Saturday, June 27, 2015

Celebrate Pride!

It's Gay Pride weekend in San Francisco where the ALA conference is going strong. Tomorrow is officially Gay Pride Day and the Supreme Court has made their historic ruling. What a confluence of moments! Celebrate with this fun poem:

And here are the Take 5 activities that go with this poem: 
  1. Play marching band music in the background as you read this poem aloud enthusiastically. One source is
  2. Read the poem again and invite children to cheer along with the phrase Hip Hip Hooray! as you read the rest of the poem.
  3. Share experiences watching, attending, or participating in a live parade.
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman (Magination, 2014) and explore the details and diversity in the illustrations.
  5. Connect with another “parade” poem, “Independence Day” by Linda Dryfhout (July, pages 186-187); selections from Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para sonar juntos by Francisco X. Alarcón (Lee & Low, 2005); or the picture book Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick, rereleased, 2015).

Friday, June 26, 2015

YALSA at ALA in San Francisco

It's time for the annual conference of the American Library Association, this time in San Francisco, California! I'm lucky enough to be presenting alongside an amazing panel, thanks to YALSA. Here's the lowdown:

The WeNeedDiverseBooks movement challenges us to help young people connect with their passions, desires, and interests by embracing diversity. A panel of scholars, authors, and practitioners including Professors Sylvia Vardell and Antero Garcia, librarian Marianne Follis, and authors Janet Wong, Margarita Engle, and Lesléa Newman will discuss how diversity is key—in literature, media, and programming and in embracing and exploring questions of cultural and sexual identity.

Our program weaves together the perspective of scholars, authors, and practitioners combining the expertise and context of each unique setting, highlighting the potential for collaboration. In addition, the focus on diversity is crucial, examining the spectrum of cultural and sexual identity in literature, media, and programming showing how a cross-cultural, cross-platform focus meets the needs of today’s teens in meaningful ways.

If you're at the conference, come join us!

A Select Bibliography of Books by Presenters

1. Dietzel-Glair, Julie and Follis, Marianne. 2015. Get Real with Storytime: 52 Weeks of Early Literacy Programming with Nonfiction and Poetry. Libraries Unlimited. 
2. Engle, Margaret. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba. Holt.
3. Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. Holt.
4. Engle, Margarita. 2009. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. Holt.
5. Engle, Margarita. 2010. Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. Holt.
6. Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Holt.
7. Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Holt. 
8. Engle, Margarita. 2012. The Wild Book. Houghton Mifflin.  
9. Engle, Margarita. 2013. Mountain Dog. Holt.
10. Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
11. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. HMHarcourt. 
12. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
13. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. Atheneum.
14. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Orangutanka: A Story in Poems. Holt. 
15. Engle, Margarita. 2015. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. Two Lions. 
16. Garcia, Antero and Haddix, Marcelle. 2015. “Reading YA with ‘Dark Brown Skin': Race, Community, and Rue’s Uprising.” ALAN Review, (Winter, 2015).
17. Garcia, Antero and Middaugh, Ellen. 2014. “Lost, Sweaty, and Engaged in Dialogue: The Civic Opportunities of Geospatial Play” in #youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age edited by Ben Kirshner and Ellen Middaugh. Information Age Publishing.
18. Garcia, Antero and Middaugh, Ellen. 2015. “Race to the White House.” Civic Media Project. Accessed at 
19. Garcia, Antero. 2013. Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature: Challenging Genres (Critical Literacy Teaching: Challenging Authors and Genre). Sense Publishers.
20. Garcia, Antero. 2014. Teaching in The Connected Classroom (DML Research Hub Report Series on Connected Learning Book 3). Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
21. Mirra, Nicole; Garcia, Antero and Morrell, Ernest. 2015. Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Students (Language, Culture, and Teaching Series). Routledge.
22. Newman, Lesléa and Dutton, Mike. 2011. Donovan’s Big Day. Tricycle Press.
23. Newman, Lesléa and Ferguson, Peter. 2007. The Boy Who Cried Fabulous. Tricycle Press.
24. Newman, Lesléa. 1996.  Fat Chance. PaperStar/Putnam & Grosset.
25. Newman, Lesléa. 1997. Still Life with Buddy. Pride & Imprints.
26. Newman, Lesléa. 2003. Write from the Heart. Ten Speed Press.
27. Newman, Lesléa. 2004. Hachiko Waits. Holt.
28. Newman, Lesléa. 2005. Jailbait.
Random House.
29. Newman, Lesléa. 2014. Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays. Abrams.
30. Newman, Lesléa. 2015. Heather Has Two Mommies. Candlewick.
31. Newman, Lesléa. 2015. I Carry My Mother. Headmistress Press.
32. Newman, Lesléa. 2012. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Candlewick.
33. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. Gift Tag.
34. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. P*TAG.
35. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. PoetryTagTime.
36. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2012. The Poetry Friday Anthology K-5. Pomelo Books.
37. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2013. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. Pomelo Books.
38. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2014. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Pomelo Books.
39. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2015. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English and Spanish. Pomelo Books.
40. Vardell, Sylvia. 2007. Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets. Libraries Unlimited.
41. Vardell, Sylvia. 2012. The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists. Pomelo Books. 
42. Vardell, Sylvia. 2014. Poetry Aloud Here 2: Sharing Poetry with Children (Second Edition). American Library Association.
43. Wong, Janet S. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. McElderry Books.
44. Wong, Janet S. 1996/2008. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. Booksurge.
45. Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel:  Poems about Driving. McElderry Books.
46. Wong, Janet S. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. McElderry Books.
47. Wong, Janet S. 2000. Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams. McElderry Books.
48. Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. McElderry Books.
49. Wong, Janet S. 2003. Minn and Jake: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
50. Wong, Janet S. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. McElderry Books.
51. Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
52. Wong, Janet. 2011. Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals. 
53. Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.

Special thanks to Candlewick Press, Simon & Schuster, and Pomelo Books for their support!

We have an amazing slideshow and our session will be audio-taped plus we have heaps of freebies to give away too. I hope to share some nuggets from our session later-- and attend the Poetry Blast and report on that next week too. Meanwhile, happy Poetry Friday, everyone! Head on over to Carol's Corner where she is hosting our gathering this week. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poet to Poet: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater Interviews Lee Wardlaw

I'm pleased to post another installment in my ongoing "Poet to Poet" series in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. This time it's Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Lee Wardlaw who have very generously volunteered to participate. Both of these women write poetry in picture book form that are so endearing, fun and thoughtful for young readers.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s work has appeared in multiple anthologies and she is a frequent and popular workshop presenter and literacy consultant. She is a former fifth grade teacher and her current blogs, Poem Farm and Sharing our Notebooks are both highly regarded resources on the writing and teaching of poetry. Her first full-length book for children was the lovely walk-through-the-woods, Forest Has a Song and her next book, Every Day Birds, will be out in the spring, 2016. 

Lee Wardlaw grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and wrote her first book in second grade. She continued to write poems, stories and plays all through elementary school. She worked as a teacher for five years before deciding to write full-time and the award-winning author of close to 30 books for young readers, including Won Ton: A Cat Tale in Haiku; Red, White and Boom; 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies, among others. She is also a frequent presenter of workshops and programs for children, teachers, and parents.

Here, Amy asks Lee all about her passion for cats and her creation of her new book, Won Ton and Chopstick, and Lee reciprocates with many images of her process along with her fascinating responses.

Amy: As a person who lives with many animals, both canine and feline, I admire the way you reveal Won Ton's purrsonality through poems. We playfully speak in the voices of our own cats and dogs here at home, but you take things to a new level writing two books in Won Ton's voice. Are Won Ton and Chopstick modeled after real animals you have known?  And if not, how did you do this?  Do you study your friends' pets and practice speaking as they might speak?  Do you do this out loud?

Lee: I speak fluent Cat. It’s been my second language since I was a toddler, when my mother used to read me Pussy Willow by Margaret Wise Brown. Since then, I’ve shared my life with 30 cats of every flavor imaginable, so it was easy to slink into Won Ton’s head and tell tales from his point of view.

Wait – I take that back. Writing in a cat-ly voice didn’t come easily at first, not until I switched from prose to haiku. That’s when Won Ton’s purrsonality really pounced off the page. I think that’s because cats and haiku have so much in common (as you can see from my analysis, below). I firmly believe that if cats were to speak human, they would do so in haiku.
Yes, Won Ton is modeled after several of my previous cats (with a bit of my own persnickety-ness thrown in). Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku is actually based on the sweet, affectionate relationship that my son and his cat, Papaya, developed over the last decade.
Papaya and my son, Patterson, at age 8 and at age 18.
True Confession #1: I’ve never owned a dog. So Chopstick is not modeled after any pup I’ve know personally. For him, I actually had to do research! 

I interviewed my author-friend Bruce Halewho has a dog, Riley. Bruce filled me in on many canine characteristics, such as: they love to dig, they love to chew, and they love to dig and chew.

I also interview Amy Shojai a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. Amy is a certified animal behavior consultant (CABC). She supplied me with amazingly helpful info about the common emotional, physical and social dynamics between a resident cat and a new puppy that invades his turf. 
Illustration from Won Ton and Chopstick, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
My long-time writer-buddy Dian Curtis Regan passed along a great anecdote about her elderly kitty, Gracie, and her new puppy, Nellie, which inspired this poem:

Proper cats prefer
playthings with feathers or fur.
So whose toys are these?

Amy: How did you come to choose the Japanese senryu form for Won Ton's voice?

Lee: True Confession #2: I didn’t know I was writing senryu! I’d never even heard of senryu – until I stumbled upon the term while working on Won Ton. It was an a-ha! moment, because I knew that my poems weren’t true haiku – and that worried me. I tend to be a rule-follower, so I had this irrational fear that the Haiku Police were going to break down my office door and confiscate my manuscript.

For your readers who don’t know, haiku (HI-koo) and senryu (SEN-ree-yoo) are similar. Both traditionally feature three unrhymed lines containing a grand total of 17 syllables (5-7-5, respectively) – and are written in the present tense. Each also captures the essence of a moment. In haiku, the moment is of nature; in senryu, the foibles of human nature (or, in my case, feline nature) are the focus, expressed by a narrator in a humorous, playful or ironic way. That’s Won Ton! 

Amy: Won Ton and Chopstick, like Won Ton, is collection of poems with a clear story-structure.  What is your process in drafting a poetry collection that follows a narrative arc?  

Lee: My process is the same as drafting a novel or a picture book – at least in the beginning.

First, I brainstorm ideas for the characters, which includes various aspects of their personalities: their needs, fears, wants, likes, loves, hates and – of course – their names. 
‘Name-storming’ for the puppy in Won Ton and Chopstick
I even made extensive notes on the types of sounds cats make, which is more than just meowing, growling or purring. (There’s also trilling, chattering, and chirruping, to name just a few.) I have notebooks scattered all over the house, in my purse, in my car. If I don’t have a notebook handy (rare, but it happens), I brainstorm on the back of grocery store receipts, bank deposit forms, napkins and restaurant placemats.
Random notes I made in the middle of dinner out with my family. 
(Yeah, they’re used to me ignoring them when the muse strikes.)
It’s crucial for me to understand not only who or what my characters are, but also why. In other words, I have to understand my characters’ motivations: the values, beliefs, emotions, fears, etc., that drive them to action. Without these motivations, I can’t create conflict or plot. And without conflict and plot, well, there’s no story.

Once I’ve created my characters, then I outline the plot. It’s a rough outline, because when I’m doing the actual writing, I like to allow myself to play, experiment, and explore; to scamper off, or sniff out intriguing tangents. But I always, ALWAYS know exactly how my story ends – even if the journey there changes somewhat along the way.

Then, finally, FINALLY, I start writing the poems. I think I ended up with 80 poems for Won Ton and Chopstick, which was 40 too many. So I printed each one out separately, and spread them across the floor of my family room, arranging and rearranging them into plot sections, such as “The Routine”, The Sneaking Suspicion”, “The Surprise”, “The Altercation”, “The Vindication”, etc.  (This took a while, because whenever Papaya spies any piece of paper on the floor, he must immediately come lie down upon it.)
Next, things got rough. That’s because I was now forced to “kill my darlings” (to quote William Faulkner). Meaning, I had to banish a lot of poems I adored because they either slowed the story pace, or didn’t increase the conflict, or failed to portray a necessary emotion, or sounded “author-y”. And, of course, each haiku had to be honed many, many times, because every single one is almost like a little story all on its own. (The final version of Won Ton and Chopstick has 37 poems; Won Ton has 33.)

Amy: Would you please talk a little bit about the last poem in the book?

Lee: In the first book, our hero is bemused by Boy’s name choice for him:

Won Ton? How can I
be soup? Some day, I’ll tell you
my real name. Maybe. 

By the end of the story, the reader knows that Won Ton has grown to trust and love his human:

“Good night, Won Ton,” you
whisper. Boy, it’s time you knew:
My name is Haiku.

In the second book, Won Ton is clear about his dislike for the new puppy:

Don’t bother barking
your real name. I’ve already
guessed. It must be…Pest!

But that dislike eventually erodes, transforming into trust and affection. I mirror that growth and depth of feeling in the last poem, when Won Ton says to Chopstick:

Your secret revealed.
What kind of name is Bashō?
I shall call you…Friend.

Although each book can stand alone, this last poem contains a surprise that connects it to the original story. In this way, I honor the fans of Won Ton – and also pay homage to Matsuo Munefusa (1644-1694), the Japanese haiku master whose pseudonym was Bashō.

Amy: Do you imagine more collections about either or both of these two friends? 

Lee: I’m pleased with this Dynamic Duo, but I wouldn’t say no to a trilogy! I actually have an idea for a third book, and I’ve received a lot of fan mail from kids begging for one more adventure, so maybe…

Sylvia: Wasn't this wonderful? I love Amy's questions about cat, form, and process and Lee's answers are so personal and honest-- complete with fantastic images that help us visualize her thinking. What a treat to share with young aspiring writers, too. 

Meanwhile, head on over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup for our blueberry-themed Poetry Friday party! See you there!

Image credits: LeeWardlaw, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater,