Wednesday, April 18, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen (2)

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month continues with this second interview with both J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen about their second collaboration this year, Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs. Graduate student Tammy Reed offers this interview (plus) with the pair.

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
Illustrated by: Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
ISBN: 978-1-58089-260-5
Release Date: July 1, 2012
Target Age: 7-10

Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen was born February 11, 1939 in New York City. She received her BA from Smith College in 1960. After college, she became an editor in New York City and practiced her craft during her lunch breaks. She sold her first children's book, Pirates in Petticoats, at the age of 22. Since then, she has written over 300 books won numerous awards and has received six honorary doctorate degrees.

Jane Yolen website:

Videos featuring Jane Yolen
Reciting her own work:

J. Patrick Lewis
J. Patrick Lewis was born May 5, 1942 in Gary, Indiana. He earned a BA from Saint Josephs College, a MA at Indiana University and a PhD at Ohio State University. The author of more than 75 children's books, with more than 50 of those being dedicated to poetry, has earned Lewis the title of Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

J. Patrick Lewis website:

Videos Featuring J. Patrick Lewis
Introduction of J. Patrick Lewis:
Reciting his own work:

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs by J. Partick Lewis and Jane Yolen
J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen team up in an animal version of Patrick’s Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses (2006). The title of this joint effort, Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, lets the reader know right away that wit and humor lie between the covers as creatures share their last moments before their, often untimely, demise.

Each poem, ranging in length from 1 to 18 sentences, is an epitaph told in a darkly humorous style. Grouped by animal type (poultry, bovine, fish), each posthumous poem is full of talented wordplay that will appeal to children and adults alike.

Author Interview
1. What can you tell me about the upcoming release of LAST LAUGHS: ANIMAL EPITAPHS?

JY: See above (referring to the manuscript). Am bizarrely interested in its reception. My guess is it will be one of the most love/hate books I have ever published.
JPL: It's actually a sequel to my own book of adult epitaphs, Once Upon a Tomb:Gravely Humorous Verses.

2. Where do you get your ideas?

JY: Everywhere--in things overheard, books read, news clips, songs, dreams. In things I have been thinking hard about as well as things that simply one day pop into my head.
JPL: By sitting for long hours in a chair. It's all perspiration, not inspiration.

3. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

JY: I tend to forget the criticism and compliments except for the letters from young readers and their parents. But I print up the reviews and use them in my website, of course. The good reviews, of course!
JPL: Criticism: That I use language that is sometimes "too rich," (i.e., too old for the intended audience).
Compliment: That I write about so many different subjects and am not pigeonholed into narrow range of topics

4. As a future school librarian, what do you feel I can do to promote a love of poetry in the elementary age group?

JY: First, love poetry yourself. Don't just promote it without the love. . . and SHOWING that love. Be a guerilla poetry pusher. Read a poem a day out loud at unusual times. For example, before lunch, read them a food poem, etc.
JPL: Make poetry books as widely available and visible as possible (establish a Poet's Corner in the library?)

5. This book was a collaborative effort among yourself and Mr. Lewis. Can you share with me briefly the ups and downs working with another author on such an extensive project?

JY: Actually, working with Pat is a pure joy. We are both quick to respond to one another, total professionals, listen to critique and then make the poem better. We energized one another.
JPL: In a word, personality.

Poem Preview

Ciao, Cow
This grave is peaceful,
the tombstone shaded,
but I’m not here---
I’ve been cream-ated.

Activities to Accompany Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
Have students write their own epitaph poem (or a pet or an object) after reviewing the book. Students can illustrate their poems on poster board size tombstones for display. Spend time discussing what an epitaph is and include some examples from famous epitaphs. Examples may be found by clicking on

Students could write epitaphs to analyze characters from works of literature covered in class where death is an occurrence. This would be a great activity when studying the works of Shakespeare, the founding fathers and presidents.

A field trip to the local cemetery could be conducted for a cross curricular activity. Core subjects could use the opportunity for various activities.

English Language Arts- Expository writing, rhyme and meter, noteworthy epitaphs, research.
Science- Topography and map making, tombstone materials, trees and shrub identification, animal tracks identification.

Math- Age at time of death, oldest/youngest, shapes of stones, average age by decades.
Social Studies- Search for evidence of wars, catastrophes, epidemics during certain time periods. Identify and research local heroes, veterans and founding community families.

Biography information for Jan Yolen retrieved from:
Biography Information for J. Patrick Lewis retrieved from:
Book cover retrieved from:
Lewis, J. Patrick and Janet Wong. 2012. Last laughs: Animal Epitaphs. Ill. by Jeffery Stewert Timmins. St. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing. ISBN: 9781580892605

Image credit:;

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


Joanna said...

Oh, yes, I gotta read this one. The cow epitaph already had me grinning. What a great talent combo!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Oh, I'll be on the "love" side of the "love/hate" reaction equation - can't wait to read this. Thanks again to each of you for another great post.