About Kalli :: Teacher* Poet* Author*
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. 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 that include five ILA-CBC Children’s Choice Selections – A Funeral in the Bathroom, 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.
Kalli’s picture book (co-authored with Alicia Desmarteau), Our Principal Promised to Kiss a Pig, is an introduction to Shakespearean language for young children. Her book of poems, A Funeral in the Bathroom, was a Children’s Choice Book Award Finalist in 2012.
Her newest book, Why Am I Blue? is the sweet story of a blue frog who discovers that he is blue while all the other frogs are green, and wants to understand why he is different. This is a sweet story about identity and self-acceptance and about small answers to big questions. This book was published in 2017 by Magination Press, the children’s book imprint of the American Psychological Association.
Kalli’s next book, co-authored with Deborah Cholette (will be released in the spring of 2019) is the story of a bookmark who is afraid of the scary pictures in books. He attends an advanced training course for bookmarks that helps him develop strategies to deal with his fears. The strategies are based on THE NAVY SEALS training.
Kalli visits schools all over the United States and Canada to encourage children to read and write about the elementary school world. 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, office staff and parents are encouraged to read, write and perform poetry along with the students.
When we teach from within the spirit of childhood,
we have our greatest strength 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 Leslie and Callie at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County, VA.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Ottawa, Canada, and lived in Canada until I was twenty-seven years old. Then I moved to the United States and lived in the states of Nevada, New York and Virginia. Now, I have a home in Ottawa and an office in Ogdensburg, NY, and I split my time between the country of my birth and my adopted country.
What universities did you attend?
- Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Bachelor of Education Degree.
- The University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta and the University of Nevada at Reno for a Master of Arts Degree.
- Syracuse University for graduate courses in journalism.
What were your main interests as a child?
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, tobogganing, reading, writing, and playing with my sisters, cousins and friends. I had pen pals all over the world, and I loved to “play school” as often as possible. I directed plays and Christmas shows, ran mini-summer camps and organized activities for the children in my neighborhood.
Tell us about your family and the people who played important roles in your life.
My dad 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 to listen to the way he wove stories from his imagination for us. Unfortunately, he died when I was twelve-years-old, but I never forgot his stories.
have three younger sisters who were my “students” when we played school, and I directed them in plays and productions. I also remember that I loved to read out loud to anyone who would listen, and my mother was my favorite listener.
My Aunt Irene had so many books in her bedroom that she didn’t have room for a bed, so she would turn a sofa into a bed every evening. I loved looking at all her books, and her great love for literature inspired me 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 by the magazines. 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 reading and writing courses at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling, VA and I 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 different rhyme schemes and shapes, and I enjoy writing poetic mini-plays. 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’ve written over 100 poems about pencils!
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 writing plays and working to bring them to production. She also co-authored Our Principal Promised to Kiss a Pig, and we are writing several other picture books together.
If you had to sum up your life in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
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 thousands of teachers and students.
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!