Thursday, November 14, 2019

Chicago Treasure

Have y'all seen this creative and wacky book, Chicago Treasure? It's a collection of fairy tale-themed poems and short stories all focused around actual children out and about in Chicago illustrated in vivid color photographs. Here's the descriptive blurb:

Chicago has many treasures. The Magnificent Mile and Wrigley Field, wonderful public art and parks, beautiful bridges and skylines. But the true heart and the real treasure of the city are its children. 

This book is devoted to Chicago's children. Come along as they travel to worlds within worlds, becoming storybook characters who follow the Yellow Brick Road, sip tea in Wonderland, tame a tiger, live in a shoe, climb a magic beanstalk to bring home a golden-egg-laying hen, turn a frog into a prince, meet fairies and dragons. 

Continue as they step into painted canvases to inhabit scenes from other times and places. After climbing down from those framed worlds, they explore the city, high-fiving the victorious Chicago Bears, joining penguins at the theater, and leaping across State Street Bridge aboard African impalas. 

The kids are the story. The book is their adventure. Its door swings open. . . 

For kids of all ages. 168 pages and 150 illustrations. Unlimited dreams.

Here are a few spreads from the book to give you a flavor:

 One of my favorite elements is the section featuring children incorporated into works of fine art. Here's an idea for kids and classrooms to try themselves!

The classic stories and poems are rewritten in contemporary language to match the contemporary art. And did you see how diverse the children are? Such a fun and lovely aspect of the book. What a fun idea to invite children to celebrate their town or city, to put children themselves in the photographs, and to cosplay nursery rhymes and fairy tales in this contemporary context. 

Now head on over to Today's Little Ditty where Michelle is hosting our Poetry Friday fun!

Friday, November 08, 2019


It's time for another behind-the-scenes glimpse at a new 2019 poetry book for my EXTRA EXTRA feature. This time, poet and artist Calef Brown has been kind enough to share a bunch of poems from previous works that helps set the stage for his newest book, UP VERSES DOWN. Plus, he shares a glimpse into a very personal work-in-progress. Check it out! 

I’m happy to be here on Extra Extra! 

Since my first book was published in 1998, I’ve especially enjoyed writing poems inspired by various kinds of mash-ups – combinations of ideas, characters and words. Here are a few examples :  

Tattlesnake,  from Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers, Houghton Mifflin 2000:

An odd little creature
that every kid fears
is a snake
with unusual stripes
and big ears.
It spies on you,
tells on you,
then disappears.
Leaving the house
with your parents in tears.
Now because of that snake,
and one small mistake,
you’re in trouble 
for sixty or seventy years.

Allicatter Gatorpillar from Flamingos on the Roof,  Houghton Hifflin 2006:

Allicatter Gatorpillar
chews a leaf
shows his teeth.

Allicatter Gatorpillar
sings a song
then he’s gone.

Allicatter Gatorpillar
by and by
my oh my!
Allibutter Gatorfly

The Vumpire, and The Ooompachupa Loompacabra from Hallowilloween, Houghton Hifflin 2010:

The Oompachupa Loompacabra

The Oompachupa Loompacabra
roams the western plains.
On moonless nights
it captures goats
and gobbles up their brains.
“It lures its prey
with chocolate bars,”
a local man explains,
“horns and hooves
and candy wrappers –
little else remains.”

The Vumpire

He only works night games.
His signals are creepy.
When managers argue,
he makes them feel sleepy.
He never appears
in the photos we snap.
A widow’s peak peeks out
from under his cap
when he takes a nap
in the dugout.
His eyes bug out
and he hisses like a frightened cat
at the sight of a broken bat.
How weird is that?
Once, while waiting on deck,
I caught him staring
at the back of the catcher’s neck.

My book Hypnotize a Tiger – Poems About Just About Everything, Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt 2015  included a section of portmanteau poems called “Word Crashes”. This one is called Yak and Woody:

Guess which one
will soon become

My latest effort,  Up Verses Down – Poems, Paintings and Serious Nonsense, is an 80 page picture book with 55 poems published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt this past June. 
When I first gathered together a group of poems for this collection,  there were a couple that fell into the mash-up category, but were different than any of my poems that had appeared in other books, in that the subjects were real people (plus one fictional monster).

The first one is called The Wright Brothers Grimm. 

