Monday, March 12, 2018

Teachers: How to Create a Laugh Out Loud Poem With Almost Any Age Group

Teachers: How to Create a Laugh Out Loud Poem With Almost Any Age Group

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Expert Author Joe Sottile
If you aren't used to teaching poetry activities, I have one that works like magic with students in grades 1 to 12 or even adults. Double your money back! (LOL?)
1. I ask students to fold and tear a blank piece of ditto paper in half once, then twice. Then they do it again. At this point there are some mild giggles and comments: "I can't get it perfectly straight." "Can I have a new sheet of paper?" These comments are perfectly valid. They are striving to do a perfect job, which isn't necessary. And they are wondering why they are doing it.
2. Then students fold and tear the paper one more time. Now they have eight paper strips, I ask them to write four true statements beginning with these sentence fragments: I like... I love... I hate... I wish... Students always do this in an interested manner, stilling wondering what this little project is all about.
3. When finished with their four sentences, I tell them to write four lies beginning with the same sentence fragments. Now students are smiling from ear to ear. For some students who are a little reluctant to start, I assure them that it's OK to write untrue statements because we are using our "poetic license" and nobody will know the truth unless we tell them. So I encouraged them not to spill the beans about what's true or not true. Writing the "lies" is truly the fun part. Sometimes I caution them not to write about any students or teachers, but that's purely up to you. It depends on the nature of the class. Remember even if a student writes about a classmate, we don't know if it's true or not.
4. Lastly, I say, "You can put your eight statements in any order that you like. Read what you have written twice to yourself, and don't worry about anyone knowing which ones are true or false. That you keep to yourself, even after you read your poem. Yes, you have written a poem, one that is pleasantly repetitious, serious, mysterious, and humorous." At this point, students can't wait to read their 8-lined poems. And even if you didn't mention the reading aloud part to them earlier, you will hear: "Can we read these to the class?" Those are the magic words I hope to hear. Members of the class leap to the podium to read their new-formed poem, which I call "Truths and Lies." An ordinary class period or poetry workshop has now been transformed into a magical moment of creating and sharing.
Just don't get caught up in steps one and two by spending too much time there. In the beginning, you want to go reasonably fast so that you can squeeze in as many volunteers as you can to read. If you have an hour that's plenty of time. If you have forty-five minutes, that's a challenge. But rest assured, the kids or adults will love their mysterious creation. It will be the talk of the school or workshop!
Joe Sottile has a deep love of poetry. He has one very popular poetry book online that is sometimes the talk of the lunchroom: Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems ).
Joe or "Silly Sottile" is a children's poet, performing poet, author, essayist, and a former elementary teacher. He loves getting kids laughing with funny poetry, and writing poetry. He inspires kids of all ages to see the power of their own words.

