An Evening with Billy Collins…

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Billy Collins, the American poet who served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, spoke at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston on Tuesday evening.  As expected, the reading was jam-packed for  the popular and respected poet, but I was able to snag a seat in the front row so I could look at the stage and feel as if Billy was reading to me.  Of course, I planned it like some people plan their arrival at the Apple store when there’s a new product.

The program began with a clip of President Kennedy speaking at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College in October 1963, and Collins remembered that as a student at Holy Cross during Kennedy’s presidency, he met Frost at a luncheon in the poet’s honor. Collins also reminded the audience that Robert Frost was the first poet to read in a presidential inauguration.

Collins is well-known for writing poetry that doesn’t intimidate the reader, and he began by reading some of his wittier poems (Sandhill Cranes, Cheerios, Consolation, Aimless Love) before taking questions from Daniel Menaker, his long-time editor at The New Yorker. First, Menaker asked his friend to talk about his process. “I start with a little something,” Collins said. “I write a line or two – about something ordinary. And then I push it to be more interesting.”  He went on to compare his poems to the old Eye Charts in the doctor’s office. “The Big E is at the top and there are more demands on the reader later than earlier.”  “You start in Kansas and travel to Oz,” he said.

In response to a question about what Menaker called the “loneliness” of Collins’ poetry, the fact that there are very few “others” present in his poems, Collins said he prefers it that way. “The more people in your poem, the less alone you are with the reader.”

As a young boy, Collins said, his mother recited poetry to him and he recalled beginning to write as a teenager. Addressing the wide appeal of his poetry, he said that although his poems are often humorous, he is a “serious person.” I use humor, but I take life very seriously.”

Here’s one of my favorites:

My Hero

Just as the hare is zipping across the finish line,

the tortoise has stopped once again

by the roadside,

this time to stick out his neck

and nibble a bit of sweet grass,

unlike the previous time

when he was distracted

by a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower.




A Weekend Miscellany…



Congratulations to Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset, my favorite local independent bookstore. Today the store is celebrating its 25th anniversary!  If you read this on Saturday, be sure to go by and say hello to bookstore’s new owners and enjoy their one day sale – 25% off of everything in the store!  It’s not too early for holiday shopping….


Earlier this month, walking around the University of Dayton campus, I noticed this new sign. Erma Bombeck was a beloved humorist who wrote a long-running newspaper column about her home and family. Her columns were collected into best-selling books, and she became a popular and beloved commentator on American suburban life.  Because she graduated from the University of Dayton (1949), there is now a Bombeck Center for Early Childhood Education on campus.


I have my sister to thank for sending me this rather depressing poster that she saw on Pinterest.  Because most of my friends are readers, it’s a sobering reminder that most people aren’t buying or reading books. The chart also made me wonder what the world would be like if more people read books. More compassionate? More empathetic? Language is what allows us to communicate – it makes us human.  


This picture was not posed.  I looked across the library and this is exactly what I saw. Rather than telling them they should sit up before all of their blood rushed to their heads, I went to get my phone so I could take this picture. After that, I suggested they sit upright!


Mark your calendar now for April 23 – the third annual World Book Night, U.S.   So many books will be given away on that day that perhaps it will improve the statistics on the chart above.   The plan is for 500,000 books to be given to “primarily light readers or non-readers or poeple without the means to buy books.”  For more information, here’s the link:

I’m ending this post with a poem by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.  His new book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, was published this week. This is the first poem in the collection:


Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper,

thumb-licking page turner, peruser,

you getting your print-fix for the day,

pencil-chewer, note taker, marginalianist

with your checks and X’s

first-timer or revister,

browser, speedster, English major,

flight-ready girl, melancholy boy,

invisible companion, thief, blind date, perfect stranger –

that is me rushing to the window

to see if it’s you passing under the shade trees

with a baby carriage or a dog on a leash,

me picking up the phone

to imagine your unimaginable number,

me standing by a map of the world

wondering where you are –

alone on a bench in a train station

or falling asleep, the book sliding to the floor.

Tricks and Treats!

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The trick or treating season began a month before the orange-letter day when Debbie Leppanen, the author of Trick-Or-Treat: A Happy Haunter’s Halloween, visited Inly yesterday.  Admittedly, before Debbie arrived, I thought maybe September 30 was too early to begin reading Halloween poems – but the kids got right into the “spirit!”  As soon as Debbie asked them to think of words that describe Halloween, they were ready to go.  We heard all of the words you would expect (like candy,) but there were a few more creative ideas. My favorite was “doorbells.”


Debbie’s book, her first, is a delightful collection of poetry for young children, and the brightly-colored illustrations by Tad Carpenter are perfect. They made me think of vintage Halloween cards.  One good thing about Carpenter’s pictures is that even though a few of the poems are a bit chilling, the accompanying picture are so funny that they reassure young readers. Here’s one of the poems from Trick-or-Treat:

Cold Bones

Can anybody tell me

(if anybody knows)

why skeletons aren’t freezing

when they don’t wear any clothes?

