Thursday, April 12, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month continues with this interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins about his new book, Nasty Bugs. Graduate student Melissa Scholl offers this interview (plus) with Lee.

About Lee Bennett Hopkins
Award winning poet, Lee Bennett Hopkins graduated from Kean University, Bank Street College of Education with a degree in Educational Supervision and Administration. In 1980 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Kean University. Lee Bennett Hopkins started his career as a schoolteacher and later became a consultant to various school systems. In 1968 he became an editor at Scholastic. In 1976 he became a full-time writer and anthologist. He went on to write and edit numerous award-winning books, professional texts and curriculum materials.

In 1993 in order to encourage the recognition of poetry he established the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and two years later established the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award.

Nasty Bugs
Lee Bennett Hopkins compiles another great set of poems that all children, especially grade school children, will love. Nasty Bugs is a collection of 16 poems about creepy, crawly bugs. The poems are humorous in nature but they are packed full of well-researched facts about the bugs. For example in the poem "Stink Bug" the reader learns that the stink bug has “a liquid, pungent and powerful enough / to empty an entire room.” Children will squeal with delight when these poems are read aloud. From free verse to rhyme and rhythm there are a variety of poem styles. At the end of the collection are fact pages with interesting tidbits about the various bugs. The illustrations enhance the poems with their cartoon like features that make even the nastiest bugs seem cute.

Booklist (January 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 9)
“Lice and fleas and mosquitoes, oh my! This book will have you itching and scratching in no time.”

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2011)
“the poems vary in strength, but for read-aloud or choral presentation, many will have both audience and performer appeal. Terry's smooth, vividly colored paintings, mostly double-page spreads underlying the poems, add to the fun.”

School Library Journal (March 1, 2012)
“Hopkins has brought together some of the major voices in children's poetry to create this compilation. The bugs may be nasty, but the selections are sublime.”

The Interview
I recently had a chance to conduct this 5-question interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins.

1. You have written so many wonderful poetry books and compiled a great number of poetry collections. Out of all your published works, what did you have the hardest time writing about?

Each book, each anthology, poses its own set of problems and pleasures. Once I get into a subject I research it to the fullest. Perhaps the most challenging series I did was based on Americana: HAND IN HAND: AN AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH POETRY; MY AMERICA: A POETRY ATLAS OF THE UNITED STATES, and AMERICA AT WAR (all Simon & Schuster). All three volumes are rather large, definitive topics presented in poetry to complement studies and appreciation of our great United States.

2. In you newest publication, Nasty Bugs, you write about all sorts of different insects. Which insect did you find the most fascinating?

All the bugs in NASTY BUGS are fascinating thus the Notes appended. Incredible facts abound such as lice being around for thousands of years, even being found on Egyptian mummies, or that 20,000,000 million people are stung by fire ants each year. All this makes for lovely dinner conversation while passing around the meatballs!

3. If you had to pick your favorite poem what would it be?

I could never pick a favorite poem. I love many. High on the list would be “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, a poet whose work I cherish. I did the INTRODUCTION to the 75th Anniversary Edition of Hughes’ THE DREAM KEEPER. I want all children to “Hold fast to dreams…”.

4. As a new librarian I am trying to build my school's poetry collection. What 3 poetry books would you say are a "must have"?

Although he needs no introduction, all of Shel Silverstein’s collections are classics of light verse (HarperCollins). BRONZEVILLE BOYS AND GIRLS by Gwendolyn Brooks (HarperCollins) is a wondrous book filled with raw emotions expressed from the point of view of children. And, selfishly, I would suggest my WONDERFUL WORDS: POEMS ABOUT READING, WRITING, SPEAKING, AND LISTENING (Simon & Schuster) to open the world of language arts to children of all ages.

5. I read that you were a teacher, if you had to choose between being a classroom teacher or being a librarian what would you choose? Why?

I have been a teacher – working with all ages from pre-schoolers to higher education college students – and I loved (still love) every minute of teaching. Thus, in another life I would become a librarian. Is there anything better than to be surrounded by books? To be able to impart knowledge to young minds? To bring people and books together? Both job roles are among the most important ones in our society.

Lee Bennett Hopkins was gracious enough to send me a PDF copy of his latest book, Nasty Bugs. I enjoyed reading all the poems and immediately but it on my book order to purchase for my library. It was hard to pick one to share but I really enjoyed the poem "Spoiled Rotten."

Spoiled Rotten
by J. Patrick Lewis

I’m a maggot.
I’m a marvel
Of the larval generation.

I’m a comma

In a drama
Of disgusting devastation.

Multiply me!—
I’m a slimy Bug,
who’s earned his reputation

As I’ve gotten
Spoiled rotten.

Want to see a demonstration?

A great way to get students excited about this poem would be to grow their own maggots. In order to grow you own maggots get a class jar with a lid and a peeled banana. Take the peeled banana and but it in the jar and sit it outside in the shade for 1-2 days. When there are some fruit flies in the jar cover it with a pair of panty hose and a rubber band. After a few days let the flies out and put the stocking back and wait and watch for your maggots! Students then can draw the life cycle and label the steps.

Bibliographic information:

Image credit:;

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


Charles Waters said...

Nice interview with the Pied Piper of verse. HOPKINS POWER!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

Lee is a magnificent poet and a very generous teacher. And NASTY BUGS is as informative as it is word and picture both! Thank you to both of you for this peek-behind-the-curtain of Lee's work and thought process. a.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Thank you, Sylvia and Melissa, for another great interview. Lee's newest book does sound mighty nasty, in a good way. Love the poetic treatment of maggots by our current Children's Poet Laureate!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Melissa.

Lee Bennett Hopkins

kami said...

Great interview. Great book!

Kami Kinard
(Tick-tock Tick)