My Favorite Reads from May 2020: Let Yourself Read

My Favorite Reads from May 2020, Hello Friends!

While I continue to experience cancer treatment exhaustion, I’ve learned a good lesson in coming to terms with the depression this was causing: let yourself read. While I at last surrendered to this good idea in April, I’ve read some particularly enjoyable books in May.

Here are my three favorite books read this month. (I enjoyed them nearly equally so I’ll just present them alphabetically by author):

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

One of My Favorite Reads from May 2020; Debby Zigenis Lowery's Literate LivesOne enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel – and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at an all new beginning (From Goss’s website)

Convergence: Book One of The Blending by Sharon Green

One of My Favorite Reads from May 2020; Debby Zigenis Lowery's Literate Lives

Lorand is of Earth, a simple farmer called to the city. Tamrissa is Fire, sacrificing her home to escape an undesired marriage. Clarion is Air, an aristocrat flying free for the very first time, Spirit is the talent of Jovvi, the beautiful, sensous, and knowing ex-courtesan. And Vallant is Water, a sailor who aches to return to the sea.

As one, they must stand against the odious treachery of past masters–and confront a fearson depravity that hungers for their world. As one they must triumph…or as one they die (From paperback Convergence‘s back cover).

Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill

One of My Favorite Reads from May 2020; Debby Zigenis Lowery's Literate LivesMaria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family on the island of Murano, the traditional home for Venetian glassmakers. Though she longs to be a glassblower herself, glassblowing is not for daughters—that is her brother’s work. Maria has only one duty to perform for her family: before her father died, he insisted that she be married into the nobility, even though her older sister, Giovanna, should rightfully have that role. Not only is Giovanna older, she’s prettier, more graceful, and everyone loves her.
Maria would like nothing more than to allow her beautiful sister, who is far more able and willing to attract a noble husband, to take over this role for her. But they cannot circumvent their father’s wishes. And when a new young glassblower arrives to help the family business and Maria finds herself drawn to him, the web of conflicting emotions grows even more tangled (From the Penguin Random House website).
This third book is a teen/YA novel in verse, beautifully executed. It’s going on my book gift list for one of my granddaughters (Shh! don’t tell).
Unleashing the power of enjoyable reading to include daytime hours as well as evening was defintitely a turning point in pulling me out of depression back into a feeling of patience and peace (P.S. receiving my second-to-the-last maintenance treatment was icing on the cake. One more to go in July.)
Your Turn
Reading for pleasure is a critical part of a literate lifestyle. What books have you enjoyed recently? Please share in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!
*Title Image: Pixaby,

Resources for Reading and Language Arts Learning in the Home

Resources for Reading and Language Arts Learning in the Home, you need resources to support your students’ or children’s literacy learning at home?

I know it’s a little late in the “Quarantine” to be posting this, however as I am still undergoing cancer maintenance treatment, my personal quarantine has been long-lasting. (I’ve been sick or being treated and recovering from that for nine months now with very little break between the clearing up of one issue and the onset of the next.) However, as I am at last experiencing a break in my long string of illnesses, I thought I’d get this up at last.

Reading and Language Arts Learning Resources:

Play With your Words Writing Prompts: let’s play with our words. Treat yourself to some time to sit down and write. Have fun with it. Invite your family (or class) to join you and share your results with each other. Not only will you continue to build your reading and writing skills, but you’ll learn new things about each other and bond as a family (or class) that writes together.

Reading Response Exercises: short prompts to help deepen students’ reading comprehension skills. Initially ntended to be done as written assignments these can also be used as discussion starters. Have fun talking about books!

Teacher’s File Drawer: here you will find some favorite Reading and Language Arts lessons and units I developed for my own students, scoring guidelines included in some.

While this is a trying time for everyone, I hope these resources provide you with some shared Reading and Language Arts fun.

Your Turn

What are some practices you have enjoyed using to nurture the literacy of students’ at home. Please share in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!



Today I have been typing in quotes that I flagged from a variety of books. I came upon this one from C.S. Lewis, and it hit me again so powerfully, like the first time I read and flagged it, that I had to share it.