If you live south of Boston and want to hear Debbie reading her poetry, she will be at Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset on Saturday (October 5) at 1:00.

Another treat for you….look at this picture:


I saw it on one of my favorite websites in the whole world wide web: Humans of New York.  I’ve written about this project before; the premise is just what it says – humans who live in New York. It is a daily reminder of the richness and diversity of the human experience, and in a way I can’t articulate very well, I find it very “spiritual.”  It’s a website that reminds me that everyone’s life is a story. On a book related note, Humans of New York (in hardcover book form) by the photographer, Brandon Stanton, will be out on October 15th.  By the way, the dad in the picture is reading Little Bear!  Here’s a link to the website:

April Showers Bring….Poetry!


You may have felt a spring in your step over the past few days. Not just because it’s officially spring, but because it’s poetry month!  Some of you may share my cynicism about these designated “months.” Can’t we enjoy poetry all year?  Do we just value the contributions of women in March?  That being said, if the fact of “National Poetry Month” introduces a young reader to Jack Prelutsky or Doug Florian, it can’t be a bad thing. Maybe….a young reader will open a book by Naomi Shihab Nye in May!

There are so many good poetry books for children – funny poems, spooky poems, animal poems…the list goes on!  Below is a list of five poetry books published in the past year that are on my growing list of favorites:

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So (This is just an extraordinarily beautiful book. It makes you want to pack a beach bag and head to the seashore.)

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of edited by J. Patrick Lewis (Rat Day is April 4, by the way. That’s two days from now. Are you ready?  As a native Ohioan, I’m looking forward to Ohio Sheep Day on July 14!)

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry by J. Patrick Lewis (Two books edited by J. Patrick Lewis – and I could list many others from years past. All kinds of poems about all kinds of animals. An animal lover’s dream book!)

Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater (A first collection -with such a beautiful cover by Robbin Gourley. My favorite poem in this book is about a baby owl nervous about his first solo flight.)

Pugs and Other Poems by Valerie Worth (a posthumous collection of animal poems by Valerie Worth. I often judge books by the cover which made this book a must-have!)

And finally….a poem in honor of the sometimes under-appreciated thesaurus – written by one of Inly’s Middle School students.

Happy National Poetry  Month!

The Thesaurus

The thesaurus

Is thick with knowledge,

is old,

Yet looks young for his age.

He sits in the corner


No one bothers to start a conversation with him,

And he returns the favor.

The few people he bothers to talk to,

And bother to talk to him,

Are Dr. Phil Dictionary and Dr. Louis Novel.

Dr. Thesaurus is known as a sage,

Old and wise.

Yet no one bothers to ask him for advice.

He is original and openminded,

Can think outside and inside of the box.

Still no person asks for advice.

Dr. Phil Dictionary and Dr. Louis Novel are his only knowledgeable co-workers,

Although they can be quite irritating,

From “Dictionary, you know nothing compared to me!” to

“Oh yeah? I have way more interesting facts than you do!!!”

When in reality they both contain useful information.

One morning Dr. Thesaurus woke up to yelling,

His co-workers were going at it again.

They yelled “I’m so smart compared to you!”

And “I can’t believe you would disrespect me like that!”

They argued like they usually did,

Yet neither of them asked for help.

Dr. Thesaurus sat and watched,

He waited for them,

Not one of them asked for help.

Surprise, surprise.

He thinks to himself.

In his corner of the room,

Where no one bothers to consult him.

They both contain useful information,

Yet they both lack the common senses to consult the old sage.

He can think of many ways to resolve this issue,

Yet he sat still and waits.


Book of Animal Poetry, Edited by J. Patrick Lewis

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I had a free hour in the library today. It doesn’t happen very often, and I cherished  it like a closely guarded secret. Of course, when my regular class cancelled, there were lots of other things I could have taken care of, but I spent the time with a book I’ve wanted to look at more carefully since it appeared on every “best of” list of 2012 – National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, edited by the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis. The book is a treasure – one that belongs on the bookshelf in every elementary classroom in America. The hour flew by on the wings and tails and fins of all kinds of animals, most of which I’d seen pictures of before today, but somehow they all seemed fresh. Each photo demands the reader’s attention and appreciation.

See what I mean? I think I looked at this dog’s sweet face for a good three minutes!


The Book of Animal Poetry is divided into seven categories of animal: the Big Ones, the Little Ones,the Winged Ones, the Water Ones, the Strange Ones, the Noisy Ones, and the Quiet Ones. Here’s an example of a poem about a “strange one.”

Travel Plans by Bobbi Katz

If I could go anywhere,

here’s what I’d do.

