All posts by Felice Kaufmann

A Recipe to Pair with Sandra Cisneros’s “My Lucy Friend Who Smells like Corn”

A story and a batch of cornbread created classroom community for Brent Peters and his students at Fernville High School in Louisville, Kentucky.  Read his narrative “My Food Lit Class ‘Smells Like Corn'” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle. Read the recipe, shared by Brent’s wife Emily, right here!

Emily Peters’s Cornbread Pudding
makes 12–16 pieces

Our infamous cornbread! This creamy cornbread is popped on every plate that leaves our kitchen. We make two to four pans each morning, depending on how busy we predict we’ll be. At the cafe, we leave the cheddar cheese off to make it easier to cut into small pieces but do add it yourself, it is delicious. The cornbread can be made ahead of time and reheated, but is the best served fresh from the oven.

1 large onion, diced 2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
2 (8½-ounce) boxes yellow corn muffin mix, such as Jiffy 1 (14¼-ounce) cans cream style corn
4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained 1/4 cup chopped pimentos
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until opaque, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together milk, eggs, cornbread mix, creamed corn, chilies, and pimentos. Pour the cornbread mixture into the greased pan.

Spoon the sautéed onions and sour cream onto the cornbread mixture and swirl throughout, as if you were making a marble cake. Top with cheese, if desired.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Let the cornbread cool for 10 minutes or more before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Refrigerate for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 6 months. Reheat an entire pan at 350 for 20 minutes or in pieces in the microwave.

Q & A with NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick

Emily KirkpatrickThis text is reprinted from the March 2016 Council Chronicle. 

NCTE’s new executive director Emily Kirkpatrick, formerly vice president of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), responded to a few questions recently to help NCTE members get to know her better.

The Council Chronicle: What connections do you see between NCTE and your work on NCFL’s Wonderopolis (

Teachers are powerful. Teachers are the agents of transformation and success.

I’ve witnessed this in person and over time. NCTE’s members are brilliant, entrepreneurial, and dedicated to the progress and success of their students. Wonderopolis’s audience includes many NCTE members and their classrooms! For ALL of us, questions are very present. In a direct sense, we are all learners today. We all (even educators!) have questions.

CC: How are NCFL and NCTE similar and different?

NCFL is dedicated to intergenerational literacy needs: parent and child. Adults and children have learning desires and needs. NCTE represents the oldest and widest commitment to literacy and language studies. Both organizations represent deep bodies of work focused on literacy and language, and they are dedicated to excellence in the work.

CC: How would you describe your experience attending the most recent NCTE Convention?

I first experienced an NCTE Convention when I presented at the 2013 Boston Convention. It was there—walking the hallways, sitting in coffee shops talking with members—that I fully understood that NCTE represents a community of professionals, and that some of the business of literacy and English studies happens every year at the NCTE Convention. I’m eager to build on this understanding in 21st century ways and know our membership is, too.

CC: What’s your learning style?

Citizens of our world must be generative. I’m a generative  learner—always listening, observing, learning, and growing. That’s the opportunity and challenge before us. We can learn and involve those insights in our practices—or not, at our peril. What we know today will be different than a month from now. However, integrity and commitment to people and progress will not change.

CC: What’s your favorite genre to read?

As a lonely fifth grader, I found biographies enthralling. It was there I developed a lifelong interest in 1960’s politics. Over time, I’ve expanded my interest into nonfiction overall. I’m an avid reader and friend of authors spanning biography, public affairs, history, and business.

CC: What are your children’s favorite books to be read aloud?

A favorite among all of us in the family is “Jabberwocky,” a parody for early readers based on Alice in Wonderland. It’s filled with interesting, nonsensical words that get a laugh every time. (Imagine two three-year-olds saying “Bandersnatch” at the same time!) It’s great fun hearing everyone pronounce the words a little differently.

CC: What types of things do you most enjoy writing?

I enjoy writing and drawing a concept. Free flow. And I also enjoy the task of writing a concise business pitch—the challenge of boiling a lot of thought into a few sentences is great fun. My husband and I often copyedit for each other and fight over words.

CC: If you were going to enter the classroom, what grade would you be likely to teach and why?

I’d love to teach a college class on career preparation, which would include writing as a professional.

CC: What do you do when you need a bit of inspiration?

I call someone with energy and passion and ask them what’s going on in their world.

Hard Topics Can Lead to Good Kids’ Books

This text is excerpted from the article by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs in The Council Chronicle (March 2016.) 

Difficult topics are often difficult sells when it comes to children’s literature, yet two of this year’s NCTE book awards go to works that delve into modern world issues, including racism and government malfeasance.

Heavy stuff for kids? Perhaps. But good literature often mimics real life, say the authors.

DrownedCity_hres“You know no one’s going to complain about Animal Farm and no one’s going to complain about The Great Gatsby, which are also great books, but these are different times and for a different audience,” says Don Brown, illustrator and author of the graphic novel Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, winner of this year’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. Brown’s book provides an accurate, not sugarcoated, accounting of what went wrong when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast—an approach he defends. “God forbid you should [write about] something that a kid would recognize in their own life . . . . I wish there was more of [this.] I don’t think there’s enough [in] children’s literature and there’s certainly room for more.”

Stella by StarlightSharon Draper, author of Stella by Starlight, winner of NCTE’s 2016 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children, agrees on the value of finding ways to present real-life topics for children.

“One of my books, Copper Sun, is about a 15-year-old girl who lives in Ghana,” says Draper. “I knew when I was writing it that it was not for that younger crowd, and it’s about slavery, so it deals with some very difficult things . . . . The author writes with the sensibility for audience. . . . ”

“All I ever wanted to be was an English teacher,” says Draper. “I did not know I was going to be a writer. I didn’t think about it. If I had thought about it earlier, I would’ve done it 20 years ago. . . .”

Chron-Mar2016-Sharon-Draper-quote-web-5wideWith 25 years of teaching experience under her belt, Draper feels the writer’s life is enhanced by the teacher’s life. She rises at 5 a.m. most days and spends her time at the computer, sketching out stories. Other days, she’s traveling to promote a book or speak at a conference. Yes, she is a mother of four grown children, but she believes her ability to reach children of all ages is rooted in her experiences as a teacher. Somewhere along the line she learned what makes kids tick.

“The reason I write for teens and young people is because that’s who I know, and I kind of understand the essence of a teenager, so I write for them with ease,” Draper says. “Today’s kids are not so very different [just because] everything is on their cell phones. The essence of what it means to be 11 or 14 or 16 does not change. I start with that.”

Draper respects children and wants to know what they have to offer. She also stays in tune with her young readers, and sticks to her policy to respond to their questions.

The NCTE Connection

Teachers have been Draper’s backbone for her entire writing career. She reminisces about attending NCTE’s Annual Convention in the 1990s and selling her first book out of a paper bag, for cash. . . .

“I would say, ‘Hi. I’m an author and I’m a teacher and I wrote this book.’ NCTE and its teachers there have been with me from day one as supporters.”

That’s why the Charlotte Huck Award means so much to her. Yes, the award fetes fiction that has the potential to change children’s lives. But it’s also an honor given by her peers. And no one is more difficult to please than people who know you well.

“I have been a member of NCTE for, I don’t know, 35 years,” says Draper. “It has been such an important part of my life professionally. This award is very significant because it’s like being honored by English teachers—those who understand exactly what it means to teach a book, to read a book, to analyze a book, to understand a book. It means an awful lot to me.”

Don Brown, Author of Drowned City

Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Don Brown wasn’t always a writer. He published his first book in 1992 after unsuccessfully trying to be an editorial cartoonist. . . .

