Thursday, September 3, 2020



Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence celebrates being active, reaching goals, and learning limits. The poems employ figurative language devices such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, repetition, personification, and onomatopoeia. Each poem tells a story about a young person discovering skills, strengths, and dreams through activity. Team sports are included along with playground games, biking, sledding, swimming, hiking, and simply twirling in the rain.  

To help teachers use Tag YourDreams as a classroom resource, I have developed a teacher's guide with questions to discuss, ways to examine the poetry, and writing prompts. 

To give you a taste, please see the poem and questions below:



What are your dreams for the future?

Examine the Poem!

Identify verbs which refer to the game of tag, e.g., chase, running, reaching.

Do dreams have strong legs? Is this personification— attributing human characteristics to something that is not human?


Write about your dreams. Does anything stand in your way? Are you confident you will succeed or are you afraid of failure?

The entire teacher’s guide can be found on my website. 

I am available for virtual visits with students. Please contact me through my website at


Happy Reading!


Wednesday, June 3, 2020


Do you know how to smell a poem? 

In Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems, Marjorie Maddox offers the reader a delightful suggestion. “Keep following the trail of scent to sniff out the meaning.”

Maddox also tells us how to befriend a poem. “Invite him home for dinner but don’t insist on rhyme.”

And she explains that “Much of what he has to say lies between the lines.”

This clever collection of poems and writing exercises begins with verses on how to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch a poem and then delves into poetic devices and forms. Teachers should find ample inspiration to motivate student writing.

For example, these glorious lines from “Fishing for Sestinas.”
“the poems themselves sew together our world,
the way fish in waves thread themselves in and out,
the way dreams swim their own stories”

And this couplet invites writers to try a villanelle.
“To write a villanelle, think like a bird
that sings a song that you’ve already heard.”

 The 27 poems in this collection are followed by 9 creative writing exercises including fun suggestions for writing persona poems, clerihews, and sonnets.

A 3 page glossary provides succinct definitions for every term referenced in the poems. Inside Out by Marjorie Maddox is an excellent resource to jump start creativity in the classroom or at home. 

Jacqueline Jules

Sunday, July 21, 2019


It hardly sounds like nonfiction: “From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion,” but this is Jessica Long’s autobiography written with her sister Hannah. Born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, Jessica had no ankles, heels or most of the bones in her lower legs. She was adopted by an American family in Baltimore, Maryland, and eventually had both legs amputated below the knee. There were six children in the Long family, including another little boy adopted from Russia. 

            From early childhood, Jessica was “determined to dominate at everything I did,” including climbing on top of the refrigerator! 
            “I made the daily choice to not let anything hold me back, especially my legs.”
            Initially, she excelled at gymnastics: “I walk on my knees. I’m just a little shorter.” By age 10, she discovered water and started beating girls with legs. “It’s all about technique and how you can work the water. Giving up was never an option.”
            Jessica swam her first Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004. At the games in Beijing in 2008, she felt she had failed because she won “only” four gold medals, along with a silver and a bronze.  But then she added modeling and public speaking to her accomplishments and has now told her own story in a young adult autobiography.
            Jessica’s story is inspirational and often funny. “My high-heel legs, or ‘sexy legs,’ were created using my sister’s feet…they molded her feet at a four-inch arch and used those molds to make my prosthetic feet.” She showed off her new legs on Twitter!

            Jessica challenges herself in and out of the water, but her experiences will tantalize young writers as well.
            She has rituals before every race, including eating a banana, clapping her hands three times and shaking her arms out.

·       What do you do to calm or inspire yourself or give you good luck before a match, game or special event? Why do you think it helps?

Jessica was always willing to try something new.
·       What is something new you tried to do? How did you feel? What did you learn from the experience?

Jessica is rightly proud of her accomplishments.
·       Write about something in your life that gives you great pride – don’t worry about being boastful. This is your time to “show and tell” on a piece of paper!

Jessica likes posing for photo shoots and often did this with her siblings.  Elle decided to use a picture of me on a couch, posing on my knees without my prosthetics…It was really cool to be part of something that showed how people with disabilities an do the same things as everyone else, including model.”  
·       Have students pair off and take flattering photos of each other. Write an “artist statement” about your photo, explaining why you chose a particular pose or background and what you want people to learn from the photo.

Finally, think about Jessica’s story overall and write your thoughts about what qualities and factors in her life enabled her to overcome great challenges and contribute to her success. Then think about what qualities and factors in your own life could help you be successful – and unsinkable.

Monday, June 3, 2019

What Does Your Character Want?

Guest Post by Claudia Mills

            One of the most powerful questions for launching a story is: what does my main character want? So simple and obvious - and yet even experienced authors can forget this.