I’d pop in the pouch of a kind


I’d travel around for as ong

as I pleased,

And learn to say ‘thank you’

in Kangarooese.

The resources at the back of the book include information about writing poetry, a list of other good children’s poetry books and an index of titles and poets. Now that I’ve held on to this book for too long, I need to share it with the teachers and our animal-loving students.

Lewis is the author of many wonderful books of poetry for children – and on top of that, he lives in Ohio.  If  asked to select a favorite (besides The Book of Animal Poetry), I would choose Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles. It’s enormously fun to share with a group of kids – who love to guess what the answer is before I’ve finished reading the riddle!  Here’s the first stanza of one of them – can you guess what it is?

This is a hare-raising

book review

about a rabbit

who skipped the stew.

Cakes, A Chair, and a Story…

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So many fun things landed in my in-box over the past few days!

First, check out these cakes that some friends saw in a bakery window in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They look good enough to eat (and read), but I’m not sure if I could really take a bite out of a cake like this. I would hate to mess up the picture. On the other hand, if it was a giant rice crispy square, I might be persuaded…



The next thing to arrive in my email was this incredibly awesome chair… my sister sent the picture with a note saying that if I owned the chair, I would never have to get up!  The creative people who designed this chair are Italian (of course), and I love the statement from the Nobody & Co. website: “Twelve years ago we lived in a tiny flat, full of books but with nowhere to sit. Problems are always the best inspirations. That same year we drew the first Bibliochaise.”


As regular readers know, I sometimes include pictures of our elementary school student’s book projects. This morning, while visiting one of our classroom, these two caught my eye:

Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly

(This resourceful student used another picture book in service of his project. The plush mouse is from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Maybe the mouse has eaten a cookie and is ready to conquer new worlds!)


Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes


One last note: A few days ago, a friend and colleague introduced me to a poet whose work I didn’t know – Denise Levertov. I love having a new writer to explore, and I’ve already checked out Levertov’s Selected Poems from the library.

The conversation with my friend reminded me of a story. When my husband and I first moved to the Boston area, it was kind of hard for me to believe that Boston was my new home. Nothing in my past experience would have led me to imagine a story where I lived here. I had a very stereotypical view of the city. It was history, the Kennedy family, seafood and universities. I also knew there were lots of good bookstores. Remember, this was before e-readers. Although I understood the truth would be richer and more complex, I moved here hoping that Boston would fit into my “romantic” view of learning and reading. Shockingly, it did. Here’s what happened. We moved into the bottom floor of a duplex not far from Harvard Square. I knew there was another couple living upstairs, but initially, they were only footsteps walking over our kitchen. One day while I was sitting outside reading, the man from upstairs arrived, and we finally met. It turns out he was a poet – a real poet who taught at a university!  I couldn’t believe it…it was like something from one of my novels. Whenever I remember those early years in a city I’ve come to love, I think about the poet upstairs – an unknowing manifestation of my dreams of living in Boston.

A Report from the Book Fair

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As I write this, two boys are looking at the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records and two girls are looking at novels which feature cupcakes on their pink covers. This moment is repeated many times during the day. It’s book fair week which is always a good time to see what’s capturing the attention of 2nd graders (snakes and dogs) and 5th graders (cupcakes and record breakers).

This is a “new” book fair for Inly. We are working with Book Fairs by Book Ends, a company which offers an “alternative” to the more commercially-driven Scholastic. Our students and parents are happy to try something new. The books are not based on TV programs, and happily, there is not one Twilight novel. In fact, now that I think about it, vampires appear only in the Halloween books.

Okay – this really happened. I was just interrupted from posting this because a student wanted to pay for her books. Here’s what she bought: It’s Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder and Katie and the Cupcake Cure by Coco Simon. Guess what I’m craving right now…

I’ve started my own pile (supporting the library!) and here’s what’s in it – so far:

Composed by Rosanne Cash (yes, they have books for adults too – and I am a big fan of Roseanne Cash)

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (a story about a family in Vermont who hires illegal Mexican farm workers. The reviews made me think this could be a good book for some of my middle school students to read.)

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah (so much about China I don’t know – and feel like I should. I loved Mah’s book, Chinese Cinderella and didn’t know about this one until I saw it in the fair)

One Big Rain: Poems for Rainy Days compiled by Rita Gray (very excited about this. I don’t like rain, but love poems about rain)

Here’s a poem about fall – from Gray’s book:

The Mist and All by Dixie Wilson

I like the fall.

The mist and all.

I like the night owl’s

Lonely call.

And wailing sound

Of wind around.

I like the gray.

November day.

And bare, dead boughs

That coldly sway

Against my pane.

I like the rain.

I like to sit

And laugh at it-

And tend

My cozy fire a bit.

I like the fall –

The mist and all.