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. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Poetry Friday Party is Here!

Janet (Wong) and I are excited to host Poetry Friday today! As kids and teachers and librarians head back to school, we wish everyone a wonderful year full of learning and laughter and poetry! To get us rolling, here's one of my favorites from our anthology, GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). This one's by a newcomer who is already making a BIG name for herself, Traci Sorell. 

I'm excited that I'll finally get to meet Traci at the upcoming IBBY regional conference and I hope you'll join me there! (IBBY = International Board on Books for Young People and USBBY is the US section of this global group.) It's one of my favorite professional development events of the year (or every other year since it's biennial)! It's a small event with an intimate feel-- almost like a literature "retreat." And each of the speakers (authors, illustrators, poets) mix and mingle with the conference-goers. Most stay for the whole conference and become part of the audience too. It's lovely! And best of all, this is a group that looks at literature with a global focus, so meaningful in helping us think beyond our own borders. I hope you'll consider joining us! Here's the link for more info.

Best of all, there are heaps of poets who will be at the conference! Look at this list (below)!  So, make plans to come to Austin, Texas in October and you won't regret it! 

Now please use the handy InLinkz button below to add your Poetry Friday link and Janet and I'll be visiting your blogs all weekend long! Happy Poetry Friday, one and all!

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