Here it is:

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face, but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we must surmise that both the ancient myths and modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the spendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.                                                                                C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory

That is exactly how beauty hits me—the natural beauty of the world, or the beauty of a book, poem, painting, movie… It fills me with an ache to be a part of it, and to create something of beauty in response. It is what drives me to write. I have not worked on a daily basis, or even on a weekdays-only basis on my fiction and poetry for a very long time. I plan to once again resume the practice (hopefully blogging, as well) this fall.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to place this quote in my workspace.

Your Turn

Inspiration is a critical part of both a literate and creative lifestyle. What inspires you to do the literate or creative work that you do? Please share your thoughts in the comments box. Let’s encourage one another!


Dear Readers…

Confession time…

It is probably obvious that I have been struggling with blogging over the last few years.

Near full-time teaching (up until last June), combined with my own and family illnesses, a son’s near fatal injury, and my father’s death finally culminated in a diagnosis of Follicular Lymphoma last spring, March 2018.

Bad News, Good News

Of course the bad news of having cancer was that I have cancer.

However, the good news was that follicular lymphoma is one of the most survivable forms of cancer and, with treatment, most patients die of other causes.

The other good news was that my husband and I agreed it was time for me to retire from full-time work. Those of you who know me well, know I have been writing novels and short stories my entire adult life; I even got a few stories published with Cricket Magazine and a few other publishers of short works. Now, I thought, I can finish my novels and embark on an expanded writing career.


Crash! Through the late summer, fall, and winter, sinus infection followed sinus infection, cold followed cold, and asthma attack followed asthma attack. I felt so tired and discouraged, I both lacked the energy and didn’t trust myself to write a word of fiction, my first love.

Reading, Writing, & Counseling Changed My Life

Fortunately, our health plan covers counseling as part of its cancer treatment program. I cried and cried and cried through the first few appointments. I will spare you the gory details.

I talked about my life ranging from when I was a very small child to the present. Exasperated with myself for not just focusing on the cancer and how it was impacting my life here and now, I asked my wonderful counselor is this was normal. Do cancer patients often talk about their whole lives? It turns out we often do. Facing mortality, heck, just facing the big C stirs up a lot of stuff.

My counselor encouraged me to keep a hand-written journal (something I haven’t done in a very long time; I switched to digital journaling about the time I started this blog), so I did as instructed.

I researched articles about what I was feeling and experiencing, in an effort to understand myself—who I was and who I am becoming. Slowly the all the bits and pieces of my struggles started to fit into place.

Hope Reborn

Through this process I am beginning to reconnect to the creative person I have always been, but who has felt buried by the “slings and arrows of life” and my very own coping strategies for dealing with them.

I have been thinking about how these changes will impact Literate Lives. I confess, I have seriously considered shuttering it completely. However, as I heal both emotionally and physically I find I do not want to.

What I do want to do is connect more authentically and less “professionally.” Being a professional teacher has dominated my life for twenty years, and I am realizing, now I am retired from teaching, that this no longer needs to be so.

Yes, I will still blog on Reading and Language Arts topics. I am passionate about helping parents and teachers to nurturing young people’s love of reading and writing. However, it is likely these will share more of the stage with posts on the creative, inspiring, and fulfilling aspects of a reading, writing, and journaling life. (You will find the same mix on my Facebook page: Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author.)

And, oh yes, I have finally got back to work on that novel I was trying to complete in the fall. I finished drafting the last chapter last month. Now, on to revision and editing.

My blog posts may not flow as regularly as they once did, but even when I’m not posting, I am thinking about you, my readers, making notes, and dreaming of where I will take us in the future.

Thank you for not giving up on me!

Your Turn

Reading and writing, creativity and inspiration will always be critical parts of my literate lifestyle. In the comment box below, please consider sharing the role they play in your life. Is this role evolving? How? Let’s encourage one another!

Happy National Poetry Month! Enjoy These Resources

Happy National Poetry Month! Enjoy These Resources: Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives
This month I have dipped into the archives to gather the poetry prompts I have provided over the years. Whether you are a teacher, poet, or journal writer, enjoy these prompts. For the seasonal ones, like the first, you may need to make some independent choices. Be creative. Have fun. Rock your words!

autumn-metaphor-poemPlay With Your Words: An Autumn Metaphor Poem

Teachers and students alike are back in the classroom. No matter what grade level, literary devices are probably being taught or reviewed. Some key ones include metaphor and the use of sensory details. Craft this autumn metaphor poem to exercise these skills and capture the essence of autumn.