Chron-Mar2016-Don-brown-quote-webA unique combination of his love of comics and history, Brown’s forte is in showing and telling the truth of things. It might sound a bit morbid, but Brown is really good at telling terrible stories. . .

Brown’s goal is to show all sides of the story so that the reader can make informed guesses and ask questions as to why something occurred and what might happen next.

And, adds the father of two grown daughters, that sort of exercise is good for kids.


Finding the Poems that Hide: Why Students Should Write Poetry

blog-poetry-Macaluso-Kati-11_face0This text by Kati Macaluso appeared on Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care, a blog organized and maintained by members of the Commission on Writing Teacher Education, a working group of the Conference on English Education.

So I’ll tell a secret instead:

poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,

they are sleeping. They are the shadows

drifting across our ceilings the moment

before we wake up. What we have to do

is live in a way that lets us find them.

—from Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Valentine for Ernest Mann”

400px-Naomi_shihab_nye_2014Naomi Shihab Nye is right: “Poems hide.” One was certainly hiding one Saturday morning in the health and beauty aisles of a local superstore. My poetry seminar professor had invited us to listen for a poem, instructing us to attend to the conversations and noises that surrounded us in public places, and to use those as our weekly writing inspiration. So I listened—in coffee shops, in my son’s childcare center, in restaurants, and finally, at a large shopping center. It was there that I found myself in the same aisle with an elderly couple whose conversation I overheard and soon became a part of.

Several drafts and weeks later, I had written the following poem:

Forgotten Items

Navigating the health and beauty aisles

of their local superstore,

an elderly couple moves methodically

through their grocery list:

Skim milk, white bread, Vitamin A, orange juice . . .

But they have forgotten the orange juice.

The wife turns toward the grocery aisles,

several states over in this vast territory of merchandise.

And the old man, sensing his wife’s weariness,

offers to go in search of it himself.

Ok, she sighs. But don’t forget to come back.

Turning to me, the only other person

amid the rows of vitamins and aspirin,

she explains:

I always worry

he’ll forget he brought me with him—

that I’ll be left all alone, in this great big store.

So I linger.

Somewhat in search of vitamins,

but mostly because I can’t have this woman

standing all alone,

in this great big store

because she has been forgotten—like a gallon

of orange juice—

by the one she loves most.

As I wrote my way through this poem, I was also pursuing a degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education, thinking long and hard about the K–12 English language arts curriculum. I thought about curricular documents like the Common Core State Standards that make no mention of writing poetry. This blog entry is my response to the relative dearth of poetry writing in the K–12 English language arts curriculum.

While some might rightly make the case that writing poetry sharpens students’ linguistic awareness or knowledge of genre, I’d like to reflect on how writing poetry, like the listening poem above, might serve as an invitation to students to “live,” as Nye says, in a particular way—to be more finely attuned to the seemingly ordinary experiences they encounter on an everyday basis.

Here’s how:

220px-Charles_simic_6693Poems Defy Explanation: Poet Charles Simic has said of poetry, “The labor of poetry is finding ways through language to point to what cannot be put into words.”

Another way of saying this might be to claim that one can never fully explain a poem. As I reflect on my own poem above, I realize I could have returned home and explained to my husband what I had encountered: “I was shopping in Aisle 30, when this elderly couple realized they had forgotten to grab orange juice. The wife was too tired to walk all the way back to Aisle 6, so her husband offered to go get it. But the wife—poor thing—was afraid her husband might forget to come back.”

This explanation would have been accurate, but it would not have done justice to this experience. It needed a poem. A poem—because it defies explanation—requires that the writer be keenly present to an experience, and all its characters, sights, sounds, and senses.

In order to engage in the labor of finding language “for that which cannot be put into words,” a writer of poetry must work in the spaces between experience and language.

kooser_si-303x335Poems Can Alter the Way We See the World: Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser makes this argument in his book The Poetry Home Repair Manual.

