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Poetry for Hope and Healing with Naomi Shihab Nye’s Everything Comes Next

Everything Comes Next

Written by Naomi Shihab Nye

ISBN: 0063013452

Published in 2020 by Greenwillow Books

Book Review

If ever there was a time for poetry as a source of hope and healing, the time is now. As 2020 draws to a close, poetry can be a source of comfort and an impetus for reflection as we continue to face challenges and waves of uncertainty while embracing joyful sites of possibility. In Everything Comes Next, You People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye, has crafted a book of collected and new poems that serves as a welcome respite from the sorrow and suffering of this moment and a source of inspiration for attending to what comes next. An introduction by famed poet and MacArthur Fellow, Edward Hirsch, orients readers to the magic of the poems about to be encountered. He contemplates the ways Nye’s poems center the child’s point of view and childhood itself “not just as a time of life but also as a sacred place, almost a country of its own”. Everything Comes Next is organized in three parts: The Holy Land of Childhood, The Holy Land That Isn’t, and People are the Only Holy Land. Nye delves deeply into her Palestinian American heritage and opens the section “The Holy Land That Isn’t” with a series of poems about her father, Aziz Shihab, whose family lost their home in Jerusalem. She concludes with a section of poems that focus on people whose histories, stories, and inner lives Nye makes sacred. This breathtaking collection of poetry will kindle a sense of hopefulness for those of us that need it most and will inspire readers of all ages to care for each other, creating deeper understanding of the power we have to help each other heal. 

Grades 4-10

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Poems that Speak to the Heart. Select poems from Everything Comes Next for an immersive experience with Nye’s poetry. Either by spreading poems around the room on students’ desks or by organizing them in a digital collection for students to view, invite students to read across her poems with the sole intent of finding a poem that speaks to the heart. Have students engage in a small group with others who selected the same poem to discuss what drew them to that poem. Engage in a class discussion about how Nye’s poems speak to them directly. Use this as an opportunity to develop an ongoing Anchor Chart of Jamboard on the ways Nye uses structure, sound, and word choice to convey a feeling or to spark a response in us as readers. 

Bringing Poems to Life: Reading and Reciting Poetry. Invite students to read aloud or recite from memory the poems that they selected from the immersive experience of finding poems that speak to their heart. Create a physical or Google calendar as an invitation for students to self-select days when they want to read aloud or recite a poem with a focus on using their voice to convey feeling, mood, and significance. Encourage students to slow down their voices and attend to tonality and pacing. Remind students that powerful speaking often comes from intentional practice. View Naomi Shihab Nye reading some of her poems aloud as a mentor text for students to strengthen their reading and recitation. Invite students to video their readings and recitations to create a private, class Youtube channel dedicated to poetry. Then have students view the videos to offer compliments to one another and to engage in self-reflection about how their voices bring poetry to life. 

Poem a Day and Poem Pairings. As an alternative to an immersive experience, select one poem each day from Everything Comes Next for a period of a few days or weeks.  Then, invite students to suggest poems that complement those poems by researching poems on digital sites such as the Poetry Foundation and the American Academy of Poets site where they can search by topic, form, or poet. Use student-selected poetry pairings as a way to further discussion about what students notice about the different poems selected. How do different poets use craft techniques and language choices to convey similar feelings or to address similar topics or issues?

Your Life is a Poem: Mentor Poems. Naomi Shihab Nye draws from her own childhood, her family, her heritage, and her homeland to craft her poetry collections. What do we learn about what matters to Nye? How do her words help us understand what she believes? How does she encourage us to consider our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world through her poems? Support students to closely read the “Slim Thoughts” at the end of the collection. What advice on writing does Shihab have that students find helpful? Start a class anchor chart, Jamboard, or Google document with nuggets of wisdom that Nye offers. Support students to use poems from Everything Comes Next as mentor texts for writing about their own lives or to write about the life of a character. How can they adopt or adapt her choices as a writer to craft their own poems? Invite students to attend to the details of line breaks, the length of stanzas, the use of repetition, white space, alliteration, and titles to make decisions drawing from Nye’s influence. Gather student favorites in a print or digital class “Everything Comes Next” collection. Consider unveiling the class collection through a special event such as a hot chocolate house mirrored after coffeehouse readings or through a special Zoom or Google Meet virtual event that includes families near or far to join in the celebration. 

