Thursday, September 26, 2019

50 years of David Harrison's poetry!

This week I'm featuring poet David L. Harrison in celebration of his FIFTY YEARS of poetry publishing! How about that? 50 years is quite a milestone! David writes about his beginnings and some milestones along the way-- all with is dry, wry sense of humor. Enjoy! David writes:

My Journey So Far
Waving goodbye as I leave for my first day of school in Ajo,
Arizona at age six.

I meant to become an astronomer. But I was only six and it didn’t pan out. When I was older, seven, I meant to become an artist, but there again, it never happened. What I didn’t mean to become was a writer. But I had an accident when I was a 21-year-old science major at Drury College (now University) in 1959. I’d accidently taken so many science classes that the dean made me enroll in something else my last semester, and I chose a writing course. My professor liked my efforts and said he hoped I would continue writing. A lot happened during the next decade. I became a musician, athlete, husband, father, parasitologist, pharmacologist, and greeting card editor. But not a published author even after ten years of trying and 67 rejections. 

On October 1, 1969 that changed. I held my first book, a picture book called The Boy with a Drum, and knew what I wanted to do with my life. 2019 marks my 50th anniversary since the moment that changed everything. My 97th, 98th, 99th, and 100th books are due out next year. Sometimes I sit in my office looking at my books on the shelf above me and think back over the years at all the wonderful things that have happened to me as a children’s author, and I am grateful. In my heart I’ve been celebrating my good fortune all this year.

Midway through my career, twenty-six years ago, I surrendered to a long-felt desire to develop as a poet. (Back when I was six and carting home astronomy books from the library, I was also making up my first poems.) For three years I read about and wrote only poetry. I wrote about what I observed, heard, felt, lived. I wrote about school and family, diets and hairless bears, a boy who spent his life counting all the stars in heaven and started over. I discovered that the music in my background was influencing how my rhythms evolved. I learned that sometimes syncopation is a good thing; sometimes it worries editors.

Turned out my Midwestern voice, sense of humor, love and respect for nature, and response to the world around me provided me a spot in our nation’s choir of children’s poets. Next year’s titles, After Dark and The Dirt Book, will be my 20th and 21st books of poetry. I work seven hours every weekday. Each year I attend conferences, participate in children’s literature festivals, do book store signings, and visit schools. I’ve learned who I am, what I know, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. I have a wonderful wife, daughter, son, and family. What’s not to love about that? I probably would have been a lousy astronomer anyway.

Okay, this and I’ll stop. My last three books of poetry are summarized here.

A PLACE TO START A FAMILY: Charlesbridge, January 2018
  • One of ten books for K-2 chosen by teachers across the country for this year’s International Literacy Association (ILA) Teachers’ Choice List
  • Chosen by Bank Street College for its Best Children’s Books of the Year 2019
  • National Science Teachers’ Outstanding Science Trade Books
  • Pennsylvania’s Young Reader’s Choice, Awards Program Master List, 2019 – 2020

CRAWLY SCHOOL FOR BUGS: Boyds Mills Press, March 2018
  • Selected by Missouri Center for the Book to represent Missouri at the National Book Fair in Washington D.C., 2018
  • Named by NCTE as a Notable Book of Children’s Poetry, 2019

NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T: Charlesbridge, 2016
  • Starred Kirkus review, 12/1/15
  • Chosen by Society of Midland Authors as best children’s nonfiction book published in 2016
  • NCTE Notable Poetry Book
  • Red Poppy Award nominee, Georgetown, Texas, 2017

Thank you, David, for sharing a few nuggets from an amazing career of 50 years of creating poetry for young people! Now head on over to Library Matters for more Poetry Friday fun!

Thursday, September 19, 2019


It's time for another installment of my "EXTRA! EXTRA!" series. I love this "extra" glimpse into books of poetry that I've enjoyed. It's like the "Director's Cut" of a movie with "behind-the-scenes" nuggets that just extend the experience even further. 'Cause I always want MORE of any book I like! 

