Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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Archive for the tag “children’s books”

National Poetry Month: Interview with Margarita Engle

National-Poetry-Month-Logo (2015)

I’m very excited to share another interview today – not just because it’s National Poetry Month, but because it’s with a woman whose writing I truly admire: Margarita Engle.

MargaritaA Cuban-American living in central California, Margarita was the winner of the very first Newbery Honor awarded to a Latino. Her award-winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the prestigious PEN USA Award.

I first came to learn of Margarita’s work about 5 years ago, when I stumbled upon her historical novel-in-verse, Hurricane Dancers, about the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck. It was the first novel-in-verse I ever read, and I was captivated by the way she used poems from the perspective of each character to move the story.

I’m honored to have Margarita join me today:

First of all, thank you for taking the time for this interview, Margarita – you’re so busy, I can’t imagine how you find any time to write! Three books published in just the past 2 months with more on the way is rather prolific! Seriously, how do you find the time??

Thank you for the invitation to explain that when three picture books are released within a few weeks of each other, it doesn’t mean they were written at the same time. Actually, they were started years apart, but some took longer to be accepted, edited, and illustrated. Release dates for Orangutanka, Drum Dream Girl, and The Sky Painter just happened to coincide, after following widely divergent publishing pathways! As far as finding the time to write, I try to stick to a calm, quiet routine of scribbling a few pages each day.

Well, certainly, publishing is an up-and-down, stop-and-go kind of industry – a book you write today might get picked up and released next year, while one you wrote 5 years ago may still in production! But finding the time to write is only part of the battle…how do you find your topics? Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you know if a potential story idea has what it takes to be publishable?

My historical verse novel topics generally emerge from a combination of reading, travel and daydreaming. Picture books are a bit different. They usually don’t require years of research. Orangutanka, for instance, was already writing itself in my mind even while I was standing in the rain forest, watching wild orangutans at a refuge in Borneo. Drum Dream Girl just danced right into my head after I read about Millo (Castro Zaldarriaga, see below) in a book by her sister.

The Sky Painter was more like a verse novel. I’m a botanist, agronomist, and birdwatcher, so I love writing about great Latino naturalists who have been forgotten by history. However, this one required a lot of research, and was difficult to find a publisher willing to accept a book about someone who was not already “famous enough.”

The problem with the industry’s general prejudice against biographies of people who aren’t famous is that women and minorities were left out of history books. If their accomplishments are ever going to be recognized, we have to start telling their stories now.

OrangutankaDD GirlSky Painter

The follow-up question then has to be, how do you decide what form the story should take – picture book, verse novel, picture book-in-verse, etc.?

Thankfully, that is rarely a struggle. It’s actually one of the truly satisfying stages in the process. I love to experiment, try it this way, try it that way, and ultimately allow the characters to decide. Their voices and the events in their lives offer a certain rhythm. When it feels natural, I proceed.

I need to ask a question that I think only fellow writers will truly understand: do you feel that winning the Newbery helped you gain more confidence in your writing…or did it have the opposite effect, by making you feel the pressure to maintain that level of writing? (If it was me, I think I’d be so nervous about writing my next book I’d never get it done!)

It’s a mixture.  I alternate between days of confidence and months of timidity. The truth is I write best when I’m convinced that my work is unpublishable, and no one will ever read or judge it.  That gives me complete freedom to experiment!

Good point. Nothing is more freeing than knowing you have nothing to lose.

We write well when we don’t worry about being judged. My creative writing professor, Tomás Rivera, told me to write in the moment, for myself, rather than thinking ahead toward publication, something that comes much later, if at all.

Speaking of publication, you’ve become well-known for your verse novels – Hurricane Dancers was the first of that genre I’d ever read, and I was blow away! – but you also apply that format to some of your picture books. Hurricane dancersHow do you go about finding those nuggets of gold you need to craft the individual poems, in order to tell the larger story?

Thank you! Hurricane Dancers is my most complex verse novel. For a simple picture book made of linked poems, I’m generally writing a biographical story. Each poem is a different stage in the character’s life. I don’t know any other way to carry him/her gracefully through time, without adding a lot of clunky facts and figures that I’d rather omit.

Orangutanka is a bit more lighthearted than some of your other books. What was your process for deciding its tone and structure?

I actually love lighthearted picture books, but most of them never find publishers. I have drawers filled with collections of poems on cheerful themes, but in the U.S., there seems to be an expectation that all my work has to be serious. (Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish is doing very well in Japan – maybe I should move!)

Orangutanka came out in the form of tanka because it’s the form I often use as a travel diary. Visiting a wildlife refuge in Borneo was so profoundly moving, I needed a sensitive form, but also playful, like young orangutans.

