Where I’m From Book Assessment

I came across the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, an American author from Kentucky, who has published in many genres, including picture books, poetry, juvenile novels, and articles.:

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.

I am from the dirt under the back porch.

(Black, glistening,

it tasted like beets.)

I am from the forsythia bush

the Dutch elm

whose long-gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,

          from Imogene and Alafair.

I’m from the know-it-alls

          and the pass-it-ons,

from Perk up! and Pipe down!

I’m from He restoreth my soul

          with a cotton ball lamb

          and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,

fried corn and strong coffee.

From the finger my grandfather lost

          to the auger,

the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures,

a sift of lost faces

to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments–

snapped before I budded —

leaf-fall from the family tree.

The poem has so much vivid imagery. The moments are also metaphors and requires students to make inferences reading and rereading the poem. The reader gets a clear picture in their mind of the childhood farm George Ella Lyon grew up on in Kentucky. The poem highlights the role of family, culture and childhood help to develop ones sense of identity.

My students read the poem silently first and then I read the poem aloud. After hearing the poem and reading the poem students sketched an image that stood out from their understanding of the poem. Students shared their sketches with their elbow partner.

Students were asked to work in small groups to deconstruct the poem:

  1. Go back into the poem and count how many times the lines begin with “I’m from…”
  2. Find a sensory description with vivid imagery using smell, touch, taste, or sight
  3. Find a metaphor and decipher it’s meaning
  4. Identify the memories vs. present time
  5. What else do you notice?

After ten minutes we returned back to the large class to discuss our findings. We discussed how each of the choices that Lyon made when writing her poem were significant, small items in her life that helped to shape who she was. T.

Now I love the idea of students creating their own “Where I’m From” poems about themselves but since we have been reading choice novels about identity, I had students create an “I Am From” poem based on the protagonist in their reading book. Students were asked to think of significant items in the protagonists life, things that helped shape their identity, family beliefs that molded what they believe, and a description of their place within their family using figurative language. The results were awesome.

The first student example is based on Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue:

I am from a land that no longer welcomes me

A country where I cannot return, despite all the people demanding I do

Surviving, not thriving, in a new land that is almost as welcoming

Stuck with a name that isn’t my own

Where it is normal for me to leave school bloody and beaten

Working with classmates who refuse to acknowledge who I am

Who continuously mix up my home country with another, collectively deciding to turn away and disregard the differences

I am from a mom who is stronger than any hero

A sister who’s as smart as a textbook, but as cold as my favorite ice cream

We don’t talk anymore, all that’s left behind are memories

And even those are fading

I am from a step-dad who beats my mom to a pulp, but also keeps us afloat

A biological dad who decided we weren’t worth the trouble

Who moved on without a second glance in our direction

I am from riches and wealth, turned to dirt and no lunch

I am from a wonderful childhood, cut too short

Forced to grow up too soon

Missing my culture that encourages respect 

Unlike my new home, where respect is scarce 

Trying to keep my light alive by cracking jokes, although they are always met with silence

I am from everyone I had to leave behind

Everything I couldn’t save

Everyone I couldn’t protect 

I am one with the stories of the past, only true to me

Built from the everlasting tales, allowing me to live and learn

I am from a jasmine house where the memories are fond and my life began

Reminiscing in the scent of flowers, swans, sapphire blue rivers, and chests full of gold doubloons

I am from everywhere, everyone, and everything

A mosaic 

A reflection

A montage of the past

A collection of moments

Here is another student example based on Elizabeth Acevado’s Poet X:

My family is from the small religious island of the Dominican Republic

Where my Mami fled for America

But I am from the city

Where nobody sleeps

The part of Harlem where creepy men lurk at every corner 

I am from a school just a train ride away

Where most students skip class and fool around 

I am from a town that sees me not as a person but an object to mess around with

My life welded to live invisible, trying to hide from all those demanding to play with me 

I am from a life in which I can trust only me to stick up for myself

I am from a family in which respect is nowhere to be found

From disappointed looks and lecturings parties

From church every Sunday and an Earth rotating around God

I am from a mother who resorts to violence at every given second and a father who seeks no part in my life 

I am from a safety net that is my twin brother by whom I am connected to by twin powers

Yet from a family in which my gay brother is unjustly unaccepted and my freedom seeking self is restrained by thick chains and barbed wire

I am long gone from the days of the ice skating rinks and peaceful church with Father Sean

No longer remembering the love my Mami and I once shared

I am from a suffering family through and through working to mend our knotted, beaten family back together 

I am a little girl inside a big body who seeks safety and acceptance yet gets met by hatred and harassment

I am a girl who wants everything she’s never supposed to have

Someone who wished for a boy but gets meet by misogyny 

I am from hours of being discriminated against and named a ‘cuero’ and days of questioning who I am 

I am from a tight ship revolving around strict rules

From a confusing and curious brain that goes against my family’s teachings 

And a girl who wishes to write poems peacefully 

From a life scarred by the appalling cent of my burning notebook filled with my problems I never solved 

I am from the secret poetry club restricted by my hate filled Mami and knees that burn from the rice buckets 

From the safe warmth of Ms. Galiano the only women who showed kindness and encouragement

I am from a world of great bravery learning how to express my pain and share my joy

A place in which I shall share my poems freely and safely to the world

I am a woman who shall honor and stay true to herself

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2 thoughts on “Where I’m From Book Assessment

  1. Your students’ poems are amazing!!! They really got to the heart of those characters. I really like that you incorporated sketching in the reflection. I usually start with listening to Mrs. Lyon read her own poem. I found it on the internet somewhere, but I’d be glad to send you the file I I have downloaded if you want.

    • Thank you @johawke. I was completely blown away by my students poems and their ability to see the depth of the characters they read about in these different novels. I have the recording of her reading the poem, at least I think it is her. This is such a great poem activity whether students create their own poems or write a poem based on someone else.

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