This time, it's Elizabeth (Liz) Steinglass who is giving us this glimpse. Her Soccerverse is a big hit this year and I hope you've checked it out. It's so timely with the USA women's soccer team emerging as world champions and with children everywhere playing more and more soccer. Plus, even if you're not a big fan of soccer, her poems really capture the authentic feelings of childhood. The backstory she shares with us below is really insightful. Check it out!

Liz writes:

Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2019) includes 22 poems about all things soccer—the ball, the field, the goal, uniforms, red cards, positions, fans, coaches, etc. Still, there were a few poems in the draft I first sent editor Rebecca Davis that didn’t make it into the final version. Here’s one:   

Is like the second someone hands you
An ice cream cone
And you’re just about to take
Your first

Is like dropping your ice cream
In the dirt
And all you can do
Is watch it

I still like this poem, and Rebecca did too, but in her feedback she said she wanted the collection to focus less on winning and losing and more on the emotional complexity of playing and being on a team. So while this poem came out, new poems about teammates, the coach, and opponents went in. One of my favorite quotes about Soccerversewas from a friend who said, “This is a book about social-emotional learning disguised as a book about soccer.” She had no idea how good that made me feel. I’m not sure about the word disguised, but yes! This is a book about soccer and about feelings.

Thank you, Liz. I feel like I'm in on a secret! And I love that your "sports poetry" is not only about sports after all! 

Now, gather around for the Poetry Friday happenings at Teacher Dance where Linda is hosting us all. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019


It's time for another installment of my "Extra! Extra!" feature. This time poet Cynthia Grady is sharing a poem that did NOT appear in her book, I Lay My Stitches Down, and the back story behind it. 

Cynthia Grady

I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY was published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. It was my first published book. A patchwork quilt is used as an extended metaphor for the entire collection. Each poem is named for a traditional quilt block pattern and each is spoken in the voice of an enslaved individual —except the first and last. Those two poems are spoken by modern day people to bind the work together.

One of my very favorite quilt blocks is called Ocean Waves. When done well, it’s gorgeous, and I wanted to include a poem with that title in a big way. Here is one worked by one of my first quilt instructors, Gai Perry, an extraordinary quilt artist.

When I was in the MA program in children’s literature at Simmons, I heard Tom Feelings speak about his brilliant book, The Middle Passage-- the horrendous leg of the triangular sea journey taken by slave traders from West Africa to the West Indies. I was so taken with Mr. Feelings’ artistry, compassion, and his vision, that I began reading everything I could on the subject.

Ten years later, when writing the poems that make up STITCHES, I wrote drafts of a poem called “Ocean Waves.” I wrote about the Middle Passage. I researched and wrote some more, and couldn’t come up with a satisfying poem.

So then, I thought maybe I could write a poem about the Quaker-owned whaling ships off Nantucket. They took in runaways, and after the whale hunt, let those people go free in the North. A satisfactory poem didn’t come.

Finally, I thought I could write about enslaved and free blacks working side-by-side on the docks in Louisiana or South Carolina, imagining what that might have been like. I did more research. Here is a draft, that I nixed before even submitting the work.

Ocean Waves
I work ports now, hefting crates. ‘Twas the sea
I loved -- prow piercing the waves, swift as a
needle through silk. Slaves, free blacks, Greeks, Dutch,
Portuguese. Working, sweating, whistling as
one. Until I saw a slave ship. Human
cargo with stench of bile rising on shrieks
from below. Darker than the belly of
Jonah’s whale. Born here, I’d never before
seen my countrymen arrive to these shores.
Such rudderless hope. Mad bondage. My kin.

While I was happy with the collection as it was, I was terribly frustrated and sad that I couldn’t include my favorite quilt block.  But a funny thing—I have never been able to sew a satisfying Ocean Waves quilt block either! Too many triangles!

Thanks for sharing so openly, Cynthia!

Now, head on over to Laura Purdie Salas's blog for more Poetry Friday links. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Poetry Friday Party is Here!

