Poetry Friday: Happy #BookBirthday to “Secrets of the Loon!”

It’s been a busy couple of months for new releases:  between the poetry anthology CONSTRUCTION PEOPLE (Wordsong), Vikram Madan’s new HATFUL OF DRAGONS (Wordsong), and Marjore Maddox’s INSIDE OUT (Kelsay Books), the world of children’s lit – and consequently, my blog – has been chock-full of poetry! And now as we head into May, we welcome another new book – this one from my wonderful friend, Laura Purdie Salas.

Laura has written over 125 books, from poetry collections to rhyming picture books to non-fiction – and even books on how to write for children! Her newest book, SECRETS OF THE LOON, is officially out today, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in her home state.

Thanks for coming back to the ol’ Triple-R, Laura! Last time we’d chatted here was last year, in advance of your children’s poetry collection, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (Wordsong, 2019), and now we have a new book of poetry, also with a nighttime-themed cover! So how did this book come about?

Always happy to visit, and thanks for taking the time to share my work when you have so much of your own exciting news lately!

SECRETS OF THE LOON is totally different from any project I’ve ever worked on. The Minnesota Historical Society Press editor approached me, and the art (photographs by Chuck Dayton) and basic premise (the story of a loon chick’s first summer) already existed.

Shannon knew me and my work and wondered if I’d be interested in writing a kid-friendly story based on science content—and I was! So the basic idea was there, but I could approach it any way I wanted—prose, verse, poetry, etc. It was a strange, challenging, magical process!

Now, this isn’t a collection of poetry – it’s a loose narrative of poetic text – but it’s much more than a “picture book,” in the traditional sense. It’s very much poetry in picture book form! I imagine it must have taken awhile to figure out how you wanted to structure it and what you wanted to say. What was the process like, and was it different from other books you’ve written?

Figuring out the structure felt like it took forever—and yet was actually very fast. The deal was that MHSP had an unexpected open slot in its spring 2020 line-up. Because this project was proposed by Chuck Dayton, a former environmental attorney who has been photographing loons for years, MHSP slotted it into that opening. (Which they could do because they didn’t have to allow for a year for an artist to illustrate it.) I was brought onboard in February 2019. It was the fastest picture book ever, made possible because MHSP prints books here in the United States.

It was very stressful knowing I needed to figure out a form/genre quickly. I tried four different approaches: prose, rhyming, diary, and haiku collection. (I documented the entire process, a full year’s worth, for my Patrons: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas. I’ve also collected all 71 short videos into a case study of writing a nonfiction and/or rhyming picture book: https://writing-for-children.teachable.com/p/writing-a-rhyming-nonfiction-picture-book.) Here are some early excerpts of the possibilities I sent to Shannon:

We all agreed that the rhyming approach showed the most energy and the best fit, so I took it from there.

Wow, I had a feeling it might have taken awhile, but that was a lot of work! So what kind of research did you need to do before beginning your manuscript?

So much research! Even though Moon Loon’s story is a fictional one, it is absolutely scientifically accurate. Every plot element had to correspond with the right age and developmental stage and also with an available photo. It was a huge jigsaw puzzle.

None of the research involved live loon watching, sadly. I wrote the manuscript in spring, when loons are still in warm ocean waters, not here in chilly Minnesota. But I devoured books, writings of scientists and naturalists, websites and resources from loon organizations, and a gazillion videos. Plus Chuck, who not only took the photos but also wrote the backmatter, is a passionate loon enthusiast with many expert contacts.

© 2020 The Minnesota Historical Society Press, used with permission, all rights reserved (click to enlarge)

Here in New Hampshire, we know how tenuous the loon’s existence is, and it’s always a joy when you’re out on the water and suddenly hear that unmistakable call. So who did envision as your audience, your reader? Did you give any thought as to how far beyond the state of Minnesota interest in the loon might exist?

I imagined the audience as any curious young child, as well as adult birders, campers, hikers, north-woods-ers, and nature lovers who care about the creatures of our world.

Since I grew up in Florida, I had never even heard of the common loon until we moved to Minnesota (where it’s our state bird). But who could look at a loonling riding on a parent’s back and not fall in love? They are fascinating birds! The heavy bones, the awkward waddles, the looooonnnnnnnnnng take-offs for flight, and the amazing dives. I think they’re cool for anyone to read about!

(photo by Chuck Dayton; click to enlarge)

The fabulous marketing team at Minnesota Historical Society Press is trying to get the word out nationally, and I was thrilled that Kirkus Reviews reviewed the book. Northern North America will likely be the biggest audience. But Moon Loon’s story is universal: the self-doubt, the fear, the growing independence…I hope it offers something to every reader.

Anything surprise you along the way? Any “secrets” of the loon? 😉

One surprise was how hard it is to wail like a loon! I had to buy a loon stuffie with a real loon call recording inside to use when I read the book aloud to kids. My family got quite a kick out of my strange, strangled-sounding attempts, though.

Another surprise was how poorly loons walk on land. I knew they were water birds, but I didn’t realize their anatomy makes it super awkward for them to traverse land.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope readers take away two things:

  1. Our world and the creatures in it are amazing!
  2. Each of us has fears, but as we learn and grow, we can overcome them all.

Well, thank you for visiting again, Laura! And best wishes with the book. By the way, what can we look forward to next from you?

Thanks! All our in-person book events were canceled, of course, so I’m extra grateful to be able to share it here. We will be having an online book launch party for SECRETS OF THE LOON, though, this Monday, May 4 at 3pm CT on Facebook. It will feature a readaloud by me, a little backstory from Chuck, Q&A, and giveaways of 3 signed copies of the book.

Next up is CLOVER KITTY GOES TO KITTYGARTEN (Two Lions), a fiction picture book coming out August 1, charmingly illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. It’s the story of a kitty who finds school totally overwhelming! It’s my very first totally fiction picture book—whee! (www.laurasalas.com/clover)

Thanks again, Matt. Stay well, and I can’t wait to read ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME!

I appreciate that, Laura. The pleasure is all mine!

And folks, for more info on Laura and photographer Chuck Dayton, check out the following links: 


And since you mentioned it, speaking of “Once Upon Another Time”…


…Pre-orders are available!

In stores Aug. 18, 2020!


By the way, it’s Poetry Friday and my friend Liz Steinglass is hosting the festivities – so if you’re looking for more poetry and links, head on over to her blog, where you can find her reading her poetry collection, Soccerverse (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2019)!


I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun with it. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.


The 2020 Progressive Poem has officially concluded!

The annual Progressive Poem, begun several years ago by poet/author/blogger Irene Latham, is a way for the Poetry Friday family and other kidlit bloggers to join together and create a crowd-sourced poem for National Poetry Month. One person writes one line, then another adds another line, until the poem is completed April 30 – yesterday – and who would have thought a poem about a banjo-player taking an early spring walk would end…with a poet who can actually play the banjo! You can view the finished poem at Michelle Kogan’s blog and find all the contributors at the following links:

1 Donna Smith at Mainely Write
2 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem
3 Jone MacCulloch, at deo writer
4 Liz Steinglass at Elizabeth Steinglass
6 Kay McGriff at A Journey Through The Pages
7 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
8 Tara Smith at Going to Walden
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme
11 Janet Fagel hosted at Reflections on the Teche
12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
13 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
14 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
15 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
16 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
17 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
18 Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
20 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
21 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
22 Julieanne Harmatz at To Read, To Write, To Be
24 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering
25 Amy at The Poem Farm
26 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work That Matters
27 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
28 Jessica Big at TBD
29 Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces
30 Michelle Kogan at Michelle Kogan

Next week, I’ll be sharing the completed poem here along with my annual recording of it, so I hope you’ll plan to check it out!


What is Talkabook? Details coming soon!


I’ve teamed up with several other children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year – and there are a LOT of them: books from folks like Diana Murray, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lori Degman, Michelle Schaub, nancy Castaldo, and many others. I’m very proud to be part of this group of dedicated, talented writers.


Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!


You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

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, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

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20 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Happy #BookBirthday to “Secrets of the Loon!”

  1. Laura & Matt: As a former MN resident, and BWCA camper, I love loons! They fascinate me. Congratulations on this book and interview… an interesting story of a book coming together in record time.


  2. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    Thanks for this great interview, Matt and Laura. I’m still hoping for a blooper reel with Laura’s strange strangled Loon calls, though. 😉


  3. Liz Steinglass

    Laura, thank you so much for sharing some of your possibilities. It’s interesting to see that you tried so many before choosing one. Matt, thanks for the great interview!


    1. Thanks, Liz. I often have a trial-and-error process, but this one was even more methodical than usual, given the deadlines and the fact that I needed to please someone besides me! Which, of course, I always do, but I try not to think about the editor looking at it so early in the process, usually :>)


  4. David McMullin

    Hurray for all the new releases. Laura’s books are always wonderful, and as a bird lover, I am particularly excited about this one. Sadly, In Las Vegas, The loon is a very rare visitor.


  5. lindabaie

    My book is on the way, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the loon. I appreciate your post, Matt, and learning more about Laura’s process (so.much.work) creating this book. This would be great to share with students about research!


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