treatment to hope and moving forward. The poems are short and sometimes feel unfinished or repetitive, but taken all together create a powerful and profound look at what it means to be a girl, to be a survivor, and to find help, support, and hope in the face of so much unhappiness. Though I am well past my teenage years, reading this really spoke to Teenage Me and I can only imagine how comforted I would have felt seeing someone so adeptly capture so much of what I felt at that time. A lovely, if not always easy to read, collection. 



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062844682
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/22/2018

Book Review: I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

Publisher’s description

funeralHow do you deal with a hole in your life?

Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

Do you dream?

Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

Do you grieve?

If you’re Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what’s happened–and is happening–to you.

I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.


Amanda’s thoughts

Things in Avery’s life are not going great. He’s laid up after being injured in a car accident. His mother has (finally) gone to rehab. He’s temporarily living across the street from his home with his grandpa, whom he calls Pal, and his grandpa’s girlfriend, Babs. Things are a little weird with Luca, his neighbor and best friend—they’d made a plan to be each other’s firsts, but this seemingly simple plan is complicated by life and complex feelings. Through all of this, Avery, who writes poetry, is discovering the work of many other poets (Plath, Berryman, Sexton, O’Hara, Ginsberg, Dickinson), thanks to his English teacher, and finding his own voice and ways of processing life.


Walton’s novel will challenge readers. It’s a mix of narrative, poems, imagined conversations/dreams, and bits of a eulogy. As we move back and forth in time, readers will see that Avery is speaking at Pal’s funeral, but it takes a while to find out how we got there. Avery’s grief, pain, loss, fears, love, hope, passions, and identity all get expressed and explored through poetry and music. This short book packs a powerful punch as it looks at grief, love, addiction, and hope. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545709569
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/29/2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher’s description

poet XFans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing #ownvoices novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.


Amanda’s thoughts

This book was fantastic. It took me a little bit to warm up to Xiomara, not because of any flaws in the writing or characterization, but because Xiomara is a tough nut to crack—she keeps most everyone at a distance, is quick to fight, and is slow to reveal what she’s all about. But once this novel in verse really gets going—watch out! You won’t be moving anywhere until you’ve finished the whole thing.


15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother. She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations. Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections.



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062662804
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/06/2018

For National Poetry Month: A Social Justice Poetry Project for Teens, a guest post by Laura Shovan

sjyalitWell. Here we are, educators and librarians. The teens we work with are consuming the same polarizing news media, current events stories, and government spin that we adults struggle to cope with every day.


How can we help teens interact with the news in a way that gives them some control over the language and information we’re being bombarded with?


One answer is poetry.


Over the past few months, I’ve resisted the urge to disengage from the language being used by government and media. Instead, I’m looking at that language as a poet — creating found poems to reflect what’s happening in our country and world.


A few days before our 45th president’s inauguration, I found I could not watch his press conference. My feelings about and reactions toward Trump were still too raw. I had to find a way to interact with his words that felt safe, but allowed me to digest their meaning.


I turned to poetry, printing out the text of the press conference and highlighting key phrases. The result was a found poem in Trump’s own words. 


The idea worked well enough that I borrowed it for the daily write-in I host each February. My goal was to help people stay aware of how language is being used in the current political climate, a skill that is crucial for teens as well as adults.


Whether you’re working with a teen writing club that meets once a month, a weekly poetry class, or a high school social justice committee, this exercise is adaptable for your group. It would make a great National Poetry Month project.


The prompt combines found poetry, current events, and a writing exercise from poet Grace Cavalieri entitled “10 Little Words.”


IMG_20170406_142557878 (1)Each day of the project, one member of the group chooses a news article. From that source, he or she pulls out 10 words. The task is to write a poem (or flash prose piece) using all, or most, of the day’s ten words.



What I like about this prompt is that it provides both structure and options. The ten words function like a vase, containing the poets’ raw emotional response to the news and giving it shape. But there’s also freedom to play with the words and make personal connections.


