Monday, July 21, 2008

Memoir Monday: Drumroll please...

On Friday I posted about reading at the Francelia Butler Conference at Hollins University. It was the first time I shared my poem publicly. I know, I know, I post poems here all the time. BUT there is a net of safety there. I don't have to see your faces when you read my poetry. I don't hear your comments like "She thinks she's a POET?!" And of course, I share my poetry with all of my fourth graders all of the time. But once again, there is a net of safety there. They think everything I write is wonderful, which is probably why I've continued to write poetry all of this time.

This summer I have been writing poems, not just for me, but I got brave enough to share with other people. I grew up overseas and the collection of poems I'm working on is based on some of my experiences trying to fit in and be comfortable in multiple cultures, yet still be who I am. The poems are set in Salem, Virginia, ChiangMai, Thailand, and Penang, Malaysia--three places I have spent significant time.

A few weeks ago I submitted some of these poems for consideration in the Francelia Butler Conference. My poems were chosen, which meant that I would be one of seven people with creative submissions to read aloud at the conference. Seven critical papers were chosen also.

I was a bundle of nerves because I knew there were poets in the audience, and I wondered if they would know I didn't know what I was doing.

This year's theme was a Dr. Seuss theme, because Philip Nel, author of The Annotated Cat:Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats and Dr. Suess: American Icon, was the keynote speaker. Fellow students performed a Suessical Musical between readings, and it kept the day lively and fun. There was a silent auction, in which I won three things: a picture from The Tale of Despereaux, a lovely photograph of a clemetis donated by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, and a book of poetry by Billy Collins.

There is always a winner for each category: creative, critical, and art. After listening to the amazing stories crafted by my six other fellow readers, I knew I didn't stand a chance of winning. That's what's so amazing about Hollins--being in the company of so many good writers that you admire. I am always very impressed at how much good writing is produced in such a small group.

But when the winners were announced, they called my name! Yes, I won the Shirley Henn Award for Creative Scholarship. Wow! I was humbled and surprised!

Even if I hadn't won, this reading gave me a chance to share my work publicly. Several people came up to me during the break and shared how much they liked it. Two people introduced themselves: one is from Taiwan, and one lived in Malaysia, and both said they related to my poems. What a huge compliment. That's what I was hoping for. Other people were kind enough to just give me words of encouragement. Thank you! Thank you!

Hollins students are the ones who actually narrow down all of the submissions to a list of finalists. Then other writers actually judge the finalists. When I read the list of judges, I was so excited. The judges were: Bruce Coville, Steve Jenkins, Kerry Madden, Claudia Mills, and Janet Wong. I'm fans of all of their work, and it was an honor just to have them take the time to read something I had written.

The Memoir Monday prompt was to write about something that you did that you didn't think was possible. Believe it or not, this was it. I really never imagined I would share my poetry with anyone but my students. Now, thanks to a lot of encouragement from my friends at Hollins, I have the courage to share it with others.

Nonfiction Monday: Two Tales of Ben

Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions for Benjamin Franklin
Written and illustrated by Gene Barretta
Henry Holt, 2006

How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning
Written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer
Harper Collins, 2003

Recently I wrote about another book I used in my electricity unit in fourth grade science. In Virginia, fourth graders have to know about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Michael Faraday and their contributions to electricity. I have been using Schanzer’s book for a few years, but this year I discovered a new book about Ben Franklin.

Both of these books cover what my students really have to know: 1) that Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning was really electricity in his kite experiment, and 2) that he invented the lightning rod which protected buildings from damage and fires from lightning.

Now and Ben talks about how things we use today are things that Ben Franklin invented. So many things we use today began with Ben. Barretta sets up the book by saying “Now…” (insert one of the inventions we use today) and “Ben” (insert how Ben Franklin created this). The text is simple and short, but still goes through many of the inventions and contributions that we know Franklin for.

How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning actually covers some of the same material, but it spends a little more time on Franklin and his experiments with electricity. Schanzer goes into detail about the kite experiment, the lightning rod, but also the way that people used to perform electrifying tricks—actually shocking people.

Both books are very light in tone. They are humorous to read and are nothing like reading a textbook. They present the information in a very interesting way.

This would be another great pair of books to use with kids to do “Text-to-Text Connections.”

Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Francelia Butler Conference

For the last five weeks I've been taking an Advanced Writing Tutorial at Hollins under the brilliant tutelage of Sharon Dennis Wyeth. I'm writing, critiquing, and moving forward with my class which consists of only five students. Our motto for the tutorial is "Write On!" and Sharon and my tutorial-mates have really pushed me to write on.

I'm working on a collection of poetry about growing up between cultures, which I have posted some of those early drafts here and here.

Hollins has a conference every year where students can read both critical and creative works. Only seven students are chosen for each category. I was surprised to learn I'll be reading my poetry tomorrow for the conference. It's the Francelia Butler Conference and this year, Philip Nel, Dr. Seuss expert, will be speaking.

