One of my English teacher's was excited about using a poetry lesson from Dr. Vardell's Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, but she wanted to take it to the next level with technology.  We collaborated together and came up with this extension utilizing the "Thing Link" app.  

Here I've visualized the poem "The Deaf Boy" by Marilyn Singer.  We taught the lesson as suggested by Dr. Vardell, and then showed the students how to visualize the poem with this example I created in Thinglink. Once students finished their assignment they scanned a QR code from my computer which directed them to a Google Form for turn in.  This allowed my teacher to have all student project links in one Google Sheet!  

Here are the student instructions:

Choose one of these poems and then create a Thinglink to visualize your poem. 
  • You'll need to Find a background image that gives your poem context.  Save it to your camera roll and then open it in Thinglink.
  • Add at least 6 interactive "thing links"  to help us visualize the poem (see example)
  • Put 6 "text bullets" as references next to your interactive link (see example.)
  • Include two examples of alliteration.
  • You must take at least one picture and one video yourself!

HiddenHidden by Helen Frost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frost, Helen. Hidden. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. Print.

A young girl is accidentally kidnapped in a carjacking. After escaping the book flashes forward to a summer camp where the hidden girl meets the daughter of the man who kidnapped her.

This is one of those books that is always checked out, so when it came in the other day, I snagged it up to see what the fuss is about.

Students are enamored with this book because they can hear both sides of the story from the two narrators. The poetry format lends this high interest book an easy and quick readability. Students also enjoy the hidden message described by the author at the end of the book.

I enjoyed the unique plot line and quick pace of the book. However, I felt that the hidden poems did not actually give as much insight reader's would crave.

This is a good beginner books for teens interested in reading books by Ellen Hopkins. The intensity is not quite as prevalent and dramatic so the books are appropriate for middle grade readers. Conversely, high school students may find this book too "G" rated for their emotional needs.

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Title: “Alabama, you got the weight of the Union, that’s breaking your back.” Neil Young

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

a. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2007. BIRMINGHAM, 1963. Pennsylvania: Wordsong. ISBN 9781590784402

b. Somewhere between a poem picture book and a verse novella, this hard-hitting gem fictionalizes the true account of the racist bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Even more moving, the last four pages of the storyline are memorial poems dedicated to the four little girls who lost their lives in church that day. The author finishes with a note on the year 1963 and the events that shocked a nation, and the 39-year court case of the bombing.

c. Crisp, archival photographs that invoke a harsh reality are combined with a child’s toys and objects to emphasize the brutal injustice of the bombing that day. One image of a teen girl staring out at the reader stands out, she’s holding a sign that reads, “Can a man love God and hate his brother?” This is paired with Weatherford’s personification of fire hoses “loosed” by policemen on 900 children, spraying them down to control them and stop them marching for justice. Blood red geometric shapes and lines liter the pages of text and add mystery to the otherwise black and white images. The shapes seem to symbolize the shattered lives of families and the little church that stood before some men “lit the fuse of hate.”

Anaphora drives the emotion in this book with, “The day I turned ten.” The repetition of this simple phrase that normally carries happy connotations makes the reader ache with regret as the narrator tells us, “The day I turned ten, There was no birthday cake with candles; Just cinders, ash, and a wish I were still nine.”

d. Awards


  • Booklist Review by Hazel Rochman: “The quiet yet arresting book design will inspire readers to …(understand) the role of children in the civil rights struggle.”
  • Starred review from Kirkus: “Exquisitely understated design lends visual potency to a searing poetic evocation of the Birmingham church bombing of 1963.”

e. Teaching ideas This would be a perfect introduction to a song lyric lesson from Carol Rawlings Miller’s Strange Bedfellows: Surprising Text Pairs and Lessons for Reading and Writing Across Genres. In that unit, high school students look at the lyrics of a word war between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. My students knew surprisingly little about 1960’s Alabama and this book would be a perfect book to build schema before approaching “Southern Man” by Neil Young. In this unit, I also focus heavily on literary elements present in poetry, so this book would be a great springboard for introducing or reinforcing some of those poetic elements as well. We finish the unit writing our own song lyrics about something important the student wants to change. Even teenagers would be moved by the strong images and lyrical poetry in this poignant picture book.

