Poem of the Week, by Derek Sheffield

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Write about a powerful moment in your childhood, a time when you felt seen, heard, acknowledged and powerful,  for exactly who you were.

This was the ten-minute writing prompt a few weeks ago in my Writing for Children and Young Adults class. Memories conjured themselves up around the room. A boy known as the Fat Kid watched a Chris Farley sketch and ran to the mirror to begin practicing comedy. A shy girl, quiet and overshadowed by the big sister who had always scoffed at her taste in music, received a package filled with homemade mix tapes of classic rock songs put together by that same big sister’s college roommate, with a note that began, “So I hear you like classic rock. And so do I.” 

And a little girl watching her older sister perform a play, in Hmong, the language that she had grown up speaking and hearing only in the safety of her family home, and felt for the first time “that I was at a place that wasn’t home, but that in my heart felt like home.” 

I listened to these stories and felt like crying. It takes so little, in the life of a child. A single moment can either take away their power or infuse them with it, as in this beautiful poem below.

 

First Grade, by Derek Sheffield
Sunday afternoon and she looks up
from her drawing, wants to know
if I know the game where you put
your head down and thumb up

until someone picks you.
“Yes,” I say, across the room and half-
listening. “‘Well, I always pick my friends
but they never pick me.” I pause

in the middle of a sentence.
“Who are your friends?”
“Everyone!” she says, as if I had asked
one plus one or the color of the sky.

Sunlight draws a skewed rectangle
across the floor. “I see,” I say
and let my notebook close, seeing
children in rows, heads on desks,

her big ears poking through sandy hair,
listening for a step or a breath, “Yes,
I remember that game.” And I stand
and walk over to find the outline of her hand

plunging through a white sky.    

 

 

​For more information on​ Derek Sheffield, please click here

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New Books

It’s May, and spring – sort of – in Minneapolis. Is it spring yet in other places? This has been the year of the endless winter, here in the north country, where it kept snowing right up until the end of April, and the screen windows just went on three days ago, at least in my house.

I have three new books out this spring, which seems excessive until I remind myself that each of these books was written years ago and has been making its way through the airplanes-on-a-runway process of publication ever since. Here they are.

1. Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing). Whenever I look at the cover of this book (an amazing artist named Drazen Kozjan did the art throughout), I feel happy. Why? Because I remember how happy I felt when I wrote this book. I’ve never had so much fun writing a book in my life. Julia Gillian is a nine-year-old girl who lives in an apartment building in my neighborhood in Minneapolis with her parents and Bigfoot, her St. Bernard, who is the dog of her dreams. This book is very near and dear to my heart. . . it’s supposedly for kids ages 8-12, but speaking as a grownup who loves to read children’s novels, I’d revise that to be for ages 8 And Up (and Up and Up).

2. Little Boy. This is one of those picture books, like its companion picture book Someday, that might be more for parents than for little kids. (Not that little kids wouldn’t like it, of course.) But I wrote it after remembering a day I spent with my then-little boy – who is now almost 18, 6’4″, and finds it amusing to pick me up and carry me from room to room when the spirit moves him – in which I consciously, all day, moved at his pace. And saw how wondrous the world can be, when everything you look at is new and marvelous. It’s illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, the same artist who illustrated Someday.

3. Bye-bye, Crib. This picture book really is a picture book for kids. Ross MacDonald’s illustrations are retro and art deco-y and I love the colors he used. It’s about a little boy who’s afraid to move from the crib to the big bed – familiar to any parents out there? (I should write a sequel to this book, maybe, a picture book about the great joy of getting up multiple times a night to put your toddler back into that big bed – once they realize that they’re no longer trapped in a crib, the jig is up.)