The Wright Brothers Grimm

Orville and Jacob and Wilbur and Wilhelm
were known as The Wright Brothers Grimm.
They plotted a flight 
through a forest at night.
Their chances seemed frightfully slim.
The first to attack them 
were witches and trolls.
They flew from the branches
and hopped out of holes.
The Brothers, as pilots,
were nimble and deft.
They zigged to the right
and they zagged to the left.
The monsters that rushed them
and fiendishly laughed
by double propellers 
were quartered and halved.
Down swooped a dragon
determined to strike.
The plane did a loop
and The Brothers yelled “Psych!”
At the edge of the forest was one final tree.
As the foursome flew close to it, 
what did they see?
A passel of spectators
out on a limb,
applauding their heroes –
The Wright Brothers Grimm.
I liked the idea of these four characters piloting The Wright Flyer through a fairytale forest full of witches, trolls and monsters. 

The second was a silly poem called Ben Franklinstein;

Ben Franklinstein

Ben Franklinstein,
once like a kind uncle to us,
is now a giant homunculus,
and quite frightening!
Brought back to life
by kite lightning.

The other poems in the collection naturally fell into broad categories – including a Miscellany section,  but these two didn’t fit with the others, again, because they dealt with actual individuals in a way that I hadn’t approached before. I decided to write some more that were ridiculous takes on real people – historical figures and other famous types. Here are two:

Albert E.

A now-famous genius
when only a tot,
was partial to numbers
and math, quite a lot.
His parents encouraged
their smart little guy.
His nickname?
Albert Einszweidrei.

Moz & Bee

Mozart, in truth,
was a wolfgangly youth,
with a neck like a baby giraffe.
A musical stickler. 
An ivory tickler.
He loved to make elephants laugh.
Beethoven too–
he knew what to do
to encourage a pachyderm giggle.
He danced on his toes
while a tune he composed
was performed with a squirm and a wriggle.

Despite doing some initial sketches, at this point it was clear that these poems, and this approach, wasn’t right for Up Verses Down. Aside from being different from my other work, they posed questions about how I might expand on this concept of using historical and cultural figures in a kind of gentle to pithy satire. I feel comfortable having a bit of snarky nonsensical fun at the expense of notable white male European and American subjects, but not anyone outside of that. After mulling it over for a while, I thought I would foreground that constraint, and maybe this could just be a personal project done for my own amusement. So, over the past couple years, in spare moments,  I wrote a bunch more in this vein, and compiled them into a collection of 26 poems titled: 

I try to make my picture books appeal to folks of all ages, but this was a first for me – a collection specifically aimed at adults (although there is nothing inappropriate for older kids and teenagers who may also appreciate it). I approached writing the rest of the poems with a similar process to the way I employ rhyme and wordplay in my children’s books, but aimed at a different audience. Perhaps that audience is just me. As with the examples above, they spin off nonsensical scenarios involving historical and notable figures from various eras. From ancient history to pop culture. From Nostradamus to Sid Vicious. The “And some who never were” part of the subtitle refers to a few fictional dudes who also pop up in the collection, including the afore-referenced Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Dorian Gray and  Ebenezer Scrooge. They are “about” the subjects to various degrees, including not at all,  but are mostly just spun out of associative wordplay and a particular kind of absurdist and obtuse satire. 
Here are a few of my favorites:

The House of Nostradamus

No one, 
as a prognosticator,
has a legacy greater
than Nostradamus,
who made his offspring promise
to refer to their home
in a reverent tone
as “The Nostradomicile”.
They refused and were evicted.
This was all predicted.

René and Friends

René Descartes  
first got his start
as a sitcom songwriter.
He would strum a guitar
and sip strong cider,
until, enraptured,
he totally captured
the vibe of the show.
A consummate pro.
This is his opus 
that all of us know,
(or most of us do):

I’ll be, 
therefore, you.

Vic V.

Sid's brother - Vic Vicious,
despite being fictitious,
was known to kiss pigeons 
and lick fishes.

Pablo Goes Low

Pablo Picasso
was no basso profundo.
He sang for fun, though,
and once hit a note so low
with his a cappella group
it made a fella poop. 

Mea Draculpa

My behavior was feckless.
It was impromptu.
Very reckless.
Sorry I chomped you.

And lastly, the author of Twelfth Night channels (or should I say chunnels) the author of Naked Lunch:

Dig the Bard

William S. burrows 
and tunnels away.
Masterful digging,
I do have to say.
A noble endeavor
that, unlike a play,
will serve every citizen
day after day.
People will travel
and go where they may.
He started in Dover.
His goal is Calais.

I’ve started on some sketches, and will be illustrating the collection with black and white ink wash drawings. What happens after that, I’m not sure, but it’s been fun so far. 

Thank you Sylvia, for inviting me to share some of my nonsense on Extra Extra!