And, indeed, once a writer begins to work in the spaces between language and experience, the way she sees the world is forever altered. Several drafts into my poem, I knew I needed a metaphor to show how the expansive store accentuated the frailty of human beings. I dare say, I’ve never again set foot in a superstore without seeing the “vast territory” of merchandise stretch before me, nor have I felt the weight of a full gallon of orange juice without feeling the weight of being forgotten.


Photo “Orange Juice” by Mike Mozart

My hope is that more K-12 students write poetry. I have tremendous faith in what poetry writing can and will do for these students’ linguistic dexterity, knowledge of form, and other technical knowledge.

But I also wholeheartedly believe that the opportunity to work in the gaps between language and experience, like my own experience listening for and writing “Forgotten Items,” will serve as an invitation to live in a particular way: to seek out poems by becoming more fully present to the details and people that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Kati Macaluso is a doctoral candidate in the Ph.D. Program in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education at Michigan State University. She can be reached via email at

3 School Settings, 3 Ways to Celebrate Día (Children’s Day/Book Day)

This text is reprinted from Bringing “Bookjoy” and Cultural Awareness to Children Nationwide (The Council Chronicle, March 2016), by Lorna Collier

Making Connections across Cultures in Utah

Día was celebrated at Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the first time last May 1 (April 30 falls on a testing day, so the school chose May 1 instead). The school hosted an all-day celebration, involving 600 children, that coincided with a district literacy night, says third-grade teacher Tyson Price.

The school’s student population is about 60 percent Hispanic, Price says, but about 30 languages are spoken overall (including Tongan, Somali, Swahili, Russian, and Chinese). Día celebrated Hispanic culture but brought in other cultures as well.

For example, some students wrote essays about important moments in their lives, then went to other classes to read them out loud. Some of the narratives were from refugee students who—for the first time—shared what they’d endured to come to the US. “To hear those students’ perspectives about traveling to America or living in those refugee camps was a great opportunity for other kids to connect with them and understand what they’ve gone through,” Price says.

Though none of Price’s students wrote narratives, they listened to those who visited their classes and then discussed the presentations. “One girl said that was really brave of [the refugee student] to come and tell her story because it was a scary time in her life and it might be hard to talk about it.”

Many of Price’s students are Mexican immigrants who were better able to relate to refugee students from other countries after they shared their essays, says Price. “They connected on that level of wanting to have a better life; before, I don’t think they saw that common connection, but that brought it to their attention.”

Another event involved a former NFL player from the community (his mother is a Mountain View teacher), who spoke to students about how his love of reading got him through school, including college, and thus into the NFL, ultimately earning him a trip to the Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. The former player, Marcus Mailei, is a Pacific Islander, a culture that is represented at the school, says Price.

Other events included:

  • a readers’ theater schoolwide presentation of Where the Wild Things Are
  • teachers and students dressing up as favorite book characters and decorating classroom doors to honor favorite books
  • a book exchange and giveaway, ensuring that students went home with new books
  • visits to the new public library down the street, where students learned about summer reading programs and prizes they could earn by reading books
  • library staff visits during the evening literacy night, where parents were given kits full of activities to help their children become better readers
  • read-alouds by Latina moms who attend a community learning center on the school’s campus; the mothers also shared their experiences about how reading had helped them in their lives
  • tweets by teachers throughout the day to reach out to the community and show the importance of Día and how the school is trying to make a difference.

“Our main goal for the day was for the kids to learn to love reading and how it can be a positive influence on their lives,” Price says.

Mountain View plans to do a Día day again this spring, says Price. He hopes to have his students prepare essays in advance of the event so that this year they can have writing to share with other students.

“I like this because kids are writing it and other kids are reading it and it’s giving them the opportunity to see different perspectives,” Price says. “Even though we may speak different languages or come from different places, we have those connections that bring us together.”

