Exciting news! And more exciting news!

What’s it like to lead a writer’s conference workshop on writing? I’m about to find out!

nescbwi16_conf logoRegistration for the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) gets underway at noon EST today, and it is one of those things we writers look forward to all year. The third-biggest SCBWI conference – behind the two big ones in New York and LA – is three days of learning, networking, and enjoying life…but this year, I have some extra reasons to look forward to it:

  • I will be taking part in the #AskAMentor program on Friday afternoon, where conference faculty hang out and meet others who are just starting to write or who are looking for advice. It is described as ‘speed dating but without the cheesy pickup lines’…and as far as I know, Yours Truly will be the only person there who writes poetry. So I hope you’ll say hi, if you happen to attend!
  • I also agreed to co-chair the Open Mic nights Fri. and Sat. evenings with fellow poetry writer Sharon Abra Hanen. This is an opportunity to share your children’s poetry or a manuscript with the crowd. This year, we’re adding a special feature we call “Whose Rhyme is it, Anyway?”- a quick, improvisational game where two writers (or teams) are given random words and subjects and need to create a minimum 2-line children’s poem within the allotted time!
  • The hands-down MOST exciting part of this weekend for me will be on Sunday, when I host my first workshop for industry professionals, “Free yourself with Free Verse Poetry.” This is for all the poor folks who think children’s poetry needs to rhyme and be perfectly metrical. Attendees will be taught the basics of free verse (use of internal rhyme, enjambment, shape of text, etc.) and will be challenged with some on-the-spot writing exercises. This, I hope, will be a nice complement to Holly Thompson’s and Padma Venkatraman’s verse novel workshop taking place earlier the same day.

From plotting to illustrating to character development to marketing…there’s a workshop for just about everything kidlit-related at this conference. If you do attend, please be sure to find me and say hi! Registration begins at noon today, so don’t wait – workshops get filled up very quickly!

But wait…I said there’s MORE exciting news, didn’t I??

I can now finally (and proudly) announce that illustrator extraordinaire Fred Koehler has signed on to illustrate my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press), which is due out in Fall 2017!

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - One DayFred has illustrated numerous picture books including, most recently, Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s One Day…The End (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2015). His own book, Super Jumbo (Dial Books) comes out exactly one week from today, so be sure to check it out! He also illustrates Shelley Moore Thomas’ book, This Book is Not About Dragons (Boyd’s Mills Press), which is due to be released this September. Like I said, busy guy.

I’m especially thrilled about Fred’s decision to illustrate my book because mine will be his first using traditional media (i.e., pen and ink, pencil, etc.). These days, everything is digital – but Fred wanted to capture a classic sort of feeling with this particular project, and I have to admit I’m honored that he liked it enough to do that!

I’ll be sharing some more details about this book as we get closer to the release date. Until then, I’m continuing to send out other manuscripts in search of a publisher! I think I have 8 or 9 different manuscripts all searching for a home right now…fingers crossed, as they say!

I also have some news about two new anthologies that will be coming out (one next year; the other, the year after that!) but I need to keep quiet for now. Once I can make the news public, you’ll be the first to know!

Or maybe I’ll spill a bean or two at the conference…hope to see you there!


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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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What have I been up to, you ask? Let me explain…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So if you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything new on Tuesdays for the past couple weeks…let me show you!

CYBILS - gr novels photo
Nominees for the CYBILS Awards’ two “Graphic Novel” categories (click to enlarge)

These are just SOME of the 102 graphic novels nominated for the Elementary-Middle Grade Graphic Novel and Young Adult Graphic Novel categories in the 2015 CYBILS Awards.

That’s a lot of reading, right there.

This is the first year I’ve been a first-round panelist; the past two years, I’ve been a second-round judge in the Poetry category and have only had to sort through 7 books. A proverbial walk in the park, compared to this! But I’m enjoying it.

One thing that has surprised me is how the definition of “graphic novel” has changed over the years. Graphic novels used to be, for all intents and purposes, highly-produced comic books in traditional book form.