Sylvia; Thank YOU, Calef, for sharing so generously! It's always fascinating to me to see how a poet AND artist works and the decisions you make along the way. It's so cool to see BOTH poems and illustrations that you decided NOT to use in the final book. And it's interesting to see how those "outtakes" lead to yet another project! 

Now head on over to Live Your Poem where the lovely poet Irene Latham is gathering all our Poetry Friday posts!

Friday, November 01, 2019

10 poetry books from around the world

Once again, I attended the IBBY Regional conference hosted by USBBY in Austin, Texas. Every two years, USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) organizes a 3 day conference at different places around the country and I try never to miss it. (I've been going for over 20 years!)  I love many things about this conference-- it's focus on introducing authors, illustrators, and poets from outside the United States, the way visiting authors stay and chat and mingle with everyone, how meals are included so we stay and chat together--- and so much more! 

And once again, I tried to include a focus on international POETRY-- always a challenge. I was lucky enough to co-host a "poetry jam" with guest poet and speaker Adolfo Cordova, a scholar and poet from Mexico. We had such a good time sharing poetry from Mexico and inviting people to read spontaneously from poetry books by other poet speakers at the conference too (there were more than a dozen poets represented!). 

As I prepared for this event, I was so pleased and surprised to see that this year's poetry output (for 2019) includes TEN POETRY BOOKS featuring poets and stories from outside the U.S. Isn't that wonderful?! Here's that list of 10-- with annotations courtesy of Amazon. 

10 International Books of Poetry

Beauvais, Clementine. 2019. In Paris with You. Translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Wednesday. 
Eugene and Tatiana could have fallen in love, if things had gone differently. If they had tried to really know each other, if it had just been them, and not the others. But that was years ago and time has found them far apart, leading separate lives.
Until they meet again in Paris.
What really happened back then? And now? Could they ever be together again after everything?

Bramer, Shannon. 2019. Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children. Ill. by Cindy Derby. Toronto: Groundwood. 
The poems in Climbing Shadows were inspired by a class of kindergarten children whom Canadian poet and playwright Shannon Bramer came to know over the course of a school year. She set out to write a poem for each child, sharing her love of poetry with them, and made an anthology of the poems for Valentine’s Day.

___________. 2019. I See the Moon: Rhymes for Bedtime. Ill. by Rosalind Beardshaw. Somerville, MA: Nosy Crow.
A beautifully illustrated collection of favorite rhymes for little ones preparing for bedtime. Rosalind Beardshaw’s artwork features wonderful natural scenes, with adorable sleepy animals and babies ready to be lulled to sleep.

Kaur, Jasmin. 2019. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. New York: HarperCollins.
The six sections of the book explore what it means to be a young woman living in a world that doesn’t always hear her and tell the story of Kiran as she flees a history of trauma and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America.

___________. 2019. My First Book of Haiku Poems: A Picture, a Poem, a Dream. Translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen. Ill. by Tracy Gallup. Tuttle Publishing.
My First Book of Haiku Poems introduces children to this ancient poetry form that's still a favorite among teachers, parents and children. These concise poems are easy for readers of all ages to understand and appreciate. 

Nagai, Mariko. 2019. Under the Broken Sky. New York: Macmillan. 
Twelve-year-old Natsu and her family live a quiet farm life in Manchuria, near the border of the Soviet Union. But the life they've known begins to unravel when her father is recruited to the Japanese army, and Natsu and her little sister, Asa, are left orphaned and destitute. 
In a desperate move to keep her sister alive, Natsu sells Asa to a Russian family following the 1945 Soviet occupation. The journey to redemption for Natsu's broken family is rife with struggles, but Natsu is tenacious and will stop at nothing to get her little sister back.

___________. Origami and Poetry Inspired by Nature. Ill. by Clover Robin. Somerville, MA: Nosy Crow. 
This stunning book features nature-inspired poems and origami. For each animal or object, children will be able to read a poem and then make a corresponding origami figure! With clear, simple directions and links to helpful videos for how to make thirteen animals or objects and fifty sheets of origami paper, this is the perfect introduction to the art of paper folding.