Farewell ’15: Write a Poem of Remembrance

Just think of a moment–this week, this month, maybe this season–that you’d like to hang onto. Your poem doesn’t have to rhyme or have a beat. However, if you love rhyme schemes and meter–play away!

“aab…” Poetry Mystery Form–Try It!

The basic unit of the form is a stanza consisting of a couplet (two rhyming lines) followed by a single unrhymed line.

Tree BlossomApril is National Poetry Month–A New Haiku

The Wonders of Haiku and what you may or may not already know about the form.

Play With Your Words: Three Minute Poems

Savor the turning of the season. Go outside. Write three three-minute poems.

130001114Vacation Poetry Inspiration: Mount Rainier National Park

I have just returned from a trip to Mount Rainier where every experience was fodder for a poem. If you are a writer, or you want to encourage your children’s literacy skills, take pen or pencil and notebooks on vacation and pause to write. Try these easy poetry forms: haiku, list poem, or concrete poem.

wooded path 7.13My Most Visited Writing Prompt Ever: The Essence of Summer Poetry Haiku

The graduation ceremonies are winding down, I haven’t had to wear socks for weeks, and this next Friday will be the last day of school. Go somewhere you love, soon, and write some summer haiku’s.

Write Your Life—In Short Form

I have recently adopted a short form of journaling—the haiku. Capture some snapshots of your life.

Who am I? Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

It’s the beginning of another school year—time to get to know your students and to warm them up to writing by having them write about themselves. Thus, the “Who am I?” poem, a poetry template that uses the list poem format to write a description of self. Using the template, write your poem leaving one line of space between each stanza. Revise, edit, and share.

The Essence of Summer: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Capture the essence of summer’s outdoor world by writing a haiku. Think about several of your outdoor experiences this summer. Choose an image to focus on in you haiku. The most simplistic American haiku form is the 5-7-5 pattern, but You can choose to vary your syllables and their spread over the three lines or reduce your haiku to the least number of syllables possible without losing its meaning.

The Essence of Summer: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt Revisited

I found just the right words for summer at Mom’s, and even words for reentry into daily life when I got home. I’ll share them. Then, review the steps for the Essence of Summer haiku and write your memories or farewells to this sweet season, or perhaps your welcome to the new school year and fall. Includes, “Mom’s Hummingbird Feeder,” “Pinecrest,” and “Reentry.”

A Day in the Life…Narrative Play With Your Words Writing Prompt

Write a story, from the point-of-view of a possession you carry with you every day. Give your possession its own style. Have fun with this prompt.

Warning!!! Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Write a poem that both honors the spirit of summer and includes a health or safety warning. Have fun with it. If you’d like, make a poster and upload it. I’ll make sure it appears here on the blog as well as on my Pinterest board.

Summer is Fig Lang ExerciseSummer is—Figuratively Speaking: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt

Practice using figurative language. Complete the pre-write exercise then write a richly descriptive paragraph using sensory imagery and figurative language to describe summer.

Summer Dreams and Plans: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Write a poem about your dreams and plans for the summer. Post includes instructions for brainstorming, drafting, and revising, and links to information about free verse and sound effects in writing.

Poetic Advice not Taken: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Write a poem based on A.E. Housman’s “When I was 0ne-and-twenty. Focus on word choice, the sound and fluency of the poem, and of course on the concept of advice not taken.

A Pair of Quatrains/Play With Your Words Writing Prompt

How is your day? Write a pair of quatrains describing your April 20, 2012.

Poem a Day Challenge: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

April is National Poetry Month and Writer’s Digest is running a “poem a day” challenge. Day 1’s assignment? Write a communication poem.

Write about Your Favorite Song: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt

Write a short essay explaining the meaning of your favorite song. Practice using quotation marks and proper punctuation while doing this. Punctuating quotes examples included.

A Pre-write for a Poem: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

When writing a poem about an object, feeling, or idea it is challenging to find something new to say. However, a little pre-writing can provide you with a list of vivid associations and images to draw on that will make your poem uniquely your own. Decide on a topic for your poem and then follow these steps.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: Musical Muse

Musical Muse: Freewrite to instrumental music then go back over what you’ve written and highlight what you like best. Use the highlighted bits, and add to them if you wish, to write a poem. Revise your poem for sound and share. Optional preschool activity included.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: Datebook Poem

Datebook Poem: Write a poem in the form of date book entries representing your goals, hopes and or dreams for the coming year.