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgThese days, any book that utilizes illustrations to tell a significant portion of the story can qualify. Whether or not that definition holds true for each of these books is a question only those of us judging them can answer – and I’m slowly working my way through the pile, taking note of what I like and what doesn’t work.

The variety of styles, narratives, formatting, and age ranges is amazing, though, and it’s going to be difficult paring this massive list down to just a handful of titles to pass along to this year’s second round judges!

Oh yes, I write, too

I would have liked to have judged the Poetry category again this year, but at least two of the books nominated contain poems that I wrote – so I bowed out and moved to the graphic novel category. However, I’m still just as busy writing as I always have been…

Having wrapped up a revision of a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a couple years AND having completed another collection I started compiling this summer, I also just put the finishing touches on a new picture book manuscript.

You know what that means: time to write another!

That’s what I’m doing now, in addition to finding some appropriate publishers to send the completed manuscripts to. There are only so many hours in a day, as they say, and with our 2-year-old rarely taking naps anymore, the days’ hours are even more precious!

(Also, two new poems have been accepted for publication in two upcoming and as-yet-unannounced anthologies…I hope to be able to share more news on that early next year!)

She Blinded Me with Sais

I’ve also been a bit slower than normal, thanks to that 2-year-old daughter I made reference to earlier. Last week, as I was reaching over her car seat to find a necklace she lost, she suddenly grabbed her older brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy and jammed it as hard as she could into my left eyeball.

As you can see, the injury severely affected my eyesight as well as other facial features.

When I stopped screaming, I found enough composure to call the local Urgent Care facility to see if they could fit me in. It didn’t appear that my eyesight had been damaged, but infection was certainly a possibility and the pain would fluctuate between a 1 and a 5, so I needed something to get it to stop tearing.

When I told the nurse what happened, he asked, “Was it Raphael’s fork?”

The offending item, a sai (pron. “say”) which my daughter wielded expertly. A little TOO expertly.

Good Lord, this man instinctively knew my plight! “Umm…yes, as a matter of fact, it was,” I replied. “You get these a lot?”

His smile came over the phone clearly. “More than you can imagine,” he said.

I now know why Popeye squinted his eye that way – Sweet Pee probably smacked him in the face with a can of spinach and the poor old sailor man never fully recovered.

Recovery in time for food prep

So now that I can see without pain and without the weird, scrunched-up eye thing I was doing for a few days, I can focus (pun intended) on Thanksgiving! There’s a turkey to brine, desserts to make, and bread dough to rise. My wife and I are also trying out a vegan butternut squash lasagna for the first time, so I’m looking forward to that, as well.

I hope you have an enjoyable week! If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope it’s wonderful for you…and if you don’t, perhaps you’ll find some time to reflect on all the positives in your life.

Personally, I’m thankful for my family, my health, my faith, my talents, and all the tremendous blessings I enjoy. Many of these blessings, like the books I’ve been able to be a part of, you are part of! For that, I thank you.

By the way, you only have about one week left to get your “Poetry…Cubed!” poems in – and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click HERE to get caught up-to-date!

As for me…I have some reading to do!


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)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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!

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

Interview with children’s poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich

I have been a fan of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s work ever since I began striving in earnest toward my goal of becoming a published children’s writer, so I’m thrilled to present this post today!

Rebecca has a way of writing that simultaneously paints a familiar picture while touching the reader in a new way. We recently had an online chat about writing, inspiration, collaboration – and a similar start to our careers!

But before we begin, a little background:

REBECCA headRebecca grew up in the Midwest exploring trails, reading comic books, making paper dolls, and building snow forts. She was a good student in school…but by her own account, not a perfect one. Although she loved reading and writing, numbers (ie, math!) was a bit of a challenge.

She attended Indiana University where she studied creative writing, art history and anthropology while working in the student library. After college she held many jobs: working in a department store, for a real estate firm, a state representative, and in public relations. After her children were born she decided that writing for children would be her life’s work – although that took many years to achieve, as you’ll see from the interview.

