Poetry Friday: Poems are Teachers (plus a giveaway!)

Some people just can’t sit still. It was almost exactly one month ago that I featured my friend Amy Ludwig VanDerwater on the ol’ Triple-R blog here, as she celebrated the release of her newest children’s poetry collection, Read! Read! Read! (Boyds Mills Press). Well, guess what…she’s back!

Yesterday marked the book birthday of Amy’s newest baby, Poems are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann) – a tremendously useful and easy-to-understand resource designed to help educators not only teach poetry, but to teach them how poetic tools, forms, and devices strengthen (as the title suggests) writing in general.

The book is a wealth of information and includes poems from folks as diverse as Kwame Alexander, J. Patrick Lewis, Jack Prelutsy, Jane Yolen, Naomi Shihab Nye, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Margarita Engle, and – whoa! Wait a sec…how did I end up in this book?? Indeed, it’s true; many, many of our Poetry Friday family members are contributors, as well!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

The book also includes numerous poems written by children – students who are learning the particular lessons Amy writes about. But how, exactly, did this book come to be? Amy was kind enough to join us today to talk about it…

Thank you for taking the time to visit, Amy! There are plenty of books out there about poetry and how to teach it, so what made you first decide that this particular book needed to be written?

I have been rolling this book around in my head for a long time.  Reading wise poems has deepened my heart, and writing hundreds of poems has honed my prose. Watching poetry disappear from many classrooms in the name of “Standards” was making me cry, and this idea felt like a secret door in again.  

As Mary Lee Hahn wrote, so many of us are trying to “bring poetry back to writing workshop” and into children’s lives.  My hope is that Poems are Teachers will introduce children and teachers to many poets and that it will open doors between poetry, and narrative, poetry and information, poetry and opinion writing.  Poetry is friends with all!

How does one go about finding a publisher for a book like this before it’s written? Did you approach Heinemann with a proposal first?

Heinemann has a whole process for proposing  professional book which you can check out HERE.  I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Heinemann as an occasional consultant for the past 15+ years, and I am also co-author with Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons of Poetry: Big Thoughts in Small Packages, part of the Grade Two Writing Units of Study.  

I couldn’t feel more grateful to be publishing this book at this time with this thoughtful company and with Katie Wood Ray, an author I’ve admired for years, and an incredible editor.

How did you approach the task of putting it together? That is, how did you determine the best format, the aspects of writing that you wanted to include, etc.?

I am a terribly disorganized person, but I have been teaching writing and about strong qualities of writing for twenty years, so organizing this book through the various layers of writing – from idea-finding through language play – made complete sense to me.  

The challenge was knowing when to stop and trying to juggle the over 150 poems by both adult and child poets.  Imagine piles of poems and permission forms and me….looking bewildered.  I struggled with confidence and with my own writing demons, but that’s where Katie saved the day.

There is plenty for people to learn inside this book…but what did YOU learn from writing it?

I learned that I can do something scary.  And I learned that poets, teachers, children, and families are very generous.  I learned, too, that I still have tons to learn.  This book is just a wee bit about poetry.  There are so many beautiful books, so much to explore.  My hope is that however long my life is…I’ll use each day to become a little bit better of a person and writer.  I know that poems will keep teaching and feeding me.

You also have a brand-new poetry collection that just came out a month ago, Read! Read! Read! (Boyds Mills Press), plus you have more books coming out next year! Considering you started The Poem Farm several years before you were published, how does it feel now, with so much going on??

It feels humbling.  I started The Poem Farm so as not to write alone.  I never imagined all of this goodness.  I hope to be of service and to keep writing in my notebooks, to make a little difference.

Thank you tons, Matt, for sharing your superfun poem, “Soccer Sides” in Poems Are Teachers, and thank you for inviting me here today!  

Well, thank YOU, Amy – for everything you’ve been doing to spread poetry to our kids. Congrats on both of your new books!

I am still smiling like crazy about your Flashlight Night and my Read! Read! Read! releasing together with Boyds Mills Press last month.

That was a great week, I have to agree! Thanks again, Amy.

By the way, folks – if you’d like to WIN A FREE COPY OF POEMS ARE TEACHERS courtesy of our good friends at Heinemann, just leave a comment below, or share this post on Twitter or Facebook (and be sure to tag me, so I’ll know!). I’ll pick a name at random next Thursday at noon and announce the winner in next Friday’s post.

As for my contribution to Poems are Teachers, Amy asked me to write a poem with two distinct halves. Not necessarily two stanzas, but two separate thoughts that combine to make a whole, such as a before-and-after scene, two people talking, or two perspectives of the same subject.

