Poetry Month: Papa is a Poet

papa is a poet

Papa is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost

By Natalie S. Bober

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt, 2013


This story is told in first person, through the eyes of Robert Frost’s daughter, Lesley. Lesley tells of the time when the Frosts lived on a farm in New Hampshire. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are pieces of Frost’s poems and they become part of the story as she tells about the landscape and their memories. Lesley tells about their family routines on the farm, her father’s love of books, and how he taught them to pay attention. It also tells how he moved to England, away from America, and upon his return, finally saw the success of his work. The back matter includes an author’s note, Robert Frost quotations, and reprints of many of his poems.

love that dog

This book could also be used as a supplement to Sharon Creech’s LOVE THAT DOG. For other books that can be used with LOVE THAT DOG, see this post. 

For other picture book biographies of poets, see this post. 

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth, Poetry Mentor Text

hi koo

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Scholastic Press, 2014

I’m a huge fan of haiku books, and I have a huge collection of haiku picture books. For an annotated haiku book list, click here. 

This particular book follows Koo, a panda, through the seasons, capturing some small details of each season in haiku.


Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Sensory Words

* Haiku form

Other Haiku Resources:

* Haiku Magnets


* I Haiku You


Water Can Be… and A Leaf Can Be… Poetry Mentor Texts


Water Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2014


If you love the sound of words and really love to be surprised by them, then you need to get this book. Water Can Be… is truly a beautiful piece of poetry, but there is so much packed into so few words. Here’s a short sample:

“Water can be a…

tadpole hatcher

picture catcher [picture of a girl looking at her reflection in a puddle]

otter feeder

downhill speeder [picture of a racing waterfall].” 


It is an excellent companion book to Salas’ other book A LEAF CAN BE… and it could be used in the science classroom to teach seasons because she shows water in all seasons. It would also be useful in a water cycle unit.

But of course, my forte, is talking about how it could be used in the writing classroom.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


leaf can be

A Leaf Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2012


A leaf is not just a leaf. A leaf is so much more. This very spare text is written as a poem, but the language is packed with specificity. Salas offers a truly unique perspective on leaves. Here’s a short sample:

“A leaf can be a…

Soft cradle

Water ladle

Sun taker

Food maker…”


This book could easily tie into science units on plants and seasons. Back matter explains more facts about how a leaf is a “soft cradle, water ladle, sun taker, food maker” and more.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


More Information for Teachers

I highly recommend signing up for Laura Purdie Salas’ newsletter for teachers. You can sign up at her website.

Reminder: April Focus and 2nd Quarter Goals

Three months in 2014 are already gone. Tomorrow we start the second quarter of the year. For me as a writer, that means it’s time to start a new set of goals. It’s also time to set up my monthly focus for April. If you are doing this in 2014, this is your reminder.

If you’d like to know more about it, here are the links:

Quarterly Goals

Monthly Focus

First Quarter Report

I have not accomplished everything on my list. However, I think breaking down the quarterly goals into focuses for the month have really helped me. I think I underestimated how long book revisions would take me. I also underestimated how much time classes would take me. But I think it’s always better to aim high. So aiming high is what I’m continuing to do. I think it’s totally fine to carryover goals to the next quarter or to do list items to the next month.

One thing that I’ve really like is having my focus for the month posted behind my computer. I can see it everyday. I keep telling myself that these are the items that are most important.

How about you? How are you moving along on your 2014 goals so far?

Mentor Texts for Teachers Workshop

The month of March has been really busy for me as a writer and a teacher. I’ve attended three teacher conferences and one writing retreat. All of them were incredibly beneficial for me.

I presented at two of the teacher conferences (one for my local school district and one for the state) on using mentor texts to teach writing.

I made handouts for the participants, and I thought some of you might enjoy the handouts as well. Some of the handouts were at stations with loads and loads of books, but the handouts provide the book lists that I used.

Screenshot of title screen

Here is the link to the workshop page. Feel free to download the handouts and start using some of the ideas.

If you haven’t subscribed to my FREE Writing Teacher Useletter, then sign up on the sidebar to the right. It’s a monthly useletter with writing ideas you can use in the classroom.

When Your Writer Self Gets Smacked with a Reality Stick

I love writing retreats. I’ve had the great opportunity to attend one particular retreat, organized by brilliant YA novelist Val Patterson, and led by multi-published Candice Ransom, for three years in a row. It feels indulgent to spend the weekend in a hotel room by myself and talk over dinner about books and writing and actually write. It feels fabulous to be wined and dined and focus fully on writing.

I’m a mom of two young kids, and I normally write amidst the chaos of early mornings, my day job, busy schedules, and “mom-look-at-this” interruptions. But getting to focus on my writing for two days really helps me. There’s time to think. Time to read. Time to take a long bath. Time to actually absorb what I’m learning.

I loved gossiping about our writing and talking about what we love about each others’ work.

When you are with a group of writers—even a group of writers with much more experience that you, like I was—one thing was really clear. WRITING IS HARD WORK.

3rd Annual Writing Retreat, Luray, VA

3rd Annual Writing Retreat, Luray, VA

There is no getting around it. You can be a great writer and still have struggles within the industry. You can write and write and write, but revision is down and dirty tough work.