Write a Current Event Poem/Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Write a Current Event Poem: Find an article in a newspaper, news magazine or  news website. Write a poem inspired by what you read.

 Inner Landscape Poem: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Inner Landscape Poem: For this month’s poetry prompt, you are to write a poem that describes the landscape inside you—in your mind, your heart, your spirit. Use sensory details. Show how this landscape relates to who you are. Revise, edit, and share.

Self-Metaphor Poem: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

The Self-Metaphor Poem is a poem that describes the inner and outer you. The Self-Metaphor Poem is composed of two parts. The first part details who we are in the world, and the second part consists of an extended metaphor for the person you are inside. Here’s how to write one.

A Summer Metaphor Poem: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt

Happiness is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schultz, is an example of a book based on a collection of metaphors. Collect your own metaphors to write a “Summer is…” metaphor poem.Look for a pattern in your collection. Select items that go well together to create a “Summer is…” poem.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: I Hear America Singing

Read Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” Write a free verse or structured poem celebrating something you love about life in the United States of America.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: A Snapshot from Your Future

Imagine a “perfect moment” this summer. Write a poem in the past tense describing it as though it has already happened.Mom and Marie Capitola Edited

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: “A Picture of My Mother”

Find a picture of your mom. List a bunch of words or phrases you associate with this photo. Use your list to write a poem.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: What Is…? Poems

Learn how to write a “What is…?” Poem, and write a poem that only you can write. Web or brainstorm topics, web or brainstorm descriptions, and write your poem.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: List Poems to Capture Your Life

Writing a list poem is a good way to process your life. How to write a list poem: Choose a topic; brainstorm ideas that relate to the topic; choose the ones you want to use in the poem; decide the order in which you wish to present them; write your poem.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #8—Farewell Poem

Write a Farewell poem. Characteristics of a Farewell poem are: It is written as though its audience is the person, place, or thing the author is saying good-bye to. It is written as a means of saying good-bye, be it permanently or only for a time to the subject about whom it is written.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: Free Verse

Write a free verse poem. Use sound effects of poetry and line breaks for poetic effect.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt: Patterned Poem

Write a poem that plays off the pattern of a poem or song you like. Use the built-in repetitions of the model poem or song to establish the organizational framework for your poem.

Play with Your Words! Poetry Prompt: Poetry Poker

To play poetry poker, you need to collect words, and build yourself a “deck” of words. Shuffle your deck, draw cards from it, and use the words you drew to craft a poem.

Play with Your Words! Poetry Prompt: Six-Pack Poem

Using observation, recall, and note taking, craft a Six Pack Poem.

Your Turn

Playing with your words is a fun and critical part of a literate lifestyle.

Do you have a favorite poetry prompt? If so, please share it in the comment box below? Have you tried one of these prompts? Feel free to share that as well.

Together we can both celebrate  National Poetry Month and create a great resource list for each other and those who find us.

Don’t be shy; let’s encourage one another!

Get Ready for a Celebration: April is National Poetry Month

Get Ready for a Celebration: April is National Poetry Month;


National Poetry Month is almost here, a time to celebrate the beauty, wonder, and wild exuberance of words and poetic forms both for reading pleasure and personal expression.

How might you enjoy National Poetry Month?

There are many ways to savor poetry this month. Your first stop might be your own bookshelves. What about that little volume on friendship your best pal gave you? How about those dusty textbooks from college? If a few years have intervened since your last reading, you might encounter something completely new and unexpected, or long beloved. (Shakespeare’s Sonnets, anyone?)

Consider an outing to the library. National Poetry Month is when volumes of poetry are often on display. Pick out a few that appeal to you. Sit down and sample some random pages. Check out one that “speaks” to your imagination, interests, or (dare-I-say) soul. And don’t forget the children’s section….

I will never forget the day my Mom discovered Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. She was a volunteer in my little sister’s elementary school library and brought the book home with her. When my brother and I got home, she told us we had to listen and read us a poem. I don’t remember which it was because we spent the rest of the afternoon passing the book around, reading, and roaring with laughter. (And please note, Silverstein is not the only author of humorous poetry, nor is the children’s section the only place you will find it. Talk to your librarian.)

Speaking of children, if you have any of your own or perhaps nephews, nieces, pupils… read poetry aloud to and with them. Children’s poetry covers an amazing range of subjects, and if you love long fiction, you can even select a novel in verse. (I just finished a great one, Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose.)

Young children especially love the bounce and swing of rhythm and rhyme. Read to them either from a collection of poems, nursery rhymes, or a picture book written in verse. (My all-time favorite rhyming read-aloud is Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat; and whether it is written in prose or not, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is pure poetry.) Either format is sure to delight. When done, get silly and have fun coming up with rhyming words together. This kind of verbal play is great for building pre-reading skills.

Got teens? Got lyrics? Rap is not the only form of music that is poetry based. Share with each other favorite lyrics from songs—rock, blues, show tunes, even. (They, too, are great for telling a story; I fell in love with Arthurian legend on the basis of the soundtrack for Camelot that my parents bought after seeing the play.) You don’t even have to sing; savor the magic of the spoken words alone.

Copy down or memorize favorite poems. I often have difficulty falling asleep, and just yesterday I remembered how soothing are the rhythms of “Sweet and Low” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and “Wynken Blynken and Nod” by Eugene Fields. Maybe this poetry month I’ll memorize one, or both, and recite them to myself as I’m seeking to drift off to sleep.

If you find a line you love, or even a whole poem, post it somewhere it can be appreciated. Thanks to sticky notes we’re not limited to refrigerators and bulletin boards. Or, gift little snippets of poetry to loved ones or friends.

And Write

Write poems. There is such a wide range of poetic forms to play with. You do not have to be a Shakespeare and write sonnets. You do not even have to write poems with meter or rhyme. Free verse is truly free. What matters with this form is the distillation of experience into well-chosen words. You steer your reader through the poem with your word choices, line lengths, line breaks, strategic repetition, and the echoes of well-placed rhyme or alliteration, and more. With free verse, even punctuation is up for grabs. (Remember e e cummings?)

Write a list poem, a letter poem, an observation of whatever you see outside your window.

Write a haiku, an acrostic, a limerick, and you musicians, write a song!

Write and share, and read and write some more. There is no more varied form with which to celebrate language and life than that of a poem.

(Note for teachers—here’s an oldie but goodie article from Edutopia: “Encouraging a Love of Poetry”)

How I’m going to celebrate National Poetry Month

I will continue my practice of capturing moments from my life in poetic forms. I love haiku, free verse, and the rhythm and rhyme of quatrains and couplets.

I may pull down the volume of Christina Rossetti I purchased because I love the Christmas song “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is based one of her poems, and continue reading wherever I left off.

Also, I love the poetry of many hymns. Maybe, in addition to my personal “lullabies” I mentioned above, I will try to memorize all the verses of a few favorites starting with “Be Thou My Vision.”

And I hope to enjoy some read-alouds and giggles with my grands.

Your Turn

Poetry is one of the oldest forms of literature and an amazing means to appreciate language and our world. What are you going to do to celebrate National Poetry Month? Please use the comment box below to respond. Let’s encourage one another!

A Fantasy Book Review: The House on Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Book Cover Blurb:

All twelve-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
          But, that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world…carrying you with it. Worst of all, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no sports or music lessons, no parties—and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
          So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules…with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her—even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife….

Debby Zigenis-Lowery's; A Fantasy Book Review: The House on Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The Novel

I really loved Sophie Anderson’s The House on Chicken Legs, a middle grade, fantasy novel. Having retold several Russian Folk tales, as soon as I saw the title, I wanted to read this book; it did not disappoint.  Anderson, while faithful to folkloric Baba Yaga motifs, also manages to give them a twist and stand some on their heads, creating an original and mesmerizing tale.

I had only one issue with this book. SPOILER ALERT!!! Midway through the novel, the protagonist discovers she is dead. While this might not alarm some young readers, I was very disappointed because I bought the book, not only intending to read it, but to share it with my delightful, and also highly sensitive granddaughters. I will donate it to a local elementary school library instead

While I still enjoyed this novel immensely, and I’m sure many children would too, it did remind me how important it is to know the books and the young readers you hand them to. As children’s book critic, Amanda Craig said in The Guardian’sShould Children’s Books Have Happy Endings”:

I feel strongly that books for the young need to take into account their emotional vulnerability. They don’t have the defenses we do when reading…. Stories are, what Francis Spufford called, in The Child That Books Built ,” mood altering drugs.”

