Sunday, April 01, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: Kate Coombs

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month begins with Kate Coombs. Gradate student Mary Virginia Meeks offers this interview (plus) with Kate.

Get to know Kate Coombs...
Growing up in California, Kate confesses that she has been a bookworm her whole life. She started writing poems, plays, and stories in elementary school often casting herself in roles like “The Glorious Queen” while her younger sister was stuck with such roles as “The Servant Girl.” In school, Kate enjoyed art and playing the oboe in addition to pursuing her passion for books. After getting her English degree in college, Kate pursued teaching and has actually taught every grade level from kindergarten through college! During her teaching years, she still found time to explore her love for writing, especially pursuing her love for folktales and fairytales. Kate admits that she wrote seriously for about 13 years before selling her first book The Secret Keeper in 2006. Since then, Kate has published five books to date that include picture books, middle-school novels, and poetry books for all ages.

Learn more about Kate on her website

Six fun facts about Kate straight from her website:
*My dad used to call me "Kate the Great."
*I was once attacked by a monkey.
*When I see a dry leaf on the sidewalk, I go out of my way to step on it and hear the crunch.
*I have six brothers and sisters. We're all adopted and from four different ethnic backgrounds.
*I can flicker my nostrils really well.
*My favorite color is the blue-green at the top of an ocean wave when it catches the light just before it falls.

Also, visit Kate at “Book Aunt” where she reviews books for kids and young adults and features some of her favorite book related blogs and websites.

Kate’s Latest Book!
Coombs, Kate, and Meilo So. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0811872843
Released (and already sold out in the first week!) in March 2012, this exquisite book of poetry celebrating the wonders of the ocean will appeal to readers of all ages. 23 poems accompanied by award winning illustrations by Meilo So depict the beauty and mystery of the sea.

And the critics say….

“Coombs punctuates her sweeping, lullaby-like poems about the ocean with surprising personification and unexpected imagery. "My name's Frank Hermit," says a hermit crab, a seaside real estate agent. "I have listings for periwinkles,/ whelks, and wentletraps;/ turbans, tops, and moon shells;/ a palatial conch, perhaps?" She describes a jellyfish in short, lush lines: "Deep water shimmers./ A wind-shape passes,/ kimono trailing." So's watercolor spreads are supple and filled with life—fish cluster around the "wide green map/ on Sea Turtle's back," while a gulper eel is entwined with a dragonlike oarfish. Like the tide that repeats, "I was here,/ wasss here/ wasssss here..." the evocative descriptions and images echo and linger. ”
-from Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“Next up, hellooooooo potential 2013 Caldecott contender. Or rather, 2013 Caldecott contender were it not for the small problem that the illustrator lives in the Shetland Islands. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems is written by the illustrious Kate Coombs and illustrated by one Meilo So. In it we get some truly lovely works of poetry with lots of fun sounds (Gobble Gobble Slip Slap) and the occasional Gulper Eel. I'm looking forward to this one.”
-from Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production (a School Library Journal blog)

“The versatile Coombs shows she's as adept at poetry as she is at concocting or adapting fairy tales (Hans My Hedgehog, 2012, etc.). She invites young readers into her celebration with an opening "Song of the Boat" and ends with the message of the "Tideline." "'Don't forget me— / I was here, / wasss h e r e / wasssss h e r e...'" Varied rhyme and rhythmic patterns and surprising connections characterize these relatively short poems, which read aloud well and stick in the memory. There's humor, interesting language and intriguing imagery, as when the Gulper Eel's "astronomical maw" is compared to a black hole. Thoughtful organization and placement of text on the page and So's wavery, watery illustrations extend the poems' meaning.... Share this admirable appreciation with a wide audience.”
-from Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Interview with Kate (the Great!)
1. You have made a name for yourself writing stories and novels with fairy-tale roots. What inspired you to publish a book of poetry?

I've actually been writing poetry longer than I've been writing books with fairy tale roots. I remember being so proud of myself for writing a sonnet when I was 12. But I will admit, one of the poems I remember writing at about age 10 was about fairy rings. So the two have gone hand in hand. I wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager and specialized in poetry as an English major in college. It was only after I graduated that I really began writing stories and novels for children. Of course, I kept writing poetry: I have seven collections on my computer, as well as some anthologies I've created and a more recent poetry journal.

