Sunday, October 04, 2015

From the Park Bench Book Release


“Sara, how you doing?”

A complex question. I was sitting in a nice house with no job, two kids, and I’d just received the bad news that my former husband was also unemployed so there would be no more health insurance or child support coming. I’d just sat my stunned self on the sofa when the phone rang. Tony Moore was a partner at the second largest law firm in the world, one of two African American lawyers working there at the time, and he didn’t want to hear all that, so I said, “Fine.”

“We (Jones Day) have been doing some pro bono for CMHA (housing authority) and their new director Claire Freeman needs some PR help. Would you be available?”

It was 1991, I had just started visiting schools with my new self-published poetry books and this was the phone call that would change my life.  You don’t have to be schizophrenic to work all day in the hood and in impoverished schools and come home at night to your hot tub, but it certainly helps. I started hearing voices, lots of them.

From the Park Bench is a book of poems in multiple voices that has been 25 years in the writing. I don’t have much explanation for myself about that, just that over the years, through conversations with kids, teachers, CMHA residents and co-workers – I took a lot of notes. 

There is never one side to any story, and what I have learned is there are rarely only two sides to a story.

This afternoon I will be signing and introducing From the Park Bench, published by Red Giant Press from 4-6PM at Guide to Kulcher Bookstore, 5900 Detroit, Cleveland, OH. Joining me will be Michael Salinger who will be signing the paperback release of his book for teens, Well Defined, Vocabulary in Rhyme (also Red Giant).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bridging into Fall

I just sent a finished (I think) manuscript off to my editor, I accomplished my first 30 mile bike ride, and had our first school visit of the year at Chardon Middle School, right in our back yard. The leaves are feeling crackly, the temperature is dropping and evening is crowding the daylight hours.

I am embarrassed that I have taken such a long to visit this blog. My excuses are long and take me from Vietnam, to Hong Kong, to Nansha China, Canberra, Australia, Houston, Columbia, SC, Missouri (twice). And then I just needed some downtime. Healthy eating, bike riding, friend chatting, downtime. I mean, I really needed it.

Oh, and I needed to finish my new book. Very exciting.  The Enemy, a middle grade novel set in 1954 in Detroit. Themes are bullying, immigration, post traumatic stress (even though that term didn't exist back then) and women's issues. Oh, and the cold war and book banning. I am so excited about this book (Calkins Creek) and the incredible direction I've received from my editor Carolyn Yoder.

Next week we are off to visit Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok, Thailand. Looking forward to meeting new friends and writing with the students and teachers there.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Valentine's Day Story

Okay, his name was not Jim, but other than that, the following poem is a true story.  Hard to imagine any boy wouldn't have gone for those bangs and too young for braces buck teeth. I wore extra petticoats because I wanted hips like Annette Funicello, but instead I was shaped more like Pinocchio.  The only thing missing in this picture are the black cats' eye glasses that I needed to see the blackboard at school.  Irresistible. 

So, in the old days kids didn't have to bring valentines to the entire class.  It was possible for one girl (Bernadette Sehi) to get 35 valentines and the girl sitting next to her (B.O.Ploe) to get none. It was a day filled with high anxiety and kids consoling themselves by overdosing on little candy hearts. I suppose I was kind in the middle in the whole "who got the most valentines" contest. I don't remember, really.  But I remember a boy who was not named Jim who crumpled my valentine in his pocket and laughed with his friends (at me?).  It wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to me, and you'll be glad to know, I did not injure myself or others despite the murderous, vengeful thoughts going through my head at the moment I tried to capture in the poem. But 50 years later, I still remember.

On Valentine's Day, be nice.


I gave Jim a valentine.
He stuffed it in his shirt,
then stood there in the hallway
with his jerko friends and smirked.

I must be dumber than a doorknob,
but I thought I'd take a chance.
Now, my foot is itching in my shoe,
it wants to kick his pants.

My hands are searching
for a hiding place.
They want to choke his throat.
He thinks that I'm some joke.

One day I hope he feels
what burned is all about,
and he will learn too late

that love's too fine to be crumped out.

©1996 sara holbrook ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Backwards Day All Year Long

Dan Ferri

Some poems visit you at sunset. Some haunt you in the wee hours with Jabberwocky logic because, let's face it, anything seems logical at 3AM.  There are poems you reach for when a friend dies, when a marriage implodes, when gratitude washes away pain.

Dan Ferri's poem, Backwards Day, follows me down school hallways behind 7th graders hiding their faces in hoodies. It stands with me as I watch the kid who can't hold a pencil and whose school won't let him use a keyboard try to make a joke out of it. It sits on my knee in a kindergarten class while everyone else is sitting on the carpet.  This poem is for those who would rather cartwheel than walk, draw instead of formulate equations, those who write, know how to harmonize, and problem solve.

Holidays, snow days, and low grade fevers should never happen on the weekend.  This Saturday is Backwards day, and because of that, I was afraid it would be overlooked this year.  

You know what this list is?  It's a list of what proficiency tests do NOT measure.  I found it in a book by Gerald Bracey, On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools (Heinemann 2003, in case you are looking for some light reading).  

As we head into testing season (I know this because of schools that call asking for a visit "after the tests") I'm thinking maybe Backwards Day shouldn't be only an annual event like the 100th day of school or Dr. Seuss' birthday, but a holiday that we celebrate all year long.

Dan is a seasoned middle school teacher transplanted from Chicago to Canberra, Australia, and as such he knows schools, holidays, and isn't afraid to call out puppypoop when he sees it.  Reprinted here with permission. 

Backwards Day

Sometimes at school we have a special day
We call it backwards day
Everyone wears their clothes backwards
Or wears colors that clash
I have a modest proposal
Forget your silly backwards hats and tee shirts
Forget this stripes and checks together puppypoop
Let's get serious
Let's really shake school up

In math class, for homework
Describe the associative, distributive, and
Commutative properties
In dance
Choreograph it, dance it, show your work
Points off for clumsiness

In Social Studies, for homework
Prepare two Civil War marching songs, one North one South
Sing in four-part harmony, show your emotion
Points off for flat notes

In English, for homework
Carve a sculpture that expresses Hester Prynne's solitary courage
The cowardice of her lover
The beauty and strangeness of her child

In Science, for homework,
Bring in a broken toaster, doorknob, or wind-up toy
Fix it
You get extra credit for using the leftover parts to make something new
Points off for reading the directions

On the S.A.T.
Every one of the questions
Will be in haiku

You get two scores
One in whistling, and one in Legos
No calculators

Let's take a stroll down the hall
Let's see who is in the learning disabilities classroom now
Will you look at all those guys with pocket protectors
Sweating, slouching, and acting out
Hey, no one cares that you can divide fractions backwards in
your head buddy
You will stay right here and practice interpretive dance steps till
you get it right

Will you look at all those perfect spellers with bad attitudes
Look at those grammar wizards with rhythm deficit disorder
What good is spelling gonna do you
If you can't carry a tune
Toss a lariat
Or juggle?

You are going to stay right here and do the things that you can't
Over and over, and again, and again
Until you get them right,
Or until you give up
Quit school
And get a job
As a spell checker
At the A&P

~Daniel Ferri