Russell, Ching Yeung. 2019. House Without Walls. Yellow Jacket. 
Eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with Dee Dee during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus in 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety. For a refugee, the trip is a long and perilous one, filled with dangerous encounters with pirates and greedy sailors, a lack of food and water, and even the stench of a dead body onboard. When they finally arrive at a refugee camp, Lam befriends Dao, a girl her age who becomes like a sister-a welcome glimmer of happiness after a terrifying journey.

van de Vendel, Edward. 2019. I’ll Root for You and Other Poems. Ill. by Wolf Erlbruch. Translated by David Colmer. Eerdmans.
This delightful poetry collection is the perfect cheerleader for young athletes . . . especially ones who may not be the most athletic. (Dutch poet) Edward van de Vendel introduces readers to a world where elephants figure skate, frogs win the Diversity Olympics, and a pig quits the football team for gymnastics, even though everyone laughs at his leotard. Paired with winsome illustra¬tions, the poems—sometimes silly, sometimes sincere—encourage young readers to pursue their goals, try their best, and take pride in themselves, whether they win or lose.

Vecchione, Patrice and Raymond, Alysa. Eds. 2019. Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. Triangle Square.
This collection of sixty-four poems by poets who come from all over the world shares the experience of first- and second-generation young adult immigrants and refugees. Whether it’s cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, racism, stereotyping, or questions of identity, the Dreamers, immigrants, and refugee poets included here encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope. Many of the struggles described are faced by young people everywhere: isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation. But also joy, discovery, safety, and family.
This is a hopeful, beautiful, and meaningful book for any reader.

Now head on over to The Opposite for Indifference where Tabatha is hosting our Poetry Friday goings on! 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

50 years of David Harrison's poetry!

This week I'm featuring poet David L. Harrison in celebration of his FIFTY YEARS of poetry publishing! How about that? 50 years is quite a milestone! David writes about his beginnings and some milestones along the way-- all with is dry, wry sense of humor. Enjoy! David writes:

My Journey So Far
Waving goodbye as I leave for my first day of school in Ajo,
Arizona at age six.

I meant to become an astronomer. But I was only six and it didn’t pan out. When I was older, seven, I meant to become an artist, but there again, it never happened. What I didn’t mean to become was a writer. But I had an accident when I was a 21-year-old science major at Drury College (now University) in 1959. I’d accidently taken so many science classes that the dean made me enroll in something else my last semester, and I chose a writing course. My professor liked my efforts and said he hoped I would continue writing. A lot happened during the next decade. I became a musician, athlete, husband, father, parasitologist, pharmacologist, and greeting card editor. But not a published author even after ten years of trying and 67 rejections. 

On October 1, 1969 that changed. I held my first book, a picture book called The Boy with a Drum, and knew what I wanted to do with my life. 2019 marks my 50th anniversary since the moment that changed everything. My 97th, 98th, 99th, and 100th books are due out next year. Sometimes I sit in my office looking at my books on the shelf above me and think back over the years at all the wonderful things that have happened to me as a children’s author, and I am grateful. In my heart I’ve been celebrating my good fortune all this year.

Midway through my career, twenty-six years ago, I surrendered to a long-felt desire to develop as a poet. (Back when I was six and carting home astronomy books from the library, I was also making up my first poems.) For three years I read about and wrote only poetry. I wrote about what I observed, heard, felt, lived. I wrote about school and family, diets and hairless bears, a boy who spent his life counting all the stars in heaven and started over. I discovered that the music in my background was influencing how my rhythms evolved. I learned that sometimes syncopation is a good thing; sometimes it worries editors.

Turned out my Midwestern voice, sense of humor, love and respect for nature, and response to the world around me provided me a spot in our nation’s choir of children’s poets. Next year’s titles, After Dark and The Dirt Book, will be my 20th and 21st books of poetry. I work seven hours every weekday. Each year I attend conferences, participate in children’s literature festivals, do book store signings, and visit schools. I’ve learned who I am, what I know, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. I have a wonderful wife, daughter, son, and family. What’s not to love about that? I probably would have been a lousy astronomer anyway.

Okay, this and I’ll stop. My last three books of poetry are summarized here.

A PLACE TO START A FAMILY: Charlesbridge, January 2018
  • One of ten books for K-2 chosen by teachers across the country for this year’s International Literacy Association (ILA) Teachers’ Choice List
  • Chosen by Bank Street College for its Best Children’s Books of the Year 2019
  • National Science Teachers’ Outstanding Science Trade Books
  • Pennsylvania’s Young Reader’s Choice, Awards Program Master List, 2019 – 2020

CRAWLY SCHOOL FOR BUGS: Boyds Mills Press, March 2018
  • Selected by Missouri Center for the Book to represent Missouri at the National Book Fair in Washington D.C., 2018
  • Named by NCTE as a Notable Book of Children’s Poetry, 2019

NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T: Charlesbridge, 2016
  • Starred Kirkus review, 12/1/15
  • Chosen by Society of Midland Authors as best children’s nonfiction book published in 2016
  • NCTE Notable Poetry Book
  • Red Poppy Award nominee, Georgetown, Texas, 2017

Thank you, David, for sharing a few nuggets from an amazing career of 50 years of creating poetry for young people! Now head on over to Library Matters for more Poetry Friday fun!