Janet (Wong) and I are excited to host Poetry Friday today! As kids and teachers and librarians head back to school, we wish everyone a wonderful year full of learning and laughter and poetry! To get us rolling, here's one of my favorites from our anthology, GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). This one's by a newcomer who is already making a BIG name for herself, Traci Sorell. 

I'm excited that I'll finally get to meet Traci at the upcoming IBBY regional conference and I hope you'll join me there! (IBBY = International Board on Books for Young People and USBBY is the US section of this global group.) It's one of my favorite professional development events of the year (or every other year since it's biennial)! It's a small event with an intimate feel-- almost like a literature "retreat." And each of the speakers (authors, illustrators, poets) mix and mingle with the conference-goers. Most stay for the whole conference and become part of the audience too. It's lovely! And best of all, this is a group that looks at literature with a global focus, so meaningful in helping us think beyond our own borders. I hope you'll consider joining us! Here's the link for more info.

Best of all, there are heaps of poets who will be at the conference! Look at this list (below)!  So, make plans to come to Austin, Texas in October and you won't regret it! 

Now please use the handy InLinkz button below to add your Poetry Friday link and Janet and I'll be visiting your blogs all weekend long! Happy Poetry Friday, one and all!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Poetry Friday Celebration of Lee Bennett Hopkins

Our Poetry Friday community is gathering to remember Lee Bennett Hopkins and to celebrate his work and his legacy. I started by going to my "poetry study" and taking a picture of all Lee's books I have-- a whole shelf's worth!
I also found my copy of Dear One, a book project that Janet (Wong) and I put together 10 years ago when Lee won the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Over 50 different poets contributed to that little book as a tribute to Lee and it's been lovely to revisit those tributes-- as relevant now as they were then. I know Lee was thrilled to receive this little surprise. 

There are so many things to remember and celebrate about Lee-- his lively personality, his critical eye, his big heart, his skilled mentorship, his treasure trove of gossip, his long and loving relationship with Charles, his creativity and productivity, his advocacy of poetry, and so much more. Visit Lee's website to read a bio and check out the video interviews he did with poet and teacher Renee LaTulippe over at NoWaterRiver. They're about the history of poetry for young people and the recipients of the NCTE Poetry Award, but they're also about him, his humor, and his deep knowledge of children's literature. 

And let's not forget the awards he established to promote poetry, poets, and outstanding books of poems for young people:
The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award (I created a "toolbox" for promoting those books here.)
& The Promising Poet Award
& the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Award
These awards will help ensure that Lee's poetry legacy continues. 

And of course his massive body of work is still with us! With more than 100 anthologies of poetry for young people, there's something for everyone. Go get one of Lee's books this week and read the poems aloud to young people you care about. If there's one thing that Lee would ask of us, it would be to share more poetry with more kids more often. Let's go for it!

Finally, here are Lee's words from his autobiographical book, Been to Yesterdays-- a kind of "verse novel" full of emotion and personal experience. As we mourn the passing of this brilliant man and poetry giant, I hope his prayer can "give us strength" to "say good-bye."

Now head on over to the Poem Farm where poet and teacher Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting ALL our Poetry Friday poems and tributes to Lee Bennett Hopkins today. 

Friday, August 09, 2019

Remembering Lee

We lost a legend this week: Lee Bennett Hopkins. This giant of a poet, poetry anthologist, and poetry advocate has had such an impact on the world of children's literature and on me, personally. I want to take a moment to honor his work and celebrate the amazing catalog of his beautiful books and his influence on the poetry community. But I also want to say how grateful to have known him, his twinkle, his toughness, and his encyclopedic knowledge. Thank you, Lee, for sharing your gifts with us.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
(from Poetry People, 2007)
Lee Bennett Hopkins was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 1938 and passed away on August 8, 2019. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and graduated from Newark State Teachers College, now called Kean College in New Jersey. As a child, he read comic books and movie magazines until a teacher inspired him to love reading and theater. 
Hopkins worked as a writer, an editor, and as a curriculum specialist and then became a full-time writer and poetry anthologist in the 1970’s. He has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Kean College and the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for "outstanding contributions to the field of children's literature.” His work has been recognized on countless Notable and best book lists. Called the “The Johnny Appleseed of contemporary children’s poetry,” Hopkins established two major awards to encourage recognition of poetry for young people: the annual Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for a single volume of poetry, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, presented every three years by the International Reading Association to a new poet with two or fewer poetry books published. More recently, he also established the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award administered every three years and “recognizes and encourages the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults.

