I'm happy to be part of the blog tour for the lovely poetry collection, For Every Little Thing: Poems and Prayers to Celebrate the Day selected by Nancy Tupper Ling and June Cotner and illustrated by Helen Cann. Here, Nancy gives us a glimpse behind the scenes to share a few nuggets about the creation of this beautiful book. In a nutshell, "Arranged from waking up to falling asleep, For Every Little Thing is an engaging collection of the day and its delights. This inspirational anthology gathers classic selections, modern prayers, and new poems from multiple cultures and faiths. From Emily Dickinson to Amma, from Ken Nesbitt to Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, fifty-one voices encourage children to be present and thankful at all hours."
So you might ask how I got started creating anthologies such as FOR EVERY LITTLE THING? The answer is a bit surprising. Several years ago, in an interview with the amazing Debbi Ridpath Ohi, I said “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One question can make all the difference.” Debbi then made an artistic rendering of my reply. Such fun!
It many ways it was because of one question that I became a coauthor with my mentor, June Cotner. While June had published several of my poems in her anthologies over the years, it was in 2011 that I learned that her assistant had moved away. So I asked one simple question: “Is there anything I can help you with?” Her answer shocked me: “Well Nancy, how would you like to coauthor a book with me?” If I’d never asked, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of creating anthologies with June. This led to our creation of Toasts (Viva Editions); Family Celebrations (Andrews McMeel); For Every Little Thing (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) and next up Bless the Earth: A Children’s Book of Prayers and Poems for Honoring the Earth (Convergent). We have a few more in our back pockets as well.
That said, the idea for the anthology, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING, started with the title “Counting Blessings.” Based on a poem by contributor, Barbara Younger, it has a theme of gratitude. As we started gathering poems to include, I was inspired to write a poem called “For Every Little Thing.” Voila! This soon became the title poem.
I know from your own beautiful creations, Sylvia, that you are fully aware how much work goes on behind the scenes of every anthology. Over the years, June built up over 800 contributors who provide fresh content for her books. Much of the work with anthologies relates to keeping track of current submissions and past ones, so we can give preliminary acceptances for poems that have a good chance of being included in a particular book. Plus we organize final acceptances, and permissions—all in our Access database program.
FOR EVERY LITTLE THING features poems from both famous authors and lesser-known contributors. This variety is one of the delightful aspects of June’s books. Certainly, each poem has a story behind it. For example, my poem entitled “Tonight . . .” was inspired by my six-year old daughter. We were visiting family in San Francisco, and after a beautiful day, she said: “Mama, tonight I will dream of the purple flowers, the ones that made you smile today. They’ll dance overhead. Their blossoms looked like fingers waving to the people. And I will dream that an orange fox sits beside me.” And that became the poem below. Sometimes poems come to us as gifts and we need to be ready to receive them.
Thankfully, after much research and gathering of our initial poems for our proposal, we signed with Eerdmans in March 2019. In turn, they hired illustrator Helen Cann https://helencann.co.uk/ to bring our poems to life. She is also a mapmaker, and her talent is reflected in the details of her gorgeous work:
Of course, not everything goes smoothly in a book’s creation, and there are always difficult decisions along the way. Especially with an anthology, sometimes a gorgeous poem doesn’t make the final cut just because it’s a bit too long for the page or another poem captures the sentiment slightly better or it will cost a fortune for that perfect Langston Hughes piece, and we already included several poems with high permission fees.
And then there was the pandemic! Thankfully, June and I had finished the manuscript when everything hit the fan in 2020, but our illustrator, Helen Cann, had to work through multiple lockdowns in England. As she said, “I was grateful for such a large project that not only kept me employed when so many others were losing their jobs, but it kept my brain occupied at a time of great stress.” Helen’s post about this period of time is really beautiful, if your readers would like to see how the practice of gratitude for “the smaller things” in life can really provide hope.
We certainly hope our readers find this joy and hope in FOR EVERY LITTLE THING. And sometimes a good belly laugh will do as well. My husband, Vincent, gave me this one day when he put a stickie on top of the book cover, making sure that I’m grateful for the “little Lings” in our lives as well (although our two girls are both in college now). It’s the little things that bring a smile.
Sylvia: Thank you, Nancy, for sharing these stories behind the creation of this book and of some of the poems. It's always fascinating to learn how a book comes to be!
Now, be sure to visit Bridget's blog, wee words for wee ones where the Poetry Friday family is gathering this week.