I am posting a poem each day in honor of poetry month. Today, a Golden Shovel poem to pay homage to Maya Angelou and her famous poem, “Still I Rise.” See the entire poem here: https://poets.org/poem/still-i-rise
I’ll want to wander on the rocky beaches with you
and even through Maine’s muddy springs, I may
find comfort in the squishy sounds as you trod
towards the cabin, the dogs behind me,
taking too long to reach the door, and in
a moment, I’ll be in your arms, still grasping the
brass doorknob and pulling it to shut the very
last light of the day outside. The mud, the dirt,
and all the spring wildflowers disappearing but
waiting patiently for light of day to return and still
the night. The quiet twilight that swallows us is like
a deep well. We’ll become what stars have made us from… dust.
We will be the dust of a billion years; and one day I’ll
become the beat of your heart, and with each breath, fall and rise.
March 31st has arrived. It is my sister’s birthday, my sister-in-law’s birthday, and Clare Landrigan’s birthday (my almost-sister!). So, it is already a very special day. It marks 31 days of posting and connecting to an incredible writing community on twowritingteachers with so many interesting, delightful, and heartfelt posts. I only wish I had more time here…but wait a minute…I can reconnect with many writers from this community every Tuesday! I’m going to do this on as many Tuesdays as possible. No, wait a minute. I am not going to make a promise to myself and leave room for excuses. I am going to write every Tuesday. If I am away from my laptop, I can write and post from my phone. Yes, no excuses. I am going to write and post every Tuesday. See you there!
Arthur is a wonderful three-year-old Welsh Corgi, and he adds lots of adventure and love into out daily lives. He loves my husband Ralph and makes sure to spend time with me, too. He adored our Corgi Rhonda who we lost a month ago. She was just shy of sixteen, and her feisty personality drew Artie to her.
Sunday was a bad day for Arthur. The dogs had breakfast and we sent Merri and Arthur out in the backyard while Ralph filled the bird feeders. Then Ralph and Artie went for their morning walk, but the rain made it a fairly short walk. I left for a manicure and Ralph went upstairs to his office for a Zoom church session.
When I came home, I had a bag of blueberry muffins in my hand, but Arthur wasn’t interested in the food. I should have known he had to go out. He went to the front door, but I ignored his fairly plain request to go outside again. I came into the den and settled at my laptop to begin some unfinished work. Before I opened Word to begin writing, my husband came into the room. “I lost the Internet connection.” I checked mine, and sure enough, no Internet. “The router is dead,” Ralph told me. Then I heard. “ARTIE!”
To my chagrin and my husband’s anger, I saw a small puddle on the floor next to the router. I couldn’t believe it. Artie had lifted his leg on the router. It could not have been purposeful, right? Ralph cleaned up the mess and thoroughly washed the router. After that he used a hair dryer to dry the workings, inside and out. Amazingly, the router worked again! Ralph ignored Arthur for several hours. The poor dog followed him around with his head down and his ears back. He was finally forgiven. (We moved the router off the floor to a new location that was Arthur-proof.)
Fast forward to Monday. I was writing and snacking on a few marshmallows. I gave half a marshmallow to Arthur and made a trip to the dentist for an appointment at 6:30. Ralph had left for ham radio testing. I returned home and let the dogs out. When they came in, Arthur jumped up on the couch beside me. He seemed to have acquired a large burr that was tangled in his ruff. I went to pull it out. Oh, no! It was the marshmallow! Artie sometimes plays with his food before eating it. He’ll toss it in the air and often roll on it, usually with his head first. It took a lot of snips to cut the marshmallow out of his hair. I think he was relieved.
Bad things come in threes – so far, so good for today. But I wonder….
“If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck
Most of the time, good monologue and dialogue is all about show not tell. Occasionally, they can be used to offer directions or an explanation. Often, monologue and dialogue can be used to help the writer reveal her characters to the reader. They sometimes reveal characters by what other characters say about them; or sometimes, character reveals his true colors just by what the character says (or doesn’t say!).
