Thursday, March 19, 2020

Classroom Connections with Randi Sonenshine (Giveaway!)

Ever since 2015, when Randi Sonenshine beat me in Round 3 of Madness! Poetry and went on to the finals, I knew this day would come—and I'm delighted that it has! I can't think of a more perfect way to celebrate the arrival of spring than by introducing Randi's debut poetry picture book The Nest That Wren Built. Beautifully written, this book also boasts gorgeous illustrations by Anne Hunter, whose work I fell in love with back in 2016. Read on to find out how The Nest That Wren Built can (and should) be used in the classroom.


The Nest That Wren Built

Randi Sonenshine, Author
Anne Hunter, Illustrator

Candlewick Press (March 10, 2020)
ISBN: 978-1536201536

For ages 4-8

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The Nest That Wren Built follows a pair of wrens as they build a nest and care for their young, from the first pile of twigs, to the day the fledglings fly off into the world. The lyrical text is woven with scientific details about the nest design and materials, and a glossary and back matter provide additional facts and insights.


Click on image to enlarge. 

THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT. Text copyright © 2020 by Randi Sonenshine.
Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Anne Hunter. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.


Randi Sonenshine grew up exploring the magical “swamp” and woods behind her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, developing an early sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. This love of nature often appears in her writing and poetry.

A former high school English teacher and college reading instructor, Randi is currently a literacy specialist and instructional coach. She lives with her husband, two sons, and a spoiled schnauzer in Northwest Georgia, and does her best writing accompanied by birdsong and a good pot of Earl Grey tea.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Language is the most powerful tool we have, and poetry is one of the most powerful ways to use it; simply put, it’s language distilled in its purest, most potent form. Giving students lots of opportunity to read, recite, explore, discuss, respond, and write has the capacity to nurture a love of language, as well as the knowledge and skill to use it effectively. It can also foster empathy and a sense of connectedness.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

There is a lot of science woven into the book, particularly about the structure and function of the nest, as well as the function of each of the different nesting materials, so it would fit very well in a STEAM curriculum, even in middle school. Other science themes include growth and development (life cycle), animal traits and heredity, patterns in the natural world, and interactions between animals and humans, as well as animals and the environment.

There are also many ways it could be incorporated into the language arts classroom. I’ve used a lot of poetic sound devices, imagery, and figurative language, so it could easily be used to teach or reinforce those concepts. It also has a strong chronological structure, so it could be used to teach sequencing. Using precise language - vivid verbs, adjectives, and nouns - is another way the book could be used in a language arts classroom.

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

Part to Whole Refrain Poem

This is an activity for older children, but could be done with younger children as a whole group.

After reading the book and discussing the structure, go through the first half (up until the nest is built), and have students identify and list the nouns (nesting materials) and corresponding verbs (function), using a two-column chart. To challenge more advanced students, add a middle column and list the adjectives or other descriptors for each item.

For example:

Nesting Material (noun)                              Function (verb)
Twigs                                                                cradle
Bark, twine, rootlets, pine needles             shape

Create a poem together, modeling the process
  1. Have students think of something that is made up of multiple parts. This could be something in the natural world, such as a tree or a coral reef, or something that is manmade, such as a school bus or a bicycle. It could even be a person. Another option is for the teacher to choose the object based on a current area of study. 
  2. Next, have the students brainstorm the parts of the object and their function, using a chart like before. For older, more advanced students, this could be an opportunity for research.
  3. Together, choose a refrain to go at the end of each line. For example: the tree that grows on the playground, or the bike I got for my birthday.
  4. Draft the poem, using the nouns, verbs, and refrain. For example: These are the pedals that turn the wheels on the bike I got for my birthday. (The poem does not need to rhyme, but for older students who would like the challenge, it certainly could.) 
  5. Revise the poem by zooming in on the verbs, using a thesaurus if necessary to make them more precise and using alliteration and/or assonance where possible.
Have students repeat the process to create their own poems then share and celebrate!

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

I think the simplest, yet most powerful way to incorporate poetry in the classroom is to have a poem of the day for the opening routine. These poems should be relatively short (or could be excerpts of longer poems), and represent multiple formats, themes, styles, etc. After reading aloud, (or listening to an online recording of the poet reading aloud), have students do a choral or echo read, and then give them a minute to jot down the words and phrases that resonated with them. Follow this by allowing them to share and briefly explain their choices. For younger students, this can be done as a whole group activity.

In addition to the many wonderful picture book poetry collections and anthologies from which to draw poems, there are some excellent online options. Here are a few of my favorites: (has recordings of poets reading their work)

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

There are many experiences from my 25 plus years in education, but several stand out. I was teaching ninth grade English in 1999 when the Columbine shooting happened. The next day was somber and tense. Students were experiencing such a whirlwind of emotions, and they were struggling to verbalize what they were feeling. I was, too.  Instead of moving forward with the lesson I had planned, we all sat and poured out our feelings in a free-write, and then shaped those thoughts and images into poems. Afterwards, we pulled all the desks in a circle and those who wanted to (which was everyone) shared their poems with the rest of the class. It sparked some very emotional moments and heavy discussion, but it allowed all of us to verbalize what we couldn’t otherwise, and helped us to move forward together.



