I can tell you that Janiel Wagstaff has done it again! In Stella, Poet Extraordinaire, she has managed to use all her experience as a teacher and writer to create two engaging characters that help young writers, as well as teachers, discover the joys of poetry. Stella and her teacher, Ms. Merkley, take readers on a journey through the process of writing poetry, from finding inspiration by taking a poetry walk to a final Poetry Jam where all the poets share their work.
Initially, Stella encounters many of the same struggles with writing poetry (maybe with writing in general) that teachers often see with students – lack of confidence, confusion, and uncertainty. But with Ms. Merkley’s guidance, Stella is able to work through those difficulties and emerge as a poet extraordinaire. As Stella explains: I look more closely at things; I linger so I can pick just the right words for what I’m observing, thinking, or feeling; and I discover thoughts I didn’t know I had when I write poems. Stella is genuine, making her a perfect mentor for young writers.
Ms. Merkley is the kind of teacher we all strive to be. She recognizes the potential in all her students, referring to them as writers from the very beginning. She writes with them, modeling her process (we even get to peek inside her notebook), and recognizes the power of shared writing to build confidence in her students. Ms. Merkley understands that the benefits of poetry are so strong that it should be a part of the writing curriculum throughout the year and extended across the curriculum. As she says:
Starting our year with poetry is perfect because it helps us learn to observe more closely, experiment with words freely, and discover how just a few words on the page can be powerful. Those are important things for writers to take to heart!
Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Merkley demonstrates the compelling link between reading and writing, tucking in poetry breaks throughout the day where she reads short poems to get ideas started.
Janiel has a special way of creating books that are must-haves in the writing workshop. Both teachers and students will embrace Stella and Ms. Merkley as their personal writing mentors, and will soon find themselves hooked on poetry, too.
The Stella Writes books are published by SDE Professional Development Resources.