Monday, April 16, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: J. Patrick Lewis 2

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month continues with this second interview with J. Patrick Lewis about another new book, If You Were a Chocolate Mustache. Graduate student Kara Johnson offers this interview (plus) with Pat.

J. Patrick Lewis was born John Patrick Lewis in Gary, Indiana in 1942. Pat, as he prefers to be called, grew up in Gary and attended Saint Joseph’s College, Indiana University, and Ohio State University, where he earned a PhD in economics. He taught economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio until he decided to become a full-time writer in 1998. His first book titled A Hippopotamusn’t, however, was published in 1990. Lewis has written over fifty children’s poetry books that range widely in form and subject. His books have been comprised of free verse, riddles, concrete poems, and more on a variety of topics including animals, math, and history. He was named the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate in 2011 and was also awarded the Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 2011. Lewis frequently visits elementary schools and often speaks at workshops and conferences.

J. Patrick Lewis Links
* Official Website:
* The New Johnny Appleseed of Children’s Poetry - A Podcast about J. Patrick Lewis by Sylvia Vardell:
* A Circus for the Brain: The 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate Speaks:
* A Biography:

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache
J. Patrick Lewis is slated to have a new book published in the fall of 2012 titled If You Were a Chocolate Mustache. It will be Lewis’s first large collection of poetry containing 156 poems on 160 pages. The book has no central theme or poetry form and will be illustrated in pen and ink drawings by Matthew Cordell. While I do not have access to the entire book yet, I was given a rough blad (book layout and design) of several poems for a sneak peek. Of the poems I had the pleasure of previewing, a favorite of mine was one of the “Three More Book Riddles.” Unfortunately, the book has not yet been released, so there are no reviews to share as of yet. I had the privilege of interviewing J. Patrick Lewis to ask him about this new book.

1. The title of the book was changed from Never Spit from a Roller Coaster to If You Were a Chocolate Mustache. Can you give me some insight on what prompted the change?

J. Patrick Lewis: The editors objected to "spitting," arguing that people find it distasteful and might be opposed to its appearance as the title of a book.

2. Is your mustache chocolate? No really, I assume the name came from a poem in the book. What was your inspiration?

J. Patrick Lewis: Yes, "chocolate mustache" is from a line in the book. It's my favorite title (chosen by me), so I'm pleased that Never Spit was tossed.

3. Is there a central theme or poetry format in If You Were a Chocolate Mustache, and what is its target age group?

J. Patrick Lewis: No, this is a general collection, much like a Silverstein or Prelutsky book, and equally large—140 poems, I think. The book is aimed at the same target audience, probably 7-12 year-olds?

4. You have six poetry books (according to Dr. Vardell’s blog) set to be published this year. What sets this one apart?

J. Patrick Lewis: Except for Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year (Little, Brown, 2009), If You Were a Chocolate Mustache is my first unthemed book—those are usually 32 pages. It's my first "big" book, so I'm particularly excited about it.

5. Has being named the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate affected your poetry writing? If so, how?

J. Patrick Lewis: The laureateship has brought me a couple of appealing contracts, including my first anthology, the 200-poem The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, due out in the fall. Apart from the increased travel, I won't let anything interfere with writing poetry.

Sample Poem
Please enjoy one of my favorite previewed poems from If You Were a Chocolate Mustache:

To prove you are a princess,
though it may sound absurd,
try sleeping on a mountain
of mattresses. I’ve heard
only a real princess
will toss and turn her head
all night if there’s one tiny
vegetable in her bed.

Of course, this is a riddle-poem about The Princess and the Pea. Although I only saw a rough blad of the book, it appears the answers to the riddles will appear upside down on the facing page. A fun follow-up activity after reading this poem for students could be to have them read classic fairy tales of folk tales in pairs or groups of three. They could then work together to write and illustrate their own riddle-poems about their chosen tale. The groups could read the riddle-poem aloud to the class and have the class guess the fairy tale or folk tale. The finished products could be displayed near the folktale section in the library to create interest for students to check them out.

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2012. “J. Patrick Lewis: Children’s Poet and Author.” Accessed March 14.
Poetry Foundation. 2012. “Biography: J. Patrick Lewis.” Accessed March 16.
Vardell, Sylvia. 2012. “A Circus for the Brain: The 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate Speaks.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed March 14.
Photo retrieved from: Poetry Foundation Biography

Image credit:;

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2012. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Charles Waters said...

What really sticks with me regarding this interview with Pat is that nothing will get in the way of his writing children's poems. Discipline for the win!