It wasn’t discouraging for me to be reminded of this. It lifted me up. It helped me realize that I’m not alone and that slogging through the work every day is just what you have to do.

Not only do I enjoy the camaraderie of being with other writers, but I also enjoy the solitude of the journey. The two hour drive there and back prepares my mind, gives me time to sift through ideas, and think. I recorded voice memos to myself about a new book possibility on the drive back.

And then…

The inevitable happened. Upon returning to the real world of my family (that I missed very much), packing lunches, grocery shopping, laundry (which has to be carted elsewhere while we renovate our laundry room), catching up at my day job, preparing for upcoming presentations, and so much more, this writer feels like she got smacked with a reality stick.

You know that one that makes you snap out of it. The one that makes you realize that whole weekend might have been a dream?

What I find most difficult about that slap is that I have to spend a few days trying to find my way again. I know there is lots to be done, but it’s like searching for a light switch in the dark, in a house that’s not your own. You bump into walls, you try to find something familiar, but you just want to have a little bit of light.

I’ve spent the last week trying to find my way out of my writerly bliss, back to my real routine, and making a plan for what lies ahead for my revisions.

Writing Marathon: The Results

The last several Wednesdays have been all about the Writing Marathon I did with fourth and fifth graders at my school.

Today’s post is all about the results. I had 20 students to participate in this extra activity that required 26 days, 30 minutes per day of outside writing.


26 days

30 minutes per day

20 participants

17 Marathon finishers

16,089 minutes spent writing

102,594 words written


My personal writing marathon results were not included in these statistics. Here are my results:

28 days

870 minutes

14,454 words

picture of tracking sheet

Writing Marathon Posts

Writing Marathon: The Method

Writing Marathon: Resources


Short Snippets: How You Can Get Some Writing (or Revising) Done

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I talk about making time to write a lot. I focus on writing every Monday. I’ve done whole series on things you can do in short amounts of time, instead of whining about how you don’t have any time.

The key is, you have to plan. Again, this is something I talk about a lot. But recently, two things have brought this to the forefront of my mind again.

Use a Timer

A recently read a book called IT TAKES AN EGG TIMER: A GUIDE TO CREATING THE TIME FOR YOUR LIFE by Joanne Tombrakos. She recommends using an actual, old-fashioned timer, not the one on your phone. Break things your tasks into chunks of time–never more than 60 min.

egg timer

Reading the book just affirmed everything I’ve been saying: you CAN find time to write. We waste so much time doing things, like checking Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. You can still do those things, but we have to limit our time.

What are the implications for writing? You can write in short spurts. One hour is ideal, but you can get a lot accomplished in 20 minutes.

Revise in Short Spurts

I had the great pleasure of attending the third annual writing retreat at Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Virginia with Candice Ransom. Every year there is a different theme. Every year I get to hang out in a really fabulous hotel room and think about writing.

This was the view from our meeting area.

This was the view from our meeting area.

This year the theme was novel revision. I’m doing yet another revision of a novel at home, but I also took a new novel with me that needs revision. Candice recommended that we set up a workflow for ourselves–a plan to accomplish the revision. What will I do first, second, etc? She gave us lots of revision ideas, and many of them can be done in short spurts.

In fact, she recommended that we work in 20-30 minute revision chunks.

Plan it Out

The key in Tombrakos’s and Ransom’s suggestions is to MAKE A PLAN.

Tombrakos says you need to look at your day and block it off into tasks that require 20 minutes or 60 minutes. The key is knowing before you start.

Ransom suggests we make a workflow–a plan on what to tackle.

I came home and made a list of the things I know I need to do in my novel revision. I purposely did most of them in small chunks whenever possible.

You can make time to write. It just requires a little planning.

We’re All in this Together: Rituals and Routines

Do you have a writing ritual or routine? Is there a certain place you sit down to write? Do you have to have a certain thing to drink? A particular time of day?

If you do, how do you think it helps you as a writer? If you don’t, tell us how you’ve learned to power through.


Elizabeth Parker Garcia

Children’s Writer

I work best late at night when my daughter is asleep and I’m tired enough that my internal  critic doesn’t have strength to get in my way. When I have vacation time, this can mean writing from 11:00pm until 3:00am if I am lucky. I find I end up with more pages than I’d get during the same amount of time in the day. I think I get in my own way when I am more awake and I hesitate too much. Writing late at night also helps because it seems like I am able to connect the little sensory bits that I’ve stored away during the day.


Romelle Broas

Dental hygienist by day, writer by night, mother all the time.

Author of Casey Chameleon and Tummy Monster


If I had a writing routine, it would be at my home office in the morning at 8:30AM when the kids are at school. Just me and a cup of hot chai or green tea latte and my computer in front of me. Unfortunately, I don’t have a writing routine because of my schedule is erratic. I write when I can and that could be between innings at a baseball game, while waiting in the parking lot for my kids to get out of school, or when I get a break at work. I don’t mind. Inspiration could strike at any time of the day. When it does, I am always ready to jot my idea down on a piece of napkin, sticky note, or receipt. The great thing about not having a routine is that it encourages me to look for the nuggets of writing time. It has trained my brain to think on the go. That’s what drives creativity is anyway- spontaneity!