RKD - CraneRebecca is the author of titles such as What Can A Crane Pick Up? (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014), which received a *starred* review from Publishers Weekly; What is Science? (Henry Holt and Co., 2006), an AAAS Subaru SB&F prize finalist; Bella and Bean (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009), an SCBWI Golden Kite Honor; and Grumbles From The Forest; Fairy Tale Voices with a Twist (WordSong, 2013), co-authored with Jane Yolen.

She speaks at conferences, retreats, libraries, and schools across the country to teachers, aspiring writers, poets, and students of all ages. Her books have received the Gold Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award as well as a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the year, and her work has been featured on television programs like Reading Rainbow and Between the Lions.

She lives in the Midwest with her husband and her four young grandchildren live nearby.

First of all, thanks so much for taking the time, Rebecca! There is so much to talk about, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share a little “mutual experience” of sorts that you and I  share…and that is that we both can say our very first books were published by the good folks at Boyd’s Mills Press!

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Sweet DreamsYours was Sweet Dreams of the Wild, a bedtime book of poems published in 1995…and since then, you’ve had approximately 30 books you’ve authored, co-authored, or have in the pipeline, and you’ve had poems selected to be in about 100 anthologies. So congratulations on all your successes!

I heard the good news Matt, and send you an abundance of congratulations! Each and every book is exciting in its own way every single time, yet that first book, that first sale, will always be something so very special.

Who – or what – inspires you? And how do you know when a piece of writing is complete? 

I’ve always been inspired by words noodled together like a puzzle; words that send my head into the clouds or my heart thumping or my dreams dreaming. Since I can remember, lyrical language and metaphor have been somewhat like a hobby for me. When I came across words or phrases or metaphors I loved, I collected them by writing them down in notebooks.  Sometimes I’d paste photos to go with them.

Rebecca’s newest! (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014)

My grandparents and my parents inspired me in every way. My big brother had a sea of books on his shelves, on his bed, in front of his nose. He’d read me excerpts when I didn’t even understand what I was hearing. He’d throw words into conversation to stump me, and when I didn’t know what the word was, he’d tell me to look it up. So I did. Probably he nudged me to feel the wonder of books and what they held inside.

And I was initially inspired to write poetry for children when my own children were small and I was going through a hard time in my life, and pouring over poems about puddles and umbrellas, giants and mermaids, skies and stars and snowmen seemed to soothe my soul.

Two books that initially inspired me to write poetry for children were Poems and Rhymes, a book from the Childcraft library, and Side by Side compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins. And by the way, LBH has always inspired me to dig deeper just when I think I can’t.

So at what point do you decide a poem is finally done?

Can you ever really know when the writing is complete? I don’t believe so. That’s the magic of creativity. It’s a feeling of finally letting go, of sensing you’ve wrapped up a moment or an idea or a package of words as tight and as telling as you can.  For the moment. It’s like saying how do you know when you’re done staring at the sky.  You don’t. You just feel it’s time to get up. To move on. Time stopped for that small bit of time, and held some form of magic or fascination or angst or play or joy in your soul, and hopefully will again.

Do you share your poems or manuscript texts with anyone before submitting?

For the most part I don’t; I am a pretty solitary writer and submitter. When I began years (and years) ago, I knew no one to share with and of course it was way before computers and internet, so I just happily read, studied and wrote. But having said that, there are times now that I do share poems and manuscripts back and forth with just a few poet and author friends who I respect and trust. I am also lucky enough to have an agent, and a few really special editors who are in my corner.

How did your career progress from writing poems and picture books to writing things like books for HarperCollins’ I Can Read and Growing Tree series, which – while creative – are more educational in nature? How does a poet make that leap?

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - RoundThe shape books for The Growing Tree series started out actually as a poem.  I wrote What is Round, a list poem, simply because I had always loved (and still do) things like marbles and beads and coins and all things round, and I had intended to send it to a magazine.  My agent decided to send it to Harper for the Growing Tree series.  They bought it right away and gave me an additional two book contract to write Square and Triangle.  If I remember right, Away We Go was bought then as an additional and different book for the series (again, a poem that I had written about transportation, with thoughts of sending it to a magazine.)