Often, teachers begin by trying to teach students how to use writing conventions to properly punctuate conversations. Students learn about quotation marks, the use of commas and other end punctuation, how to place explanatory words before or after the words that are directly spoken, and to begin on a brand new line every time the speaker changes. Of course, it is helpful to learn this since it makes it easier for a reader to follow along. But is it the best place to start?
I believe the journey begins with teaching students why an author chooses to use dialogue – determining the purpose it serves and how it changes a piece of writing. In Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 (2017), Rose and I have added a section called “Dipping Into Dialogue” (p.80-81). We talk about the things that dialogue can do such as how a character solves a problem. Dialogue can also be a powerful tool for a way to end a story, showing readers what the main character is thinking and feeling. In Widget by Lyn Rossiter McFarland, neighbors arrive to visit Mrs. Diggs after her fall, surprised to discover that the “cat” lady has a dog. In answer to a neighbor’s query, Mrs. Diggs replies.
“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Diggs. “it’s nice to have a dog. Right, girls?” The girls (six cats) are shown in the final illustration gathered around Widget. Clearly, we understand that Widget will have a home forever. That’s the only conversation in the book.
Dialogue can also be used to show conflict, suggest a setting, advance the plot, and reveal character traits and motives. Dialogue is used to offer an explanation, give a direction, show strong emotion, and drive a story’s plot forward. In Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, the author uses dialogue to offer important explanations. The rainy day story is about a real event in Roxborough, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of the city of Philadelphia, and how the community helps toads safely cross a busy road to get to their destination. Dialogue is often used to reveal emotions, draw the reader into the characters’ lives, and show the reader how the character reacts to different situations, such as pressure, hate, love or fear.
When using dialogue, consider these tips:
Scatter dialogue where it is most useful and effective (for example, to give variety after several paragraphs of description or exposition).
Long conversations may be broken up with some action.
Use region, group, or profession-specific language, or hobby/activity-specific language.
Use dialogue within descriptive narration for a purpose.
Avoid myriad alternatives to he said and she said. It starts to sound phony.
Avoid using too much direct address.
Listen to the way people talk – in your writer’s notebook, note speech patterns.
Use the three-sentence rule: give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once.
Don’t have your characters tell each other things they already know.
For older students, try to achieve the tone you want without using stereotypes, slang, or profanity. Keep it to a bare minimum. It’s distracting!
Read widely. Find mentor texts that will help you take risks and try out dialogue for a specific purpose(s).
Be sure to read like a writer, noticing when the dialogue made the character real – almost like she was jumping off the page!
Remove filler words and unessential dialogue that doesn’t contribute to the plot in some way.
Do not ramble on without the characters learning anything knew or achieving something.
Avoid using dialogue to summarize action that could otherwise be exciting.
Use dialogue to add humor or pick up the pace of the story (usually after long descriptions).
It’s important to trust your audience to make some inferences as they read: in fact, part of the enjoyment of reading a story that leads to real engagement is to be a good detective and piece the puzzle together. Dialogue has many uses. Let’s begin with an inquiry approach to discover the whys and then teach our kids the hows.
When I was twelve, my grandmother suffered a stroke. We were so worried, but Mom assured us that Grandma would be alright. Before my grandparents came to Philadelphia for their first visit after the stroke, we walked to Wadsworth Avenue. My sisters and I wanted to use our savings to buy her a present. We opened our piggy banks and combined our nickels, pennies, dimes, and quarters. Even a few silver dollars!
Sandy thought we should buy her socks at Artie’s where we always bought our underwear. Diane said we should go to Cakemasters Bakery for sweet treats. We finally decided that the Cameo Shop might be the perfect place to find the perfect gift. Even then, I loved black and white clothing and immediately found a soft, beautiful scarf – white background and large black flowers with broad leaves. Mom had exchanged all our savings into dollar bills. She handed the money to us, and we paid the clerk. The smiles on our faces couldn’t have been bigger!