Friday, March 9, 2018


Three Myths About Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

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Expert Author Joe Sottile
With the death of my favorite "coming of age" author a few years ago, I started thinking about my take on Holden Caulfield. Sure fifty years have skipped by since my first reading, but I wondered how I felt about Holden now that I am way past my teen years. Was he one of the good guys or bad guys? Was he still a hero in my mind? In the process of this to re-evaluate of Holden and his world three myths surrounding this famous literary character emerged in my mind's eye. That is, these are myths because I thought they were true as a teen, but not now. And for the sake of seeing this in print, I will bleep out several words along the way.
1. Although the book has been banned by some schools, there's nothing in "Catcher in the Rye" on the very first page that would upset the typical reader-after all, it's a classic. Well, the first word bomb appears right in the beginning on page five, "crap," and then "hemorrhages", "bleep," "bleep," and "bleep." Back in 1951, many readers thought those words were rather vulgar, especially my parents and Aunt Dolores. Now, if you ever had the pleasure of meeting Aunt Dolores, she would have knocked your socks off. Besides being gorgeous, she was my godmother. She hated the book from the first page on. That mystified me at age sixteen because I loved it. I thought it was so honest! So authentic! I wondered to myself: "You mean there were other YA books out there that might be like this one?" And that novel inspired me to become a "reader" of many YA books.
2. Holden Caulfield played mainly by the rules, but the world was out to get him.Aunt Dolores thought that you should play by the rules, or at least her rules. She would not have gotten along swimmingly with Holden. Did Holden think life was like a game and best to follow the rules? He said (on page 8): "Game my bleep. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game all right-I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side... Nothing. No game."
Not too long into Holden's world the reader discovers that he's not a reliable narrator. He's great on the details of what he sees, but he's poor at putting what he sees in a well-rounded perspective, just like many teens striving to find their place in the world. Grown-ups don't make much sense to them. To teens, we seem like aliens from outer space that they have to tolerate. Holden tends to see first the negatives in people such as Ackley's pimples, Stradlate's untidy toiletries, Mr. Antolini's drinking problem, and Mr. Spencer's old bathrobe and bumpy chest. He fixates on these things instead of exploring and enjoying the talents of others. In other words, he misses out on many simple pleasures.
3. Holden is such a beloved character in American literaturebecause he marches to a different drummer. Holden has a mind of his own, but he really isn't willing to grow as person or learn from his mistakes. When he says good-bye to his former history teacher, Mr. Spencer, he describes him this way on page 9, "I'm not too crazy about sick people, anyway. What made it even more depressing, old Spencer had on this very sad, ratty old bathrobe that he was probably born in." Holden is quick to belittle those adults who hope that he will become more responsible. He would rather avoid any immediate emotional pain, and act as if the future doesn't matter. Mr. Spencer tells Holden that he wants to help him, but Holden thinks (on page 15): "we were just on opposite sides of the pole, that's all." That's understating it.
By meeting with Mr. Spencer, Holden appears to be getting closure on his disturbing days at Pencey Prep, but Holden is just going through the motions of life. He doesn't want to share any real feelings or think about what's next for him, although Mr. Spencer strongly urges him to do so, even to the point of being rather blunt with him on page 14: "Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?" Holden says, "... not too much, I guess." Holden uses "denial" as a defensive weapon to repel self-knowledge and change.
Holden wants to escape any self-introspection that he can, and live in a more innocent world where he can rescue kids from falling into adulthood, where the "phonies" are, and where they may not even know they are phonies.
Nonetheless, it was Holden's story that inspired me at sixteen to read more and be more aware of phonies, especially when I was being one.
Thank you, Holden Caulfield.
Joe Sottile, poet, performer, and author who loves kids and books. In some ways he has refused to grow up (just like Holden!), but he has mastered the fine art of being both silly and funny. He has written two books of poetry for kids of any age: Picture Poetry on Parade!, and Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems Joe also goes around the country doing his "Silly Sottile's Big Slice of Poetry" show in schools and libraries. What's the reason? He loves to make kids laugh and think twice about the power of words.


Three More Myths About Holden Caulfield in J.D Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

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Expert Author Joe Sottile
1. Holden has learned at an early age that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. Well, not exactly. Holden seems to have a lot of teen trouble with members of the opposite sex. When he's in a romantic relationship, he doesn't know how to read the ladies that he's dating. On page 92, he says: "The thing is, most of the time when you're coming pretty close to doing it with a girl... she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is I stop. Most guys don't. I can't help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they're just scared as bleep, or whether they're just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame will be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping."
In Chapter Ten, Holden is talking about a girl he likes, and he says: "I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the bleep you are. Girls... They can drive you crazy. They really can." Of course they can. Isn't that part of being in love? Holden doesn't want to accept that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.
2. Holden wore a red hunting cap in New York City to be stylish. Wearing a red hunting hat in a city is very different, but stylish? As if the hat itself wasn't out of place enough, he puts it on his head backwards, just like a baseball catcher's hat. Holden isn't hunting for deer or hoping to catch baseballs at Yankee stadium. If he's hunting for anything, it's for a more perfect world without phonies and materialistic people. That is, he's hunting for a bridge that will take him out of childhood where everything is more innocent and calm to adulthood where the only thing you can count on is change, and a world bursting with phonies, which is his favorite word to describe many things. He knows he has to walk that bridge, but he's not going to do it until he's bleep ready, even if he has to have a mental meltdown first. So, his red hat is a symbol of his individuality that he never really wants to take off or lose. As long as he's wearing his red hunting hat, he feels protected from bad weather and a stormy adulthood.
3. Holden has goals. He wants to do something with his life. He wants to be a catcher in the rye. Near the end of the book he confides in his sister Phoebe what his dream is in life. When kids run near the edge of a rye field, he will catch them. He will be a "rye field catcher." I imagine that the salary will be a little less than playing catcher for the New York Yankees. If you really want to know the truth, I guess that I am being a little sarcastic here. It's just that we're getting near the end of Holden's journey in Chapter 22, and we haven't seen much progress. Lots of people have given Holden some good advice along his journey, from little Phoebe to Mr. Antolini. And we're all wondering if he's going to change. Is he going to apply himself in school? Is he going to graduate? Is his sister and parents going to be proud of him someday? How is his life going to turn out?
The closing words of Holden are encouraging, when you consider how conflicted Holden is about sharing his feelings. He says, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." And feeling connected with people certainly beats the feeling like you're disappearing as you walk across the streets of New York City, which Holden complained about earlier in the book.
And I have another reason to be hopeful. Sometimes people come unexpectedly into our lives and sprinkle in seeds of hope that later blossom in our being when we least expect it. Mr. Antolini (on page 188) shares a famous quote with Holden to think about on his journey: "The mark of an immature man is to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." Someday those words will yield fruit for Holden.
If you really want to know the truth, I like happy endings. So, eventually, I know in my heart of hearts, Holden becomes a mature man and makes a difference with his life.
Aunt Dolores would have liked that ending too.
Joe Sottile, poet, performer, and author loves kids and books. In some ways he has refused to grow up (just like Holden!), but he has mastered the fine art of being both silly and funny. He has written two books of poetry for kids of any age: Picture Poetry on Parade!, and Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems Joe also goes around the country doing his "Silly Sottile's Big Slice of Poetry" show in schools and libraries. What's the reason? He loves to make kids laugh and think twice about the power of words. For him, that's pure fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who Is the Funniest Children's Poet?