The last time I read for the Francelia Butler Conference was when I was working on my M.A. Thesis on Vinnie Ream in 2003.

This is the very first time I've read this poetry out loud to adults (except for my tutorial). I read my poetry out loud to my students frequently, but this public poetry reading is all new.

Thanks to Nikki, Sharon G., Elissa, Jenette, and Sharon Wyeth for supporting my poetry beginnings!

Poetry Friday: Monday Poetry Stretch

The Miss Rumphius Effect posted a very challenging Monday Poetry Stretch this week. It is Climbing Rhyme. See her page for details. I started, but stopped several poems. Here is my stab at this form:

'Neath the shade tree
calls to me: Hide
here free. Read, write,
words find flight in
the sight of peace,
in notebook's crease you
will cease your pain.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Writing and Ruminating.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Butterfly garden

We recently added a few plants to our butterfly garden.

It’s opening day
for the coneflower chorus
butterflies attend

Memoir Monday: Crab Lookout

Two Writing Teachers sponsors Memoir Monday. Here is their inspiration/charge for the week. I wrote about a "mundane" family memory. This is about my brother, when he was a toddler. We went to Jacksonville Beach, he got crabs in his swim trunks, and no one believed him while for awhile. His little bum got eat up. It's a story my mom still tells today.

BTW, sorry for the sing-songy rhyme. I've been reading a lot of rhyme to my daughter lately and it's catching up with me.

Crab Lookout

It wasn't ants in his pants,
but he was doing a dance

my brother the swimmer, the sand castle builder,
had trouble in the depths of his swimming trunk filter

He pranced all around the sand castle moat,
He flopped his whole body in front of the boat

"Get them out! Get them out!" he yelled at our mom,
"There's nothing in there, now just remain calm."

They're biting my butt, I just cannot stand it,
You must get them out of my trunks, this minute.

She peeked in his shorts, as he wiggled some more,
Out popped three crabs right onto the shore.

"I told you! I told you!" he said in dismay,
then he ran off and returned to his play.

All day he kept checking to be sure the crabs had cleared out,
for the rest of the day, he was on crab lookout.

Jacksonville, Florida

Nonfiction Monday: Wired

By Anastasia Suen
Illustrated by Paul Carrick
Charlesbridge, 2007

I loved this book so much, that my grade level recently bought it to use in our electricity unit. It’s very hard to find good trade books about electricity that are written on a kids’ level, give the basic information, but aren’t too basic. Our textbook is okay, but I wanted something more. I found it in this book.

This book begins by talking about what electricity is and how electrons dance. Then it explains how electricity gets from the power plant to your house. Details of step up- and step down-transformers are explained. It talks about substations, transmission towers, and even what all those wires behind a light switch are. The text is easy to read, but doesn’t talk down to kids. Suen even uses interesting language, so that it doesn’t feel like you are reading a textbook. The heading of each page actually becomes a poem if you read just the headings from beginning to end.

The illustrations in this book are pretty, yet informative. They are simple, but detailed. Contradiction? No, they are perfect for this book. They are not the common diagrams and drawings you see in a textbook. Instead they are acrylic mixed media illustrations that are pleasing to the eye, uncluttered, and very detailed for showing the different parts that is talked about in the text.

As a science teacher, I give it an A+. I will be using it every year with my electricity unit!

The author of Wired, Anastasia Suen, has the Nonfiction Monday Roundup at her blog.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poetry Friday: Strawberry Haiku

Red, ripe strawberries,
Eaten before pies are made
By the little berry thief

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Copyright 2008
All rights reserved

Poetry Friday roundup is at Under the Covers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Poetry Stretch: "Coke Man"

The Miss Rumphius Effect posted a Tuesday poetry stretch that challenged us to use the terms "loose change" in a poem. I must confess, I cheated. I wrote this poem the other day, but I knew the words "loose change" would fit better than the phrase I used. So I exchanged two of my words for two of her words and wah-la! Here it is:

Coke Man

The Coke man
parks his cart
by the school gates
for droves of children
hot, tired,
coins ringing
in their pockets.

Bottle pops open,
fizzy liquid flows into a
secured with a rubber band
in one corner,
a straw hole in the other.

I hand over my loose change,
and begin the hot walk home,
my bag of Coke bobbing
with each step.

ChiangMai, Thailand

Monday, July 7, 2008

Memoir Monday: A poem from my childhood

Beech Street

I pass by the red brick house
where I climbed in the dogwood tree,
crashed my sled into a fence,
caught frogs in the creek,
danced to the high school band,
transformed into Princess Lea,
hunted for Easter Eggs,
first got stung by a bee.

Now, it’s no longer my tree,
my fence,
my creek,
my band,
my imagination,
my eggs,
my hurts.

Someone else lives there.
I feel like someone crawled
underneath my skin
and tried to be me.

Copyright Marcie Flinchum Atkins, all rights reserved.

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to read other Memoir Monday posts.

Writing Challenges

I'm so excited about all of the people who do "challenges" for those of us who love to write. I'm taking some of the challenges. Some I'll just do in my journal. Others I'll share with the blog readers.

