Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Blog Tour: Leaf Litter Critters by Leslie Bulion

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for Leslie Bulion's new book, Leaf Litter Critters, illustrated by Robert Meganck and published by Peachtree Press.

You may know Leslie from her previous books, Hey There, Stink Bug!, At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems, or Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse-- all fun, rich science-focused poetry collections. I was honored to create an educator guide for Random Body Parts and had so much fun exploring the biology and the Shakespearean forms in it!  Leslie and poet Allan Wolf interviewed each other (in relation to Random Body Parts) for a previous feature on my blog here. Also, one of my students featured Leslie and her book, At the Sea Floor Café previously here. So, you'll find lots of Leslie love at my blog! I really appreciate her careful science research AND her careful crafting of poetry very much.  

Poetry by Leslie Bulion
Bulion, Leslie. 2006. Hey There, Stink Bug! Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Bulion, Leslie. 2011. At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems. Ill. by Leslie Evans. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Bulion, Leslie. 2015. Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse. Atlanta: Peachtree. 

Now, with Leaf Litter Critters, Leslie has penned 19 engaging, energetic poems in various forms, all about the different "critters" found in the thin leaf litter layer. Who knew that poems about bacteria, litter, mushrooms, protists, rotifers, nematodes, mites, proturans and diplurans, symphylans, millipedes, earthworms, centipedes, beetles, and pseudoscorpions could be so much fun?! Kids will LOVE saying all those words-- as well as reading these poems aloud. Here's my favorite about the nematode, representing 4 out of 5 animals on earth!

Each poem page is accompanied by a prose "Science Note" which provides a nice cross-genre connection for teaching and modeling too. And did I mention the illustrations?  So fun and appealing to young readers. Robert Meganck uses colorful cartoons and line drawings to show each creature clearly enough to identify, as well as hilariously enough to enjoy! Plus, I am a big fan of "back matter" in books, and Bulion provides an extensive glossary (complete with visuals), poetry notes about the forms she employed, suggestions for investigative activities (both in the field and in the lab), a list of resources for further investigation, and my absolute favorite thing: a visual guide to "critter comparison" showing the relative sizes of all the creatures depicted. (So often all the animals shown in a nonfiction picture book all seem to be more or less the same size!)  Now here's a bit of backstory from Leslie herself!


Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog, Sylvia! I’m thrilled to join your inimitable celebration of poetry for young readers!

Researching and writing my newest science poetry collection, LEAF LITTER CRITTERS (Peachtree, March 1), has set me to thinking about sharing passions, the persistent power of ideas and our opportunities to honor and nurture our own ideas and those of others. 
I’ll begin with a story. In 2003 I took a summer course at Cornell Adult University called, “The Way Bugs Work.” Our group of life-long learners tromped over field and stream, peered through microscopes and spoke the language of insects with two uber-enthusiastic passion-sharing professors while I scribbled and sketched in a field notebook—a whole week of my kind of bliss. 

Up to that point I had been writing middle-grade novels but something about these insectly elegant packages of evolution and adaptation begged me to pair them with poems—similarly elegant packages of language, emotion and ideas. My thoughtful and creative fourth-grade teacher had shared her passion for poetry and set me on a poet’s path long ago, but it had never occurred to me to try writing poems for young readers. This insect poem idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Could I combine my passion for our astonishing natural world with a life-long love affair with poetry, wordplay and the language of science? 

When I finally braved sharing a few of my fledgling insect poems with my writing buddies they responded as they always do—with wild enthusiasm, careful listening, support and encouragement. They helped my idea flourish! I continued observing insects with my hands-on catch, sketch and release program. I pored over my field notes, researched juicy science stories, studied all kinds of poetry and created what became my first science poetry collection, HEY THERE, STINK BUG! (Charlesbridge 2006). 

Ten whole years (and several novels and poetry collections with wonderful Peachtree Publishers) later I picked up my old field entomology journal from 2003 and flipped through to this page:

I remembered how captivated I’d been when we collected, then sifted the critters from the litter in that Berlese funnel. I had taken my time observing while making these scrawly drawings of mites, springtails, tiny feather-winged beetle and centipede. Now they jumped off of the page and shook me by my shoulders: their secret, recycler ecosystem under everyone’s feet needed a book! It seemed the idea for LEAF LITTER CRITTERS had been percolating in my brain for ten years. But that estimate of my LITTER CRITTER idea timeline was off by…a lot!

Quite recently a young reader in a World Read Aloud Day Skype asked to hear the first poem I’d ever written. Luckily, I know the answer to this question by heart:

The Grass is Green by Leslie Bulion, Mrs. Brownworth’s 4th grade class

The grass is green, 
The grass is brown,
The grass is waving up and down.

The grass is brown, 
The grass is green,
Under the grass are many things you’ve never even seen.

So…connecting the billions of dots here it seems I’ve actually been thinking about the idea for LEAF LITTER CRITTERS for fifty years

We never know when the seed of an idea will be planted, or when it will germinate and sprout into a sunflower or an oak. Or when that waiting, barely recognizable tun of an idea (tun being the drought-resistant, resting state of an incredible microscopic litter critter—the tardigrade) is going to turn into a living, active “water bear”.

I’ve learned that those patient seed ideas that we honor, protect and care for, that we nourish with shared passions, water and bathe in the warmth of encouragement—those seeds will germinate. They will sprout and grow, often metamorphosing into new forms we may not yet imagine! As readers, writers, educators, colleagues, family and friends we have the awesome power to inspire, encourage and nurture ideas—both in our own lives and in the many lives we have the privilege to share for moments or years along the journey. 

Thank you, Leslie, for sharing this glimpse of your process! So fascinating for grown ups and kids alike. Now, excuse me while I go check out what's hiding outside in that pile of leaves in the corner of the fence! 

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