Who Is the Funniest Children's Poet?

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Expert Author Joe Sottile
If you were to ask this elementary teacher of thirty-three years what poet has had the biggest impact on students, the thumbs up winner of light verse is Shel Silverstein. (Light verse being defined as "poetry that is playful or humorous and usually rhymed.") Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up or Every Thing On It. Each one is full of quirks, surprise rhymes, fantastic endings, and free verse. The light verse is music to soul of most elementary students and adults.
Children love the poetry books of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, Bruce Lansky, Jeff Moss, and Kalli Dakoa. At first glance their poems look easy to write. Just pick a topic - any topic - from apples to zebras, and write a poem.
Oh, yes, when writing these poems, poets draw heavily from the palette of their essential tools - similes, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia. Shel Silverstein certainly did in his poetry. Of course, whether the poet is a professional or a student, it will take more than one sitting or class period to finish a polished poem - that is, one worthy of posting or publication. Although it may seem easy to create a short or even medium size poem, we know it isn't.
Expensive gifts frequently come in small boxes, just like short gems of poetry. Many hours can be poured into the making of a short poem that sparkles. Don't be fooled by the number of lines. Light verse, in the hands of those who love it, is a labor of love. Much time will be spent picking the right words, metaphors, and more.
All of the light verse children's poets, mentioned above, are very good at writing light verse. You might even call what they create: lightning verse because it cracks, snaps, and pops in the minds of young students. The words of gifted children's poets are ignited by a piece of conversation, an old photo or whatever sizzles, and they explode across the yellow paper or the well-lit monitor, shocking the poet into paying attention to the cosmic images, voices, and feelings! Words are written or typed with zest that tell a little unforgettable story or communicate with humor the joys and challenges of being a child.
Shel Silverstein was the master of his craft. One measure of Shel's success is the number of books he has sold over the years. According to HarperCollins, his longtime publisher of record, he has sold more than 29 million hardcover books. Yes, 29 million books! Anyone poet compared positively to Shel Silverstein is in excellent company.
Do yourself a favor today, if you don't have any of his books on your reading shelf, purchase one for your inner child so that you can laugh like a kid again.
One of Joe's poetry book reviewers, Ivy W. Hofmann, wrote this about him: "My daughter grew up on Joe's poetry, which at the age of five she declared was 'better than Shel Silverstein!' We have shared many a hug and chuckle over Joe and Lori's depictions of school life, while nodding our heads in recognition of the various casts of characters they describe." Joe has a deep love of poetry. Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems is a popular poetry book for kids age 5-101,

Worth Reading: The Real Reason the Shooting Occurred

As a former teacher and parent, I agree 100% with this post. We need to face the truth. Many parents need to encourage their children to be more accountable, and the parents need to spend more time with them setting good examples, while letting them know they are loved and appreciated, no matter what.

Please check the post out about the Florida shooting. It's worth the read.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Almost

There are many photos here illustrating my poetry and love of kids. Please check them out. Our youngest just visited us. We had a ball at the beach, playing pickleball, visiting the local shops, taking photos, and eating out. See photos for proof!

Saturday, April 29, 2017


I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve To Be Inspired by Positive Writer. 

Could Bigfoot Inspire You to Be a Better Writer or Parent?

People are full of surprises, just ask them a few innocent questions and they start revealing what makes them unique. Then ask them a question such as "What do you do for fun?" That's what I sometimes to do to new people that I meet. Now and then up pops a heartfelt story that I hear, which I feel compelled to share with readers.

I humbly admit that I strive to be a Welcome Ambassador to Everyone I meet. I know that's a tall order. Each day I tend to act like a Walmart greeter on steroids. I smile, open doors, as I shop, make positive comments about team logos that strangers are wearing. I get money from tellers, not AMT machines. I talk to the mail carrier, and I don't duck when I see acquaintances or former co-workers in the wilds of the supermarket's frozen food section. I am a people person.

Now, what's that got to do with Bigfoot, a large hairy ape-like creature betw
een 6.6-9.8 feet tall weighing over 500 pounds, covered with brown or reddish hair? He's a legend hiding in the forest somewhere. Over the years there have been many eyewitness reports about him, large footprint tracks of him, handheld film recordings, audio recordings, blood and hair samples. There also have been many hoaxes and pranks related to finding Bigfoot in the wilds. But where there is smoke, there usually is fire.

I was waiting for the garage door repairman to fix or replace the runner on my garage door. My wife accidentally caught it backing up the car. I tried to fix the metal runner, but I crinkled the bend worse, making it almost unrepairable. I needed someone strong like Bigfoot to fix the door.

As the repairman ambled out of the truck, I opened the garage door and wondered if he would get the job done without installing expensive and new runners. He had jeans and a dusty bulging black T-shirt. No uniform. No Mr. Good-wrench-look. He looked like a mountain man or a Wor
ld Federation Wrestler. I know first impressions aren't always correct, yet I wasn't impressed. He didn't look as strong as my mental version of Bigfoot. Nevertheless, I learned a long time ago never to judge a person by their wardrobe choices or physical appearance.

I said hello and welcomed him to my garage and my problem, adding these words "I decided to get an expert to help me."

He said, "I am not an expert in this area, but I have fixed a number of doors like this."

He was humble. I like that in a person.

He wrestled with the bent runner and after quite a struggle he bent it back to working form and shot some oil into the little revolving wheels. He told me, "You're all set, good as new."

I asked him if he wanted a bottle of cold water. He said, "I have some in the truck. Thanks for asking."

I wondered what made this man tick; in other words, what did he care about besides his job. I thought that I might be surprised. I was already totally wrong about my first impression.

I asked, "So what do you like to do for fun?"

He eyes arched upwar
d recalling a fun scene, smiled, and he said, "I hunt for Bigfoot with my son in the mountains."

As my mouth dropped open, I asked: "Do you believe in him?"

He answered, "Well, we have fun looking for him. It's an adventure. We don't want to hurt him, just hang out. Maybe take a few photos. We bring fruit, nuts, and cold water to share with him. If he doesn't show up, we eat the goodies ourselves. My son, Ryan, loves hiking, the outdoors, and hanging out with me."

"How old is your son?"

"Well, he's 12, but he has the mental age of 5. Ryan has a brain disorder. He literally has problems doing things. The nerve endings in his body are mixed up. He has to think things through to do normal things. But he has been getting better and better. That's what counts. And he loves talking about Bigfoot, looking at pictures of Bigfoot, and learning about big animals. We frequently read together. I work two jobs so that I have enough money to get the best help for him."

Tears circled in my eyes. I wrote him a check for his services. "Please wait a second. I have a present for him, and I ran upstairs to get a copy of Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems.

He notice the author's name on the book and said, "Oh, you wrote this book! What a great book for my son!"

I signed the paperback for Ryan and I said, "There are lots of lines that are repeated in my poems. Ryan and you will have fun repeating them. After awhile both of you will have them memorized which makes it even more fun to read."

"Yes, he will love this book! And the pictures in it are funny too—something like Shel Silverstein's books. Ryan loves all of his books. Thanks so much. I gotta get back on the road. Thanks again."

"By the way, does Ryan really believe in the existence of Bigfoot?"

‘OH, YEAH! He says Bigfoot is just a good hider."
And I said to myself:

1. All of us have stories to tell.
2. Bigfoot is probably a good hider.
3. We are all good hiders unless the right questions are asked.

Teachers: How to Create a Laugh Out Loud Poem With Almost Any Age Group

Teachers: How to Create a Laugh Out Loud Poem With Almost Any Age Group By  Joe Sottile   |     Submitted On October 05, 2012     ...