Your other new book that just came out is Drum Dream Girl, a biographical picture book about a real-life Chinese-African-Cuban girl, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who wanted to be a drummer at a time when that sot of thing was frowned upon. How is writing this type of book different from writing a verse novel? (Some people would say shorter means it’s easier – but anyone who writes for a living will tell you shorter is often much harder!)

Drum Dream Girl is more of an “inspired by” story than a true biography. I didn’t want to load it with facts and figures. I just wanted to evoke the spirit of Millo’s courage, as a ten-year-old girl defying Cuba’s taboo against female drummers. I wanted to avoid discussing the taboo itself in any detail, because it’s part of an extremely complex West African religious tradition that would be confusing for young children.

Many of my picture book manuscripts are extremely short, but sometimes an editor asks me to add detail, and then they have to grow. Fortunately, this one stayed in its original form, leaving plenty of room for Rafael López’ spectacular artwork!

Surrender TreeSilver peopleLightning DreamerPoet Slave

What would you say is the most important consideration a writer needs to make when crafting a verse novel, as opposed to another genre?

The heart is the most important consideration. The heart of the story, the heart of each poem, the heart of each character. I love the verse novel format because like a haiku, it has room for universal emotions, without all the clutter of too many facts and figures. However, I do need to research my subject thoroughly. I need to know those facts and figures, and then I need to choose which ones are truly important to me. The rest can be left out completely, or distilled into a brief prose historical note at the end.

Please tell us about your upcoming new book, The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. What drew you to this particular person?

I love writing about great Latinos who have been forgotten by history, and I love writing about people who are independent thinkers, willing to try something new. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, instead of killing them like Audubon. I think that’s a creative approach that will inspire children! Just because someone is taught to do something destructive, that doesn’t mean he/she can’t figure out a better way to accomplish the same goal.

Ornithologists consider Fuertes to be the best bird artist who ever lived, and he was also a great conservationist at a time when women still wore whole birds on their heads – hats were not just ornamented with feathers, entire specimens of rare and endangered species could be spotted on hats in fashion shows! He talked to women’s clubs, asking them to use ribbons or other decorations, instead of dead birds. It sounds absurd now, but that was the reality of the time. It makes me ask myself: what are we doing now that will seem horrifying in a few decades? How can we change?

Finally, I’d love to know more about your upcoming childhood memoir in verse, Enchanted Air. How different was writing an autobiography from writing the biography of someone else, and how does a writer find the objectivity needed to determine what works and what doesn’t?

Enchanted AirEnchanted Air is subtitled Two Cultures, Two Wings. It’s the story of my childhood summers in Cuba, where I bonded with my mother’s extended family, and fell in love with tropical nature.

It’s also the story of the Cold War, and the loss of travel rights. I know the Missile Crisis affected every child of my generation, but it affected Cuban-Americans in a unique way. Writing this book was excruciatingly painful. I won’t be able to read certain parts out loud without crying. I don’t claim to be objective about something so personal and emotional.

By the way, are there any subjects or even genres you haven’t tackled yet, that you would like to?

That’s a long list! My one great unfulfilled wish is a bilingual picture book. I keep writing them, but none are ever accepted. I also wrote a magic realistic middle grade book that has not found a publisher, but I enjoyed experimenting with fantasy. I’m also enjoying experimenting with a historical verse novel set in my home state of California. I would love to try a collection of natural history poems. I haven’t yet tackled the subject of contemporary Cuba.

Well, thank you so much, Margarita! I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

For more info on any of Margarita’s books, check out her website HERE or simply click any of the book covers above!

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Poetry Cubed logoBy the way, you have one week left to send me your “Poetry…Cubed!” entries for a chance to win one of two books! Last week I shared a new poetry challenge…and I’m looking forward to seeing what you can come up with! It’s my take on the Food Network show, “Chopped!” – but instead of using surprise ingredients from a basket to create a meal, you need to use three photo prompts to create ONE fantastic poem!

(Don’t worry, you won’t be graded…winners will be chosen at random. Get all the details HERE!)

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By the way, Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem is…well, progressing – very nicely! A different writer adds a line each day, and today Tara at A Teaching Life adds her touch to the adventure. On April 30, we’ll see where it ends when Yours Truly caps it off with the final line.

You can follow the 2015 Progressive Poem at the following blog spots:

2015ProgressivePoem1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: my contribution!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThe last couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing some poems I wrote that didn’t make it into the newly-released Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books). Today, I’m sharing the poem that DID make it in!

The latest in the Poetry Friday Anthology series just came out on March 14 (Super Pi Day!) and I’m so happy to be a part of it. PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030Published in two versions (a student edition with illustrations and a teacher’s edition with additional information on poetry and lesson planning), the book is comprised of 156 poems in English with a Spanish translation for each poem.

That’s a lot of poetry in one book!

