April 12, 2016

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse (Stargirl)

Last Poetry Friday, I kicked off a series called "Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse" -- novels we have read this summer, paired with a poem that complements the book.

So far, we've paired:

Today, I'm thrilled to have guest blogger Janet Wong sharing her "Chapter & Verse" for Jerry Spinelli's YA novel STARGIRL. 

Buy the book here.
You will thank Janet later.
But first, Poetry Friday is hosted this week by the wonderful poet and educator Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche. Margaret has the round up of Poetry Friday posts this week.

Now, let's hear it for Janet!

Janet Wong is a poet, publisher,
and Poetry Friday regular.
Visit Janet's website
and Poetry for Children,
where Jane'ts co-publisher,

Sylvia Vardell blogs.
Stargirl is one of my favorite books. I read it before I knew Eileen, when it first came out in 2000, and read it again recently because Sylvia and I will be hosting a panel at NCTE (11/21/14) with Eileen and Jerry Spinelli on it and I wanted to have specific examples to talk about in our session. 

(AA aside: There is so much to love about STARGIRL. The Hot Seat scene. Senor Saguaro. The way the novel ends. If you visit Jerry Spinelli's website, you will see a scrolling message: STARGIRL has been nominated by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best YA novels of all time. Back to Janet...)

This recent reading was so different for me from the first reading because: 1) my son is now grown, so I've seen high school popularity issues from the hypersensitive eyes of a mother; 2) I now know Eileen and have received her delightful cards, so I can picture her as a young Stargirl; and 3) I kept thinking about Eileen's "Poem for a Bully," especially at that part where (I'll try to avoid a spoiler here) "that girl" [blanks] Stargirl and Stargirl then [blanks] that girl? Well, that is exactly what "Poem for a Bully" is about, isn't it? 

Poem for a Bully
by Eileen Spinelli

Somewhere deep inside you
there’s a softer, kinder place.
I know this will surprise you—
but I’ve seen it in your face.
Your eyes are often sad, although
you wear a surly grin.
Sometimes when you stand all alone
your “mean” seems worn and thin.
I wish that you would take a step—
a small but brave one, too—
and look inside yourself to find
the good I see in you.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology 
by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong 
Posted with permission.

Eileen's poem "Advice to Rapunzel," on the other hand, is about the other major question in Stargirl: wondering if a person's goodness is too good to be true, which we see both in the skepticism of "Hillari's Hypothesis" and also in the behavior of Prince Charming at the critical moments. (Spoiler Alert!!! Stop reading now if you haven't read the book!!) Leo might not have had the heart of a toad, but we all [hoped] that he'd had more courage, right?—and that Stargirl had been more cautious. The dance scene makes it seem like she got over him quickly, but I'll bet her wagon pebble count was mighty low for a long, long time.

Advice to Rapunzel 
by Eileen Spinelli

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Rapunzel beware.
Be cautious and wise
when you let down your hair.
Who is this Prince Charming
who claims to be true?
Who claims to be caring for
nothing but you?
Be sure you’re not blinded
by his gold and crown
before you go letting
your lovely hair down.
Is this prince a kind boy
who rides down the road?
Or is he a cad with
the heart of a toad?
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Rapunzel beware.
Be cautious and wise
when you let down your hair.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School
by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong 
Posted with permission.

Janet Wong is a poet-turned-publisher who, with Sylvia Vardell, created The Poetry Friday Anthology series ( that features these two poems by Eileen Spinelli (

On her transition from poet to publisher, Janet says: I was at an NCTE conference when some teachers told me they needed more help with teaching poetry—specifically, teaching it in a way that worked with this "new thing" called the Common Core. A few months later, Sylvia Vardell told me that Texas librarians were clamoring for help with the new "Poetry TEKS," similar to the Common Core standards for ELA/Poetry. We had already collaborated to produce the PoetryTagTime series, the first original ebook anthologies for young readers, and we liked the feeling of being publishing pioneers. After some R&D, Sylvia and I came up with the "Take 5!" approach to teaching poetry; and The Poetry Friday Anthology series was born. 

One of the neatest things about our series is that, because of the Common Core and TEKS connections, we are reaching a whole new audience of teachers who aren't very familiar with poetry. Many teachers come up to us after a workshop to let us know that they've been avoiding poetry, which is why they needed to come to our session—to figure out how to teach it now that their students need to know at least some poetry basics. Sylvia and I have found ourselves with standing-room-only crowds where people don't know who J. Patrick Lewis or Joyce Sidman are—but when they hear a poem they like, you see their faces light up. I might be reading Eileen's "Poem for a Bully" or "Advice to Rapunzel"—two of my "regulars"—and they'll whip out phones to start videotaping. It's like it is with good barbecue, good soap, good anything--when you meet it, you know it. 

Janet, I agree. When I do poetry residencies, many classroom educators tell me, "I was afraid to teach poetry before. Now I love it." By modeling how to make the discussion and writing of poetry fun and personally meaningful for students, we are winning converts to poetry education.

Thanks to Janet Wong for this Poetry Friday guest post, and to the amazing Eileen Spinelli for giving us permission to share her poems.

Do you have an idea for Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse. Guest bloggers are welcome! For more information, find a full explanation of the series and a sample Chapter & Verse pairing at this post.