So I thought about it for awhile, and one night driving home from one of my indoor soccer league games, an idea hit me. This is what I came up with:

Soccer Sides

Offense means head down the field –
…………………………….try to score!

Goalie blocked your shot?
No sweat!
Follow up and shoot some more!

……………………………………………………………….Defense means hang out in back.
……………………………………………………………….Better keep a watchful eye!
……………………………………………………………….Their offense wants the winning goal –

……………………………………………………………………………….Ha! –
                                                                                                …..I’d like to see them try…

– © 2017, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

(click to enlarge)

From the book, here’s a little background on how the poem came to be along with a few words from Amy about the structure:

Whether you teach poetry or write it, this book is an invaluable resource – so I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy. And speaking of poetry, Leigh Anne Eck is hosting Poetry Friday today at A Day in the Life, so be sure to head on over and check out all of this week’s poetry links and fun!


More “Flashlight Night” news:

I just learned a couple of days ago that Flashlight Night has been selected as one of the Top 20 “Best in Rhyme” rhyming picture books by Angie Karcher’s Rhyme Revolution website!

I’m very happy to be in company with folks like Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lisa Wheeler, the late Anna Dewdney, and fellow former Poets’ Garage alum, Diana Murray, among others.

The final 2017 Best in Rhyme Award announcement will be Feb. 3, 2018 in New York City on KidLit TV – and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Oh, and the Flashlight Night road tour continues rolling along! Where will I be? When will I be there? Here’s my updated schedule:

  • Oct. 27, 6pm:  Barnes & Noble, Manchester, NH
  • Nov. 1, 12pm:  Concord Hospital Early Childhood Learning Center / Gift Shop, Concord, NH
  • Nov. 11: Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA (“The Making of a Book” Children’s Author Day)
  • Dec. 2: Barnes & Noble, Peabody, MA
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Barnes & Noble, Nashua, NH
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Barnes & Noble, Newington, NH
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Toadstool Bookshop, Keene/Peterborough/Milford, NH

I’ll continue updating this as dates are added…and thank you again for your support!


Thank you so much to all who have enjoyed “Flashlight Night” enough to write about it:

“Delicious language…ingenious metamorphoses” – Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“The verse is incantatory…a simple idea that’s engagingly executed” – School Library Journal

An old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure” – The Horn Book

“[Esenwine and Koehler] don’t just lobby for children to read—they show how readers play” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Imaginative…fantastical” – Booklist

“Favorably recalls Where the Wild Things Are” – Shelf Awareness

“Begs to be read over and over” – Michelle Knott, Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook/Goodreads

“A poetic and engaging journey” – Cynthia Alaniz, Librarian In Cute Shoes

“Illuminates the power of imagination” – Kellee Moye, Unleashing Readers

“Readers will be inspired to…create their own journey” – Alyson Beecher, Kidlit Frenzy

“Beautiful words and stunning illustrations” – Jason Lewis, 5th grade teacher at Tyngsboro Elementary School, Tyngsboro, MA


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

53 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Poems are Teachers (plus a giveaway!)

  1. What fun two reviews of Amy’s new book! I just came from Robyn Hood Black’s blog and on to yours Matt. I enjoyed picking up more info on her book here and hearing about the publisher and that process. Thanks for hosting Amy’s book Matt. I also appreciated reading about your process for writing “Soccer Sides,” thanks for all!


  2. First, what a great poem with two halves. I must take this one to school….where soccer is a bit like religion to my middle school boys. Seriously, I”m sending this right to the soccer coaches. And, I’m just tickled and thrilled to see the success of Poetry Friday friends. I know I”m preaching to the choir when I say how vital poetry is to us all…..but it’s nice to see the groundswell of support in the PF community. I cannot WAIT to hold Poems are Teachers in my hands. I think it’s a perfect resource for the teachers in my school, including me and for writers….including me!


    1. Thank you so, so much for your kind words, Linda – the PF family really is a vibrant and supportive community. And I do hope the soccer folks like it…it would be great if even a few kids who prefer athletics over academics suddenly find they take a liking to poetry. 😀


  3. amyludwigvanderwater

    Thank you once again, Matt, for sharing your light with others…today with me. I am very grateful to share your “Soccer Sides” (so many soccer fans in my family) with young readers! Much gratitude, and happy continued celebrations of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT. I love that this celebration of imagination lives in the world – may the joy of a flashlight live forever! xx


  4. I can’t get enough news about POEMS ARE TEACHERS so appreciations for this highlights.

    And also, eager for READ,READ,READ.