While I am absolutely not for censorship of children’s books (or any others), I do feel some concern about the darker themes that show up in middle grade fiction, which is directed to elementary and some middle school age children. Therefore, I applaud the commitment of teachers and librarians, and recommend family and friends, to find “the right book for the right child.”

Your Turn

Have you read any good fantasy novels lately? Have you read any that while intended for children, you would not recommend it for younger readers, or a subset of young readers? No matter which question you respond to, please share author names, titles, and a few words about them in the comment section below. Reading is a critical part of a literate lifestyle. Let’s encourage one another!

Writing Joy Lost and Found: Take Joy by Jane Yolen

One of my New Year’s commitments this January was to get back to fiction writing at least three days per week.

Due to illness, I didn’t.

Although I am down to revising the last half of the last chapter of my novel-in-progress, I felt so lousy I did not trust myself to do my best work.

Nonetheless, I am finally coming to accept, that for a time, chronic exhaustion is a partner in my life, therefore I need to get on with living, and writing, anyway.

A Visit with a Friend

One thing I did do right: while resting, I picked up an old writing book by a particularly inspiring author, Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen.

Yolen’s words fed me, floated me, excited me.

Last week, I finally got back to work on my novel, and it felt good!

Take Joy

In light of how Yolen inspired me, I thought I’d share some of her nourishing words with you.

“Chapter One” of Take Joy discusses the way some authors describe writing as a bloodsucking, agony-inducing practice. I have seen these claims in essays and blog posts, and they have always irritated me.

Yolen proposes a different attitude:

I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear, but with joy.
Why joy?
It’s a personal choice.

Chapter One, page 2

Yolen reflects on how difficult it is to actually get published:

All we can count on is the joy in the process of writing.
Uncovery, discovery, recovery are all part of the process.
So take joy behind publishing’s shadow. The joy in the process.

Chapter One, p. 5

In conclusion, Yolen wishes readers:

…joyous flights in your own writing. Save the blood and pain for real life where tourniquets and ibuprofen can have some chance of helping.
Do not be afraid to grab hold of the experience with both hands and take joy.

Chapter One, p. 12


Yolen’s guide reminded me that I love my work-in-progress. I have often spoken of it as a labor of love.

I also remembered that I love writing. When the writing is going well it feels like flying, laughing—a wild joy.

Thank you, Ms. Yolen, for these reminders!

Your Turn

How does writing nourish you? Which parts of writing bring you the greatest joy? What are you working on that you can’t hardly wait to get back to?

Please share your comments in the box below. Let’s encourage one another.

P.S. Read Yolen’s book. It will bring you joy.

Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives; Take Joy by Jane Yolen

Teachers’ File Drawer: Corny Quatrains with a Flurry of “Snow”

Corny Quatrains: with a Flurry of Snow:
It’s February, and we all know what that means: Valentine’s Day is coming.

So… I thought it would be fun to revisit one of my favorite Valentine’s Day lessons Corny Quatrains and give it a little extra spin.

Because this lesson is a “one-shot,” just one day is spent on it, it can provide a fun break in the midst of a longer unit. It also provides a mini review on some poetry terms.


Students will be able to:

  • write a quatrain with an ABAB or ABCB rhyme scheme
  • evaluate and revise their own work
  • point out the strengths in the work of others.


Post this old gem where everyone can see it:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

Ask: Can anyone identify what form this poem takes?

Hopefully someone will come up with the term quatrain or stanza. If no one does, move on.

Remind your students that poems can be written with a specific rhythm or rhyme schemes, and that poems can be divided into stanzas. It helps to liken a stanza of poetry to a paragraph of prose.

Ask: How many lines are in this poem?

Wait for the answer: Four

Explain: Stanzas with four lines are called quatrains.

Go back to the original poem and ask: which lines rhyme with which?

Explain how to label the rhyme scheme by focusing on the sound at the end of each line, and labeling each line with a letter denoting its unique end rhyme.

Go over the original poem and label the lines together.

  • Roses are red,      ends in “ed” with a short “e” sound   label: A
  • Violets are blue,   ends in “ue” with a long “u” sound    label: B
  • Sugar is sweet,     ends in “eet” with a long “e” sound   label: C
  • And so are you.   ends in “ou” with a long “u” sound    label: B

Point out that even though they are not spelled the same, “blue” and “you” rhyme because they share the same end sound. Conclude that this quatrain takes the ABCB form.