Stay tuned for more from Randi—a little wren told me she might have some exciting news to share soon!

And here's some exciting news in the meantime...

Please join me in congratulating Randi on her wonderful debut and thanking her for offering a signed copy of The Nest That Wren Built to one lucky Today's Little Ditty reader! To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Wren House" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by Tuesday, March 24th. The winner will be selected randomly and announced next Friday, March 27th.

Click HERE to read more posts in the TLD Classroom Connections series.

Lots of wonderful poems about games were added to the padlet this week! Featured ditties included poems by Kathleen Mazurowski, Bridget Magee, and Dianne Moritz. Click HERE for more information about this month's challenge or to add your poem to the collection.

What a happy surprise to discover that Michelle Kogan, our host for this week's Poetry Friday roundup, is featuring springtime poems from The Best of Today's Little Ditty 2017-2018! Don't miss her beautiful "Ode to Spring Soil" and three more poems by Diane Mayr, Mary Lee Hahn, and Margaret Simon, plus a bonus poem from Michelle called "Mother Spring."


  1. What a fantastic post, thanks Michelle, and Randi–for your gorgeous book in words and images! Loved your suggestions for classroom writing prompts/activities, especially breaking the poems from your book into a chart with nouns and verbs, and then creating their own poems. All the best with your enchanting, info packed book!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Michelle! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

  2. I so enjoyed this interview! I kept interrupting myself to click on links and take notes. I love the suggested activity. Thank you! Many congratulations on this book. I really look forward to reading it.

    1. updating to say I just ordered from Amazon. Can't wait to read!

    2. Wowzers! Many thanks, Linda! I hope it brings some spring cheer into your nest!

  3. Don't put me in the drawing, Michelle. I have Randi's beautiful book & shared it recently too. I am in awe of her use of the perfect science words in her poetry within the book. It is wonderful. And I love seeing the ideal lesson for children that incorporates that, too. Thanks for a great post and to Randi for a lovely book. Wishing you good health these tough days!

    1. Wishing you the same, Linda! Thank you so much for your kind words and for the lovely review on your blog!

  4. What a fantastic post! I loved every word of the interview and am adding THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT to my pile of books I want to read. It is gorgeous!

  5. Thank you both for this wonderful post!

  6. So many great teaching ideas--thanks for the wonderful interview, Randi and Michelle!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Buffy!

  7. Thanks for the inspiration. Such a beautiful book. I once watched a wren make a nest in a potted plant at my parents' home. Fascinating to watch nature at work.

    1. Isn't it??? And they make them in such odd and interesting places! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Margaret! :)

  8. So much goodness in the interview - the teaching tips are invaluable! I'm excited to read this beautiful book the first chance I can. Thank you, Michelle for putting the spotlight on important poets and educators. And thank you, Randi for writing such a gorgeous book and sharing your pearls of wisdom. :)

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Bridget, and for taking the time to stop by and comment!

  9. Randi!!! So happy for you and your beautiful book. I know there will be many more. You are a glorious poet and wordsmith. Thank you for your book giveaway and all of your ideas. I am going to share your link and via email with my teacher colleagues and friends. A bright moment at a hard time. Thanks, Janet Clare F.

    1. Oh, Janet! Your comment just brought me a little spring joy! I am grateful for the kidlit poetry community, especially in times like these. Be well, and thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  10. This book looks BEAUTIFUL, just the kind I like... and your interview was fabulous and led to some very good activities. Thanks so much, Michelle. Best, Karen

    1. Many thanks, Karen! It was a pleasure to work with Michelle on this post. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment. :)

  11. I LOVE cumulative stories! I'm crossing my fingers that I'll win the giveaway, but if I don't, your book is in my (local indie bookstore) cart!

    1. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you! Thanks for your very kind words and for taking the time to stop by and leave a word or two! Stay well!

  12. Great interview with Randi. (Hi, from Maryland!!) I love the noun-verb exercise.

    1. Hello to a fellow Marylander! (It will always be home to me!). Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. :)

  13. HUGE congrats to Randi!!! She's a Southern Breezer (SCBWI) now - ;0) I haven't seen this in person yet (our spring conference just had to move from physical to online), but I look forward to getting my hands on it. Wrens are the best! Great ideas and resources, too - thank you, both!

    1. Awww! Thanks so much, Robyn! I hate that WIK had to be cancelled, but there will be a lot of virtual events going on to maybe make up for that a little. I hope you are well! Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment!