Poetry Friday: Look at what’s in paperback!

Look at what my 6-year-old just brought home!

ng-nature-paperback

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, when my son brought home a stack of Scholastic order forms…and they were selling the paperback version of The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Kids, 2015)!

What may be old hat for some writers was an absolute thrill for me – seeing a book I contributed to there, in my son’s catalog! I had to buy a copy, which just arrived a couple of days ago. Here is my poem, along with the one I share the page with, from Charles “Father Goose®” Ghigna (click to enlarge):

© 2015 National Geographic Society, Charles Ghigna, and Matt Forrest Esenwine; all rights reserved.
The original hardcover is still available everywhere, of course, so be sure to pick up a copy if you haven’t yet! Also be sure to stop by Carol Varsalona’s Beyond LiteracyLink, for today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup!
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A busy 2016 – and it’s barely begun!

If that old saying is true – that “idleness is the devil’s playground” – then I suspect Satan has probably left the building.

Although I had some enjoyable downtime with the family over the holidays, I can’t say I was relishing in any sort of ‘idleness’…and with the new year upon us, things are just getting busier!

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgCYBILS Awards finalists

The 10th annual CYBILS Awards (aka, the Children’s and Young Adult Literary Bloggers Awards) are underway, and as a first-round panelist for the graphic novels category, I had my work cut out for me. My fellow panelists and I had to pore over 102 nominated books to nail down the 14 that we felt were the best!

The graphic novels category is an interesting one, because of a number of reasons. First, it’s divided into two sub-categories: Young Adult and Elementary/Middle Grade – which means we are reading for different age levels. Second, it’s not just fiction; there was non-fiction, historical fiction, even memoirs!

It was tough to sort through them all, but a lot of fun, and quite a learning NG Book of Nature Poetry coverexperience. In past years, I’ve been a judge for the Poetry category – but since I was a contributor to three of the nominated anthologies, I had to step aside. I am extremely proud of the fact that one of those anthologies, the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Kids, 2015) is a 2nd-round finalist, so my fingers are crossed!

You can see the list of all the finalists for all of the categories HERE.

Anthologies ahead!

In addition to the children’s poetry anthologies I contributed to this past year, I will also have a poem included in former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt’s new anthology, One Minute Til Bedtime (Little, Brown Book for Young Readers, Spring 2016).

I’m also thrilled to announce that I will have two poems in two separate anthologies yet to be announced! I wish I could tell you more about them, but cannot…at least, not yet, anyway. In fact, one isn’t due to come out until 2018 (tentatively), so you’ll be hearing plenty more about it in the months (and years!) ahead!

Children’s manuscripts, anyone? Anyone??

I’ve been busy cranking out manuscripts this past year and am now sending them out in hopes of finding an editor or agent interested in acquiring them.

If my numbers are right, I wrote or revised 13 manuscripts over the course of 2015 – some brand-new, others revised – and they are all looking for homes. Most are picture books, but two are children’s poetry collections.

One was a rhyming picture book collaboration with one of the nicest and most talented and prolific children’s poets in the country, for which I’m honored. It’s my sincere hope that the manuscript gets picked up – not simply because I am a children’s writer looking for a contract, but more importantly because I want our collaborative effort to be validated as a worthwhile effort for my partner, who took a chance on me.

Three magic words: New. Voiceover. Studio!

We recently wrapped up $20,000 worth of construction work on our house (most of which insurance paid for, thankfully!), but one of the things that came out of this was a rearranging of our rooms.

My wife and my master bedroom had to be vacated and will soon become our 2-year-old daughter’s new room, while we had to move downstairs to what had been a playroom/storage room for the kids. The benefit of this is that the nursery in which our daughter sleeps now – a fairly small room, by any standard – will become my new studio!

I’m looking forward to treating the room for acoustics, sound-dampening, organizing, etc. – but first we need to get walls painted and beds situated before any of that can happen. Oh, 2016 is going to be a good year, indeed.

Last but not least, the 2016 NE-SCBWI Conference!

nescbwi16 logo

The New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is hosting its annual spring conference at the end of April, and I’m already packing!

Why? Well, because it’s always packed with insightful panels, intriguing keynotes (Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaola, and Kwame Alexander, to name a few), educational workshops, and tremendous networking opportunities. But beyond all of that, this year is special to me because I’ll be involved in two new ways: as a volunteer and as faculty!

On Sunday, May 1, I’ll be hosting a workshop entitled “Free Yourself with Free Verse Poetry.” During this 55-minute session, I’ll teach the basics of free verse for children’s writers and poets who may want to learn more about poetry, but are afraid of rhyme schemes and scary terms like “iambic pentameter” and “dactylic hexameter.”