Here's some of challenges I'm taking on:
1) Laurie Halse Anderson's Write 15 Minutes a Day Challenge. She gives writing prompts/exercises too.
2) Two Writing Teachers Memoir Mondays. I'll try to write some memoir piece and post it when I think it's postable.
3) Monday Poetry Stretch with The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Why am I taking the challenges? Well, I work well under structure and deadlines. So, if that means it will help "prime the pump", then so be it.

Do you know of another good challenge I should participate in? Leave me a comment.

Nonfiction Monday: Nic Bishop's Spiders

Written and photographed by Nic Bishop
Scholastic Nonfiction, 2007

Ever since this book began winning awards left and right, I knew I wanted to read it. I love interesting, beautiful nonfiction books. This book fits both of those descriptions. Perhaps I’ve lived in a hole, but this is the only book that I know of that I’ve read by Nic Bishop. I don’t think I have EVER seen a book with pictures as exquisitely detailed and fascinating as the photos in this book.

The book is all about spiders. It gives the basics about spiders: body parts, characteristics, etc. You know, all of those basic things I learned about spiders from E.B. White in Charlotte’s Web. However, Nic Bishop introduces readers to spiders and facts about spiders that I have never heard of. The text is not overly simple, but each spread is also not covered with heavy text. This is a book that kids will pick up, read and stare in awe at the pictures. It contains about a paragraph on each page about spiders. An entire page is a magnified picture of a spider. We see spiders’ eyes, hairs, and body parts up close and personal. Each picture is accompanied by captions about that specific spider.

The color layout is beautiful too. Each page with text has a colored background that coordinates with the colors in the photograph. It’s not a visually busy book. It’s simply laid out, but the pictures are anything but simple. Bishop is a master at photographing these hard-to-spot arachnids. In fact, in the back of the book he writes an author’s note about how he photographed the spiders. In some cases it was quite complicated.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Haiku on a Sunday

Here's a haiku I wrote a few weeks ago, when our garden was first starting to take off.
Red among green
No more grocery tomatoes
First taste of summer

What I've Been Up To...

I have done very little posting the past few months. I have had a lot going on and it seems blogging took a back seat. So, I'm determined I'm going to continue blogging, even if I don't crank out book reviews at good speed. I have stacks of books sitting on the floor waiting to be reviewed. But I've been using my time lately to write, and write, and write, and revise, and revise, and garden, and read, and enjoy summer a little bit. I'm taking a class which is helping me to push forward with a writing project that will eventually be my thesis for my M.F.A. It's been good to get back to writing more and more.

Even though I haven't been blogging, I have been doing some fun things. Here are some things I've been doing:

* Strawberry picking--which gave us with lots of frozen berries and strawberry jam

* Blueberry picking--which garnished pies, frozen berries, jam, and syrup

* Sun bathing--at Virginia Beach and at our local pool

* Camping--at Lake Roberstson. Lots of relaxation, book reading, writing took place there.

* Cooking--I've been getting a produce box weekly from a local organic farm. I've also gone to the farmer's market every week, and we've been growing our own veggies. I have only been the grocery store for milk and the occasional thing like flour or sugar. It's a been a fabulously healthy, creative way to enjoy the summer. I have had to figure out new ways to cook things.

* Shopping--We went to the Green Valley Book Fair this last week. I got several new books (J. Patrick Lewis' new book The Brothers' War and Artist to Artist.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Which book are you?

While posting for Poetry Friday, I found this quiz over at In Search of Giants.

So, which book am I? Anne of Green Gables. Probably the book I read over and over and over and over again as a kid. It was the book that prompted me to go to Prince Edward Island. This book influenced me in so many ways. What the description says about my personality, I don't necessarily agree with, but I think it's weird that this was THE book the quiz chose.

You're Anne of Green Gables!

by L.M. Montgomery

Bright, chipper, vivid, but with the emotional fortitude of cottage
cheese, you make quite an impression on everyone you meet. You're impulsive, rash,
honest, and probably don't have a great relationship with your parents. People hurt
your feelings constantly, but your brazen honestly doesn't exactly treat others with
kid gloves. Ultimately, though, you win the hearts and minds of everyone that matters.
You spell your name with an E and you want everyone to know about it.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Poetry Friday: Between the Lines

I am taking Advanced Writing Tutorial from Hollins University for my MFA in Children's Literature. My project, which will eventually be my thesis, is a collection of poetry about living between cultures. It is titled, Between the Lines. In the spirit of 4th of July, I'm sharing a poem about something that always comes to my mind when I think of summer--baseball.

World Series

I watched the World Series on videotape
long after the first pitch landed in the catcher’s mitt,
long after the victory parties ended,
long after I read the final scores in the paper.

I watched the World Series on videotape anyway,
because it made me feel like an American
in a land where they play cricket.

Penang, Malaysia

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
All rights reserved

Poetry Friday roundup is by In Search of Giants.