Mine was written in honor of National Cereal Day, which was March 7. Here are both versions of the poem:

Picky Eater

I love my Fruit Loops,
love my Trix,
love Cheerios
and even Kix.
I really like
my Apple Jacks –
but please don’t give me
Sugar Smacks,
or stars or squares or flakes                    
you’ve found –
I only eat, you see,
what’s round.

 

Exigente Para Comer

Me encantan mis Fruit Loops,
Me encantan mis Trix,
Me encantan los Cheerios
y hasta los Kix.
Y también me gustan
mis Apple Jacks –
pero, por favor
no me des Sugar Smacks,
ni estrellitas, ni cuadritos                    
ni copitos encontrados –
solo como
lo redondo.

– © Pomelo Books, 2015, all rights reserved (Note: cereal brand names are trademarks owned by their companies)

mmpoetry2015-logo-mainBe sure to “check out” the complete Poetry Friday roundup at Ms. Mac’s place, Check It Out! Also, please “check out” the #MMPoetry 2015 tournament that is coming down to the wire at Ed DeCaria’s Think, Kid, Think – only FOUR authletes remain, and Yours Truly is not feeling very happy about having to vote for two of his four friends and not for the other two!

Now, if you don’t mind, there are still a couple of puddles outside that need jumping-into…have a great weekend!
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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Coming to terms with self-doubt (but wait – have I REALLY come to terms with self-doubt?)

Being a creative type, while liberating, has its pitfalls. One of those is self-doubt – and I’ve got it bad.

At least, I think I do.

The problem is, when you’re your own boss, you make the rules. In a normal type of self-employment, that’s to be expected. In my voiceover business, for example, I audition for gigs, I record scripts, I produce commercials, I correspond with clients, and I’m done. Granted, there’s a bit of creativity in there, but usually I’m voicing scripts the way the client wants, not the way I want. That’s fine.

But when it comes to writing…we’re talking a whole different situation.

Being objective in a subjective career

"What if?"Writing requires you to come up with an idea, debate the merits and pitfalls of said idea, write a story, essay, poem, song, etc. utilizing that idea, and then revise what has been written so many times that you begin to wonder if any of it was ever a very good idea to begin with.

Neuroses, anyone?

Seriously, I’ve always been my own worst critic and do a pretty decent job of self-directed revisions, but now that I’m on the verge of possibly making a career out of children’s writing, I’m writing much more than I ever did; consequently, I’m much more critical of my writing than I ever have been.

It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong…but being new to this, I’m still trying to get a feel for where and when I can stop.

“The self-doubt runs strong in this one…”

I write a poem and feel pretty good about it. I go back to it a day later and change a line. Later that same day I change a word.

The next day, I change another word and delete two.

Two days after that, I make another tweak.

By the end of the week, I’m wondering if it’s really done at all, or if I’m just being ridiculously picky and need to send it out. Then I change a word. A year later, all bets are off as to how many changes the poor thing will have to endure.

And that’s just one poem. When it comes to picture books…

The bigger the project, the more uncertainty

ID-100181950 (glasses-book)“Is that the best title?”

“Is the concept original?”

“Is it too wordy?”

“Did I already use that word?”

“Should I use a different word?”

“What’s another word I could use?”

“Is this even sellable?” 

And it goes on. You can probably see why writers are a bit of a different breed.

Coming to terms

I remember asking the illustrious Tomie dePaola about self-doubt a few years ago. I told him that most of the time, I write a poem or story that I like, that gets edited and revised to the point where I’m pretty happy with it. But every so often, I’ll write something that truly amazes me, that surprises me, that makes me question how I even managed to write such a thing.

“This is incredible,” I’d think to myself. “I don’t know how I did it…but this is really, really good. It’s so good, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to write anything as good as this! This thing right here is probably the last really good thing I’ll ever write…oh, no!” 

Then I’d come up with something new within a week or two.

So I asked Tomie if he ever felt this way, if he ever had strong self-doubt…and if so, what he did about it. His response?

“First of all, you need to have a drink!” he said.

He agreed, though, that we all tend to view our creations like concerned parents – a “what-if-our-baby-isn’t-ready-for-the-world” sort of mentality – and that it’s natural. But once you’ve been doing it for as long as Tomie has, you become a little more comfortable with your decisions.

It’s all about experience – as is the case in any industry – and having only been in this industry five years or so, I’m still learning. I suppose that once I have (or rather, IF I have) a half-dozen books under my belt, the self-doubt will fade and I’ll start to feel a little more confident in my ability to know what’s going to work and what’s not.

At least, I hope that’s true.

I think I need a drink.

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: We missed National Cereal Day!