I wrote a book of poems about a Latina child growing up in L.A. and was able to sell that to Chronicle several years ago. That project was canceled, sadly. Then I sent the new editor, Melissa Manlove, a couple of other collections I had been working on. One of them was the ocean poems.

The thing I love about poetry is how compact it is and how stirring it can be, powered by metaphors. And I'm in love with words and phrases—just the right words, just the right phrases.

2. What made you choose the ocean as the subject for your new poetry book, Water Sings Blue?

I have spent much of my life in Los Angeles, and I've been to the beach many times over the years, though not as often as I should have gone, probably. There's something soothing, simple, and powerful about the beach. The rhythm of the waves, punctuated by seagull cries and wind and children's voices, is itself a kind of poetry.

On a more practical note, poetry collections are expected to have themes, and there are certain themes with a lot of potential. I will tell you that I initially wrote more than 80 poems for this collection. Melissa and I winnowed it down to a mere 20 or so. So—the dolphins got cut, for example.

3. I understand that you have an extensive collection of seashells. How long have you been collecting shells? Do you have any favorites?

I have been collecting shells since I was a little girl and started picking them up on the beach. Of course, the beaches in California get a lot of visitors, so you can't find a lot of pristine univalves just lying around! When I was 8 or 9, a neighbor gave me a breadbox full of seashells that her elderly aunt had picked up on the beaches of Tahiti. My neighbor wasn't interested, but I sure was!

I have a soft spot in my heart for olive shells, and I have a very small king's crown shell that I like a lot—it looks like a little fortress. I recently bought a couple of maple leaf triton shells, and those are extremely cool looking! I know many of the shell names, but mostly I just love seashells because they are so beautiful.

4. Given your experience as a K-12 educator, do you have a favorite way to experience nature poetry, perhaps poetry about the ocean in particular, with students?

When I taught younger children, I learned that they adore rhyme and songs, so poems that are song lyrics go over well. Shel Silverstein was another favorite for my third graders. In working with teens, I discovered that many of them are closet poets. They tend to appreciate poetry more than you might think—perhaps because of its potential for capturing intense emotions. I did share some of the ocean poems with a student who was very ill, but she preferred to hear more Langston Hughes. So did I, for that matter!

What works for me as an educator is to share poems and then give children a chance to write their own. I have some imitation exercises I really like. My favorite is based on blues poetry and a picture book called Yesterday I Had the Blues. I've taught kids ages 9 to 18 who loved that project.

5. If you were deserted on an island (with excellent provisions, of course) for an indefinite period of time, what two books would you choose to have with you?

Thanks for the excellent provisions! Two books, though? That's a terrible thing to ask! Well... let's make one poetry: New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. One of my many favorite sci-fi/fantasy books is The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, so I'll pick that for #2.

Sneak Peek at a poem from Kate’s new book:

Sand’s Story

We used to be rocks,
we used to be stones.
We stood proud as castles,
altars and thrones.

Once we were massive,
looming in rings,
holding up temples
and posing as kings.

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

Ways to enjoy this poem
After reading the poem and discussing the origins of ocean sand, set up a few microscopes so that students can examine magnified grains of sand. Create a see-and-touch experience using a small kiddie pool or large fish aquarium. Line the bottom with a generous layer of sand and then create a mini sea-bed using a variety of shells, coral, sea rocks. Fill with water and invite students to experience the feel of the wet sand and the shells. Be sure to show students Kate’s shell collection online at with 35 colorful pictures of shells around her house!

Sources for exploring more about Kate Coombs:

Kate’s tips for aspiring writers:
Workshops with Kate:

Image credit:;


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


Pat Kahn's Childsplay said...

Great interview. I'm looking forward to reading Kate's book.

Joyce Sidman said...

Thanks, Sylvia & Kate! I am also looking forward to seeing this book; it looks wonderful.

sarwar said...
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sarwar said...
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