Friday, April 26, 2019

Classroom Connections with Allan Wolf

Before we begin today's interview with the fabulous Allan Wolf, just a few words as National Poetry Month draws to a close.

THANK YOU to the generous authors and editors who put so much time and care into these Classroom Connections posts! Nearly all of them have also offered copies of their books or arranged for giveaways through their publishers.

I know this month can be super busy for many of us, but if you haven't yet entered yourself in these giveaways (by emailing me or leaving a comment on the individual posts), please do so by Tuesday, April 30th! There's a list of links at the bottom of today's post.

And don't miss two more giveaway opportunities this coming Monday and Tuesday: Helen Frost's Hello, I'm Here (plus bonus books) and Alexandria Giardino's Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse.

On a personal note, thank you also to the TLD readers who have been showing their appreciation throughout this month. Next Friday we'll be back to our regular Ditty of the Month Club format with a new Spotlight ON interview and DMC challenge. I'm looking forward to writing poetry with many of you again. :)


The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems to Take You into Space and Back Again

Allan Wolf, Author
Anna Raff, Illustrator

Candlewick Press (March 5, 2019)
ISBN: 978-0763680251

For 3rd-6th grade and up

Purchase at
Purchase at Barnes & Noble
Purchase via


Ever wonder what the sun has to say about being the closest star to Earth? Or what Pluto has gotten up to since being demoted to a dwarf planet? Or where rocket ships go when they retire? Listen closely, because maybe, just maybe, your head will explode, too. With poetry that is equal parts accurate and entertaining—and illustrations that are positively out of this world—this book will enthrall amateur stargazers and budding astrophysicists as it reveals many of the wonders our universe holds. Space travelers in search of more information will find notes about the poems, a glossary, and a list of resources at the end.


Click on image to enlarge.

Text copyright © 2019 by Allan Wolf. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Anna Raff.
From THE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD (Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA).


Two time winner of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award, as well as Bankstreet College’s prestigious Claudia Lewis Award for Poetry, Allan Wolf is the author of picture books, poetry, and young adult novels. Wolf’s books for young people showcase his love of research, history, science, and poetry. His latest YA novel, Who Killed Christopher Goodman?, is based on the murder of a high school friend during the summer of 1979. His latest book of poems for kids, The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space and Back Again, is now in bookstores, just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the Landing on the Moon!


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Poetry is one of the most useful tools teachers can have in their toolbox. Poems provide fun, engaging, easy-to-read mentor texts that can be re-read and reviewed and lingered over with ease. Poems provide a "showcase" of the many ways language (both poetry and prose) can relate information, ideas, and emotions. Poems encourage higher-level thinking through metaphorical language that cause the reader to better understand cause/effect, similarities, and differences. Poems can model extraordinary ways of looking at ordinary things. Poems can transform extraordinary things into ordinary language.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

To create the poems in my book I transformed informational text from my research into creative text in the form of poems. But the main information remains the same. Any fiction in the creative text arrises from the facts of the informational text. So you can start with facts and create poetry. Or start with the poem and go backward, gathering facts from the context clues a long the way.

The poem "Going the Distance" is a great introduction to the ways we measure distance through the passage of time. Teachers can incorporate mathematical calculations when determining distances within our solar system.

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

Research a specific planet or other celestial body (comet, asteroid, star, meteorite, galaxy, etc). Then use personification to write a poem in the voice and point of view of that celestial body. Or write a two-voice poem depicting a conversation between two celestial bodies.

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

Here are a few of my tried and true favorite tips:

Memorize a new poem to show your students how easily it can be done. Share a poem you really love, then explain WHY you love it. Your own modeling goes very far. Allow poems to introduce that day's topic of discussion or theme. Don't pick the poem apart, just share it. Never ask your students, "What does this poem mean?" Instead allow them to experience the poem in order to create meaning through authentic interaction with the poem. Have your students look for C.A.S.T (Character, Action, Setting, and Topic or Theme). Then transform the poem into a script for readers theatre or a fully staged production.