There are several anthologists who have established excellent reputations for compiling numerous high quality collections of poetry for children. Lee Bennett Hopkins may be the most prolific of all, with over 100 books of poetry to his credit as both an anthologist and as a writer. In fact, he was awarded a Guinness World Record for the most anthologies of poetry for young people. (One of my students, Beth Enochs, pursued this award for Lee!) Lee Bennett Hopkins has also nurtured many new talents in poetry, commissioning up-and-coming poets to write poems for anthologies he compiles. A few of his most popular titles include Good Books, Good Times (HarperTrophy 2000), Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster 1999), Opening Days: Sports Poems (Harcourt 1996), School Supplies: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster 1996), My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster 2000) and Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (HarperCollins 2005) Indeed, as children pore over the dozens of Hopkins anthologies available, they may be inspired to create their own anthologies and even “commission” poems by their favorite friend poets.
Hopkins’ work can be an ideal jumping off point for launching a celebration of poetry with one of his collections about books, reading, language or writing. Good Books, Good Times (HarperTrophy 1990) is one popular example. What teacher, parent, or librarian doesn’t relish emphasizing the joys of reading for children who are still learning the process? This thematic collection is organized around that topic, and it includes Hopkins’ own oft-shared poem “Good Books, Good Times.” Other parallel Hopkins anthologies include Good Rhymes, Good Times (HarperTrophy 2000) and Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening (Simon & Schuster 2004). Also look for Mary Perrotta Rich’s compilation of the bookmark poems composed in celebration of National Children’s Book Week each year and gathered in the collection, Book Poems: Poems from National Children’s Book Week, 1959-1998 (Children’s Book Council, 1998). Children may want to create their own bookmarks with their favorite or original poem about books and reading on them. 
Teachers and librarians find Hopkins’ work helpful because so many of his anthologies are organized around themes or topics that lend themselves to teaching school subject areas. For example, Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry (Simon & Schuster 1994) offers a chronological view of American history through poetry. Combine this with the individual experience found in Joyce Carol Thomas’s, I Have Heard of a Land ( HarperCollins 1995) or one family’s history in Ann Turner’s Mississippi Mud (HarperCollins 1997). Or try Hopkins’ collection, Spectacular Science (Simon & Schuster 1999) which includes science-related poems by writers from Carl Sandburg to Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Children will appreciate both the contextualized vocabulary and the clear imagery found in poems like “What is Science?” by Dotlich. Marvelous Math (Simon & Schuster 1997) includes math-related poems by an assortment of poets, like “Take a Number” by Mary O’Neill. These poems can help clarify terms and concepts, as well as add fun and enrichment to math lessons or tutoring.
We can also pair Hopkins’ thematic collections with fiction or nonfiction books on the same topic for added breadth. For example, link Hopkins’ anthology, It’s About Time (Simon & Schuster 1993) with Kathryn Lasky’s picture book biography, The Man Who Made Time Travel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2003). Children can study how time is measured by scientists versus poets or assemble a collection of various timepieces and measurement devices along with their favorite “time for poetry” poems. 
Lee Bennett Hopkins has also authored biographical and autobiographical writings. Two books about his own life and work include Writing Bug (Richard C. Owens 1993) and Been To Yesterdays: Poems Of A Life (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 1995) told through poems. Two collections about poets and poetry teaching include Pass the Poetry Please (HarperCollins 1986) and Pauses; Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books (HarperCollins 1995). His advice to adults who share poetry with children is simple, but powerful: "Don't dissect poetry, enjoy it … everyday! There shouldn't be a day without poetry --it fits into every area of the curriculum, every area of life.”

P.S. Check Renee La Tulippe's website, NoWaterRiver, for fabulous video conversations between Lee and Renee about the world of poetry for children and major award (NCTE) winners.

For more sharing on this Poetry Friday, go to Nix the Comfort Zone.

Friday, August 02, 2019

EXTRA! EXTRA! Chris Baron and ALL OF ME

It's time for another installment in my "Extra! Extra!" series, inviting poets to share a poem that did NOT end up in their published book-- and provide a bit of backstory about the choice not to include that particular poem. It makes sense that not everything a writer produces ends up in the finished book and yet I'm surprised when it comes to poetry and poem collections or novels in verse. It seems like each poem would be a gem that must be included. And now that I'm seeing poems that have been omitted from finished collections, I'm even more intrigued! It's kind of like watching the "director's cut" of a movie-- with all the richness and detail that can offer. So, here we go with another example of wonderful poems that give us a bit of "extra" enjoyment of an already strong work. 

Here, Chris Baron talks about his new book, ALL OF ME, a moving novel in verse: 

"Ari has body-image issues. After a move across the country, his parents work selling and promoting his mother's paintings and sculptures. Ari's bohemian mother needs space to create, and his father is gone for long stretches of time on "sales" trips. Meanwhile, Ari makes new friends: Pick, the gamer; the artsy Jorge, and the troubled Lisa. He is also relentlessly bullied because he's overweight, but he can't tell his parents―they're simply not around enough to listen.

After an upsetting incident, Ari's mom suggests he go on a diet, and she gives him a book to help. But the book―and the diet―can’t fix everything. As Ari faces the demise of his parents' marriage, he also feels himself changing, both emotionally and physically. Here is a much-needed story about accepting the imperfect in oneself and in life."

Chris writes:

This poem, "First Kiss," was the poem that actually started my MG career--that's a story I usually share at book talks or signings--This poem first appeared in a different collection of poetry, but it captures the innocence and curiosity of the main character, Ari, really well.  In this poem, he is remembering  a first experience he had back when he lived in New York before moving to the Bay Area. In the end, the poem wasn't really needed for the overall story-but it holds a special place in my heart. 

First Kiss

Fat kids don’t have girlfriends.
Friends yes, but not kissing,
not even in third grade.
So imagine my surprise
when once, in the backseat 
of our 77’ Caddy,
on the drive home
from the 3rd grade birthday party,
Tonya, her quiet eyes in mine,
put her braid on my shoulder,
and kissed me, twice. 
The first kiss struck my nose,
then squarely she found my lips. 
The next day at school,
I spent hours staring 
out the window, my shoulder 
bending in memory of the braid.
My fingers pushed against my mouth,
trying to remember the cold
suddenness of her lips and breath
that made me.

In All Of Me, I desperately wanted to capture the beauty of the Bay Area setting, so there were many "snapshot" poems like this that simply melted away into other poems: (much better).

The Mountain

across the street
from the nursery
is soft green
and jagged granite,
spotted with dark green
trees that wind
all the way to Muir Woods.
One day, I think,
I want to go up there
into that mountain.
I wonder if I can do it.

Ari wants to be a cryptozoologist! He identifies so much with the creatures that are somehow outcasts--outliers in a world that demands normal.  There were many extra bigfoot (and other cryptid) poems that didn't make it in.  This one speaks to the legendary Bigfoot myths surrounding Central Park.

Mrs. Goldberg tells us
that world is filled
with stories about Bigfoot,
some creature halfway between
a distant relative or something else.

in Central Park,
on my walk home,
I saw something 
in the wide-armed branches
of an old Beech tree.
A shadow pulled itself 
into a too-high branch,
some unreachable height.
I stopped where the grass
becomes the street
and turned back,
the shadow swung down,
its arms twisting,
the head slightly
tilted, looking at me 
through evening sky. 
I looked at the path,
the dark shapes of trees
like rough curtains
drawing around me.
Still, I wanted to see it up close. 
I felt the calm and the fear
of anything being possible.