Thursday, September 19, 2019


It's time for another installment of my "EXTRA! EXTRA!" series. I love this "extra" glimpse into books of poetry that I've enjoyed. It's like the "Director's Cut" of a movie with "behind-the-scenes" nuggets that just extend the experience even further. 'Cause I always want MORE of any book I like! 

This time, it's Elizabeth (Liz) Steinglass who is giving us this glimpse. Her Soccerverse is a big hit this year and I hope you've checked it out. It's so timely with the USA women's soccer team emerging as world champions and with children everywhere playing more and more soccer. Plus, even if you're not a big fan of soccer, her poems really capture the authentic feelings of childhood. The backstory she shares with us below is really insightful. Check it out!

Liz writes:

Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2019) includes 22 poems about all things soccer—the ball, the field, the goal, uniforms, red cards, positions, fans, coaches, etc. Still, there were a few poems in the draft I first sent editor Rebecca Davis that didn’t make it into the final version. Here’s one:   

Is like the second someone hands you
An ice cream cone
And you’re just about to take
Your first

Is like dropping your ice cream
In the dirt
And all you can do
Is watch it

I still like this poem, and Rebecca did too, but in her feedback she said she wanted the collection to focus less on winning and losing and more on the emotional complexity of playing and being on a team. So while this poem came out, new poems about teammates, the coach, and opponents went in. One of my favorite quotes about Soccerversewas from a friend who said, “This is a book about social-emotional learning disguised as a book about soccer.” She had no idea how good that made me feel. I’m not sure about the word disguised, but yes! This is a book about soccer and about feelings.

Thank you, Liz. I feel like I'm in on a secret! And I love that your "sports poetry" is not only about sports after all! 

Now, gather around for the Poetry Friday happenings at Teacher Dance where Linda is hosting us all. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019


It's time for another installment of my "Extra! Extra!" feature. This time poet Cynthia Grady is sharing a poem that did NOT appear in her book, I Lay My Stitches Down, and the back story behind it. 

Cynthia Grady

I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY was published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. It was my first published book. A patchwork quilt is used as an extended metaphor for the entire collection. Each poem is named for a traditional quilt block pattern and each is spoken in the voice of an enslaved individual —except the first and last. Those two poems are spoken by modern day people to bind the work together.

One of my very favorite quilt blocks is called Ocean Waves. When done well, it’s gorgeous, and I wanted to include a poem with that title in a big way. Here is one worked by one of my first quilt instructors, Gai Perry, an extraordinary quilt artist.

When I was in the MA program in children’s literature at Simmons, I heard Tom Feelings speak about his brilliant book, The Middle Passage-- the horrendous leg of the triangular sea journey taken by slave traders from West Africa to the West Indies. I was so taken with Mr. Feelings’ artistry, compassion, and his vision, that I began reading everything I could on the subject.

Ten years later, when writing the poems that make up STITCHES, I wrote drafts of a poem called “Ocean Waves.” I wrote about the Middle Passage. I researched and wrote some more, and couldn’t come up with a satisfying poem.

So then, I thought maybe I could write a poem about the Quaker-owned whaling ships off Nantucket. They took in runaways, and after the whale hunt, let those people go free in the North. A satisfactory poem didn’t come.

Finally, I thought I could write about enslaved and free blacks working side-by-side on the docks in Louisiana or South Carolina, imagining what that might have been like. I did more research. Here is a draft, that I nixed before even submitting the work.

Ocean Waves
I work ports now, hefting crates. ‘Twas the sea
I loved -- prow piercing the waves, swift as a
needle through silk. Slaves, free blacks, Greeks, Dutch,
Portuguese. Working, sweating, whistling as
one. Until I saw a slave ship. Human
cargo with stench of bile rising on shrieks
from below. Darker than the belly of
Jonah’s whale. Born here, I’d never before
seen my countrymen arrive to these shores.
Such rudderless hope. Mad bondage. My kin.

While I was happy with the collection as it was, I was terribly frustrated and sad that I couldn’t include my favorite quilt block.  But a funny thing—I have never been able to sew a satisfying Ocean Waves quilt block either! Too many triangles!

Thanks for sharing so openly, Cynthia!

Now, head on over to Laura Purdie Salas's blog for more Poetry Friday links.