Friday, April 19, 2019

Classroom Connections with Aida Salazar


The Moon Within

Aida Salazar, Author

Arthur A. Levine Books (February 26, 2019)
ISBN: 978-1338283372

For ages 8 and up

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Celi Rivera's life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend's exploration of what it means to be genderfluid. But most of all, her mother's insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It's an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?


Click on image to enlarge.

Text copyright © 2019 by Aida Salazar, from The Moon Within (Arthur A. Levine Books).


Aida Salazar is a writer, arts advocate and home-schooling mother whose writings for adults and children explore issues of identity and social justice. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade verse novels, The Moon Within (Feb. 26, 2019), The Land of the Cranes (Spring, 2020), the forthcoming bio picture book Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Revolutionary Fighter (Spring, 2021) - Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. Her story, By the Light of the Moon, was adapted into a ballet production by the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance and is the first Xicana-themed ballet in history. She lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, CA.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Puerto Rican poet, Piri Thomas, said, “Every child is born a poet.” In our rush to educate for tests, we forget this truth, we forget to fortify our students with the tools to nurture this ability. We scrub away the introspection and invention that children inherently have as they grow and see the world from learning eyes. Poetry offers students a way to slow down, to look inside language, contemplate its meaning, its rhythm, its sound, or the way words are arranged on the page. Poetry allows us entry into the intimate chambers of the heart, to collect and examine emotion and to speak to the worlds that affect those emotions. When students are shown how to write poetically, to essentially remember this truth about themselves, we introduce a compelling way for students to build their creative expression, analysis, and understanding through the poetry they already carry.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

We are currently putting the finishing touches on a teacher’s guide for The Moon Within. It was created by Dr. Carla España and will soon be available on my website and on Scholastic’s website. It is titled Honoring Our Bodies, Connections with Our Ancestors, and Healing through Arts and Community. It offers several ways to incorporate the book—through poetry, social studies, science and literacy.   

[UPDATE: view and download the discussion guide HERE.]

Can you suggest a specific classroom exercise related to your book?

Here is an exercise I selected from the study guide for The Moon Within.  I chose it because it helps children think about metaphor in a very personal way.


Re-read the poem “My Best Echo” (page 24). Think of a metaphor for one of your friendships. Write a poem using this metaphor—think about how you can incorporate aspects of the metaphor like sight, sound, smell, touch, and/or taste to help you think of descriptive phrases.

What is a simple, practical tip for teachers when it comes to incorporating poetry in the classroom?

I am a fan of fueling the multiple intelligences of children and so I use different strategies to introduce them to poetry. Below are several examples.

One of the most powerful tools I’ve used for reluctant readers is to listen to audio books or recordings while reading the text. This strategy allows readers to hear the rhythm, tone, and dramatization of a poem which can be fun or emotive. It deepens their connection to the text. Some of my favorites are Nikki Giovanni’s Poetry Speaks to Children and Hip Hop Speaks to Children. Shel Silverstein has a great audio recording of Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Read verse novels out loud as a group. Sometimes, they are written from different perspectives and readers can “play” different characters. Some great candidates for such an exercise are Margarita Engle’s historical fiction novels.

To teach children how to generate poetry there are two books that I would recommend. Juan Felipe Herrera, former Poet Laureate of the United States, has a fantastic generative writing book entitled Jabberwalking in which he provides readers exercises and funny inspiration to free their minds and their writing. Also, Rethinking Schools published a poetry teaching guide, Poetry of Resistance which offers a plethora of exercises to help children generate poetry that responds to issues of social justice.

Biography picture books focused on poets are a wonderful way to introduce children through a social / historical lens. Many of these books are told lyrically while at the same time show the struggles and triumphs of poets and the power they harnessed through their work. In this way there is a twofold benefit, an excellent way to introduce readers to a historical figure but also to a poetic device or practice. Some great examples are books like: Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy; The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate; My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown; A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés by Pat Mora; Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse by Alexandria Giardino; and middle grade readers would enjoy Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan also about the life of Pablo Neruda.

Can you recount a specific instance of when poetry impacted a student or group of students in a positive way?

In 2016, a 15-year-old Black boy, Antwon Rose II, responded to a very common poetry writing exercise known as the "I Am" poem, given to him by his 10th grade teacher. The exercise (below) is used in classrooms across the U.S. to teach students how to get at the multiple ways of writing the self. His teacher asked them to write about an issue larger than himself and he chose police brutality. Two years later, on June 18, 2018, 17-year-old Antwon was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburg. His prophetic poem speaks to the fear and vulnerability that many black and brown boys face because society has deemed them a threat. His poem has inspired me and countless people who believe in working to change the world through poetry.