Explain: A quatrain can have other kinds of rhyme schemes besides the ABCB, for example:

  • ABAB—where the first and third lines rhyme, and the second the fourth lines rhyme
  • AABB—where the first two lines rhyme, and the second pair rhymes
  • ABAA—where all but the second line rhymes.

If your students are keeping learning journals, you might have them jot down some of these terms with their definitions as you introduce this material: stanza, quatrain, couplet, rhyme scheme, and the four quatrain rhyme schemes. However, please be selective so you keep this introductory part of the lesson to less than 15 minutes, because the rest of the lesson is where the fun comes in.

Write a couple of corny quatrains as a class. Start your first one with the traditional “Roses are red…” line.

Write a second one starting with a different noun/adjective pair. Here’s one I wrote:

Candy is sweet,
Chocolate, divine.
Please say you’ll be
My valentine.

Inevitably, someone in class will get silly and suggests a not-so-nice valentine. That’s okay. Keep your sense of humor. Then…

The Challenge

Challenge your students to write their own corny quatrains. First, require them to write something sweet (after all, it’s Valentine’s season, and we did begin by talking about corny quatrains). Then, if they wish, allow them to write something “sour”—one of those not-so-nice valentines. Require them to write a total of 2 quatrains with at least one of them sweet.

Here is an example of a “sour” quatrain should you need one to share:

Saliva is sticky,
Snot, like glue,
You stick like gum
On the sole of my shoe.

Remind your students that good poetry plays with sound and rhythm, and employs specific word choices to express strong ideas with a minimal number of words.

Tips For Students Who Get Stuck:

  • Spend a minute or so brainstorming for a topic for the second half of the quatrain, the third and fourth line.
  • For a sweet poem, think of someone or something you know and like, and come up with the last two lines first, then it will be easier to think of noun/adjective lines for the beginning.
  • For a “sour” poem think of someone or some specific thing or situation you do not like and come up with the last two lines first.
  • The similes, or metaphors for the first two lines are easier to craft if you know the conclusion of the quatrain

Tips to Keep This Activity Safe:

  • No matter which type of quatrain they are writing, instruct students that absolutely no names or other personal identifier is to be used.
  • Also require that content maintain a G rating.

Give your students 10 minutes to write their quatrains.

While the students work, pass out a criteria sheet for them to use in revising their quatrains.

Suggested criteria:

  • Create a quatrain containing 4 lines
  • Use an ABAB or ABCB rhyme scheme
  • Use sound effects like assonance, consonance, repetition, onomatopoeia, or internal rhyme
  • Begin with 2 similes

In addition, while students are working give each 4 stickers (sticky notes will not be sticky enough), and tell them to set these aside as they are for the final part of the lesson. Before class, randomly assign each student a number and have these stickers prepared for passing out.

When the 10-minute writing time is up, instruct your students to revise their quatrains using the handout, select the one they like best, and copy it onto a fresh piece of paper without their name on it.

Now’s the Time for Fun!

When you’re down to ten or fifteen minutes of class time, instruct the students to put one of their stickers on their rough draft and one on the page with their polished quatrain then wad up the polished copy into a paper “snowball” which they must hold until you instruct them further

When all are ready, tell the students to face toward the center of the room and throw their snowballs. Each student is to catch or pick up one snowball and return to his or her seat.

Instruct the students to read the quatrain they “caught,” place one of their remaining stickers on the bottom half of the page, and write one thing they liked about this quatrain.

Ideas for Ways to Praise:

  • Tell the students to refer to their revision criteria or to react as a reader by pointing out something the writer did that generated a positive response. Examples:
  • Connecting with Text: the way you talked about ____ reminded me of _____
  • Emotional Response: when you wrote ____ it made me feel ____
  • A Thematic Response: I can see that ____ is important to you by the way you wrote about ___

Give them about 3 minutes. Emphasize that the response really only needs to be one sentence.

When the time is up, instruct them to again wad the paper up and stand when they are ready. Once everyone is ready, toss the “snowballs” again, instruct all students to “catch” one, and return to their seats to place their last sticker on the page along with one-sentence of positive critique of the quatrain.

After this point you can continue to snowball, and invite students to share the quatrain they are holding.