After a brief overview of what free verse is and how to utilize it, attendees will be able to practice with some on-the-spot writing and ask questions. My desire is that this workshop will be beneficial for writers who just want to be more creative as well as for those who wish to write in a more poetic or lyrical style…and it could be a great primer for writing verse novels, which are often written in free verse.

I’m also helping to coordinate our Open Mic programs Fri. and Sat. nights, together with fellow writer Sharon Abra Hanen. Attendees are encouraged to share what they’re working on – children’s poetry, a picture book manuscript, even a few sample pages from a book – with the crowd. And new this year, a special feature called “Whose Rhyme Is It, Anyway?”- a quick, improvisational flash-poetry game where two writers (or teams) will be given random words and subjects and will need to create a children’s poem within the allotted time.

Get more details about the conference HERE, and if you’re a member of NE-SCBWI, I hope to see you there!

Is that enough?

Well, for now, it is. I need to write two more poems, but they will have to wait. One is for Penny Parker Klosterman’s blog (my kids and I will be featured on January 29), and one is for my chiropractor, Dr. Stephanie Foisy Mills, D.C., C.C.W.P., who asked if I’d mind writing something for her blog.

I also have two more picture book manuscripts and three children’s poetry collections I need to work on…but one can only do so much. Please stay in touch – either through this blog or via any of my social media homes listed below – and I wish you health, happiness, and all wonderful things for this brand-new year!

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Poetry Friday: The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry is out now!

Oh, happy day! (Actually, happy week!) The fifth book to which I have contributed this year hit stores just a few days ago…and it’s something!

NG Book of Nature Poetry coverFormer U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis has followed up his National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry (National Geographic Kids, 2012) with this brand-new anthology filled with bright, bold National Geographic photos – and I’m so proud to be able to be a part of it. It’s also a thrill seeing so many of my fellow writer friends’ names inside, too!

There are classic poems from some of literature’s most esteemed poets like Frost, Wordsworth, Dickenson, and Thoreau, as well as new poems from contemporary poets like Billy Collins, Jane Yolen, and Lewis himself. Pat has also included a number of poems from writers who are, at best, virtual unknowns (e.g., Yours Truly) – a fact for which I shall be eternally grateful.

One great example of the balance of established writer / emerging writer (which I suppose is a better term than “virtual unknown,” yes?) that you will see on these pages is below. I had no idea my poem, “Rainbow Eucalyptus,” was going to be paired with one from my friend Charles Ghigna, but it was a pleasant surprise, indeed:

© 2015 National Geographic Society, Charles Ghigna, and Matt Forrest Esenwine; all rights reserved. (click to enlarge)
A large, beautiful coffee table book, The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Kids, 2015) is available now at bookstores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy!
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poetryfridaybutton-fulllAlso be sure to stop by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s The Poem Farm for all of today’s Poetry Friday links and fun. (Amy is also a contributor to this book, with a poem about Arizona’s Petrified Forest)
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Poetry Friday: A new poem, a new anthology, and a new CYBILS category for me

Poetry_Friday logoWow, it’s been quite a busy week! This past Saturday, Carol Varsalona published her “Summer Splashings Gallery” – a huge collection of poetry and photographs celebrating the season that is winding down. I’m very happy my poem, “Stonewall County Summer,” is included. Please check it out, along with all the others!

Then this past Tuesday, I shared some revelations and affirmations from the local state fair, where I wrapped up a live-announcing gig during Labor Day Weekend. 55 hours over 4 days…one can learn a lot during that time, and I did, as I do every year!

The next day, on  Wednesday, look what showed up at my doorstep:

My contributor copy arrived!

This beautiful book hits shelves about a month from now, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. This is the fifth and final book of 2015 in which one can find my poetry, and what a great way to wrap up the year!

Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-SmI’m also very excited to be a CYBILS judge once again. This year, I’ll be a first-round judge for the Graphic Novel category, which is a change of pace for me, as I have judged poetry for the past 2 years. I would have loved to have judged poetry again, but was concerned that one or two of the anthologies to which I’ve contributed might get nominated – and I wouldn’t have wanted to create a conflict of interest. A number of quality poetry collections came out this past year, so I’ll be eager to see which ones make the cut!

By the way, friend and fellow poet Michelle H. Barnes is hosting Poetry Friday today at Today’s Little Ditty – so stop on by and check out all the poetry links!

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New book for students on writing poetry – and honored to be a part of it!

This past Friday was a crazy kind of day. One of those roller-coaster-of-emotion days.