They say the smell of Bigfoot
is like rotting flesh, 
like a dog dying,
a gym locker. 
They say that Bigfoot has a cry 
that can silence the forest,
cut darkness in half.
They say that Bigfoot 
is usually kind
but can sometimes be cruel.

I am always looking for Bigfoot.
The impossible creature,
lost in time, 
either so afraid and always hiding,
or maybe brilliant and powerful,
able to hide in plain sight
even though

it's so immense.

Here is a photo of Chris and his kids when he took them to the Bay Area where the book takes place. 
Thank you, Chris, for sharing so generously and for creating this compelling and likable protagonist and sharing his poignant story. Don't miss this honest, heartbreaking and uplifting middle grade novel in verse about body image, family struggles, finding friendship, and self-discovery.

Now head on over to My Juicy Little Universe where Heidi is hosting our Poetry Friday gathering

Thursday, July 18, 2019


I'm continuing my "Extra! Extra!" series, inviting poets to share a poem that did NOT end up in their published book-- and provide a bit of backstory about the choice not to include that particular poem. Did you know that poetry collections and novels in verse are often built upon large selections of poetry and the poet and editor OMIT some of those poems? Yes, indeed! And of course poems may also be edited, moved around, and expanded too. But I'm always curious about that initial selection of poems that MIGHT become a book and how that changes along the way. So, here we go

Here, Kip Wilson talks about her new book, WHITE ROSE, a moving novel in verse about a young girl and her heroism in standing up against the Nazis in Germany during WWII.

"A gorgeous and timely novel based on the incredible story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenged the Nazi regime during World War II as part of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group. Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany."
Kip writes:
Photo credit © Rosanne Samson
I originally wrote White Rose from three main points of view (Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst), but my editor, Margaret Raymo, thought the story would work better if focused on Sophie alone, and she was definitely right. Back in high school German class when I first learned about the White Rose, Sophie had been the one to grab my attention, and she's been an inspiration to me ever since my teen years. I hope she inspires a new generation of kids now! But for author-me as an adult, Christoph's story really spoke to me as well. Just like Sophie's brother Hans, Christoph was a medical student who loved the natural world around him, who didn't want anything to do with the Nazi regime, and who wanted the war to stop, but unlike the others in the group, Christoph was married and a father of three small children. For the sake of his young family, the others tried to keep him out of their resistance activities. However, when he couldn't remain silent any longer, he wrote a leaflet condemning the German war machine and gave it to Hans, who had this draft in his pocket when he was arrested. This of course meant that it didn't take the Gestapo long to come for Christoph. 

[Here is her "extra" poem from Christoph's point of view.]

Photo of Hans, Sophie, and Christoph 

The black uniforms
of the Gestapo
stick out 
like giant crows
in a hayfield
when they arrive, 
even here
on a military base.

Their gazes scan
our ranks
our allegiances
our souls
and everyone
even the staunchest Party supporter
twitches with suppressed

But my fear 
bulges into terror
that traps my breath
in my throat
when one of them 
raises a terrible wing,
points it
in my direction.

            Christoph Probst

This beautiful novel in verse is a compelling read and a first-person window into the world of political protest. Rooted in a true story, Wilson channels the passions and dreams of a young woman who looks around her and sees a world that isn't working and knows she must act. It's inspiring and (sadly) relevant today, too. For a helpful educator's guide, White Rose and We Will Not Be Silent, go here

For more Poetry Friday posts, head on over to Carol's Place

Tuesday, July 02, 2019


Welcome to a new series I'm launching on my blog: EXTRA! EXTRA! 
I'm inviting poets to share a poem that did NOT end up in their published book-- and provide a bit of backstory about the choice not to include that particular poem. Did you know that poetry collections and novels in verse are often built upon large selections of poetry and the poet and editor OMIT some of those poems? Yes, indeed! And of course poems may also be edited, moved around, and expanded too. But I'm always curious about that initial selection of poems that MIGHT become a book and how that changes along the way. So, here we go. My friend and collaborator, Janet Wong, has graciously agreed to share one poem that was not included in the original publication of A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED in 1996. 

