Sunday, April 15, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: J. Patrick Lewis

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month continues with the first of two interviews with J. Patrick Lewis. Graduate student Dana Terrell offers this interview (plus) with Pat about his new book, Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems.

J. Patrick Lewis, Children's Poet Laureate
J. Patrick Lewis grew up in Gary, Indiana and earned a BA at Saint Joseph’s College, an MA at Indiana University, and a PhD in economics at the Ohio State University. Lewis taught in the department of Business, Accounting and Economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, until 1998 when he became a full-time writer. He currently lives in Westerville, Ohio.

Lewis is the author of more than fifty books of poetry for children, which find their shape in both free and formal verse and engage a wide range of subjects from history to mathematics, Russian folklore to the animal kingdom. His collaborations with other children’s poets have also yielded several collections of poetry.

His children’s poetry has been widely anthologized, and his contributions to children’s literature have been recognized with the 2011 Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the Ohioana Awards’ 2004 Alice Louise Wood Memorial Prize. His adult poetry has received the support of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist grant.

“J. Patrick Lewis's wordplay, humor, and technical facility—as well as his love of writing for children—have earned him an important place in history: the Poetry Foundation has named him the nation's third Children's Poet Laureate. Lewis will serve a two-year term—which comes with a $25,000 cash prize—to help raise awareness that kids are naturally receptive and appreciate poetry, especially if it's written for them.”

The J. Patrick Lewis website:

The following are YouTube videos that include J. Patrick Lewis or his poetry.
First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello:

This is an introduction of author, J. Patrick Lewis, for the WCES News:

Reknowned children's author, J. Patrick Lewis, visited students during Right to Read Week:

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems
The latest book by J. Patrick Lewis is Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems. This book hit bookstores on April 12, 2012. The author takes classic poems, such as “Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Langston Hughes’s “April Rain Song,” and reconstructs them into math riddles. Silly parodies and wonderful artwork by Michael Slack are sure to be a treat for children who love math or words. Answers to the riddles appear on each page, and engaging information about the original poets is included. Math games and concepts, with poetry and poet biographies are included.

Review from Kirkus Reviews:
“Going a step beyond his Arithme-Tickle (illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, 2001), Lewis cleverly combines math and language arts with this collection of humorous poetry parodies that present readers with math word problems to solve. Fourteen famous poets and some of their more prominent works are the basis for Lewis' parodies, which are all in good fun and retain the structure, rhyme and rhythm of the originals. Each poem presents children with at least one math problem to solve, and many of them require several steps to get to the final answer. The level of difficulty varies as much as the poems themselves. Teachers will appreciate the wide array of mathematics required to solve the puzzles. In addition to the four basic operations, the challenges test knowledge of fractions, percentages, decimals, area, perimeter and money. But language arts teachers are not to be left out of the fun. While the original poems are, sadly, not included, backmatter does include a very short bio of each poet. From Lear, Whitman and Dickinson to Hughes, Nash and Silverstein, this is like a who's who of famous poets. Slack's digital illustrations match the whimsy and fun of the poems, the tongue-in-cheek humor in full gear. While the illustrations provide no clues as to how to solve the math, the answers are printed upside down on each spread. Humor, math and poetry--who knew they were such a good combination? (Poetry/math. 8-12).”

Review from Publisher’s Weekly:
“Children’s poet laureate Lewis turns poems from Whitman, Frost, Lear, and more into story problems (poetry problems?) to comically absurd effect. Inspired by Dickinson, Lewis writes, “My book closed twice before its close—/ The two opposing pages/ That added up to 113—/ Were smudged around the edges—” and invites readers to supply the page numbers. Another poem is modeled after “The Termite” by Ogden Nash: “Some termite burrowed under rugs/ And found three hundred thirteen bugs./ If eighty-two plus fifteen snore,/ How many termites chew the floor?” Solutions appear upside-down. Slack’s bug-eyed caricatures are an exuberant complement to Lewis’s delightfully offbeat union of poetry and math. Ages 6–9.”

Review by Michael Slack:
“Working on multiple book projects at the moment. I just finished up this wonderful book by J.Patrick Lewis (the new Children’s Poet Laureate). The title is Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie J.P. has cleverly woven math puzzlers into his hilarious, kid friendly parodies of classic poems. Edward Lear, Walt Whitman, and of course Edgar Allan Poe, are some of the parodied poets in this unique book. I think teachers and librarians are going to go bonkers over this one.”

I interviewed J. Patrick Lewis recently by e-mail about his new book, Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, as well as his recent appointment as Poet Laureate. These are his answers to my questions.

1. Congratulations on being named Poet Laureate last year. Has this new position taken much time away from your writing schedule?

“The laureateship has involved a good deal more travel—school visits, conferences, et al. To that extent, yes, I'm not home quite as much as I otherwise would be. But I'm not complaining. The appointment is for two years and it is the highlight of any children's poet's career, the brass ring.”

2. What do you hope to accomplish while in your position as Poet Laureate?

“In short, more of the same. I am, as I see it, now the official Pied Piper "piping down the valleys wild," whereas before, I saw myself as an unofficial Pied Piper. I hope to draw the greatest attention to poetry as that forgotten, or at least the ignored genre that is absolutely essential to living a full life.”

3. I notice that you use different illustrators with almost every book. Is this the norm for writers to use different illustrators for each book, and why?

“When you have 16 different publishers, it is indeed the norm to have different illustrators, which is fine with me. Each book brings its own artistic surprises, and I am almost always delighted with the art attached to my words.”

4. Is your newest book, Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, you use math riddles mirrored after classic poems. Could teachers use the book as a way to use Language Arts in the Math classroom, or is it mainly math riddles to be used in a Math classroom, or both?

“Oh, I dearly hope the book isn't pigeonholed as simply a "math book." Classic poems recast as light verse may be a way of getting kids to go back to the classics. At least that was what I intended in writing the book.”

5. It is my understanding, that in your new book, you have taken classic poems by Edgar Allan Poe and others, and constructed them into math riddles. Is there a reason you chose to name the book after Edgar Allan Poe, even though the book uses other classic poets?

“Titles are critical. I came up with E.A. Poe's Pie, but it could just as easily have named Robert's Frost's Shorts or Emily Dickinson's Telephone Book. The subtitle indicates that there are more than just the title poem in the book.”

Sample Poems
The author also included two poems from the new book for fans to preview.

Edward Lear’s Elephant with Hot Dog

“When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
Of an eighty-foot bun
And a frankfurter, son,
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?”

ANSWER: 1/2 x 1/3 x 1/4 x 80 feet = 3.3 feet; 3.3 feet is greater than 3 feet, so the hot dog is longer.

Emily Dickinson’s Telephone Book

“My book closed twice before its close—
The two opposing pages
That added up to 113—
Were smudged around the edges—

At noon I opened it again—
When waking—from my slumbers.
The phone book so befuddles me—
What were those two page numbers?

ANSWER: 113 ÷ 2 = 56.5; rounding 56.5 up and down = pages 56 and 57.

Wouldn’t it be fun to use J. Patrick Lewis’ poem, “Edward Lear’s Elephant with Hot Dog,” with actual hot dogs? The poem describes an 80 foot hot dog and bun. You could convert the feet to inches and divide by 10. Give students 8 inch buns and hot dogs. Have them go through the processes in the poem, convert it back to the size in the poem and try to come up with the answer. Listen to the various answers, then add mustard, ketchup, and eat their assignment.

A fun way to use J. Patrick Lewis’ poem, “Emily Dickinson’s Telephone Book,” would be to have students bring a telephone book, open it several times and come up with their own division problems. After writing them out with the answers, they then try to stump the class.

“Biography of J. Patrick Lewis. Poetry Foundation website. Accessed January 17, 2012.
“J. Patrick Lewis named Children’s Poet Laureate.” School Library Journal website. May 12, 2011. /j._patrick_lewis_named_childrens.csp
Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis. website. Accessed January 17, 2012.
Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis. Barnes and Noble website. Accessed March 19, 2012.
Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis. Publisher’s Weekly website. Accessed January 17, 2012.
Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis. The Art of Michael Slack. Slackart website. Accessed January 17, 2012.
Terrell, Dana. “Interview with J. Patrick Lewis by e-mail.” March 2, 2012.
Lewis. J. Patrick. Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems. Ill. by Michael Slack. New York: Harcourt Children's Books. 2012.

Pictures retrieved from Google Images.

Image credit:;

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


Greg Pincus said...

Boy, do I love those poems. I swear Pat wrote this book for me as a kid.

Thanks for the 5Qs and sharing the Poe-try.

Robyn Hood Black said...

I WISH I'd had this book as a kid - math would have been much more fun! Thank you, Sylvia and Dana,and J. Patrick Lewis!, for the inside scoop and the interview.

Charles Waters said...

He's so inventive isn't he? Love this man's work. What's also true of him is how humble he is too!