I AM POEM (Exercise)

First Stanza
I am (2 special characteristics you have)
I wonder (something of curiosity)
I hear (an imaginary sound)
I see (an imaginary sight)
I want (an actual desire)
I am (The first line of the poem repeated)

Second Stanza
I pretend (something you actually pretend to do)
I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)
I tough (an imaginary touch)
I worry (something that bothers you)
I cry (something that makes you sad)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

Third Stanza
I understand (something that is true)
I say (something you believe In)
I dream (something you dream about)
I try (something you really make an effort about)
I hope (something you actually hope for)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

by Antwon Rose II

I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there's only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
I am confused and afraid

I pretend all is fine
I feel like I'm suffocating
I touch nothing so I believe all is fine
I worry that it isn't though
I cry no more
I am confused and afraid

I understand people believe I'm just a statistic
I say to them I'm different
I dream of life getting easier
I try my best to make my dream true
I hope that it does
I am confused and afraid 


Twitter: @mimawrites
Instagram: @aida_writes
Facebook: @aidawrites

Look for two more books forthcoming from Aida Salazar:

The Land of the Cranes, a free verse middle grade novel, tells the story of 9-year-old Betita, who believes that she and other migrants follow an Aztec prophecy to fly as free as cranes. When her father is deported to Mexico and she and her mother are detained by ICE, she turns to writing picture poems as her own way to fly above the deplorable conditions that she and other cranes experience while they are caged. (Fall 2020, Scholastic)

Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Revolutionary Fighter is a biography picture book that recounts the life of a woman who dressed as a man and commanded a battalion of revolutionaries in a fight for religious freedom in the Mexican sierras during Mexico’s Cristero Revolution. (Spring 2021, Scholastic)

Many thanks to Aida for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and to Arthur A. Levine Books for providing me with a copy of The Moon Within for one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Moon Within Giveaway" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 2nd, so be sure to check back to see if you've won!

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Check out the other Classroom Connections posts and giveaways on offer this month by clicking the names below!

Digital art © 2018 by Miranda Barnes,
based on a line from "Ghazal" by Tracy K. Smith.


The best way to keep up with the Classroom Connections series is by subscribing to Today's Little Ditty via email, which you can do in the sidebar. I will also be announcing the posts on social media. Like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter (also in the sidebar) to stay informed that way. Catch up with Classroom Connections posts you may have missed by clicking on the "It's time to INSPIRE" icon in the sidebar, or by visiting my "Poetry in the Classroom" board on Pinterest.

Jama Rattigan has rounded up a rousing collection of National Poetry Month activities, projects, and Kidlitosphere celebrations at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has the latest installment in her story about John and Betsy at The Poem Farm. Join her for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Good Morning Aida and Michelle. I am bookmarking this post. I can't find any one or two or three parts I want to copy and paste into my notebook. I firstly love how Aida recognizes the inherent knowledge and love for poetry in children....and that a return to that knowledge is vital. That actually makes me a bit weepy. I know this in the work that I do. And, because so much of the work I do as . school librarian involves young people of Central America, Middle East and West Africa....I feel the tug of native cultures on these kids trying to look and sound and be the same as everyone else in their American school while being put through those testing situations that are so sanitizing of what makes each a unique person.
    I was in Pittsburgh with my church on a teen mission trip just weeks after Antwon Rose's shooting. It was quite an emotional trip for me--the teens absorbed the news as they do and kept moving forward. I had a lot of reflection moments. I really look forward to this book and how it can be a lifeline for kids that I know face-to-face. Thank you for making sure these words made it out into the world.

  2. I remember sitting next to Aida at the Children's Literature Luncheon at NCTE. What serendipity to meet her and talk writing and poetry. I have a copy of her book (so don't put me into the drawing) and have read it. I regretfully haven't posted about it yet, but intend to. I love what she says here about poetry being innate. I feel this truth passionately when I work with young children.

  3. Thanks for this book suggestion. Fortunately, my library has it on order, so I will be able to read it soon! "My Best Echo" is such a sweet poem about friendship. Love it!

  4. Thank you for this rich, wise post and interview. I, too, have a lot to come back to. Here is a link to the one book Aida mentions - I am off to order it now:


  5. Oh, my. The story of Antwon Rose II (and especially the irony of his poem) just breaks my heart all over again.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post and introducing me to Aida's work. I'm with Mary -- the Antwon Rose poem is too much to bear. What a loss, but what a gift to see what poetry drew from him.

  7. I am so grateful to meet new-to-me, wonderful Aida. I echo so many previous comments. A rich, intriguing post leaves me wanting to learn more, to do more, to be more for children. They are not statistics, they deserve to dream. I will be reading about Celi soon. Thanks, Michelle.

  8. Wonderful to be introduced to Aida; her passion for reading, writing, and sharing poetry is so inspiring. Antwon's poem is too heartbreaking. . .

  9. I have read about Antwon Rose's 'I Am' poem before, such heartbreak to read & know what happened next. I've put Aida's book(s) on my list, will share this post so full of wonderful ideas for the classroom with my former colleagues. Thank you, Aida & Michelle.

  10. I hadn't heard of this book, but it sounds so very good. I enjoyed the I am poem exercise as well.

  11. Thank you, Michelle, for this amazing post! Aida's wise words will be echoing in my mind for weeks to come, as will Antwon Rose's powerful poem.

  12. Thanks for this rich post and sharing Aida Salazar, and her new book, "The Moon Within" Michelle. Sounds like an intriguing and timely story. And thanks Aida for all the poetry inspiration you've offered for young poets. The loss of Antwon Rose, is one of many tragic losses that need to end, thanks for sharing his moving "I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!" poem.

  13. Thank you for introducting Aida and her writings to me. I will be looking for them--and for many of the resources shared.

  14. Wonderful teacher tips. Some of these make me miss being in the classroom. It would be fun to try them. The book looks wonderful. Thanks for the post.

  15. What an important post! Such poignant subject matter in The Moon Within. I look forward to reading this and Aida's other work. Thank you for introducing her to me.