In Janet's words:

The manuscript for A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED was originally published in 1996 by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster. We recently reissued it as A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED & MORE under the Yuzu imprint of Pomelo Books. When deciding on the format of this reissue, I toyed with the idea of including poems that were omitted from the original manuscript, but decided that it would be best just to feature new material for each published poem. In this new book, each poem now faces a prose piece that gives insight into the poem. The prose piece is on the same page as a very short writing prompt that encourages readers to dive into their own experiences.

The original manuscript contained several poems that my editor Margaret McElderry decided to omit. Margaret was an icon in children’s publishing. People didn’t just revere her; they obeyed her unconditionally. When she told you to omit something from a book, she usually gave only a very short explanation, but I understood her “omit” orders to be complete rejections of those poems. I did challenge her a few times on various things, but it was made clear, especially in our face-to-face meetings and phone calls, that it would be better to just do what she said. When the poem “American Daughter” was rejected, I put it in a box of poems and correspondence that I have ignored for more than twenty years.

copyright ©2019 by Janet S. Wong
It’s hard to see, but Margaret’s comments on this poem read: “omit (mng. [meaning] too subtle for young readers who don’t know the Chinese tradition).” She has also written in “Grand?” (presumably to suggest changing the word “Daughter” to “Granddaughter” if the poem were to be used).

Note re “young readers”: When Margaret asked me what age range I thought this book was for, I said, “Well, GOOD LUCK GOLD [my first book] was probably for ages 8 and up, but this book seems older.” Margaret corrected me immediately by saying, “GOOD LUCK GOLD was for ages 9 and up.” I thought it was funny that she had such a clear idea of the bottom age; it was even funnier when the two books finally came out (GOOD LUCK GOLD in Fall 1994 and A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED in Spring 1996) and the jackets listed them both for “10 and up."

Some reflections on this poem:

I used “Daughter” because this was a conversation that the girl was having with her mother. Her mother was teaching her how to be humble—so she would know better than to carelessly accept her grandparents’ compliments.

I needn’t have limited it to “Chinese,” especially since my Korean mother definitely felt this way about humility and boasting. Asian children generally (and girls, especially) are expected to be modest to the point of self-deprecating. Saying thank you for a compliment is a sign of conceit.

Janet Wong at age 5 outside her grandparents' apartment
Would this poem’s meaning have been too subtle for children, as Margaret thought? Probably. Margaret was probably right. But I’ll bet some children, not just Asian children, would recognize this scenario instantly. They would feel good that someone understood. Also, maybe, people who tried to compliment an Asian girl—only to have that compliment rebuffed by her or her family—would gain some insight. I have read that in various cultures all over the world (in the past), people would say bad things about babies, even giving them negative names, so that the gods would not take them away.

The final line in this poem is really important: the grandparents would’ve been proud. What’s important in a traditional Asian family is pride (or unfortunately more important, shame). Love? Togetherness? Fun? These are unnecessary; happy parents are the ones whose children make them proud.

From Sylvia: Thank you, Janet, for sharing so honestly. I love how this short poem says so much about family and cultural expectations-- things we all cope with, but in different ways. Your poem has made me think more deeply about what makes proud parents and happy families and how quick I may be to judge what I think that "should" mean. Wonderful how a single poem (and your honest back-story) make us question our own beliefs and remember our own experiences. Janet's book, A Suitcase of A Seaweed & More was recently selected for the CBC Showcase Family Heritage. With this new pairing of poetry and prose pieces throughout, it's a gem of a reading experience and a fantastic teaching tool.  

Now don't miss the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect