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.

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Grumbles

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):

TUCKING-IN SONG

Down the narrow hall she came,

a symphony of jingle bells

as tiny

shiny

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!

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Book Review: “Song for Papa Crow”

Song for Papa Crow coverThere are a lot of picture books out there. Light-hearted, fun, goofy ones. Serious, introspective ones. Crazy, wild, break-the-mold ones. But many – most, even – won’t stand the test of time.

Why?

Because it takes something special to connect with multiple readers, on multiple levels, for a multitude of years. That “something” doesn’t always come easily, and usually can’t even be anticipated; it just happens. And when it does happen…it’s a wonderful thing.

Song for Papa Crow (Schiffer, 2012) by Marit Menzin is such a book. I was introduced to it earlier this year and have been wanting to share my thoughts for months. Now, with Christmas upon us in just a few days, I’m glad I’m finally getting the chance.

The premise of the book teaches an age-old lesson of being true to oneself in an original way: Little Crow loves to sing, but the local songbirds very much dislike the sound of his “Caw! Caw!” When Little Crow learns from Mockingbird how to sing like the other birds, he thinks his troubles are over; however, when Hawk snatches him away, his father is unable to save him at first because Little Crow doesn’t sound like a crow. Ultimately, Little Crow is saved when he realizes the importance of singing his own song.

Papa Crow spread
Click to enlarge

 

Being true to oneself, as I said, is not a new concept for a picture book – but what’s important here is how it is told. I have no use for picture books that are overtly didactic or heavy-handed in their moralizing. What Menzin does so well in Song for Papa Crow is she tells a story that happens to have a moral to it – she doesn’t tell the moral in the form of a story.

The language is bright and full of all the activity one would expect from a forest filled with birds. When the Goldfinches sing, “per-CHIC-o-ree!” and Red Cardinal shouts, “what-CHEER!” it makes you feel the birds are right there with you. Menzin’s beautiful cut-paper collage illustrations add to the effect, with vibrant colors and intricate details.

To be honest, the book is not without its drawbacks. I wished the solution to the problem wasn’t quite as easy as Menzin makes it (Little Crow takes a seed and gives back a seed, but how he sings with a seed in his mouth is anyone’s guess) – but the story as a whole is a pleasure to read.

The publisher describes the book as appropriate for kids K-Grade 2, but I surmise that any children through grades 5 or 6 would find this book a joy to read. As a parent, I certainly did.

As you may know, I don’t review many books here – and I rarely, if ever, review non-poetry or non-rhyming picture books – but this one deserves your attention. If you missed it when it came out 2 years ago, track down a copy. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

* You can learn more about this and Schiffer Publishing’s other books HERE, or view the trailer for Song for Papa Crow HERE.

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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: “Revenge”

Poetry_Friday logoI don’t think I’ve ever used the word “spree” before in my life.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because “spree” was the Word of the Month over at poet/author David L. Harrison’s blog this past October.

I enjoy challenges, but have not been able to participate in the “WOM” for the past several months due to my hectic schedule. But since October marked the 5th anniversary of the “WOM” challenge, I really wanted to write something to share.

As it turned out, I didn’t get the poem completed until October 30 – which meant it only stayed posted for a couple of days before it disappeared to make room for the November Word of the Month, “brew!” So in order to keep the poem alive a little longer, I thought I’d share it here.

But be forewarned:  while most of the WOM poems are fun, children’s poems, this is…not. But I hope you like it! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday links – along with a perfect November poem by John Freeman – please visit Diane Mayr at Random Noodling!

Revenge

I hadn’t seen the hornet, hiding
under the lip
of our watering can. Unaware, I was,
of paper wasps waiting
for someone like me
to open that old, weathered shed door
behind the woodpile.
Shaken, stung, yet
resolute and undaunted, I
set about to exact
vengeance.

Armed with hubris
and two giant cans of propellant-poison,
my killing spree began
under eaves,
behind shutters, beneath deck
and stairs – my hands
like machines, I
spared no mercy
on every wood-pulp nest,
every mud-dauber domicile,
every honeycombed bell
brimming with yellow-striped clappers
ready to ring.
.
I must have slain hundreds –
laying waste to their homes and families
in liquid immolation
to save my own
from the threat of pain
and fear
and anaphylaxis.
Proud Conqueror of Nature, I
smiled in satisfaction
when, turning to the back door,
one lone, weary hornet –
in a feeble attempt to fly,
only half-alive
but with double the fury –
came out from that old woodpile
and in an instant
was barely more than an arm’s length
from my face.