    FLASHLIGHT NIGHT is winging along to me, even as I type this. Can’t wait. Bravo! to you & Brava! to Amy.


  5. dmayr

    Great interview Matt and Amy! Both Poems are Teachers and Flashlight Night were mentioned numerous times at this week’s Highlights Poetry workshop. You done well!


  6. lindabaie

    I love hearing more from Amy about this new book, and your poem fits those “sides” beautifully, Matt. That ending, perfect! What a wonderful post to honor poetry, from Amy’s two books and yours continuing to shine, it’s a great time to celebrate!


  7. If I were still teaching, this book would be on the very tip top of my wish list. Even so, I’d still like to read it for my own sake. And I enjoyed your soccer poem. I have never played, but I have spent years on the sideline watching my daughter.


  8. I wish I had this book when I was teaching. Amy is a gem! Enjoyed your poem, Matt. My daughter played soccer from third grade on through college. She was a defender–sometimes playing fullback…sometimes playing sweeper.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Elaine. It’s funny…I coach 1st & 2nd grade soccer, and I often have kids telling me they don’t want to play too much, so they’ll be on defense! I have to explain to them that it’s just as important as being a striker!


  9. Congrats to Amy on another new book this Fall! Enjoyed reading more about it, and I loved your soccer poem, Matt. Thanks for the great interview, Amy and Matt. 🙂


  10. ldk

    Great interview with Amy. My copy is on its way, so no need to include me in the drawing. I also enjoyed the two voices in your poem. By the way, earlier today, I got FLASHLIGHT NIGHT. I look forward to reading it this weekend. : )


  11. Thank you for this terrific interview, Matt! I’m looking forward to savoring every word of Amy’s book. Your poem made me nostalgic for cheering my boys on during their soccer games. I love that the idea came to you while you were driving. I do some of my best thinking in the car!


  12. Love the confidence shown in the last line of your poem, Matt. Poetry is on a roll for sure! I am glad that Amy’s book has been highlighted by you and Robyn this week and that Flashlight is doing so well. Best to both of you.


  13. maryleehahn

    I can’t wait to dig in and read the whole book cover to cover! I’m honored that my words were included and that Amy gives voice to my passion that my students not leave me without a knowledge and love of poetry. (no need to enter me in the drawing!)


  14. Thanks for interviewing Amy and giving me a peek into Poems Are Teachers. I can’t wait to dive into this book and will definitely share your Soccer poem with my class! Yesterday I started Independent Writing Projects in my class (students can choose any genre and topic), and 11 out of the 16 kids chose to start with writing poetry! So exciting! Love reading about your continued successes. Congratulations!


  15. What a wonderful post, Matt. Amy and her poems are wonderful teachers and mentors to so many of us, aren’t they. I am very excited for my copy to arrive — hopefully this week. I loved your sneak peek into the creation of her book, too. A glimpse at the process is always enlightening. Best wishes! — Christie


  16. Leigh Anne Eck

    Thank you for sharing Amy’s book and thought with us. It is so nice to see poetry making a comeback in today’s classrooms. This book sounds like the perfect answer to continue that comeback. Although basketball was the preferred sport in my house, I can so relate with that offense/defense side!


    1. Thanks so much, Leigh! As I mentioned in a previous comment, I had hoped the sports reference would resonate with some of the more athletically-minded kids; no matter which team sport they prefer, offense/defense is a common concept.


  17. haitiruth

    This looks like such an amazing book. And thanks for the soccer poem – I’m always looking for soccer poems to share with my students! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com


    1. Thanks so much, Ruth! Soccer is one of those games with which kids around the world can identify…even though it’s not as big a sport in the US as others, students everywhere can participate and it doesn’t requite anything to play besides a ball. I was hoping this type of poem would help some of the less ‘poetry-inclined’ students find a way into the genre.


  18. astrid francis

    I love Ms> Vanderwater! Ever since she sent my students personalized and autographed copies of her picture book, I hold her to high steam.
    I am interested in reading this poem book for teachers. I am sure is as inspirational as her picture book is!



  19. Kristen Picone

    Thank you for sharing Amy’s brilliance on your blog. She does so much for students and teachers…from her amazing website, to publishing picture books and professional books! Promoting and creating more poetry in class is something that I am always striving to do. Thank you for the opportunity to win Amy’s newest book!


    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Kristen – I’m sure Amy’s thrilled to know you love her work so much! Honestly, I don’t know how she does it…as a stay-at-home dad who tried to work from the house, I barely have time to brush my teeth, let alone write and market myself!


  20. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “Poems are Teachers” winner & a nighttime tanka – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

  21. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Back on the soccer field after 20 months! – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.