At the end of the period, collect all rough drafts and “snowballs” (a basket or gift bag might be handy for this).


I would suggest evaluating for the following qualities

Praise the strengths of the quatrains shared.

Collect the quatrains and score according to the following criteria:

  • 1 Sweet Quatrain
  • 1 Sour or Sweet Quatrain
  • Ideas and Content
  • Word Choice          
  • Well Thought out Praise of Others’ Quatrains (use the stickers to check for each student’s praise)

Your Turn

I loved doing both Snowball and Corny Quatrain exercises with my class. What’s a favorite Valentine’s activity you have tried with kids?

Please share your comment in the box below. Let’s encourage one another!

A Literate Lifestyle: Journaling and Me

A Literate Lifestyle: Jjournaling & me have always been somewhat of a journal keeper. I can remember in my senior year of high school (You know, when life was DRAMA) coming to the realization: “I think better with a pen in my hand” (and now-a-days, more likely a mechanical pencil).

Although, I was never a daily diarist, journaling as a life practice has held steady, even if sometimes a month or so elapsed between entries.

This past year journaling has exploded as a practice in my life, and I move into 2019 with a deep commitment to a diversity of forms of journaling, including:

  • basic, general journaling
  • working through a “Journey Journal”
  • maintaining a gratitude journal
  • using a hybrid bullet journal/planner

My Digital Journal

I do I basic, general journaling on my computer. In this journal I do the typical things like capture memories, plan, dream, work out my concerns… However, to this basic function, I have also added the recording of quotes, my responses to them, and correspondence between myself and family and friends (Once I’ve written something in a letter or email it seems redundant to write it again in my journal). The digital journal works particularly well for this; I love “copy” and “paste.”

My Journey Journal

 These last two years have been particularly filled with trials and seismic events. Life is irrevocably changed and will never be the same again. To process the impact of all this, I began my Journey Journal. I am using it to sit with and understand my emotions, explore the roots of ongoing issues, practice and build my resilience, and dream of the new horizons that lie ahead. Needless to say, I’ve been using my digital journal a lot less since starting this. 

My Gratitude Journal

My gratitude journal (pictured above) is a beautiful little book someone gifted me. (I am so sorry I do not remember who, but know, if it was you, I love it!) My gratitude practice stems from three sources, my faith and gratitude to God, my susceptibility to seasonal affective disorder and the value of gratitude in fighting depression, and my desire to capture the little things, as well as the big, that I value in my life.

Each day, I simply write in the date and “Thank you,” then write a brief bulleted list of things I am grateful for from the previous day—usually just 3. I love doing this. It is a real mood lifter. Despite my troubles or inner conundrums, it keeps me aware of how incredibly blessed I am (And it’s likely, so are you).

My Bullet Journal/Planner, or is it Planner/Bullet Journal?

During the months I have been ill, I did a LOT of online reading, and as is the case online, one blog post links to another, and another, and another, and I found myself exploring new and interesting things. One of them was bullet journaling, popularized by Ryder Caroll. Here is a little video.

Now I have used a planner ever since I started teaching and was required to keep an open, filled-out lesson book on my desk. I very quickly learned how handy it is to use a planner and have done so both personally and professionally ever since.

Bullet journaling, however, was a whole new world. The planning part blended well with my already developed planning instincts, but the discovery of decorative page spreads, trackers, reflection pages, and the wonderful omnibus of lists that could be incorporated… I was enchanted.

I immediately began practicing, using the disc-bound planner I had already purchased for 2018. I added dividers for sections instead of “indexing” –as by-the-book bullet journalers do, began experimenting with different forms of trackers, and have been following planner and bullet journaling blogs online and pinning oodles of inspirational images on Pinterest.

 This year I am making my own pages for last year’s disc binder. I finished the “Future Log” this week, and have weekly spreads in place for January and February, with templates for weekly spreads, and more on my computer. I love the creativity of making my own pages, and the efficiency of tracking what I need to do and have accomplished. (I especially love checking or tallying items off! There’s just this little kid inside of me who delights in a “showy” completion.)

Your Turn

  • What kinds of journaling or planning do you include in your literate lifestyle?
  • Do you hand draw or create digital bullet journal spreads?
  • Would you be willing to share pictures in the comments?

I look forward to hearing from you. Let’s encourage one another!