When Grandma arrived with our grandfather, she seemed quiet and different. Mom had cautioned us to give her some time to be more like herself. We handed her the gift wrapped in silver paper with silky, white ribbon. She slowly opened it and brought out the scarf. We waited for words, but we got something better. She lifted the scarf out of the box and draped it around her neck. Then she opened her arms wide, and we fell into them. As she kissed the tops of our heads, we felt our grandma was back. I think I may have brushed away some tears.
After dinner, they headed back to Coopersburg. We stood at the curbside to wave and blow kisses. Grandma waved from the car and GaGa (our name for our grandfather) tooted the horn. Grandma had invited us for Sunday dinner the next week. Mom thought it was too soon, but Grandma insisted it was what she wanted. Things were returning to normal. We were relieved. We gave Grandma a scarf, but our gift was Grandma.
Are you ready? April is National Poetry Month, so why not try reading a poem each day? We all love Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. What about some new poets? Here are some suggestions for great poetry selections:
Alexander, Kwame. 2019. The Undefeated. Versify.
Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Elliott, Zetta, 2020. A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart.Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Florian, Douglas. 2012. UnBEElievables: honeybee poems and paintings. NY: Beach Lane Books.
Harley, Avis. 2008. The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings. Honesdale, PA: WordSong.
Heard, Georgia. 1998. Awakening the Heart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, K-6
Holbrook, Sara. 2003. By Definition. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Heard, Georgia and Lester Laminack. 2008. Reading and Writing Across the Year. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, K-2
Janeczko, Paul B. 2019. The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems. Candlewick.
Mateer, Trista. 2020. When the Stars Wrote Back: Poems. Random House Books for Young Readers.
Miller, Rhett. 2019. No More Poems!: A Book in Verse That Just Gets Worse. Little. Brown Books for Young Readers.
Newton, Vanessa Brantley. 2020. Just Like Me. NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Singer, Marilyn. 2020. Follow the Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration, and Cake. Dial Books.
Steinglass, Elizabeth. 2019. Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer. Wordsong.
Worth, Valerie.1996. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. NY: Farrar, Straus.
Vardell, Sylvia. 2020. A World Full of Poems. NY: DK Publishers.
Vardell, Sylvia and Janet Wong. 2020. HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving. NJ: Pomelo Books.
Wong, Janet. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Young, Judy. 2006. R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.
So many poetry books, so little time. And yet, you can read several poems each day – to begin the day, during transition times, after lunch/recess, to end the day. There’s always time for a poem. I kept four to six poetry books handy to carry one with me as I walked my class to specials. I read to my class while they were waiting to enter the art and music rooms, the gym, the library, and the computer lab. We created a habit of reading and listening to poems throughout our day. Many students started writing poems on their own. We even formed our own “Poets’ Society” and visited each other’s home once a month to read, write, and share our poetry. I still own a collection of poetry books that fill an entire shelf. I like returning to them and reading them. They fill me with wonder and joy. Happy Poetry Month, Slicers!
Although tulips do not fully bloom in southeastern Pennsylvania until mid-April, I decided to write a poem about them. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to plant tulips for years. Squirrels dig them up and even nip the blooms off. Perhaps the bunnies and groundhog are also to blame. I finally gave up on planting more about three years ago. Daffodils and hyacinths survive. The photos below show the tulips at Longwood Gardens. In less then a month, we’ll go there to stroll the tulip gardens and take lots of pictures.
Large, showy, and brightly colored,
Red, pink, yellow, or white.
Double or single, fringed or twisted,
Perfumed or unscented.
Often in flower beds, fields, gardens,
Table arrangements and bouquets.
Name originating from the Persian word meaning turban.
Almost perfectly symmetrical,
150 various species, and more than 3,000 naturally occurring…
But not in my gardens.
Tulips, intriguing flowers with a rich history,
Do not grow in my garden
Even though they are planted each spring.
Where have all my tulips gone?
To the bushy-tailed, rascally squirrels.
Birdseed and gifts from the neighbor’s walnut trees
Do not discourage these treasure seekers.
Diggers of bulbs, cruel executioners who
Behead these glorious plants as soon as they flower…