Kalli Dakos has been celebrating the school world since the release of her best-selling book, If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand, Poems About School. Jim Trelease writes in his Read-Aloud Handbook, “I know of no single book that captures the pulse of the elementary school world the way this collection does.”
She has written many collections of school poems. These include five IRA-CBC Children’s Choice selections – Our Principal Promised to Kiss a Pig, If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand, Don’t Read This Book Whatever You Do!, The Goof Who Invented Homework, and The Bug in Teacher’s Coffee.
Her new book, A Funeral in the Bathroom, is built around the idea that “There should be a place/kids can go/when life has dealt/another blow.” From “Blabbermouth” to “Flushophobic” to “There’s a Sock in the Toilet,” Kalli’s poems reveal the funny – and sometimes poignant – stories that take place in an elementary school bathroom. Marc Beech’s zany illustrations perfectly express the ups and downs of school life.
Kalli visits schools all over the United States and Canada, and is now working internationally in schools as far away as Hong Kong.
As a former teacher and reading specialist, she uses her educational background to design school visits that provide sound reinforcement for standards of learning disguised as high-energy fun and filled with audience participation.
Her huge selection of props and toys pulls in even the most reluctant readers and writers and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Everyone becomes involved in the drama of the elementary school world.
Children discover a goldmine of writing possibilities, from the pencils on their desks to the secrets in their hearts. Teachers, principals, custodians, secretaries and parents are all encouraged to read, write, and perform poetry along with the students.
When we operate from within the spirit of childhood, we have our greatest power as educators.
Kalli’s books and school/conference programs are a celebration of this spirit.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kalli
These questions were asked by Callie and Leslie at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County. We hope other students and teachers will find answers to their questions here.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on June 16, 1950. I lived in Canada until I was twenty-seven years old. Then I moved to the United States and have lived here ever since. Two summers ago I bought a home in Ottawa, and now I split my time between the country of my birth and my adopted country.
What college did you go to?
I attended four colleges:
- Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (Bachelor of Arts Degree and Bachelor of Education Degree)
- The University of Nevada at Reno (Master of Arts Degree)
- The University of Alberta at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Courses towards my Master of Arts Degree)
- Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (Courses in Journalism and Writing)
What were your main interests as a child?
I loved riding my bike, jumping rope, exploring the woods near my home, playing board games, building forts in the snow, ice skating (a favorite), skiing, sliding, reading and writing, and playing with my sisters and friends. I had pen pals all over the world, and loved to "play school" as often as possible. I was always the teacher and my three sisters were always the students. I directed plays and Christmas shows, ran mini-summer camps, and organized activities for younger children in my neighborhood.
Can you explain about your family and what people played important roles in your life?
My father was my first and best storyteller. He would tell stories at every meal, whenever we drove in the car, and before we went to bed. I loved listening to them. Unfortunately, he died when I was only twelve-years-old, but I never forgot his stories.
I had three younger sisters who were always my "students" when we played school and I directed them in plays and productions all the time. I also read them stories because I loved to read orally.
My Aunt Irene had so many books in her bedroom that she didn't have enough room for a bed, so she would turn a sofa into a bed every evening. I loved her bedroom and her books, and she inspired me to want to become a reader just like her.
When did you first try to get your writing published and how did you go about it?
It was in 1979 that I began to work as a professional writer. I read all kinds of books on "how to get stories and articles published" and I started to send out my own stories to magazine editors. In the beginning, I received many "rejection letters" but finally my stories began to be accepted for publication. I was also writing for the local newspaper at the time and taking courses in journalism at Syracuse University.
Several years later I decided to submit my material to book publishers. It took over five years and over one hundred rejection letters to get my first anthology of poetry, If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand, published.
For how many years have you been a writer and a teacher (and which were you first)?
When I graduated from university, I began my career by teaching fifth and sixth grades. I have been a teacher for twenty-eight years and a professional writer for twenty-one years. I was both a writer and a teacher for many of these years, and even though I don't have my own school anymore, I continue to teach through workshops, school visits and conventions.
What did you major in and minor in in college?
My major was in English and elementary education, and my minor was in psychology.
Did you have any other dreams that you did not pursue?
I have pursued many of my dreams, but I would like to write a television or movie script one day and do stage productions of my poems about school.
Did you have an interest in teaching children older than 6th graders?
I love teaching at all levels, even at the college level. For several years I taught remedial reading and writing courses at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling and I just loved it. But, I must admit that I enjoy working with children the best of all.
What is your favorite style of poetry to write?
I love poems with simple rhyme schemes, and lately I have been working on poems that can be written in different shapes. When I am writing very serious poems, I often write them in free verse.
Where do you get your ideas for writing poetry?
All I have to do is open my eyes in a school and listen very carefully to everything teachers and students say, and I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write. I'm working on poems about pencils and I have a whole book of poems about the funny things that happen in elementary school bathrooms.
This evening I took a walk and it looked like there were a million diamonds sparkling on the snow. I had to come home and write a poem.
The ideas are everywhere!!!!!!
Did you write poetry for kids before you had your own children?
I have always loved to write poetry, but it took me many years to see all the wonderful poetry ideas in my school. After my daughter was born I took a few years to concentrate on my writing. When I went back to teach again, it was as if I had on a pair of "magic glasses" because I could see the poetry ideas everywhere in my school.
How many children do you have and are they interested in writing like you?
I have one daughter who is presently at the University of Toronto. She is a wonderful writer, but will probably go into writing scripts for movies and plays.
If you had to sum up your life in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
My poetry reminds me to have fun, to celebrate life, to take time in nature, to listen carefully to children and teachers and to look inside my heart for the answers to important questions. I have been fortunate to travel all over the United States and Canada to share my poems with teachers and students and to celebrate their school stories. I love the quote in Dead Poet's Society that says:
"One reads poetry because he is a member of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, banking -- these are necessary to sustain life. But poetry, romance, love and beauty. These are what we are alive for."
Poetry has been one of the greatest gifts in my life!!!!!