Poetry_Friday logoIt’s been so crazy around here lately – between book releases, manuscript revisions, and the #MMPoetry March Madness competition – that I completely spaced on this most awesome of holidays!

The reason I’m celebrating is because I have a poem included in the newest Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, which is due out in just a few weeks, and the poem is about National Cereal Day – which was last Saturday, March 7.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030I have to admit…as much as I try to be healthy, I’m still a kid at heart, so my favourite cereals are the ones I’m not supposed to eat. Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, and any Monster cereal that I come across are destined for my pantry. And when someone decided to make Lucky Charms with CHOCOLATE and someone else put MARSHMALLOWS in Fruit Loops…well, let me just say I wanted to shake their hands.

But what ever happened to my old favourites? Those great, long-lost bits of corn meal and sugar that are woven into my memory and are a part of the fabric that IS Matt Forrest Esenwine?? (And I’m not using hyperbole – with all those preservatives, they really ARE part of the fabric of my body at this point)

DonutzI’m talking about KaBoom; Quisp; Moonstones; Grins and Smiles and Giggles and Laughs; Q-bert (yes, the video-game hero had his own cereal!); Oreo-O’s; and the venerable Donutz!! Can I get a holla?!?

OK, well, before I go too far with the reminiscing, I’d like to share the poem I wrote that DIDN’T make it into the PFA for Celebrations. After all, once the book comes out, you’ll see which one did make it…so this is like the free toy surprise inside the box! Hope you like it:

Cereal Legend

Little Horatio Magellan Crunch
never knew what was going to happen…
one day, he would sail the seas
and all the world would call him, “Cap’n.”

– © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2014

And yes, that’s Cap’n Crunch’s real name! I don’t make stuff up, you know. I felt I should contribute something connected to my home state (the cereal was developed by a New Hampshire resident), but alas, it didn’t make the cut. And to be honest, I never even really liked Cap’n Crunch when I was young. Even as an 8- or 9-year-old, I knew there was something just plain wrong with the texture.

Hoots

I used to LOVE these…oh, Hoots, wither hast though gonest?

So what were YOUR favourite cereals as a kid? Pebbles? Super Sugar Smacks? Honeycomb? (remember Strawberry Honeycomb?) How about those lost classics like King Vitamin, with the creepy-looking dude on the box…or Baron Von RedBerry – a Monster-cereal knockoff that I still wish they’d bring back? I’d love to hear your comments, below.

For today’s complete Poetry Friday round-up, please visit Laura Shovan at Author Amok, and please be sure to check out the Madness that is the #MMPoetry competition over at Ed DeCaria’s place, Think Kid, Think! mmpoetry2015-logo-mainI lost in the first round, but it’s still a lot of fun and the competition continues throughout the month.

Be watching for the PFA for Celebrations, and I’ll be sharing more poems that didn’t make it in in the next couple weeks!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Priorities, priorities…

The other day I was looking over my blog stats when I noticed something that surprised me. It had nothing to do with demographics or popular posts or click-through rates. It had to do with content.

DSCF2068 (Mic - Katie)I discovered that it has been quite awhile since I posted anything relating to voiceovers, audio production, or advertising – which, if you notice the little tagline below my blog’s name, is supposedly one-third of what this blog is supposed to be about.

How long has it been? Not since last OCTOBER.

What gives??

Aren’t I supposed to be sharing news, thoughts, tips, insights, and anecdotes about my three areas of interest? Well, yes – but lately I’ve only been able to really focus on two of those areas: the most productive areas, actually.

Understanding priorities

I have said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again…my family is always my priority. Now, some days, getting a piece of production done on time takes precedence over anything else I may need to do – but I’m not shirking my responsibilities towards my priority. Making money and paying my bills is a necessity to taking care of my family.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

But balancing family with a voiceover career AND a writing career can be tricky – particularly when both careers are growing. In the past year or two I’ve been able to develop my voiceover business – recording my first audio book and connecting with a new ad agency. I have a small stable of regular clients, plus I have just learned I’ll be working on a special radio broadcasting project, the details of which I cannot divulge yet.

Lullabye coverIf things in the voiceover world have been going well for me, my children’s writing world has been going gangbusters! I have poems in two brand-new anthologies, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet (Abrams/Appleseed) and Dear Tomato coverDear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems.
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I’ll also have poems in the Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo) due in April and The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books), due this fall.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030AND I’ll have a poem in an upcoming issue of Highlights magazine!

There’s more going on behind the scenes, as well – I hope to share some news soon – but suffice it to say that my decision to jump into a children’s writing career five years ago is starting to bear some fruit.

So what’s a guy to do?

I find myself asking that question regularly. I have voiceover gigs to do, poems and picture book manuscripts to write, and as a stay-at-home dad, a family to take care of (and a load of laundry I need to get done). There is only so much time in the day – so what gets pushed to the back burner?