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - P&PNow the I Can Read (Peanut & Pearl) is a different story.  I had always wanted to write an I Can Read book. I fell in love, years ago, with Frog and Toad.  Who didn’t?  I read them to my children when they were young. So I had studied the structure, word count, page breaks, etc., on and off for a long time.  They seem simple, but they really aren’t.  I’d like to write more.

Are there any genres of writing that intrigue you, but that you have yet to tackle?

Yes. I am working on a novel in verse and have ideas for a chapter book series.  But poetry is (as my granddaughter would say) my favorite and my best.

Do you have a process for figuring out what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it? That is, if a subject is a poem or a picture book, and how you’ll construct it?

I wish I did have a process. I can’t say that I do. Things just kind of happen. A seed of an idea, a lyrical line, a phrase, and I let it spill onto the page and see where it takes me. Then when I get the bones of it down, I take a look and see if I want or need to mold it differently.

Over the years, what part of writing has gotten easier for you, and what has gotten more difficult?

Nothing has gotten easier.  Finding time has gotten more difficult.


You collaborated with Jane Yolen to write Grumbles From the Forest, a collection of poems about the secret thoughts of fairy tale characters. How do you come up with fresh ideas for collections such as this, and what is it like to write a book with someone who is half a country away from you?

To be honest, I didn’t come up with the idea, Jane did. Sounded great to me; I’m always on board with anything that involves fairy tales.  I loved them as a young girl, and still do.  We both thought putting a twist on them by way of poems would bring new readers to the tales.  Working together was easy  because of the internet. Much easier than it would have been by letter writing before email. We had ideas and first drafts and revisions flying back and forth constantly.

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - One DaySpeaking of collaborations, tell us about your upcoming new book, One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2015). This must have required a great deal of collaborating with illustrator Fred Koehler, yes?

No collaborating at all! I didn’t know Fred. I wrote the (short) and spare picture book knowing an illustrator would add layers to it, and possibly even take over the book in his or her own way, which I expected and delighted in.

That’s fascinating to me, because it looks like the type of book that would have necessitated the author conspire with the illustrator.

Artists, and what they bring to the table, fascinate me.  It’s magical to see your words brought to life in a new, different, clever and colorful way.  My editor, Rebecca Davis, brought Fred Koehler on board and gave him full reign to add his own view of the stories.  He had a different vision that I had, but that is usually a very good thing!

Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a poem or book, but can’t flesh it out for weeks or months or even longer. Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to tackle in a poem or book, but just haven’t yet?

Absolutely.  I have drawers and files with parts and pieces and beginnings. Some take months and some take years and some never do get fleshed out. I have a few ideas on the back burner but since they are just ideas, I probably will let them simmer awhile.

In some ways, it’s become harder for a new writer to break into children’s literature and get published; technology has allowed more and more people to share their work via blogs and self-publishing, so making a mark for oneself can be difficult with so much competition. Conversely, though, technology has also allowed more people to learn the craft and be able to connect with editors and agents – so in some ways, it’s easier. What are your thoughts on the changes in the industry, as you’ve witnessed them over the past 20 or so years?

The opportunity to publish is definitely easier.  My younger self can’t imagine *connecting* with, or *chatting* with an editor all the way in New York City. Goodness, one lived in Indiana or Montana or Texas and sent a manuscript with an SASE and hoped for a postcard months and months later.  There was no connecting until the connection. Hard to imagine now.

Finally, the obvious last question is…what’s next??

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Race CarOne Day, The End (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2015), will be out this fall along with Race Car Count (Henry Holt, 2015)illustrated by Michael Slack.  Then next year will be The Knowing Book (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2016), illustrated by Matthew Cordell – a picture book that is closest to my heart – and a poetry collection in the Grumbles series, Grumbles from the Town (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2016)illustrated by Angela Matteson. Soon after, What Is Math? (Henry Holt and Co.), will be added to the What Is Series (What Is Science?).

I’m also finishing up a new picture book to be published by Boyd’s Mills Press about a young boy who imagines himself a wizard at bedtime and another poetry collection, which I’m excited about. I bet I’ve forgotten something, but anyone who knows me won’t be surprised.

Can you share your favorite self-penned poem here?

