Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Classroom Connections with Alexandria Giardino


Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse

Alexandria Giardino, Author
Felicita Sala, Illustrator

Cameron Books (October 9, 2018)
ISBN: 978-1944903343

For grades K-5

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A poetic, beautifully illustrated picture book inspired by Ode to the Onion by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–1973). Pablo has a lunch date with his friend Matilde, who shows the moody poet her garden. Where Pablo sees conflict and sadness, Matilde sees love and hope. The story is less a biography of Neruda and his muse, Matilde Urrutia (1912–1985), and more a simple ode to a vegetable that is humble and luminous, dark and light, gloomy and glad, full of grief and full of joy—just like life.


Click on image to enlarge.

Text copyright © 2018 by Alexandria Giardino. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Felicita Sala.

"Luminous onion," Pablo proclaimed, lifting the onion up high,
"sad things have always made me cry, but you have made me cry tears of joy!
For that, I will celebrate you as only a poet can. With an ode!"

© 2018 Alexandria Giardino, all rights reserved.


Alexandria Giardino's first picture book, Ode to an Onion, was inspired by the poet Pablo Neruda and is a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2018. Two more children's books are forthcoming in 2020. Alex lives in northern California, where she teaches creative writing and rides her mountain bike all over Mt Tam. In addition to her books for children, Alex's writing has appeared in the Village Voice Literary SupplementMs., Marie Claire, The American Poetry Review, and on air at KQED.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Poetry is song and dance and feelings and sparkling perfect words, all at once. Poetry blows open possibilities, our imaginations, our hearts.

Kids know poetry already because they know music and they have feelings.

Poetry allows kids to have a new way to communicate their hearts to others.

Poetry creates magical ah-ha moments.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

Ode to an Onion can be used from kindergarten through 5th grade because it has a level of maturity within it.

In lower grade levels, the book can be used to talk about opposites and pairs, such as the feelings of sadness and happiness, light and dark, Matilde and Pablo.

In higher grade levels, it can be used to talk about odes and as a platform for writing them. It can be also used in combination with Monica Brown’s picture book biography of Pablo Neruda to teach about the great Latin American poet and his life.

It can also be part of a school’s gardening program, in which the kids can search for inspiration in their garden and write about what they found.

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

Writing Odes with Pablo

1. Pre-reading exercises:
  • define and discuss key terms, such as "ode," "poet," and "inspiration"
  • walk-through the story, What does the cover suggest to you? What do the colors and images suggest? Where will this story take place? How many characters do you see?
2. Read or give a quick run through Ode to an Onion

3. Reflect on the story by asking, what happened? How did Pablo feel in the beginning? What changed for Pablo? Why? What did he do to show his change?

4. Discussion and Idea Generation for Ode Writing
  • ask kids to share what makes them happy when they feel sad, list their ideas on a board
5. Show simple examples of two or three short odes

6. Ask kids to write down three things on their own sheets of paper:
  • something or someone that makes them happy that they want to celebrate in an ode
  • three adjectives that describe their topic
  • three reasons the thing or person makes them happy
  • a question they would like to ask of their person or thing that makes them happy
7. Time for writing odes  (See attached powerpoint: How to Write an Ode)

8. Share with a read-a-loud

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

Add music, sing songs, pay attention to the lyrics. Remind kids poetry is already everywhere, even in the songs they sing.

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

I have been teaching poetry to adults and children for twenty years. The instances pile up: so many moments when my students used metaphors and compressed combinations of words to convey tremendously big ideas and feelings.

Here’s one: a child used a poem to talk about loving a pet that had passed away. 

Another: kids in a bilingual workshop laughed as we played with Spanish and English words in our poems, which normalized the languages they speak every day and allowed them to communicate feelings by using their favorite words in each language.


Website: www.alexgiardino.com
Twitter and Instagram: @Alex__Giardino
Facebook: Alex Giardino

Look for two more books forthcoming from Alexandria Giardino:

The Good Song is about IZ Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” (Cameron Kids, Spring 2020)

Me + Tree is the story of a girl and a tree stump that comes back to life because of the girl’s friendship. (Creative Editions, Fall 2020)

Many thanks to Alex for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and for offering a copy of Ode to an Onion to one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Ode to an Onion Giveaway" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by the end of TODAY, 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.


  1. Good Morning Alexandria and Michelle. What a beautiful idea and delivery of a book for young people. My favorite thing Alexandria said is, "Poetry is song and dance and feelings and sparkling perfect words, all at once. Poetry blows open possibilities, our imaginations, our hearts."
    Yesterday, I was working with students and poetry and as they left the classroom, I said, "Thanks for playing today" and I meant it. The play involved in poetry can just make a body FEEL stronger, brighter, more alive. I look forward to reading this book!

  2. This is one I've missed, will look for it at my library. I love the idea about the bilingual workshop, using different favorite words, and look forward to the coming book, The Good Song is about IZ Kamakawiwo’ole. I play that on YouTube once in a while for an uplift to the day. Thanks, Michelle and Alexandria!

  3. Can't believe I missed this beauty as this is one of my favorite Neruda poems.

    "I have praised everything that exists,
    but to me, onion, you are
    more beautiful than a bird
    of dazzling feathers ..."

    Thank you , Alex and Michelle.

  4. What a marvelous idea for a picture book, and those illustrations are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  5. Simply love this picture book idea and amazing illustrations! Would be great for homeschooling, as well. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Thanks for sharing this one, Michelle--new to me, and I will look for it at the library. I love Alexandria's description of poetry: Poetry is song and dance and feelings and sparkling perfect words, all at once. Poetry blows open possibilities, our imaginations, our hearts. Perfection!

  7. I love Neruda's poetry AND this book! We were fortunate to have Alexandria share Ode to an Onion at Kidquake last year. Poetry speaks to everyone in such subtle ways.

  8. Thank you so much for all the great lesson ideas! So helpful! This book looks amazing! :-)

  9. I'm with Liz. Your entire monthg's interviews and highlight is teacher gold and I will be sharing! Janet Clare F.

  10. What a wonderful idea for a picture book. Thanks for the lesson ideas and a terrific post.

  11. I am so happy to see that poetry books are selling! This one looks amazing. I have loved Neruda ever since seeing the movie, THE POSTMAN. Wonderful to have a tribute to him geared for kids.

  12. I love teaching about Neruda and his Odes to Simple Things. My students enjoy writing odes. I appreciate the slide show with such wonderful specific directions for writing. I've saved it for classroom use. This whole month has been so rich with wonderful ideas and activities. Thanks, Michelle, for doing this series. I know it took time and dedication.