The blog.

I hate saying that, because this blog has been invaluable to me for networking purposes, audience-building, and as a source of (hopefully) useful information. I hate to say my blog is a low priority, but compared to the nuts and bolts of life, it is!

Earlier today, I completed another picture book manuscript. I also wrote a poem for this year’s #MMPoetry March Madness Poetry Competition, spent the morning running errands, took a walk with the kids, made homemade vegan chili (which is so good, it fools my fellow meat-eaters), and put the 18-month-old to bed. I’m writing a blog post right now, and as soon as I’m done I’ll be emailing one of my audio production clients about scheduling studio time, then reviewing the picture book manuscript to make revisions.

I’m kinda busy.

The fine line

There is one: the line between prioritizing and just letting things slide. I’ve been trying to be careful not to let the quality of my posts suffer (I suppose you’ll have to be the judge of that!), even if I have been posting fewer of them than I did last year.

I recognize that I cannot always do everything I want to do…but I do try to accomplish everything I need to. My family comes first, of course – but my writing has surpassed voicework for second place. It feels strange to say that; however, good things are happening right now in my writing career and I cannot slow down.

I don’t dare!

mmpoetry2015-logo-main

The madness is back! Click the logo to learn more about this fun, exciting, and interactive competition. (School classrooms can still sign up!)

If I put the brakes on my writing career just so that I can maintain my voiceover career, how will I know what might come of my writing? Likewise, if I completely dismiss my voiceover career, I’ll be giving up something I enjoy, that I’m good at, and that pays the bills.

I left radio in 2012 to build both careers, and I’m in the position of having to figure out how to grow them simultaneously. Right now, one is growing faster than the other, and it’s up to me to strike that balance we were talking about.

Hopefully I’m setting the right priorities!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Have you heard about “Lullaby?”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllGreetings! For the first time since I began blogging nearly 3 years ago, I’m not posting or sharing any poetry for Poetry Friday. But I have a good reason…

I’d like to remind you of this past Tuesday’s post, which was ALL ABOUT poetry!

Lullabye coverThe very first children’s book I was ever invited to be part of is now available, and in addition to sharing my page spread from the book, I also interview the anthologist (and the one who gave me this fantastic opportunity), Lee Bennett Hopkins. Find the post HERE!

The graphic really doesn’t do the book justice – it’s such a beautiful, sturdy piece of work you just have to hold it in your hands to fully appreciate it.

I hope you enjoy the interview – and the book! – and for all of today’s Poetry Friday links, head on over to Robyn Campbell’s blog, where’s she’s hosting the festivities!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Available TODAY! “Lullaby and Kisses Sweet”

I’ve been telling you about this for awhile, and the day has finally arrived…the very first children’s book I was selected to contribute to is on sale today!

Lullabye coverLullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby is officially out now – in stores and everywhere. This book is unlike most others out there – it is a board book for young children 0-5, yet it is also a poetry anthology comprised of 30 poems by various writers such as Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charles Ghigna, X.J. Kennedy, David L. Harrison, Marilyn Singer, Laura Purdie Salas, and many others including…little ol’ me.

It feels weird to say that.

I have to thank the wonderful and inimitable Lee Bennett Hopkins, who came up with the concept and compiled the poems for the book. He even contributes a couple of poems, too. And Alyssa Nassner’s cute baby- and toddler-friendly illustrations are the perfect complement to the text.

So today I wanted to share a couple of things: a short interview with Lee as well as the poem I contribute to the project. Before we get to Lee’s interview, though, congratulations are in order.

logo-scbwiLast week, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced they had teamed up with Lee to create the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award which, according to the SCBWI, “recognizes and encourages the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults” and will be awarded every three years.

(for more information about the award click HERE or click the SCBWI logo)

A lifelong supporter and cheerleader for children’s poetry, Lee has already helped establish two other awards: the annual Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, presented by Penn State University, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award, presented every three years by the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).

LBH BEST PHOTO

Lee Bennett Hopkins

He’s also received his fair share of awards, including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Poetry for Children in 2009 and the SCBWI’s 1996 Golden Kite Award for his poetry collection, Been to Yesterdays. And with over 120 books under his belt, it was a matter of time before the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records named him “the most prolific anthologist of poetry for children.”

So now without any further ado…let’s get to our interview!

Lee, thank you so much for asking me to contribute a poem to this incredible project. Being a board book anthology makes this book a rather rare sort of species in the world of children’s literature; how did you come up with the concept of creating a poetry collection for very young children?

I have always maintained that poetry should become part of a child’s psyche as soon as they are born – if not before! Lullabies sung by mothers and fathers, kisses sweet given to newborns are as natural as breathing. Why not create a collection for the young that deals with topics they are becoming familiar with – Family, Food, Firsts, Play, Bedtime? A verse such as your “First Tooth” is not only right on for this age group, it is fun, filled with childlike surprise, wonderment.