Favorite is a hard concept to nail down.  It seems cliché to say I don’t have a favorite, but I don’t.  I have a few favorites though, and one would be a poem that conjures up the memory of my mom tucking me in all those years ago – published in Hopkins’ anthology, Song and Dance (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1997):


Down the narrow hall she came,

a symphony of jingle bells

as tiny


silver charms

waltzed like wind-chimes

on her arm,

and haunting notes

of tinkling tin

played music on

her perfumed skin . . .

when mama came to tuck me in.

– © Rebecca Kai Dotlich, reprinted with permission; all rights reserved

(I still love and wear charm bracelets, not only for the clink, clang and jingle, but because they remind me of mom.)

I love those “waltzing wind-chimes” and the “tinkling tin!” Well, thank you so much, Rebecca, for taking the time to chat…it’s very much appreciated, and I wish you much success with all your new books!

And for anyone who is interested in learning more about Rebecca, visit her website HERE!

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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Poetry Friday is here – with AWESOME news!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllA town-wide brownout that fried my computer.

A family of four battling the worst cold we’ve had in years, simultaneously.

Parents in ill health.

Such are the tribulations I’ve been dealing with over the past two weeks, which is why my blogging has been at a minimum. I apologize for being nearly invisible lately! Fortunately, the computer is back up & running (thank you, Dell tech support!) after hours and hours of re-installs, the family is starting to get over our illness, and my folks seem to be fairly stable…so I’m thrilled that I can finally make the announcement:

I’ve got a book deal!!

It is a pleasure and an honour to announce that I have signed a contract with Boyd’s Mills Press (one of Highlights magazine’s book publishing divisions) to publish my very first full-length picture book, Flashlight Night! I’m also very proud to have the wonderful and highly-esteemed Rebecca Davis as my editor…and now that the manuscript is approved and we can move forward, we’ve been discussing possible illustrators. A few have come to mind, so we’re hopeful one of them will work out!

boyds logo

What is Flashlight Night about? Well, let’s just say it’s a poetic adventure that’s not what it seems. I’ll tell you more as we get closer to publication, which we hope will be in 2017. Keep checking back here for updated posts!

(Now then, if you’ll allow me to pull myself off the ceiling, I’d like to share today’s Poetry Friday poem…!)

This is a tanka – a Japanese form that is similar to haiku but is two lines longer and actually predates the haiku – and was written rather quickly (about half an hour) as part of a Facebook challenge. I was tagged to share four poems in four days by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, the daughter of Jane Yolen and a fine author/poet in her own right, with the requirement that I share each one on my Facebook wall.

Now, I didn’t have to write four new poems, I just had to share four poems – so I simply could have posted some of my favourites of other writers. But that would have been too easy! Instead, I borrowed Heidi’s plan to write four poems about spring on her farm and decided to write four poems about springtime in the woods. The first one I wrote I shared on my wall yesterday (Thursday) morning; the one I’m sharing today is the second of four. Hope you like it:

New Hampshire, Spring

Drone bees search a queen;
tom turkey struts the treeline
white-tailed buck defends
while sparrow sings a ballad.
All woodland, looking for love.

– © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2015

What will I write tomorrow? No idea! But feel free to connect with me on Facebook (or Twitter, Pinterest, or anywhere else you may find me) and we can keep up with each other!

As you probably know from the title of this post, I’m hosting Poetry Friday today – so please leave your links in the comments and I’ll update the post throughout the day. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone is up to!


Laura Shovan shares an excerpt from a new medical poetry anthology (yes, you heard right!) at Author Amok.

Robyn Hood Black provides a recap of a meeting of the Haiku Society of America and a short review of a book of author Jack Kerouac’s haikus at Life on the Deckle Edge. (Kerouac wrote haiku? Who knew??)

Fellow Granite Stater Diane Mayr recaps her time spent – and a poem written! – at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival at Random Noodling; meanwhile, over at Kurious Kitty, a touching Mary Oliver poem pays tribute to one of Diane’s co-workers.

Laura Purdie Salas find inspiration for her “poetryaction” series of poems from Jamie Swenson’s book, If You Were a Dog, at Writing the World for Kids.