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

I was visiting a 6th grade Life Science class in Seoul, South Korea. Although English was not the students primary language, they were able to write poems to accompany an anatomy chart they were creating. They positioned poems directly onto the body chart. A poem about the brain was revealed, in "lift-the-flap" fashion. A poem about the intestines curled around the intestines. Etc. The poems were not graded for literary merit, but simply on whether or not they included 3 or more facts about the topic. The kids were so engaged, it inspired me to write my own book of anatomy poems, The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts.


Twitter and Instagram: @allanwolf100

Look for Who Killed Christopher Goodman? (Candlewick Press), Allan Wolf's latest verse novel based on the 1979 murder of a high school friend.

Many thanks to Allan for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and to Candlewick Press for offering a copy of The Day the Universe Exploded My Head to one randomly selected TLD reader! (US and Canadian addresses only.)

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Universe 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!

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

The incomparable Carol Varsalona has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink.


  1. Good Morning Michelle & Alan. Thank you for your conversation today. I think I've been using CAST without realizing it. I like to ask students to take a poem and then create a graphic novel page(s) to illustrate it. It's a wonderful way of connecting what they see in their head to the words. Acting it out is similar. I have to had me at the word "research". Oh, do I love research. The careful documentation escapes me sometimes. But, finding those gem facts is like a payday. Enjoy the success of this book! I think my middle schoolers would love it.

  2. It is a fabulous book, using the outer space facts to entertain and educate. I learned about the space/time here better than I had before. Don't put me in the drawing; I have Allan's book & love it. I enjoyed hearing about those anatomy poems right on the chart! Thanks, Allan & Michelle!

  3. Hey there Allan! I am so happy you are here today. Allan and I have met a few times because my library and arts council love him and bring him in on occasion. Allan's workshops with kids are straight up fun with acting, singing, and even juggling. If you haven't seen him in action, you should! I can't wait to get my hands on this book. My gifted students will love reading and writing planetary poetry.

  4. This book looks fabulous! I found it on order at my library and can't wait for it to arrive.

  5. By now, you and Allan know that I loved this interview starting with the quote:
    "Poetry is one of the most useful tools teachers can have in their toolbox. Poems provide fun, engaging, easy-to-read mentor texts that can be re-read and reviewed and lingered over with ease." I have tweeted this out already. Teachers of science may find easy-to-use activities here. Thanks for the great inteview.

  6. I can remember it so much easier in poem form! It's just so natural. Thanks for this interview and chance to win Allen's book. It is a winner!

  7. What a fun idea for a poetry collection. I will check it out. I especially like the teacher's tip about using a poem for a readers theatre. Thanks for the post.

  8. Love those practical tips for teachers incorporating poetry into the classroom. So achievable! And so valid. (It is the #PoetryFriday community that has got me past my own fear of poetry - brought on by ... 'What does it MEAN?'! As a poet I was scared of others' poems (especially free verse) because I often didn't know if I was right in my interpretations of the poem. Now I know it's more important to know how it makes me FEEL - and where it takes me!)

  9. Fascinating book, and wonderful ideas for finding out what's happening in a poem, I especially like the idea of looking for "C.A.S.T (Character, Action, Setting, and Topic or Theme)," and then turning the poem into a performance. Thanks Michelle and Allan!

  10. Thanks for another fabulous edition of Classroom Connections! I think Allan's book needs to be in every Ohio 5th grade classroom for our study of the space science!

  11. Great interview! Saving those tips asap. Love the anatomy poems story. I saw a cake yesterday that looks like the universe when you cut into it: Amazing!

  12. Thank you Michelle and Allen! This book looks like so much fun as well as packed with information.

  13. I am excited to own and share Allan's latest. I agree totally with his tips and wisdom about sharing poems. Another gem of a post. Thanks again, Michelle.

  14. Thank you so much! Your website is filled with so much fun and helpful info for teachers and students! I'm now a subscriber! Yay! I can't wait to learn about more of your wonderful work! :-)