Well, I’m glad you liked it enough to include it! For my readers, here is my poem from the book, along a sweet little gem from Heidi Stemple:

9781419710377_LullabyandKissesSweet_TX12

Reprinted with permission; all rights reserved. (Click to enlarge)

 

Having already edited so many anthologies before, you are intimately aware of what it takes to put a poetry collection together – but I wonder if there were any unusual steps you needed to take with this particular project? How did the creation of this book differ from others?

LULLABY AND KISSES SWEET began with a definite set of guidelines. Every poem in the collection was especially commissioned by a host of well-known poets as well as introducing new voices, giving many a chance to become published for the first time.  Each verse had to be eight lines or under, had to rhyme and had to have that “I” moment as children awaken to what is going on in their world around them. Realizing what it is to have a grandma take one’s hand, experiencing disappointment as one’s tower of blocks suddenly crash to the floor, a plea for the sound of words as a child asks to be read to again and again.

I have done about 120 collections for all ages. LULLABY… is the first, quite huge board book I’ve ever done.

Tell me about your collaborators – your editor and illustrator.

Working long and hard for several years with a wondrous editor, Tamar Brazis at Abrams, helped shape the book and its conceptual development from the very beginning to the final bound pages. A next important phase after the completion of the manuscript was that of illustration.

It was decided that Alyssa Nassner would do the book featuring anthropomorphic characters — bunnies, bears, tigers, kittens. And she pulled it all off in a most charming, child-friendly, loving way.

Following that line of thought, did you encounter any surprises – such obstacles or poetic perspectives – along the way?

I am always impressed with the hard work, the diligence, poets put into their writing. Many poems were written, edited by me, rewritten and oft time re-re-rewritten. Those who work with me know I have a definite philosophy about what I want to give to our youth. I detest ‘bathroom humor’, light verse that says nothing. Each poem in LULLABY… has been crafted to bring strong self-concept to a child.

A general question for you: What is perfect about children’s poetry these days, what is missing, and what is there too much of?

I wish there was more Poetry with a capital P. There is too much light verse that goes nowhere, straining to be silly. The sidewalk ended a long time ago and very well with the brilliance of Shel Silverstein. It will take giant steps to widen the pathway!

I wish there were more anthologies being published for all ages. There are fewer and fewer. In 2014 we saw two; in 2015 we’ll be lucky to see four – and three of them are mine. We need more diversity, more voice within the genre.

I wish editors would publish books of poetry by a single author on a variety of themes rather than on one subject. Past collections by masters such as Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merriam, Lilian Moore, et. al., didn’t have to have one theme. They offered a smorgasbord of work and it was all delicious fare.

I have to agree. Books by folks like Silverstein and Dorothy Aldis, who greatly influenced me, were rarely one-theme books. Are you at liberty to let readers in on any news about future projects?

Forthcoming in Fall is JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES: A BOOK OF POEMS, illustrated by Jane Manning (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press), my heartfelt tribute to libraries, librarians, storytellers and books. A stellar roster of poets are included such as X. J. Kennedy, Nikki Grimes, Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle, as well as never-before-published works.

Another major work will appear this Fall if the book stays on schedule.

Finally, I have to ask…what keeps Lee Bennett Hopkins going?

What doesn’t keep me going? I am interested in everything from idiotic politicians’ points-of views to hunting for purple clothing — from finding a good restaurant to searching for a thrilling theatrical experience.

Then there is that thing called ‘poetry’. Damn it sometimes. It envelopes me — my life, my heart. It is food, drink, manna, stuff that makes life worth living.  I live to pass the poetry…that stuff with the capital “P”.

Lullabye coverAnd we get to share in that love of poetry with you, Lee! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Remember, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby is on sale now at your favourite bookstore and online, so I do hope you’ll pick up a copy and enjoy it. For a young child’s birthday or even a baby shower – this makes a perfect gift! Thanks again to Lee for believing in me and giving me my first “big break,” and thank you to all of you who take time out of your busy days to read this blog…I appreciate your support, as well!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Dear Tomato” anthology is available now!

Dear Tomato coverI am thrilled to be able to finally say I am a published children’s author! Three poems of mine were selected for inclusion in Carol-Ann Hoyte‘s new children’s anthology, Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems – and it officially went on sale on Amazon this past Monday!

Dear Tomato… features over 50 poems by 34 poets from around the globe. The poems vary greatly in form and style – some are structured forms, some are free verse, some are humorous, others are a little more serious – but they all share an agricultural theme.

And while Carol-Ann worked at sorting through and editing all the poems, her collaborator, photographer Norie Wasserman, provided the black-and-white photographs that accompany the text.