What does Pompeii know? Linda Baie shares a poem about that exact question! It was written by a 5th-grade student, and you can see it at Teacher Dance.

Tara at A Teaching Life shares a poem by Gregory Djanikian that seems to speak to all those affected by the end of the school year – the students that are leaving, as well as the teachers that are saying goodbye.

Over at A Year of Reading, Mary Lee Hahn also says goodbye to another school year with her original poem.

In the “Haiku Garden” of Today’s Little Ditty, Michelle H. Barnes features a haiku by award-winning writer Loree Griffin Burns.

I love to hear about young children writing – and Jone MacCulloch recently received a poem from a first-grader, which she shares at Check It Out.

Sally Murphy spent three days at a young writers’ festival and was poetically inspired!

Donna Smith is very proud of a 2nd-grader she’s been working with, who just wrote her very first poems! She shares them both, along with two original poems of hers, at Mainely Write.

Penny Parker Klosterman features another familial collaboration – this time, it’s Julie Rowan-Zoch and her son, Aaron with a funny springtime poem. (although it’s not really that funny for the main character!)

Have you ever “doodled while you listened?” That’s what Heidi Mordhorst is doing over at My Juicy Little Universe, as she shares a page from her writer’s notebook.

If you’re a fan of nursery rhymes, be sure to check out Irene Latham’s review of the new anthology, Over the Hills and Far Away, at Live Your Poem.

It’s Chalkabration time at Reflections on the Teche, where Margaret Gibson Simon shares some poems in chalk that her students wrote just as the school year was coming to a close.

Keri Collins Lewis accepted a poetry challenge from Nikki Grimes and shares her success at Keri Recommends.

This Sunday is Bob Dylan’s birthday, and Jama Kim Rattigan is celebrating with all things Bob…and a meatball recipe! (Yes, there IS a connection) Visit Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the details.

There’s still no water at the No Water River…but there IS Douglas Florian! Renee LaTulippe interviews the author/poet/artist/illustrator/all-around good guy about his brand-new book, How to Draw a Dragon.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shares an original poem about writing at The Poem Farm – and is hoping you’ll share your notebooks!

What do Edwin Markham and Mark Knopfler have in common? Aside from the obvious “mark”s in their names, they have Tabatha Yeatts – who shares some words of wisdom from these two gentlemen at The Opposite of Indifference!

At There is No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town, Ruth is gearing up for her daughter’s last day of high school and shares a poem from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

Catherine Johnson is celebrating Armadillo Day (ok, that’s a made-up thing, but they  SHOULD have its own day, shouldn’t they?) with poems by Eric Ode and Douglas Florian, and her original artwork.

Fats Suela shares two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, one of the world’s most popular and influential poets (and a favorite of author/poet Kwame Alexander). Head on over to Gathering Books for the poems as well as background info on Nye and her writing.

At Dori Reads, Doraine Bennett reviews Susan Van Hecke’s Under the Freedom Tree and also shares a poem from it.

Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry is a new book out by Vern Klousky, and Lorie Ann Grover shares a snippet from the book at ReaderTotz.

Lorie Ann also shares an original haiku at her blog, On Point.

Holly Thompson interviews Margarita Engle in Sylvia Vardell’s latest Poet-to-Poet interview series…check it out at Poetry for Children.

You can also visit Holly’s blog, Hatbooks, to read more about her interview!

Little Willow shares a piece from Martha Brockenbrough’s novel, The Game of Love and Death, at her blog, Bildungsroman.

Last but certainly never least, Joy Acey is in the middle of the same “4 poems in 4 days” Facebook challenge that I’m a part of, and she already has two poems up on her blog, Poetry for Kids Joy.

THIS JUST IN! Carol Varsalona is discussing inspiration, process, and notebooks at Beyond Literacy, as she takes part in Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Sharing Our Notebooks” project.

ALSO JUST IN! At Pleasures from the Page, Ramona is enjoying several poetry books by Barbara Esbensen and shares one of Esbensen’s poems – just in time for the end of the school year.


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!

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!


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!)


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

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!