The best part of this current events/found poetry project is how it encourages engagement with the day’s news on a deeper level. Instead of reading and shaking our heads at injustice, writing a poem in response to the news encourages critical thinking and creativity. During difficult times or experiences, making art can help teens (anyone, really) gain an important sense of perspective.


Some tips on doing this project with teens:

It’s good to have a variety of topics. We all need occasional breaks from politics. Encourage each member of the group to take charge of the source and word bank for one day. The adult poets I worked with selected a variety of articles: political stories, science news, and social justice in the arts.


Reiterate that this exercise is about writing in community. In my February project, we post a prompt, write our response poems, and share them on a group page all on the same day. Everyone is generating new writing and ideas, so feedback is positive and supportive. The best surprises come from all the different interpretations of the day’s 10 words.


Some questions that might come up are:

Do I have to use all ten words? Can I use five?

I recommend poet’s choice.


Do I have to use the word as it’s listed?

Any delineation of the word is fine. Feel free to play. For one of the prompts, I turned “cash” into “cashew” because that suited my poem


Here are two sample prompts — with response poems — from the

2017 February Poetry Project.


Poet and librarian Diane Mayr chose our source and words on February 12.

10 Words of the Day: burning, fans, prop, platform, brushes, staunchly, magic, fringe, tombstone, epitomize

Source: “J.K. Rowling’s Twitter feud with Trump supporters is so bad she’s now fighting some of her fans,” by Travis M. Andrews, The Washington Post, February 3, 2017.



By Michelle Kogan 

J.K. Rowling’s magical brushes

turned tainted Twitter fans into foes.

Tweets of burning books abound,

but Rowling’s focused on
flushing out autocrats via free speech.

With her final books published,

her political platform propped into place.

Petitions of Trump’s U.K. visit piled high,

inviting Rowling’s staunch reaction —

come “be offensive and bigoted” here,

your “freedom to speak protects my

freedom to call” you “a bigot.”

Christian criticism, bah.

Read the tombstone of Albus Dumbdore’s kin

a bit deeper, dear reader . . .

“Where your treasure is,

there your heart be also.” Mathew 6:19.

“Freedom of speech” represents

the epitome of Rowling’s heart,

freedom for all, for the fringes of society,

the unspoken, the


By Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg

Atop the platform of
Staunch self-righteousness
Books are burning—
Breath from hot zealots
Fans their flame—
When books are fringe
Magic brushes portals
Unlocking possibility—
Drop a tombstone amid
Whatever remains—
Chisel these words:
Suppression Epitomizes Idiocy


by Charlie Otting

A young boy

Stands on the train

Platform, his forehead

Burning, his suitcase

Propped against his leg

The crowds brush by

Him as he stares

Staunchly at

The brick wall

The ceiling fans give

Barely a breeze –

The screech of steel

On steel is deafening

But around him

The air is silent

As a tombstone

He can feel

The magic

On the fringe

Is that what the scar



On February 9, poet and educator Mary Lee Hahn found our source and ten words. Instead of creating a bank of selected words, Mary Lee gave us an eleven-word sentence to use as a writing prompt.

10+1 Words of the Day: “They can shut me up, but they can’t change the truth.”

Source: “Warren cut off during Sessions debate after criticism,” by Ted Barrett, CNN, February 8, 2017


By Laura Shovan

They can’t change truth,
shut up change.
Truth can’t shut up.


They can’t change me.
Truth can,
but they can’t.


Me? The truth?
Can’t shut up.
They can change.


by Kip Wilson Rechea

The door slams shut behind me

with a loud, echoey bang

but I can’t wait

to put everything behind me

except the sound

of my own breath bubbling up

to the surface

as I stroke, stroke, breathe

my way across the pool

because my truth is found here

in thoughts clear

as chlorinated water.



Additional resources:

The New Verse News: E-zine with daily current events poems

Split This Rock: Social justice and poetry non-profit


Meet Laura Shovan

DSC_5914Laura Shovan’s middle grade verse novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is about students protesting the closure of their school. It was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and won Cybils and Nerdy Book Club awards for poetry. Laura is a Poetry Friday blogger and longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.  She is also the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Visit her at: www.laurashovan.com.

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.




Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.


Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.


The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.


Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017