Margaret Simon said...

So much to like about this post. I love Janet for all she and Sylvia are doing for teachers and for the love of poetry in the classroom. These poems are perfect pairs for Stargirl which is a favorite book of mine. I especially love to use it with my gifted girls to let them know how OK it is to be different. Now I have these poem pairings to teach with the book. Thanks!

Janet Wong said...

Thank you, Margaret! Three cheers (from the top of a football goalpost) for STARGIRL!!!

Linda B said...

I read Stargirl aloud the year it came out, and have read it with book groups more than once. It's a treasure. I've also used Eileen's poem about the bully when discussing "masks" that people wear-it's a valuable poem to start the talking. Great pairing, Janet. Thank you!

Tabatha said...

I haven't read Stargirl, but I see that I should! Both poems ring true.

Irene Latham said...

Stargirl is on MY list of the top YA books, that's for sure! And I love Janet's pairings here. Excited for that NCTE session. :) Thanks for sharing, Laura and Janet! xo

Diane Mayr said...

The Poetry Friday series is wonderful, and word is starting to spread. I send out my library's K-5 copy on ILL the other day!

Anonymous said...

Great poems by Eileen Spinelli. I haven't read Stargirl yet. I can see this series is going to be a great source of wonderful poems and books to read.

Buffy Silverman said...

Oh I love Stargirl, and loved it even more when I reread it after meeting Eileen and Jerry (Eileen was one of the leaders of the poetry workshop I took a couple years ago at Highlights, and Jerry our bonus guest.) Eileen really is stargirl--and sees a "softer, kinder place" in those she meets. It is such a delight to receive her poems and encouragement in the mail! Thanks for this wonderful post and pairing, Janet.

Bridget Magee said...

Wow...on so many levels, for Janet and for Eileen. Stargirl is one of favorites, but I haven't read it in a while. I've been inspired to reread it this weekend. Thank you! = )

Janet Wong said...

Wonderful to see that many of you are fellow STARGIRL fans--and Eileen Spinelli fans, too! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

I have a somewhat random Spinelli story to share. Jerry, Eileen, and I were among the 100 or so guests at a breakfast at the White House the morning of the National Book Festival (about a decade ago) when a nervous man approached us and said, "Excuse me, but you're very short--" and paused. I glared at him and thought, "and you are RUDE"! Eileen of course gave this man a kind smile and encouragement, enough that he was able to finish his thought: "and I'm going to take a group photo in 10 minutes but wanted to give you a head start so people can see you." We went outside to the bottom of the staircase where we chatted with Laura Bush and the very tall Librarian of Congress, James Billington--and then, when the photo was taken, we had the spots of honor next to them--all for being short!

Jone said...

I love Stargirl. One of my very favorites. And I love the poem from Eileen Spinelli as well. Thanks for hosting.

Anonymous said...

Great story, Janet! I think that guy needs a different way of introducing himself.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

What a terrific pairing! Thanks Janet for sharing your insight and connections. I'm feeling really dumb right now since I've, of course, known both Eileen and Jerry Spinelli's work for years, but I never made the relationship connection!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Love this post! LOVE Janet and Eileen and Jerry! [I was at the same Highlights workshop with Buffy and will forever treasure getting to meet those amazing Spinellis in person. And the life-enriching cards Eileen sends...] Drooling over that NCTE presentation - will have to be there is spirit if I can't swing in reality.
Laura, this is such a terrific series - thanks to all. [PS - Overusing "love," but I love Janet's photo story, too!] ;0)

Joyce Ray said...

What a great post. Love the idea of pairing novels with poems. These two by Eileen Spinelli are fabulous. I've read Stargirl, but it was a while ago. Now i must re-read.

GatheringBooks said...

We at GatheringBooks positively adore Stargirl. From Fats, to Iphigene, to myself - we just love her beautiful strangeness that is almost fearless yet intensely vulnerable. For a time we thoroughly disliked Leo, I think if I read the novels again, I would hate him even more for his cowardice, lack of resolve, and his being predictable. I didn't know about the lovely poems by Eileen - and Linda's right, the pairing is gorgeous. Would so love to hear more about that panel - I will be attending NCTE in NOVEMBER! So excited to attend that panel!

Janet Wong said...

Myra: so excited that you'll be at NCTE this November! Our "Sharing Random Books of Kindness" session (Sylvia, me, and Eileen & Jerry Spinelli) will be from 2:30-3:45 on Friday 11/21 in Chesapeake D/E/F. As usual, we'll have lots of freebies--to make it feel like a party! Hope to see you there!!

Janet Wong said...

P.S. re NCTE: on Saturday 11/22 from 5:45-7pm, Laura Purdie Salas and I will co-host the Children's Literature Assembly (CLA) Master Class. This year's topic: Poetry across the Curriculum. Table hosts will be: Mary Lee Hahn (Math), Sylvia Vardell (Social Studies), Heidi Mordhorst (Science), Paige Bentley-Flannery (Arts), jacqueline Jules (Sports and Games), with additional participants Katie Button, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Janet Fagal, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Laura has created a terrific handout template that will be useful to teachers. I think it will be quite a Poetry EVENT!

Author Amok said...

Thanks for the info, Janet. I'm hoping to get there -- DC is very close. We should definitely plan a Poetry Friday meet up.