Insatiable Fire


Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth by Marilyn Singer, Meilo So (Illustrator) Rating 3 out of 5 stars.

a.  Singer, Marilyn.  2005.  CENTRAL HEATING: POEMS ABOUT FIRE AND WARMTH. Ill by Meilo So.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0375829121

b.  This slim, individual poet compilation focuses on the topic of fire:  Fire as a celebration, fire as destruction, fire as a warming agent, and fire as spice.   The poems alternate between positive, honorable images of fire and negative, harmful images that consume.  Each poem is illustrated with blood-red lino cuts by Meilo So that are somewhat organic and abstract in nature much like fire itself.  This collection targets middle readers aged 8-12, but is suitable for all ages.

More color could liven up the collection as the bold red type font and lino cuts washed in red become humdrum after a few pages.  The color should match the intensity and the shifting nature of its subject matter-- fire.  Fire is divergent and transmogrifying and should be illustrated as such.  As individual works, the illustrations are bold and unique, but paired page after page with the same monotonous color they lose their appeal.

c. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Appetite.”  Singer’s personification of fire displays how fire is not a picky eater and image after image demonstrates the ravenous and at times humorous appetite fire has for “Math books, French tests” and gobbling whatever crosses it path.

In “Landmark” the parallelism creates a rhythm and flow that describes an old house that is destroyed by fire.  This form creates an unconventional comparison of human “tenants” traded for “squirrels and pigeons, carrying acorns into the boarded-up basement, laying eggs on the blackened windowsills.”

The emotion in “Forest Fire” evokes empathy for the musical creatures consumed by the cycle of life, but it also makes the reader conscious of the need for a natural order.  Coupled with the stark illustrations, the audacious fire give the reader an ambiguous feeling that fire is both needed and hated.

d. Book Awards:

  • Best Children's Books of the Year, 2005; Bank Street College of Education; United States
  • Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States
  • Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006; H.W. Wilson; United States
  • Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States
  • Notable Children's Books, 2006 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
  • School Library Journal Book Review Stars, January 2005; Cahners; United States

Review Excerpts

  • Kirkus Review: “Continuing their series of poetic evocations of the natural world, Singer and So present 19 poems about fire, this time printing in a curving, delicate red font and choosing a powerful red for the illustrations.”
  • Booklist Review by Hazel Rochman: “Use this across the curriculum, in science and history as well as language arts classes.”

e. Book connections and lesson ideas: The poems in this collection would couple nicely with Smoky Night, a picture book about how fire can bring

The poems in this collection would couple nicely with Smoky Night, a picture book about how fire can bring people together, by Eve Bunting.  Children might also enjoy exploring the tradition of fire used in holiday celebrations around the world.


“Much Madness is divinest Sense- Emily Dickinson”

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill My rating: 4 of 5 stars

a. Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. YOUR OWN, SYLVIA. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780329758790

b. I’ve been intrigued with Sylvia Plath since I was a moody, depressed 17 year old reading The Bell Jar. Her semi-autobiographical novel describing shock therapy in an insane asylum really got to me as an awkward teenager. Fast-forward 15 years to the present, and now I’m teaching her poetry in my classroom. We read and analyze  Daddy,” and my students are always shocked that poetry can be so emotional and harsh. I was pleasantly surprised to find this fictional account of Sylvia Plath based on fact and written in verse. It is a strange genre I’ve never experienced before.

The plot starts out slow and the poetry seems gawky and simple at first, but maybe that’s because the book begins with Sylvia’s childhood, and the poetry ripens alongside her as she begins adulthood. Each poem is told from a different voice notated under the title, and the form of each voice is unique. There are few, cherished instances where Hemphill imagines Sylvia Plath and writes “in the style” of Plath’s confessional form. The end of every poem is marked with a note about the factual circumstances described in each fictitious verse.

