Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems

April 12, 2018

Observing nature quiets a soul and calms our fast-paced lives. Children need time to process their learning, time to explore and think.

Old Elm Speaks, by Kristine O’Connell George, invites you to interact with the world around you. Trees have personalities and beckon us to tell a story. Can you hear the stories the stories they can write? Climbing. Tree houses. Mushroom hunting. On her website, Kristine O’Connell George shares some writing and science activities that go along with this book. Other poetry ideas are on her website as well.  Celebrate Poetry Month by including these poems that will connect with children’s hearts. Take a nature walk around the school and notice nature. What tree speaks to you?


Ordinary yet unique.

Inaudible yet whispering.


by MHGensch

Savorings for Old Elm Speaks Tree Poems:

  • Personification
  • Everyday life – gathering stories/ poetry from around us
  • Figurative Language – “a tiny velveteen satchel
  • Description – using comparisons, figurative language, rich language
  • Science Link
  • Class book idea – create a photo book of trees with the students’ poems, memories



Across the Alley

March 17, 2018

Stories embedded into my heart are my favorites like Pricilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles. Although I came across this book in 2009, I still recall the richness of the words and the endurance of the character.

Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is a new books to add to this favorite list of powerful stories. I have read it five times trying to comb the craft and I just sit in the story. Richard Michelson brings to life the friendship of two boys, one Jewish, one black, both separated by many cultural differences, but blend through nightly conversations through their bedroom windows. Not allowed to be friends during the day and in the open, the persist for the good.

Abe plays violin. Willis plays baseball. Through their nightly, across-the-alley window talks they teach each other their skill. Ironically, the switched activity becomes a natural talent for the other. Read how the boys rise above the grown-up expectations and bridge a friendship between their families. My guess is you’ll be cheering at the end like I did. Share this sense of hope with your students.

Willie’s real quiet now and I wonder if I said something wrong. Maybe he doesn’t know about the Nazis.
“My great-granddaddy was a slave too,” Willie finally says. “I never knew any white folk that were.”

Click on the link to view a preview of the book. My guess is you will be drawn to the story too. You can also listen to Jay O. Sanders read the book on this link (scroll midway down the page).

Share this 2 minute video with your students as he talks about writing fiction.

Savorings for Across the Alley:

  • Figurative language/ Visualization
  • Overcoming racial differences
  • Friendship
  • Sharing talents – the arts and sports blended
  • Show not Tell – “My palms turn sweaty.”
  • Sequence of pivotal scenes
  • Sense of hearing – descriptive in order for the reader to feel as if they are watching and hearing the scenes unfold

SOLC: Sunshine

January 10, 2012


I love sunshine.

Sunshine brightens my day.

Sunshine brings hope and joy to a cold day, to any day.

We enjoyed the Florida sunshine for the first time over break.

I returned home with sunshine in my heart.

With snow in the forecast and freezing temperatures, my heart will be sunshine for others.

Rays of smiles will greet my students.

Splashes of laughter will fill surprising moments.

Warmth of assurance will envelope struggles.

Sunshine will prevail.

Our Tree Named Steve

August 6, 2011

Alan Zweibel captures the love of a growing through a familiar icon – a tree in Our Tree Named Steve. This tree isn’t ordinary though – it’s huge, beautiful, and versatile. 

Dad writes a letter to his three kids, who are visiting Grandma. In the letter, he reminds them of memories Steve has shared with them. As the letter comes to a close, Dad explains that Steve crashed and now has transformed into another special place – “in a different tree at the other end of our yard.”

David Catrow warms your heart with his delightful illustrations. He brings to life the personified tree-friend. Steve, lovingly named by the two-year old, became a pillar for the family. His large presence provided a place to play, relax, and share. Through the years, Steve stays strong and comforting.

This text crafts the ordinary events of our lives into special memories. You could use Our Tree Named Steve as a mentor text for kid’s writing childhood memories. Another idea is to choose a favorite object and write about its uses.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Our Tree Named Steve:

  • Letter format
  • Comma in series
  • Figurative language – “haircut that made him look like a big thumb
  • Personification – the tree was their friend
  • Surprise Ending – a tree house after the crash


Hero Dreams

August 9, 2009

When I read the author, Caralyn Buehner and illustrator, Mark Buehner, I knew the team was creating another ‘wow’ book.  Rich is the word I think of when I hear their names.  Rich meaning beautiful language mixed with stunning illustrations.  Their story, Dex:  the Heart of a Hero, sticks in my mind.  Dex: The Heart of a HeroI think of the words, the message, the inferencing long after reading the story.  I have recommended this book to our principal to read to the grade levels at at he beginning of the year.

Dex:  the Heart of a Hero is a story about determination and a dream.  Mixed in is bullying and bucket-filling.  Dex is a dachshund, small in stature but big at heart.  Listen to the way Caralyn invites the children in to visualize her character.

Dexter was a little dog.  His legs were little, his tail was little, his body was little.  He looked like a plump sausage sitting on four little meatballs.

‘Poor Dexter’ is your first thought when you read about how he is often overlooked, … except when the very large tomcat, Cleevis, decides to pick on Dexter.  Kids will relate.  I have shared other bullying books.  The topic needs to be discussed over and over in order for the message of kindness to sink in.  Kids relate to stories and the authors know how to draw children in.  They synthesize the message and relate.

