Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Janet Wong!

What’s with all these poets born in September? Clearly many poets’ parents were having a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy new year in years gone by! All of these poets were born in September: Helen Frost, Paul Fleischman, Jack Prelutsky, Aileen Fisher, Sara Holbrook, Harry Behn, and Shel Silverstein. Let’s celebrate one more September poet’s birthday: Janet S. Wong!

Janet S. Wong was born on September 30, 1962, and grew up in California, the child of Korean and Chinese immigrants. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in History and then obtained her law degree from Yale. However, she was not happy practicing law and decided to make a change, focusing on writing for young people instead. She has since authored nearly two dozen picture books and poetry collections. Her poems have been featured in some unusual venues, including a car-talk radio show, on 5,000 subway and bus posters as part of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority's "Poetry in Motion" program, and on the “Oprah” television show. She and her books have received numerous awards and honors, such as the International Reading Association's "Celebrate Literacy Award" for exemplary service in the promotion of literacy.

Janet Wong’s first two poetry collections, Good Luck Gold and Other Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1994) and A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1996) focus on her own background, exploring cultural connections and growing up with Korean and Chinese traditions. Many of the poems in these two collections lend themselves to poetry performance. For example, try "Face It" (A Suitcase Of Seaweed) with three stanzas that reflect the writer’s musings on her nose, her eyes, and her mouth and how each represents a different part of her identity. Three groups could each read a different stanza, using motions to point to each body part in turn.

Face It
by Janet Wong

My nose belongs
to Guangdong, China--

short and round, a Jang family nose.

My eyes belong
to Alsace, France--

wide like Grandmother Hemmerling's.

But my mouth, my big-talking mouth, belongs
to me, alone.

Wong also has authored several poetry collections on a variety of other topics. Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a wonderful gift for the teenager who is learning to drive. The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children (Simon & Schuster, 2000) is an homage to mothers and our relationships with them and includes perfect “Mother’s Day” poem tributes. Wong has two collections of poems that address children's curiosity about dreams and superstitions with Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions (Simon & Schuster, 2003). Both are beautifully illustrated by Julie Paschkis and invite children to express their own beliefs and concerns-- perhaps poetically. Wong and Paschkis also teamed up for a third illustrated poetry collection this year, Twist, Yoga Poems (Simon & Schuster, 2007), which School Library Journal called “lovely to listen to and to look at.” For more information about Wong and her work, check out Poetry People.

Janet is a dynamic personality, a frequent presenter, and an advocate and mentor for many other authors, poets, and illustrators. I’m a big fan, as you can tell by many of my previous postings, including:
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 about her online chat with kids and her new photo-autobiography, When It Wriggles Away.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006 about the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and her poem about it, “Coin Drive.”
Happy birthday, Janet!

Thanks to AmoxCalli for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Picture credit:
Photo by Anne Lindsay


Elaine Magliaro said...


I love Janet Wong...and her poetry!
I met Janet several years ago at a Children's Literature Institute at Simmons College in Boston. Janet and I became friends. She has been most supportive of my poetry writing. She has given me advice and encouragement. Because of her, one of my poems will be included in a children's poetry anthology that is due to be published next spring.

Janet is truly dynamic! She's personable and a terrific presenter.

By the way, I just got myself a copy of POETRY PEOPLE. I'm looking forward to serving with you as a member of the Cybils poetry-nominating panel again this year.

Anonymous said...

Love the post, love the poem!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Kelly. I think Janet rocks!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Elaine, I agree-- Janet is terrific about supporting OTHER writers. And I'm excited to be on the Cybils with you, too!

tanita✿davis said...

Hah. My big old mouth is definitely my own inheritance as well. Like that!

Saints and Spinners said...

Hey, Janet Wong is featured twice this Poetry Friday! Janet Wong is local around here, and I've been a fan of hers ever since she lead a presentation at one of my children's librarian's meetings years ago. I "won" a copy of A Suitcase of Seaweed for being one of the ones willing to read my poem aloud after the writing exercise she led.:)

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Thank you for this lovely bio and review of Wong's work. She is a poet to study for sure. "Face It" made me laugh and "Coin Drive" made me weep.