            As I was writing my most recent book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, set in an after-school cooking camp, at first I focused only on Nixie’s predicament. Now that her mother has a job outside the home, Nixie has to attend an after-school program, which means she’ll no longer be spending afternoons at home with her best friend, Grace, which means Grace will be spending afternoons instead with Nixie’s nemesis, Elyse. But what should happen next? I was stuck until I asked the crucial question: what does Nixie want? Well, she wants her life to be the way it used to be. But this is such a vague and hopeless desire. The story came into focus for me when I gave a different answer: Nixie feels she is losing her best friend, and she wants to get her best friend back again.
            Once we know what our character wants, the plot is driven by what she does to get it. If her first attempt succeeds, we have a very short and skimpy story. But if her first attempt fails, and her second attempt fails, and even her third attempt fails, her ultimate success is much more satisfying.
            If your students are stuck for a story idea, encourage them to think of what a character might want. They might start by thinking about what they want. A bike? A dog? A sleepover with a friend? A special family vacation?
            Then lead them in brainstorming how someone could try to get this thing. With brainstorming, even preposterous ideas are welcome. Remember it’s good if the first ideas end up failing! One of Nixie’s failed friendship-saving ideas is to get fame and fortune by starring in the cooking-camp video. Another is to bribe her friend with yummy camp-baked treats. A third is to pretend to be sick at camp in order to guilt her mother into quitting her job.
            For young writers, simple wants, simple strategies, and simple failures can work best.
            Your character wants a bike.  How could he get a bike?
1.     Find a job and save up money to buy one.
2.     Win one in a contest.
3.     Get a friend to trade his bike for something he wants even more.
Then, the really fun part: How could each of these ideas go wrong? Failure can be one of the most comical things to write about – and one of the saddest. And then the success that follows is sweeter still.
Nixie ends up keeping her best friend, but in the process she realizes Grace can still be her friend even if Grace is now friends with Elyse, too. It’s fine if a story ends with a character coming to a new understanding of what she wants.
But knowing what your character wants is where a story begins.

Claudia Mills is the author of almost 60 books for young readers, including most recently the Franklin School Friends series from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and her new After-School Superstars series from Holiday House.  In addition to writing books, she has been a college professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and in the graduate programs in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke. Visit Claudia at

Monday, May 20, 2019

Except When They Don't

Except When They Don’t is written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Joshua Heinsz. The book is about how girls always love pink and princesses, and boys always love blue and robots…except when they don’t! In other words, it is a book that encourages kids not to worry about gender stereotypes and to just be themselves.

After reading Except When They Don’t out loud, try these writing activities with your students:

1. Make a list of “boy” stereotypes and “girl” stereotypes. Then write a story with a main character who does not fit with these gender stereotypes. Maybe you will write a story about a girl who is a football star, or a boy who has the lead role in a ballet. Maybe you will write about a boy who loves wearing necklaces to school, or a girl whose favorite toys are cars.  Remember: your character should have lots of sides to his or her personality, just like every real person does! A girl who loves football might also love pink and be great at math and have five pet cats. A boy who loves wearing necklaces might also be the president of the school student government and play soccer at recess and play the drums in the school band.

2. Can you think of a time in your own life when you felt like you couldn’t do something because of your gender? Maybe you couldn’t get the sparkly red shoes at the shoe store because they were “girl shoes.” Or maybe you couldn’t sign up for wrestling because “that’s for boys.”  Or if you can’t think of a memory like that, imagine that you have a friend coming to you with a secret. Your friend wants to paint his nails, but he is embarrassed to ask his mom to borrow her nail polish, because nail polish is just for girls. Or maybe your friend wants to cut her hair really short, but she is worried everyone will say she has a “boy” haircut. What advice would you give your friend? How could you help?

3. Imagine that you are the owner of a toy store. There are dolls, tea sets, trucks, trains, markers, robots…every toy you can imagine. What if a customer came up to you and said, “I want to buy presents for a little girl and a little boy. Can you give me some advice?” What questions would you ask the customer? How would you decide which toys to recommend?

4. Starting in elementary school, sports teams are usually separated by gender. There are girls soccer teams and boys soccer teams, girls basketball teams and boys basketball teams. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? Why?

5. Imagine 100 kids (50 boys, 50 girls) growing up with human parents and 100 kids (50 boys, 50 girls) growing up with alien parents. The alien parents just arrived on earth and don’t know about our human gender stereotypes. Do you think the kids raised by aliens would grow up wearing different types of clothes and liking different activities than the kids raised by human parents? Why or why not?

 Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear (Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title, International Literacy Association Honor Book, Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice); Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, and Koala Challah (all PJ Library selections); the Peep and Egg series (Parents’ Choice Recommendation, Amazon Editors’ Pick, Children’s Choice Book Award Finalist); My Pillow Keeps Moving (Junior Library Guild selection, NYPL Best Books of 2018 selection); and I Got a Chicken for my Birthday (Kirkus Best Picture Books of 2018 selection). 2019 releases include Except When They Don’t (Little Bee), Dibs! (Lerner), Juniper Kai: Super Spy (Two Lions); Judge Juliette (Sterling); Always Looking Up: A Story of Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman (Whitman); and the Baby Scientist series (HarperCollins). Laura lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and four children.  Visit her online at

Monday, May 6, 2019

Speak Up! Listen Up!

guest post by Kathy MacMillan

What does it mean to raise your voice? It can be a lot more than screaming or shouting– it also means defending yourself or a cause you believe in. 

The women profiled in She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World, written by Kathy MacMillan and Manuela Bernardi and illustrated by Kathrin Honesta (Familius Press, 2019), faced all kinds of hardships, obstacles, and even violence – but they didn’t let those things stop them from speaking up. The book features activists Dolores Huerta, Suzan Shown Harjo, Leymah Gbowee, scientists Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Jane Goodall, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, trailblazers Shirley Chisholm, Abby Wambach, and more. The built-in sound card allows readers to hear the inspiring words of these groundbreaking women at the touch of a button.

The unique audio format of She Spoke makes it an engaging resource for the classroom, but it can be used beyond Women’s History Month! Here are some suggestions:

-After sharing each profile and audio clip, use the accompanying discussion questions to prompt your students to connect the lessons learned to their own lives. The discussion questions could be used as writing prompts or a launchpad for group discussion.

-Discuss how hearing the voices of the women impacts you. How is hearing the person’s original voice different from just hearing someone else read the words?

-Explore more quotes from these women and other trailblazers at our She Spoke board on Pinterest:

-For a more in-depth project, have students write their own profiles in the style of She Spoke. Start by having them find a quote that exemplifies what their subject stood for. (Please see some great research resources we have compiled.) Once they have selected a quote, they can write a brief profile that shows how that quote exemplifies their subject’s life. This exercise is an excellent way to practice thesis statements and supporting evidence. You could incorporate an artistic element by having students create a portrait of their subject to accompany their writing.

About the Authors:

Kathy MacMillan is a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter,
writer, teacher, librarian, and storyteller. She is the author of the Little Hands Signing board book series (Familius), the young adult novels Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin (HarperTeen), and nine books for parents, librarians, and educators, including Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press). She lives near Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Find her online at

Manuela Bernardi is a film and TV writer based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she was born and raised. She has collaborated on award-winning feature films and has written on shows for TV Globo, TBS, GNT, Multishow, and the History Channel. Her screenplay for the short film The Healing Tree won USC's Peter Stark Special Project grant and went on to be selected for Cannes’ Short Film Corner. With a BA in journalism from PUC-Rio, Manuela got her MFA in writing for screen and television from USC in Los Angeles, which she attended on a Fulbright/CAPES scholarship.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Roots of Rap

There is probably a tapper in your home or class: the boy or girl who is constantly tapping, often unconsciously, with pencil or thumbs or toes.  Rhythm pulses through their bodies like strikes of lightening  - like spoken word poetry – like rap – like the poetry of Carole Boston Weatherford’s new book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop.

Hip-hop, explains Weatherford, “is a form of youth expression that originated in New York City in the late 1970s and included four pillars: graffiti, break dancing, rapping/MCing, and DJing/scratching/turntablism.” Rap, “the spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics performed to a beat.”

With illustrations by Frank Morrison that jump and jam on every page, The Roots of Rap celebrates the loud, boisterous original culture of hip-hop, giving young people an opportunity to write and contemplate in ways they might not have thought were acceptable in a classroom.

Look at Weatherford’s list of “Hip Hop Who’s Who.”
·       Which musicians do you know and like?
·       Pick two musicians and compare and contrast their music.
·       Create a hip-hop name for yourself and explain it.

Of course read the book out loud. Very loud.
·       What graffiti message would you like to paint on a wall? (Is there a classroom bulletin board for all the student messages?)
·       How do Morrison’s illustrations amplify and strengthen the text?
·       Why makes rap and hip-hop poetry so powerful – and lasting?

Of course you can plan a classroom hip-hop party, with plenty of music and everyone writing a poem that they are proud to stand up and say or sing.

“From Atlanta to Zanzibar, youth spit freestyle freedom sounds.
Hip-hop is a language that’s spoken the whole world ‘round.”

And please celebrate Carole Boston Weatherford as the 2019 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award winner on May 11 in Washington, D.C.