Arizona University Hosts Día for 6th- to 12th-graders

Tracey-Flores-headshot-ASUNCTE member Tracey Flores, a doctoral student in English education at Arizona State University (ASU), has been working on a Día initiative for six years. Schools in cities surrounding the ASU Tempe campus bring 6th- through 12th-graders (often with parent chaperones) to campus for a morning Día event, usually from about 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 p.m., held in May after state testing is done. The event has grown from 250 students its first year in 2011 to more than 600 in recent years.

Día at ASU features speakers, slam poets, visiting and local young adult authors, mariachis and baile folklorico dancers from the Agua Fria High School, and hoop dancers. Students listen to keynote speeches, then break into small, interactive groups (sometimes run by authors) that focus on literacy activities, such as crafting and sharing a slam poem or learning how to write strong dialogue for a character, create a writer’s notebook, or craft song lyrics. “It’s really about getting them to see themselves in all their uniqueness and also having a space for them to share who they are—and to start to think about what that means,” says Flores. “It’s a celebration of culture, languages, and literacies.”

Students also come away with free books, written by one of the featured authors present at the event (and often signed by the author). Teachers have told Flores this is especially motivating for students, even those who aren’t normally big readers, because now they feel a personal connection to their book. While the ASU event primarily features Spanish as well as English, Flores says organizers are trying to bring in resources representing other cultures, languages, and literacies, such as American Indian; the hoop dancers are an example of this effort. Flores would also like to involve more children from nearby reservations.

One perennial challenge: budget. “Each year we start with zero,” Flores says. Partnerships with community organizations and businesses help fund the event. Dunkin Donuts provides doughnuts and milk; the local Phoenix Book company provides books at cost, while authors donate time or take reduced fees. Flores also seeks a humanities grant to fund free books and author visits. She would like to try to create a two-day Día event in the future—if she can work out budgetary and time constraints.

“We are helping to expand the view of literacy and expand the network of people in the state working toward this goal,” she says. “We’ve really garnered excitement from schools to attend.”

“It’s a Party for Books!”

Celebrating Día at Travis Elementary School, HoustonAt Travis Elementary School in Houston, Día has been celebrated the past two years as a night-time event so more families can attend. The event began at Travis partly as a result of efforts by parent and PTA member Debbie Muñiz, a former Houston school district researcher who had worked with Día in the past through a nonprofit organization in Houston. She suggested Día to principal Tom Day, who quickly embraced it.

“We wanted to have better outreach and engagement with our Hispanic families,” says Day, noting that nearly half the students (44 percent) in the school are Hispanic. “We thought what a great idea to have an event where we celebrate culture and instill a love of reading—and bring the community together.”

At Travis’s most recent “book fiesta” celebration, the school provided three to four free books for children; a folk singer/storyteller performed Spanish/Mexican folk tales; and the Houston Children’s Museum helped teachers work with students in about 20 different literacy-related activities. Students and their families rotated among tables where they could, for example, create the life cycle of a    caterpillar on a paper plate (to honor The Very Hungry Caterpillar), make glasses using pipe cleaners (an homage to Arthur’s Eyes), or participate in other ways.

Table of Books at Travis Elementary School

Parents also were given activity books with suggestions for enhancing their child’s literacy at home over the summer.

“Some parents said ‘I don’t know what to do to help my child,’” Muñiz says. “So we were able to give them hands-on simple things to do at home with items they probably already have. For me, that is why we need to keep doing this. We take for granted that a lot of parents already know how to do this, and some want to do it, but they don’t necessarily know how.”

Muñiz says many parents came to her to say how grateful they were for the night and for the new books, which let the children start their own home libraries.

As for the children, says Muñiz, a parent of two Travis students: “They say, ‘this is so cool! We are having a party for books!’”

Muñiz noticed as the last Día was winding down that one child was sitting on the steps of the stage, his new books arrayed around him, already engrossed in one. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what it’s about. He’s so excited, he’s got these books, he’s like, ‘I’m ready to start reading them now.’”