Duet Model: Everything Comes Next and Cast Away. Pair Everything Comes Next with another collection of Nye’s from 2020, Cast Away: Poems for Our Time. Support students to select poems about everyday things we often overlook that are reimagined through Nye’s keen attention. Draw students’ attention to poems such as “Sifter” (Everything Comes Next), a poem about a household kitchen object, and “Two” (Cast Away), a poem in honor of the lowly button, as examples of poems that lift up objects, however trivial they may seem at the surface. Invite students to select an everyday object from their life to reimagine whether it be a simple household item like a sifter or a cast away button. Share examples from your own life. What are the everyday objects that could use some praise and attention? Once students have selected an object, support them to list characteristics or qualities of that object using descriptive language and see where their words take them. Support students to consider connections to the mindfulness concept of living in the moment. How does a close study of our surroundings foster an appreciation of the every day.  

Structuring a Poetry Collection: What is Holy.  Have students consider Nye’s choices to organize the book in three parts that explore the concept of what is holy with an emphasis on the ways we can love this world and one another with an appreciation for what is sacred. In what ways does Nye draw on her own spiritual life in her poems? What do the poems in the first section reveal about how Nye values the holiness of childhood and children? What do students learn about the sorrow and beauty of her family’s homeland, Palestine, in the section “The Holy Land that Isn’t”? What do students think Nye means through the title of the third section that “People are the Only Holy Land”? Discuss with students how they define holy in comparison or contrast to how Nye defines it. Have students select poems that help them better understand the ways in which people and places can be considered holy.  

Defining Happiness: Imagery and Figurative Language. Support students to closely read Nye’s “So Much Happiness”. In what ways does she define happiness through imagery and figurative language such as in the lines “But happiness floats” and “Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing.”? What language on happiness speaks to students the most? Invite students to write their own poems that explore the concept of happiness drawing on Nye’s craft techniques. You may want students to use the first line of the poem as a prompt for their own poems: “It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.” 

Listening Closely for Where Poetry Hides. Several of the poems in Everything Comes Next are rooted in Nye’s capacity for listening closely to the words of others as source material. Invite students to notice poems in the collection that draw from Nye’s rich life of listening to the voices of others, particularly children, such as “One Boy Told Me”, “How to Paint a Donkey”, and “Boy and Mom at the Nutcracker Ballet”. Discuss the techniques Nye uses for bringing the words of others to life in meaningful ways for others. Invite students to attend to their listening lives as source material for their own poetry by keeping a listening notebook. Model with your own listening life and the ways you moved from notes to poetry. Then, invite students to mine their listening notebooks for the seeds of poetry. 

Poet Study: Naomi Shihab Nye’s Collected Works. Listen to excerpts of Naomi Shihab Nye’s interview with Krista Tippet on the podcast On Being. In it, she discusses her poem “Kindness” at length. Invite students to discuss what that poem and her interview have to teach us about the complexity of kindness and its connection to sorrow. Then gather other books of poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye including Cast Away: Poems for Our Time, This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, and Red Suitcase. Support students to identify other poems that explore the complexity of the human conduction. Invite them to notice and wonder about other topics she writes about and the sources of inspiration she draws from to support readers to live whole-heartedly from a place of compassion.  

Poet Laureates. Investigate the Young People’s Poet Laureate site dedicated to Naomi Shihab Nye. What do students learn about this honor? In what ways does Nye’s poetry “raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience”. View the short film embedded in the site based on Nye’s poem “Famous” and discuss how the poem and film meditate on our human desire to be seen and fully recognized. Invite students to explore this theme across the poems in Everything Comes Next. Then, support students to learn more about the National Youth Poet Laureate competition and past winners. What do students notice and wonder about the poets selected and what their work offers the world? Some states also have youth poet awards. Research whether your state has that recognition and investigate with students the criteria and steps to apply. 

Further Explorations

Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Out Loud: Naomi Shihab Nye

On Being Episode with Naomi Shihab Nye

PBS Special on Naomi Shihab Nye: Poetry Everywhere

Academy of American Poets

Poetry Foundation

Poem Hunter

National Youth Poet Laureate


Nye, N.S. (2020). Cast away: Poems for our time. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Nye, N.S. (2018). Voices in the air: Poems for listeners. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books. 

Nye, N.S. (1996). This same sky: A collection of poems from around the world. New York, NY: Aladdin.

Nye, N.S. (1994). Words under the words: Selected poems. Portland, OR: The Eighth Mountain Press. 

Nye, N.S. (1994). Red suitcase. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions Limited. 

*use the search bar in the blog to find other poetry collections and poetry picturebooks we have written about in the past*

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.