I wasn’t really hooked until Sylvia’s mental illness becomes prevalent, and then I was so curious as to her condition and mental state, that I couldn’t put the book down. With each turn of the page, I was emotionally connected and concerned for Sylvia, and trying to understand why she is the way she is. Each shocking moment, displayed on my face, as I sifted through this raw yet tender text.

I learned not only about Plath in this stimulating portrait, but also about forms of poetry like the Abecedarian, the Confessional Poetry movement (to which another favorite, Anne Sexton belonged), and the tumultuous lives and loves of Sylvia and her ex-husband Ted Hughes.

c. The most moving poem is “Winter’s End,” styled after “Edge.” Hemphill’s version and Plath’s originals both brought tears to my eyes and plucked at my maternal heartstrings. The imagery is so astounding and quiet, that the reader can follow Sylvia’s final, purposeful movements: from kissing the heads of her beloved children, and lovingly stuffing a towel at the seam underneath the children’s bedroom door; to the final turn of the gas knob as Sylvia lays her head gently upon the oven rack.

Each poem in this delicate collection rhythmically moves the life of Sylvia forward, from her shocking dating life to hiding in her husband’s shadow. The short one to two page poems, beat out the successful yet depressing life of Plath.

The alliteration in “Paris in Winter” complements the repetitious verse, and emphatically mimics Sylvia’s style. Hemphill’s diction in “The Wrong Man” reminds the reader of the “brute” so savagely displayed in Plath’s “Daddy.”

To write this loving verse portrait, Hemphill took one line from a Plath poem and would journal daily in poetry form. Using Sylvia’s images as a springboard, she was able to connect with her -- even writing letters home to her mother as Sylvia did. In doing so, she was able to share a little piece of Sylvia with the reader. Surprisingly, the book transcends it's purpose: Engage and spark an interest in Sylvia Plath, and create an insatiable appetite to wanting to understand her actions. In fact, I’m heading to the library today to gather some of her poetry books and other biographies of her life. I just can’t get enough, and I’m left pondering:

Why did such a brilliant writer’s life have to come to such an early end at her own hand?

d. Review Excerpts

  • Review from Booklist: “This ambitious portrait uses poetry to illuminate the facts of a famous life, in this case, Sylvia Plath's.”
  • Starred Review from Kirkus: “Perhaps at this literary juncture, where novelists supply bibliographies for their fiction and memoirists fictionalize to liberate certain “truths” and dramatize their memories, a “verse portrait” seems entirely in order. Here, though, this book-length series of poems telling the biography of the revered Sylvia Plath forms a novel where pages pair poetry with nonfiction sources that work to make the borders of genre entirely transparent. Each poem speaks through a different point of view in the voices of those who knew Sylvia...”
  • Review from KLIATT by Myrna Marler: “One can only be in awe of an author who decides to write the story of Sylvia Plath’s life “based on real events” but fictionalized in poems.”

Awards & Recognitions

  • Cybil Award, 2007 Finalist Poetry United States
  • Michael L. Printz Award, 2008 Honor Book United States
  • Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, 2008 Winner United States

e. Activities and Related Works

This book can best be used by incorporating it as a teaching aid in a American Literature Poetry Unit for high school students. Due to Mrs. Plath’s untimely end and sexual exploits, I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 15. Since most high school students are at odds with their emotions, it would be interesting to develop a unit around “Confessional” Poetry. We could start by sharing examples of Confessional works by Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. Just reading aloud one poem a day, until students are used to the form, and then delve further by reading, annotating, and analyzing as a class. Finally, have students write their own Confessional poetry. Due to the private subject matter of this movement, I would not suggest reading aloud student work as a class, but another way to share would be to create a public blog and post poems anonymously.

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