It’s amazing what kids can do when given the chance.
Earlier this year – before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on our schedules, schools, and collective psyche – I had the pleasure of visiting Colebrook, New Hampshire to speak to the students of the Colebrook School District about poetry.
I had been invited by Melissa Hall, Youth Librarian at Colebrook Public Library. Melissa wanted to create a poetry collection written by Colebrook’s students as part of the town’s 250th Anniversary celebration, so she turned to a regional non-profit organization known as CLiF, the Children’s Literature Foundation, which provides author visits, free books, and other literacy programs to low-income, at-risk students throughout New Hampshire and Vermont.
I’ve only been involved with CLiF for about a year, but when they contacted me about Melissa’s plans, I jumped at the chance! I love talking to students about writing, especially poetry – but I had no idea what kind of surprise I was in for, once they completed the project.
I drove up the day after a big snowstorm, glad that it I missed the snow because Colebrook is in the northernmost part of the state commonly referred to as the Great North Woods, and even though I’ve grown up here, driving in the mountains in a snowstorm is not something I envy. (If you’ve ever seen the Animal Planet TV show North Woods Law, you have a good idea as to what this part of the state is like.)
The area is rural – with a population of barely 2300, Colebrook is the 3rd or 4th-largest town in the county – and the lack of industry means a lack of economic prosperity for most. But the folks who live there are good people, and having grown up in the woods (literally), it actually felt like home. I spent the day sharing my poetry with the students, teaching them how to focus their thoughts and phrase their words, and they taught me how proud they were of their little town.
Melissa’s plan, in conjunction with the school’s teachers, was for the students to start working on poems they would eventually submit for inclusion in a book of poetry that would function as a sort of time capsule; a peek into the hearts and minds of Colebrook’s young people as the town celebrated 250 years.
The surprise to which I alluded? The thought, insight, and emotion their poems contained…
“The rhythm was always / too bright”
“Rivers hold / memories more than pictures”
“Most times, I say / I would want to leave, / see the world, / find adventure in someone / else’s air”
Now, stop for a moment and re-read those lines: “The rhythm was always too bright.” “Rivers hold memories more than pictures.” “Find adventure in someone else’s air.” What an absolutely fantastic use of words! I was blown away when I read those words.
Keep in mind, these are kids, sharing their thoughts and emotions in ways they may not be used to – or in ways with which they may be familiar. Like this example of a poem fraught with angst, hope, insecurity, defiance, and strength:
Again, I just can’t believe these kids were able to get what was in their hearts and minds out onto the paper in such beautiful and arresting ways.
And not to leave the younger students out, here are a couple more:
I was particularly proud of Kaelyn’s poem because she utilized some of the guidance I provided her while I was there, and my suggestions can be used by anyone trying to improve their writing…
When she told me what she wanted to write about, she said, “my brother and I eat lunch at the Falls and then go play.” I told her that sounded like a good plan, but asked if she could be more specific: what do you two like to eat for lunch? Where do you eat it? What type of things do you do when you play? The more specific one can be with details, the better – and Kaelyn knocked it out of the park.
To see more of these amazing students’ poetry, I invite you to check out the Google Slide Show that Melissa Hall created, featuring many of the students reciting their poems along with the text. This is something I hope the kids will come back to in later years, to see where they were in life and what was on their minds.
Again, my thanks to Melissa as well as the folks from CLiF who helped facilitate this – I’m so proud of these students! I hope the craziness of the world subsides soon, so I can resume visiting schools and helping spur young people’s creativity. I love writing, but I also love sharing what I know with others. (By the way, if you’d like to learn more about writing poetry, I hope you’ll check out my “Wit & Wordplay” videos – details below!
Speaking of students, education, literacy, and poetry…Carol Varsalona is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her Beyond Literacy Link blog, with a celebration of Nature, Mary Oliver, and poetic “memos!”
I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun with it. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.
I’ve teamed up with several other children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year – and there are a LOT of them: books from folks like Diana Murray, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lori Degman, Michelle Schaub, nancy Castaldo, and many others. I’m very proud to be part of this group of dedicated, talented writers.
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Finalist, 2019 New Hampshire Literary Awards
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness!
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