Speaking of text…here’s one of the three poems I contributed:

Fair is Fair
(a lesson in Fair Trade)

Mother’s coffee,
Father’s tea,
Sister’s cocoa…
all might be
a farmer’s only
chance to give
his family
a chance to live.

© 2015, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

I hope you’ll pick up a copy! Although it’s only available via Amazon right now, it should be more widely available within the next month or two.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllBy the way, I need to make you aware of two other brand-new books due out very soon:

Laura Purdie Salas’ third and final edition of her “…Can Be…” series, titled A Rock Can Be… (Millbrook Press) comes out this weekend! It hits bookshelves this Sunday, March 1, and you can read my complete review of it HERE.

Lullabye coverThe very first children’s book I was contacted to be part of comes out this Tuesday, March 3! Lullaby & Kisses Sweet is a board book anthology for young children, 0-5 years, and I couldn’t be happier about working with the wonderful and highly esteemed Lee Bennett Hopkins. For Tuesday’s blog post, I’ll be sharing more info about the book, my page from it, and a short interview with Lee – so be sure to stop back then!

But wait – there’s more!

mmpoetry2015-bracket-rd1-startI also want to let you know about this year’s March Madness Poetry 2015 Competition! Once again, Ed DeCaria at Think Kid, Think has put together this annual friendly event which not only stimulates the minds and creative juices of those of us taking part – but helps to bring a little poetic excitement to the classroom, as well!

What’s that? You’d like your classroom to join in the Madness? Then find out more and sign up today! The insanity begins soon, so be sure to follow Ed and his blog on Twitter or Facebook – or just stay close here, as I’ll be providing updates throughout the month!

Whew, I’m worn out! That’s it for now. Writer/poet/blogger Heidi Mordhorst is hosting Poetry Friday at her blog, My Juicy Little Universe, so head on over for all of today’s poetic links and info!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Review: “A Rock Can Be…”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any new blog entries – save for my Poetry Friday posts – and for that I apologize. My wife and I have been dealing with family problems (ailing, elderly parents), house problems (now that the new $8000 furnace/boiler and $2000 electrical panel are installed, there are ice dams on our roof), and vehicle problems (last Friday, the left rear tire flew off my truck while my wife was driving home – not good).

And of course, here in New England, we’ve been getting major snowstorms every week, which means snow blowing, shoveling, and school cancellations…and until 2 days ago, I was doing it without a snow blower, since ours was in the repair shop.

There has also been some good news, though:  I’ve written two new picture book manuscripts in the past month, which has taken quite a bit of my time, and I also received some FANTASTIC news a few weeks ago that I’m dying to share with you. I can’t say anything yet, but it’ll be a big announcement when I do!

rcb coverSo for today, I wanted to share some other big news…a new children’s book hitting stores this Sunday, March 1!

Wait – has it been a year already? Last April I reviewed author/poet Laura Purdie Salas’ book, Water Can Be… as part of my National Poetry Month celebration, and now here it is 11 months later and she has another book in her series!

Salas’ new book, A Rock Can Be… (Millbrook Press) follows the same concept as Water in that it takes a very simple subject and poetically expounds on it…but she does it with such aplomb you almost don’t realize how deceptively insightful her observations are.

Starting with the idea that every rock has a story to tell, Salas begins, “A rock can be… / tall mountain/ park fountain / dinosaur bone / stepping stone…” and goes on to include volcanoes, phosphorescence, architecture, skipping stones, and many more instances of rocks being more than just “rocks.”

For instance…

rcb_sparkling_ring

 

rcb_book_sheep

(click images to enlarge)

 

As I mentioned in my Water Can Be… review last April, it takes skill, patience, and a creative mind to write simply – and Salas has what it takes. It’s also nice to see illustrator Violeta Dabija, whose artistry can be seen on the previous two books in the series, is back to perfectly complement the text with vivid colour and textured illustrations.

In the back of the book readers can learn more about the rocks and images of which Salas makes note – such as stepping stones, flint, and even the moon. A glossary also helps younger readers to understand some of the imagery and concepts throughout the book.

A delightful read!

NEXT WEEK: Two days after A Rock Can Be… hits bookshelves, the first children’s book I have ever had the pleasure of being part of comes out! Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed) is an unusual book – it’s a poetry anthology in board book form, designed for very young children up to the age of 5.

Lullabye coverI am extremely proud to have worked with the one and only Lee Bennett Hopkins, who edited the book, and to be included in a book that also features poems by such luminaries as Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Charles Ghigna, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, David L. Harrison, X.J. Kennedy, Marilyn Singer, and many others. (Salas also contributed a poem, “Spaghetti,” to the collection)

As a first-ever publication, I couldn’t be more thrilled. To learn more about the book, check out this brief review from Publisher’s Weekly! (And once you read it, you’ll see why I’m more than happy to share the link!)