Amie Rose Rotruck


I’ve always been puzzled by writers who go other places to write.  I’ve tried writing in coffee shops, libraries, the usual places and I actively HATE them.  It just doesn’t work.  Too many things around me and I usually can’t get comfortable, both physically and mentally.  I have to be at my desk at my computer in my office.  I recently redesigned and decorated it, so it’s quite nice.  I can look out in our backyard, which has a lot of trees, and sip a cup of REAL tea (ie, loose-leaf of the Darjeeling or Earl Grey or English Breakfast persuasion).  I’m also fond of cookies, but I really should avoid them!

Writing in the morning is another one of those writer cliche’s that I simply cannot do.  I’ve always written best in afternoons or evenings.  These days I try to get in a few words while my husband gives my daughter her bath.  I have incentive to get a lot done then because if I don’t, I feel I need to write after I get her to sleep.  If I’ve done it during bathtime, though, then I can go downstairs after she’s asleep and watch tv and crochet or sew guilt-free!

Robyn Campbell

Writing laugh out loud books for boys and girls

Robyn Campbell’s blog

My writing takes me all over the place. We live on a farm so I am blessed with a wide array of writing material and writing places. I write on top of my horse (pen and notebook, no laptop), in the barn (I have a desk in there), out on the pool deck, in the woods, in our gardens (vegetable and flower), in the sun room, and finally, in my office. I move around because I love the variety of smells, sounds, even tastes, and they all end up in my stories. I could never write in one place. But I know some writers need that. We’re all different. Thats what makes life so interesting. I think the thing that really matters is our stories and how we portray our characters. As long as our readers love our stories. As long as I know that I know that I wrote the absolute best book I could, then I’m happy. We’re so very lucky to be writers. Isn’t it just the best job in the world?


Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Children’s and YA Writer


I do most of my writing at 5:00 AM, before I go to my day job, and before the rest of my house wakes up. However, I can write just about anywhere. I drag a bag with me wherever I go, so I’m always prepared. I’ve never really felt like I could have too many rituals because if I did, I feared I’d never be able to write on the go. I do find that having a daily time and place has been productive for my writing, and I view the other times I write as “bonus” times. I like to have either a hot cup of green tea or a cold can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Chocolate is also delightful, though I don’t usually eat it at 5:00 AM. But the bottom line is, I tend to write whenever and wherever I can.

The one thing I’ve learned is that as a writer, you have to find what works for you. It doesn’t matter that JK Rowling wrote in a coffee shop. If doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it. If using a timer, or leaning over the kitchen counter, or jotting down poems in the car while your kid practices soccer, or holing yourself up in a laundry room work for you, then do it!!

Don’t buy into the excuse that “I don’t have xxx, therefore I can’t write.”

Just try out different things and see what clicks for you.






Writing Marathon Resources

Do you want to host a Writing Marathon of your own at school? Last week I posted about some information about the Writing Marathon I did in February. I’ve also posted about how the Writing Marathon helped me as a writer. This week, I’m focusing on the technical aspects and resources that I used. I’ve even included sample printables you could use.

Technical Aspects

We used Google Docs for students to write. More and more students are expected to compose on the computer, so this provided an opportunity for them to become more fluent with it. They shared their folders with me.

We used laptops, but if you have access to Chrome books, that would be even better.

I had a few students who didn’t have access to computers at home, and they chose to work at home. I gave them a folders with paper in it. They had to work the “old-fashioned” way—by hand. Writing is still writing.

 Tracking Sheet

At the beginning, I had students set word count goals. They had to write for 26 out of 28 days. They kept track of this on their tracking sheet. I used the tracking sheet also and found it very helpful. Next year, I might consider developing this on Google Sheets so that it would calculate totals for them, but for the first time, I thought paper/pencil worked pretty well.

picture of tracking sheet

 Download the Tracking Sheet Here

Writing Prompts

Everyday I posted Writing Prompts. Not every kid needed them, but I did post one everyday.

screenshot of lesson plans


I also posted them on a Writing Marathon blog so students could access them from home each day. On the weekends, I had special links where they could go to find interesting story prompts.


Student Folders

picture of folder

We gave each student a folder. I made stickers for the front. On the inside front cover, there was a sticker with the Writing Marathon web address. In the prongs of the folder, I included the tracking sheet, hard copies of a few prompts, and looseleaf paper. I also printed Kim Norman’s story cards for everyone and put them in the pocket.

Links for the folders

Front Stickers

Tracking Sheet

February Writing Prompts

Kim Norman’s Story Cards



I provided journals and nice pens for the finishers. I bought the pens at Target. I bought journals at Staples, Target, and Michael’s. Michael’s had pretty journals for a dollar, but I had to go elsewhere for more boyish looking journals.

writing books as prizes

We bought books about writing for the finishers.


I created certificates for finishers and winners. I used Publisher templates and changed the information for my school and students.


Other Resources

Sample Informational Letter

Sample Contract