But beyond the bullying, Dexter has a dream.  He dreams big.  He wants to be a HERO.  But Dexter doesn’t just want to be a hero, he acts upon his dreams.  First he reads (yes, I love the illustration of Dex reading in the library with a stack of books next to him).  Then, he exercises.  When the exercises become too easy, he sets more challenges ahead for him.  Finally, the day arrives, suit on and confidence high, Dexter ventures out to help the world.   A point to make with the children is to notice that Dexter doesn’t just wait around for something to happen; he acts.  He begins to look to help others.  What a message for the students in our class – to look to be kind, helpful, considerate to their classmates.

Throughout the scenes, Dexter is still tormented by the tomcat.  His problems don’t go away.  He chooses to focus on others instead.  In the end, Cleevis needs the help.  Dexter does not choose to retaliate, but rather helps the tomcat and makes a friend in the end.    Once again, what a great message to teach your students.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Dex:  the Heart of a Hero:

  • Character lead (see above quote) with Magic of 3 and parallel sentence structure plus a simile – WOW!
  • Community building – Everybody counts! – “… after a while they forgot to invite him at all.  No one really seemed to notice him,…”
  • Hybrid text – inserts of a comic scene with the story line boxed in (very unique and will grab the attention of the boys)  “Faster than a rolling ball, stronger than the toughest rawhide, able to leap tall fences in a single bound!”
  • Semi-colon (used several times) – He could run like the wind; he felt as if his legs had springs!
  • Parallel Sentence Structure – they use the same words in predictable groups – Dex loved the way it felt, he loved the way it looked, and he loved the feeling he had when he put it on.

Changing Season

November 1, 2008

Cynthia Rylant has a wonderful way with words.  Her book, In November, creates the picture of nature slipping into sleep for winter.  As a read aloud, this book can create a great discussion for the changing season, hibernation, and leads into the Thanksgiving season.  I love the way the illustrator, Jill Kastner, paints the country scene.  Living in the heartland of Indiana farmland, this book seems to culminate what is happening around us.  As a class, you could create a class book about what is happening in your community in November.

Book Cover Having once lived in a capitol city, In November would have brought forth a refreshing air to the city scene I saw daily.  As a little girl, I use to think that the city’s concrete was so cold during the changing season of fall and then into winter.  You couldn’t see much of what was happening in the country.  I remember looking at the parks and letting my mind wander to my grandmother’s farm.  The parks allowed nature to bring its beauty to the man-made structures.  In November could be an avenue to create a Venn Diagram of what happens in the environment between city and country.

Savorings for reading and in writing for In November:

  • Personification – “And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.”
  • Similes – “the trees…how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers.”
  • hyphenated words – “full of good-byes and well-wishes
  • setting of silence – “They know it’s time to be still.”
  • varied sentences – “…for cold times lie ahead.  Hard times.  All berries will be treasures.”


Book Cover A nonfiction connection is Autumn in America by Seymour Simon. “Text and photographs describe the signs of autumn that are seen in different parts of the United States, such as leaves changing color, the migration of birds and insects, the harvesting of crops, and changes in weather. (Hyperion Books for Children, 1993)

For younger children, When Autumn Comes by Robert Mass is a great narrative nonfiction to use during this season.  I love the photographs that Robert Mass has taken.  The text is simple yet on target in describing the autumn season.  The photographs are taken around the country, creating a discussion piece of what children see around them.  Once again, you could create a class book, integrating technology by using digital cameras.  Ask parents to take pictures and send in as well.  You could create a slide show of autumn.  Wouldn’t your class enjoy creating something that could then be an extension of the science curriculum?  Or, upper grades could create an informative piece for a primary grade.

More great autumn books:

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert

I Know It’s Autumn by Eileen Spinelli


October 31, 2008

Last spring, my school hosted a Young Authors’ Conference with Claire Ewart. With her gentle spirit, she shared “from words a story grows” and showed the children how she gathered ideas from nature, visiting places, and even observing in her backyard.  I’ll be sharing more of her the books she has authored and illustrated in the near future.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from her.  Thanks, Claire.

Claire Ewart illustrates a delightful mystery written by another Hoosier, Valiska Gregory, called The Mystery of the Grindlecat.  The end note in the book explains the purpose in writing the book:  in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Children Museum’s Haunted House in Indianapolis, IN.

The book is filled with many writing lesson possibilities.  On a first time read, this book has several avenues for prediction, conversation, and wonderings with your class.  Your kids will be hooked in with Claire’s brilliant illustrations and Valiska’s beautiful words.  Even the font used crates a spooky foreshadowing.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Mystery of the Grindlecat:

  • Enticing lead –
  • Magic of 3 – used with the characters, their dialogue; from phrases to sentences
  • Building Emotion with the use of Personification – “The tree branch knocked against her window.  ‘I hear the tapping of skeleton bones,’ she said.”
  • Simile – “… an enormous nose with a wart as black as a licorice drop.”
  • Show don’t Tell – “Then all together they knew exactly what to do.”