The day it goes on sale, Tue., March 3, I’ll be sharing a special interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins here on my blog. We’ll be talking about how the concept for the book came about, his thoughts on children’s poetry these days, and a couple of new projects he’s working on, so I hope you’ll stop back!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

A peek inside the mind of a writer

Ever wonder what it’s like inside the mind of a writer? Here’s a glimpse into mine:

The Secret Place

The book that started me on the path of poetry back when I was 6 or 7 years old…I loved this book! (Still do!)

I write a random poem.

I like it, but soon realize there’s a serious error, so I rewrite it.

In the course of rewriting it, I write another.

Once these are done, it occurs to me I could send them to a magazine, although submitting a third poem to go with the first two would be ideal.

I write a third poem, but it’s not about the subject I thought it was going to be.

It occurs to me that these three poems, all of the same theme, might be more appropriate if collected together with some previously-written poems in a picture book collection. I wonder if I can write a fourth poem about the same theme.

I write a fourth poem.

Once I organize all the poems – these and the previously-written ones – into a thematic manuscript, I realize I need more poems to fill it out.

I write a fifth poem.

Upon adding it to the manuscript, I realize the theme is wrong and have to pull poems out and put new ones in, basically completely revising an previously-compiled, unpublished collection.

Satisfied with the theme, I decide to try writing a sixth poem about that theme.

I write the sixth poem.

At this moment in time, I only need to write three more poems to complete the manuscript. I’m working on one now.

Whew!

The amazing thing to me is that all of this has taken place over the past 4 weeks…so considering the volume of my output this month, either I’m getting much better at writing or I’ve completely lost my ability to self-criticize. I’m hoping it’s the former, as I still feel I’m my own worst critic!

But let this be a lesson: Never, ever, ever, lock yourself into the frame of mind that you can’t edit, revise, or rewrite something. Honestly, I’m not a fan of rewriting, as I like the happy, content feeling one gets from lifting up the pen; who doesn’t, right? However, if there is something about the poem or story I’ve written that just doesn’t feel right, I cannot live with myself until I’ve fixed the problem.

It might take walking away and coming back to it in a few minutes. Or hours. Or days.

Or even weeks.

One poem literally took me a year and a half to write – but it got written, and written the way it was supposed to be written. Unfortunately for me, it’s one of those types of poems that everyone seems to love but no one knows what to do with. But that’s my problem, not the poem’s. It needed to be written the way it needed to be written.

Exciting news in the year ahead

I have a number things I’m very excited to share with you – and all these things are bouncing around inside my head, as well. I’ll have poems in five different anthologies being published this year, and one will be in an upcoming edition of Highlights magazine. Three of the books are due out this spring and one is due this fall.

I also have high hopes for a picture book manuscript I wrote this past year. It’s one of those types of things that just came to me; I wrote it over the course of a week, revised the following week, and I do believe it might be the best manuscript I’ve written to date, so we’ll see if it gets picked up!

Speaking of said manuscript, it’s the same one that helped me receive the New England SCBWI’s inaugural Marguerite W. Davol Picture Book Critique Scholarship for pre-published authors! For details on what that is, feel free to check out this past Friday’s post, where I explain it in greater detail.

Cybils-Logo-2014I’m also excited to be a Second Round Judge in The annual CYBILS Awards, where the finalists have been announced! I’ll be working with fellow judges Renee LaTulippe, Linda Baie, Laura Shovan, and Diane Mayr to trim our list of seven fantastic children’s books of poetry down to one winner – and this year it’s going to be a tough one, there are so many great books!

Whatever your goals, stick to ’em!

I wish you great success for 2015, whether it’s professional or personal. Remember, the act of setting goals, while necessary, is not as important as following through with those goals. It’s the difference between saying you’re going to do something and actually doing it.

Whatever it is you want to accomplish, take action and do something each day to move you toward the end result. Some days I don’t get a chance to write, sad to say. I’m a stay-at-home dad with a voiceover business and my hours are precious and few. But there’s not a day that goes by that does not include me either emailing someone about writing, reviewing my own writing, reading an article about writing, or even simply reading a book to my kids.

I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, but did not get serious about becoming a children’s writer until 2009. Since then, I have slowly gained traction – improving my skills, networking, and learning the craft. I have met wonderful people, befriended nationally-acclaimed writers and editors, and developed a base of friends and supporters like you through this blog.

I appreciate you helping me attain my goal. I hope, by reading this, I can help you attain yours. Success requires both talent and tenacity – one of those in a much higher quantity than the other.

Have a Happy New Year, and thank you for being a part of mine!

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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2Did 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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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