Category Archives: School

at the end, something about God

Poetry_Friday_Button_2-210 REDUCED    Given that this past Sunday was Grandparents Day, I knew there was only one story to tell; one poem to share in celebration of this week’s Poetry Friday….

Rewind to this past April…Without feeling any modicum of gratitude (no, quite the opposite!), thanks to the scheduling demands of the PARCC exam, our elementary school was forced to abandon its traditional full-day’s Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities, in favor of a majorly scaled-back version.

Disappointed and frustrated that for weeks PARCC testing had been robbing us of so much instructional time, and knowing what Poem in Your Pocket Day had been in the past and could have been that day if not for the PARCC exam, I was feeling rather glum on Poem in Your Pocket Day morning, when the first students came to the library bearing books that needed returning.

“My grandma gave me a poem for my pocket,” a little first grader announced, absolutely glowing.

“That’s so nice,” I replied. “I hope you thanked her.”

Nod.

I continued…“Your grandma knew that she didn’t ‘have’ to give you a poem, right?” …Without waiting for a response…”She knew you would get a poem from your teacher—just like last year, right?”

“She knew. She said she just wanted me to have her poem in my pocket when I walked to school… ”

Then, her ebullience dimmed. “Somewhere along the way I lost it.”

“Oh, that is too bad,” I commiserated. “Do you know what it was about?”

“Uh-huh. A man who writes poems,” she readily told me. “…And a tree.”

I smiled, memory going into overdrive, racing through the opening words I had long ago learned by heart; truthfully, the only words I could think of having to do with a tree and a male poet. (Shame on me! I had forgotten about the Giving Tree. Good thing that wasn’t the poem she was missing.)

As dramatically as I could muster first thing in the morning, I recited:

“I think that I shall never see a poem [as] lovely as a tree.”

“Yes! That’s it,” she said. “. ..And there’s something about God at the end.”

Ceremoniously, I responded:

“Poems are made by fools like me[. ]But only God can make a tree.”

“How did you know?” she asked me, incredulously, expecting, I thought, for me to explain that I had magical powers to read the poem that she had carried in her pocket as she walked to school.

Rather, “I learned that poem a long time ago–when I was your age,” I said.

Books having been returned, and self-disclosure over, the little first grader turned to go.

“Wait!” I said.

Quickly, I found, printed out, and trimmed the extra white space from a hard copy of the online version of the poem whose first and last lines we had shared.

“Here.” I said, “It’s the poem your grandma gave you.”

After a full-smile look and “Thank you,” the little first grader checked the words (though I doubted she could read many of them), and then, with the joy of victory on her face, slipped the paper with those treasured words to Joyce Kilmer’s Trees safely into her pocket.

When she left, I felt glad I had been able to give her the words to the poem her grandma had wanted her to have in her pocket.  At the same time, I felt sorry that the best I could do was a printout. Surely her grandma had printed those words for her—in her own handwriting. My printout was better than nothing, but certainly it was not a replacement, but at least, decidedly, a poor substitute.

The interaction had clearly changed my mood. If nothing else happened that day, Poem in Your Pocket Day had been an amazingly gratifying success. A little girl had proudly walked to school carrying in her pocket a poem that her grandma had chosen for her; a poem her grandma had written out for her, a poem composed by a man about a tree; a poem that ended with something about God.

And how I wished that grandma were in school, standing in front of me, so that I could move out from behind the circulation desk. How I wished I could embrace her; thank her; compliment her.

What a gift she had given her little grandbaby—a gift of loving poetry, of being personally, inextricably connected with poetry in a way that no amount of full-day Poem in Your Pocket Day events could have compared with or exceeded.  …In a way, I was certain, that would forever outlive one particular Poem in Your Pocket Day.

And although I’ll never know for sure why the grandma picked that poem, I couldn’t help wondering and speculating. Had she been required to memorize it (as I had been) when she was a child? Was it her all-time favorite poem? (Can’t say it’s mine.)

It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that this gutsy grandma had wanted her grandbaby’s pocket filled with words that the public school likely would not give her. Words about God. Words I’m sure this loving grandma hoped would fill not only her grandbaby’s pocket, but her mind and her heart.

Imagine! Five years of Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities and never before had I heard of a family sending a child to school with a poem. Maybe they had, and I just did not know. If that is the case, then, sorry as I am for the child, I am grateful and glad that she lost the poem her grandma had written for her.

What a blessed memory I have, thanks to that little grandbaby and her grandma.

When I printed out the hard copy of Joyce Kilmer’s poem for the little girl, I printed out a copy for myself.

And like picking up on a conversation with an old friend, I recited those words to myself, wishing my Grandmother once had written them for me, a copy I could carry in my pocket all day every day–if only no more than the last two lines.

“Poems are made by fools like me[. ]But only God can make a tree.”

God bless poets. And God bless Grandma’s.

                             Trees
………………..Joyce Kilmer………………

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Owen & the Busybody Neighbor

Guaranteed, in more than one school across America, librarians will be introducing a new group of students to Owen, the endearing main character in a Caldecott Honor book by the same name, authored and illustrated by the popular and prolific Kevin Henkes.

Students easily identify with Owen, who finds it rough to leave home, as he starts kindergarten, without his favorite security blanket (literally) to hold onto.

In the end, a compromise between Owen and his parents leads to an ingenious solution that delights students, rooting, of course, that Owen gets to keep and take his blanket with him.

As a former kindergartner, and now an adult reader and mother, the character who most catches my attention every time I read this book to students is the busybody neighbor.

“Mind your own business,” I want to tell her. “He’s not your child. Don’t voice any judgments.”

It is in part succumbing to the neighbor’s insinuations into their business that Owen’s parents take action. Every story, I know, needs an antagonist, an archenemy, a villain, and I guess it is better to cast a neighbor, rather than the parents, into that role.

Still, it bothers me. Makes me think, too, in these days when school is about to begin (or has already begun) that often parents push their children because of “family pride” social standing concerns or social pressure from other adults.

Even if Owen’s parents intended to take action apart from the neighbor’s criticism, I wish they would have stood up for their boy.

I remember once, when I was Owen’s age, being outdoors in the neighborhood with my mother when, by chance, we encountered an acquaintance of hers–a woman, her age, that I had never seen before.

Talking to my mother as if I weren’t there (maybe that was the start of my often feeling invisible), the acquaintance said, “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?”

An only child, I knew there was no one else the acquaintance could have been referring to—not unless my mother had another child she had kept secret.

Although I never heard of “Nervous Nellie,” I knew what nervous meant. I knew that description fit me—and now I had a name to describe me: Nervous Nellie.

Yes. I was a very anxious child—and still am a very anxious adult. (Unlike Owen, I never carried around a security blanket; maybe that’s part of my problem.)

I don’t ever remember seeing that acquaintance of my mother’s again. No matter, I didn’t need to. Even now, decades later, I see her face. I hear her voice. “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?”

Stand up to the neighbors. Tell them nicely, but definitively, what you tell your children, “If you don’t have anything nice to say (charitable, constructive intervention, excluded), don’t say anything at all”—especially not in the children’s earshot.

The teacher, mother, and child in me thank you!  …Go, Owen!