Michelle and I first met way back in Oct. 2013 at a Highlights poetry workshop. We were both in the very-early stages of our careers at that point, so it’s been interesting to see how our experiences have differed up to this point. And now that she has another new book coming out, I thought it was about time I asked her to visit the ol’ Triple-R!
First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Michelle! I have to say, I’m so happy to see you with not one, but TWO poetry collections to your name. Knowing where both of us were six years ago, how would you say your writing – and career – have developed? Are you writing differently, approaching the craft differently?
Thrilled to be here, Matt! And thrilled to follow your writing successes also, especially the recent news about your upcoming book with Charles Ghigna, Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2020). Congratulations! Speaking of “another time,” I can’t believe that Highlights workshop was six years ago! When I headed off to the conference, I was just starting to tinker with a set of poems about farmers’ markets, but I really didn’t know how to put together a poetry collection. In the subsequent year it took me to write and revise Fresh-Picked Poetry, A Day at the Farmers’ Market, I learned a lot, not only about different poetry forms, but about stringing poems together to create a collection with an arc and flow.
What did you learn about children’s poetry early on – either at the workshop or elsewhere – that you feel has been most helpful?
Children’s author David Harrison, who was the guest teacher at the Highlights poetry workshop, was a superb mentor. He taught me that less is more with children’s poetry. I came to David with these long, detailed poems about farmers’ markets. Brandishing his pen, David deftly slashed unnecessary descriptions but spared strong verbs and specific nouns. He taught me how to make my poems work in tandem with illustrations.
Now about this new book. It’s a poetry collection about collections! How did you come up with the idea, and how did you go about putting the poems and book together?
The idea first arose when I was participating in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm a few years ago. In this challenge, writers come up with one new picture book idea a day for the entire month of January. Toward the end of the month, running low on ideas, I started looking around my office for any brainstorm sparks. My eyes landed on a row of seashells on my bookshelf. I’d saved them from my grandmother’s shell collection. Hmm, seashells. Collections. What else do people collect? Coins. Keys. Baseball cards. Could I write poems about those things? Would kids even be interested in collection poems?
Then I remembered that my town’s library has collection display windows in the children’s department. When my own children were younger, they signed up to showcase their own prized objects in those windows. The waiting list was two years! Those display windows are still filled each month, and the waiting list is still long. I started noticing that other libraries have collection displays also. This led me to believe that I’d have an audience for poems about the time-honored hobby of collecting.
I guess every idea has to come from somewhere! So once you knew the subject, how did you figure out how to connect the poems?
When I started writing the poems, I knew I needed something to hold the collection together and entice readers to turn the page. So, I came up with a narrative arc. A child is given a school assignment to bring in something she collects for show and tell. The only problem: she doesn’t collect anything! The child searches for the perfect collection by consulting family, friends, and neighbors, who share their collections through poems. By the end of the book, the child has discovered the perfect collection. It isn’t “pebbles, shells, or twigs… or quirky whirlygigs,” but it is something that brings her joy. Can you guess? Read the final poem in Finding Treasure to see if you’re right!
People always ask me this question, and it’s impossible to answer…so I’ll ask you! (ha!) Do you have a favorite poem or spread in the book?
That is a tough question! Carmen Saldaña did such an amazing job with the illustrations in Finding Treasure that I’m in love with each spread. However, I think my favorite might be the one for the poem, “Collecting Stars.” In this poem, after searching for a collection all day, the child heads outside to try and collect fireflies. I love how Carmen captured the cozy glow of the fireflies against the starry sky.
That IS a beautiful spread – reminds me of my own yard! Now, I recall you mentioning to me that when doing final revisions for Fresh-Picked Poetry (also from Charlesbridge), a poem about heirloom tomatoes didn’t make the cut. Anything get axed for this book?
There is one poem that didn’t make the cut for Finding Treasure. It was called “Curious Collections,” about strange things people collect. While I was researching ideas for the book, I came across some pretty bizarre collections, like toenail clippings and dust bunnies, which I included in this poem. I thought the illustration for the poem could show the protagonist searching on the internet for collection ideas. Ultimately, my editor at Charlesbridge, Karen Boss, and I decided that we wanted to focus more on collections that were positive and unique, but not strange. So “Curious Collections” was replaced with “The ‘Gist of Collecting,” which is about items that scientists collect in the name of research.
By the way, I’m constantly being asked how to get into children’s publishing…and other than the standard, “practice the craft, learn the market, develop contacts” answer I usually give (which is a pretty concise, honest answer), do you have any words of wisdom you’ve gleaned from the past several years?
Since you started this interview by mentioning Highlights Workshops, I’ll end on that note. I think attending a Highlights Workshop is a phenomenal way to hone your craft and connect with other writers. After all, that’s how we met!
Well, thank you again for visiting, Michelle, I really appreciate it! Oh, and I was very humbled and honored to see you had dedicated the book “To Matt, my treasure.” I opened up the book and saw that and nearly started crying.
Ha, Ha. Yes, the book is dedicated to Matt Schaub. My husband. (Not the football player.) But you are a treasure, too, Matt!
Oh, ok! Well, thank you, anyway – I’ll try not to take it too hard. But I do appreciate you stopping by, and wish you the best! (And if you like Michelle’s book, I have a signed copy to give away…)
Since Michelle’s book is about ‘collecting’ things, I thought it might be fun to ‘collect’ some poems from her “Collecting Stars” poem, above! If you want to enter the contest, just leave a found poem here in the comments, or email me your poem at matt(at)mattforrest(dot)com. In case you don’t know, a “found poem” is simply a poem one writes by taking the words from one source and rearranging them into something new. So your poem doesn’t need to be long – or even any good! – it just needs to include only words from Michelle’s poem, above.
You only have 2 weeks to enter, as I’ll announce the winner by a random drawing on Fri. morning, Sept. 27 when I share all the poems here on the blog. The winner receives a PERSONALLY-signed copy of Michelle’s book! How cool is that?? Good luck, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing your poems!
The “Finding Treasure” Blog Tour continues this month:
ALSO: Be sure to check out Michelle’s brand-new poetry/literacy-focused blog!
It’s Poetry Friday! Looking for more poetic posts? Then be sure to stop by Laura Purdie Salas’ blog, Writing the World for Kids, where she hosting today’s roundup with a celebration of the release of HER new poetry collection!
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Amazon “Best Books of the Month,” Sept. 2017
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness
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