First, I learned that I was one of the featured writers on the popular children’s literature blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Jama was celebrating The Poetry Friday Anthology of Celebrations (of which I’m a contributor) and she spotlighted my poem, “Picky Eater” along with a couple of recipes from me.

That was good.

I then spent most of the morning running errands while listening to the 5-year-old and 2-year-old crying, screaming, or fighting. We finally get home and my sweet, loveable 2-year-old proceeds to take off her dirty diaper and toss it on the FLIPPIN’ STOVE.

Not good.

Once she was in for her nap, I got the really good news: I received notice that the latest book in which I have a poem included is now available!

Catch Your Breath coverIt’s called Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry (Capstone Press, Aug. 1, 2015) by author/poet Laura Purdie Salas and is designed to help students learn to write poetry. I’m very honored to be one of a select few children’s writers – like David Harrison, Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Diane Mayr, Kelly Fineman, and Kate Coombs – whose poetry has been included as examples.

The nice thing about this book is that it’s not a typical, stuffy “here’s how you write poetry” kind of textbook; it’s a contemporary explanation of what poetry is, how to get into it, and suggestions and mentor texts on how to go about writing it. At only 64 pages, it’s an easy read, yet indispensable for a young, blossoming poet-to-be.

So just to break it down – for my sake, honestly, more than yours – here’s the list of children’s books in which you’ll find my work:

Lullabye cover Dear Tomato cover PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030 Catch Your Breath cover
………….NG Book of Nature Poetry cover  One Minute & Flashlight - blank

I’ve thanked you before, but I’ll thank you again for your support…even if it’s simply subscribing to this blog or just reading it occasionally, you’re helping me develop my writing, grow as a children’s author, and – to be perfectly frank – build an audience.

You’re also reassuring me that there are folks out there willing to read what I crank out each week, and I cannot overstate the value in that alone. So thanks for coming this far with me, and I hope you stick around!

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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!
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To 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)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

First book signing: that’s a wrap!

I’m sure many of my fellow writers who have had numerous books published view book signings as old hat, but it’s something pretty new to me…and I loved it!

Lullabye coverThis past Saturday, I spent two hours at the local Books-A-Million store (the folks who bought up most of the old Borders locations) signing copies of the book, Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed, 2015). We had close to 25 folks stop by, and for a beautiful, hot, summer day, that was a decent turnout.

Lullaby, as you probably know if you’ve spent more than a few minutes on my blog, is the very first children’s book I have the pleasure of being a part of. It’s both a board book – designed for very young children – and it’s also a poetry anthology featuring 30 poems from such luminaries as Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Charles Ghigna, David L. Harrison, Marilyn Singer, and many others.

My poem, “First Tooth,” is included in this amazing collection, which was recently selected as an ALSC Notable Children’s Book for Summer 2015. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of something like this – and it is also a bit reassuring, as writing for children is a career path for me and not a mere hobby. In fact, I’ll have 9 poems in 7 different publications between this year and next, with my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press) slated for Fall 2017.

Things seem to be heading in the right direction!

Signing one of the first books of the afternoon, with my manager (kidding!!), author Deb Bruss (“Book! Book! Book!”, “Big Box for Ben”)
The table looked so spiffy and professional, I almost didn’t realize it was for me!
One of the folks who stopped by was fellow former radio dude Mike Morin. Mike hosts a podcast series which can be found at http://manchesterinklink.com/40-is-the-new-happy-a-podcast-series-with-mike-morin/ (Yours Truly will be joining him in a couple weeks!)

I do have to admit I was surprised when I walked into the bookstore; I was going to look for my table toward the back of the store in the children’s section, but they had it all decked out right in front, about 20 feet from the registers. At least 3 staff members purchased copies, which was heartening.

I think one of the most satisfying moments of the event came when I overheard one of the female employees behind the checkout line chatting with a customer who had just purchased a copy. They were talking about the book and “the author” who had just signed it, and the clerk (whom I hadn’t met until that day) said, “He’s a really nice guy.”

Made me smile.

NG Book of Nature Poetry coverThe folks at Books-A-Million are thinking of doing another signing when The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, Oct. 13, 2015) hits stores this fall, and I can’t wait. In it, I have a poem about Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees – and if you don’t know what those are, wait til you see the photo!

I will have another poem in an educational book written by Laura Purdie Salas for Capstone, likely due out before the end of the year, and a poem in Kenn Nesbitt’s anthology, One Minute Til Bedtime (Little, Brown for Young Readers, 2016). I already have poems in two other books that are currently out: Dear Tomato (Carol-Ann Hoyte, 2015) and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books, 2015).

Perhaps at some point in my career book signings will get old.

For now, though…bring ’em on!

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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!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To 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)
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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!