With one last drop of death
remaining, I finished off
the final can, spraying furiously, franticly
determined
to not let this lowliest of creatures
have the better of me.
I no sooner heard the hollow sound
of air discharging from the muzzle
when I felt a bullet – hard and organic –
slam into my temple
with a ferocious heat.
Brushing the enemy away, I
watched a spent casing
fall to the lawn,
destined for compost.

I stepped forward
and faltering, fell to one knee, ignorant
of my circumstance
as my vision became blurred,
my muscles, weak;
breathing, labored.
Sinking to the grass, I
wished I could call out
to my wife,
my son,
someone, anyone,
but all I could do
was watch my world darken
while beside me,
the wing of one lone, weary hornet
twitched.

© 2014, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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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!

Poetry Friday: “Last Autumn”

IMG_9185
photo courtesy of Pat Cooley

“Last Autumn”

Do you remember
when we almost got lost
down by the creek
near that old stone wall?
It all started with an apple.

One of us (I don’t recall)
had twisted the season’s last McIntosh
from a withered branch.  Sharing
small bites, we ate
all the way around
save for a dark blemish where something wild
and hungry
had gnawed its flesh.

Tossing the core deep into woods
we ran across the field
for no reason
other than to run
and laughed
for no reason
other than to laugh.

When we finally reached the creek
(were you first, or me?)
remember how we spent our time
dodging briars
walking the rocks
and making sure neither fell onto the slick
smooth stones beneath
the glassy current?
Table Rock, we called it, flat and mossy
under a beech tree rose
up to meet yellowing leaves
wind chimes
dancing
to a silent song.

I helped you onto the stone
or perhaps you helped me
and we sat there
talking of fish
and books
and apples
while the call of a lone wood thrush
made melody with the water.
For a time, we simply listened
because our ears wanted to
watched
because our eyes needed to
and before we knew, color had disappeared
from the leaves
the warm October breeze had cooled
and Venus was peeking out
from behind pale sunglow.

Not sure how we had gotten there
but knowing enough to follow the creek
I helped you
or you helped me
down from the rock
and we wandered back
retracing steps
under trees and over stones
only this time
as friends
confidantes

conspirators.

And it all started with an apple.

Do you remember?

– © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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For all of today’s Poetry Friday happenings, please visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem!  Also be sure to join these folks on the Mortimer Minute blog hop today:

Violet mug-2Violet Nesdoly is a former International Christian Poet Laureate and regular contributor to Poetry Friday.
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papa j funk logoPapa-J Funk, meanwhile, never claimed to be a poet – although he is quite adept at creating fun and unusual rhymes in his picture book manuscripts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid 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!  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!

Poetry Friday: The Mortimer Minute – with apples!

poetryfridaybutton-fulll

You may have seen a furry little critter bouncing around various kid lit blogs lately…well today, he’s visiting mine!  He’s Mortimer, a buck-toothed troubadour for children’s poetry, and he’s the mascot for a Poetry Blog Hop started by fellow writer/poet April Halprin Wayland.

Here’s how it works:
1) Answer one of the previous questions asked by the blogger who tagged you, and answer two other questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry;
2) Invite one, two or three other bloggers who write children’s poetry to answer three questions that they make up on their own blogs (again, using one of the pervious questions);
3) In the post, let readers know who your invitees are and when they’re are going to be posting their Mortimer Minute questions and answers.

Well, that sounds simple enough!

mortimer-final

1) What project(s) are you working on now?

Upon completing the manuscript for my winter-themed children’s poetry collection last year, I began working on an autumn-themed collection. (I figure, if an editor likes the first one, they’ll know there’s more where that came from!) I still need another 8 or so poems to complete that, but I also wrote and co-wrote two picture book manuscripts this  year and I have two other picture book ideas I’m trying to work on, too!  Is there any way to cram more than 24 hours into a standard ‘day?’

2) How do you come up with the ideas for your poetry?

Ideas are where you find them. I don’t have to look hard to come up with subject matter, but figuring out a unique angle in which to present it or twist it does require a fair amount of brain work. As I mentioned on this blog earlier this week, I try to find the angle that is least expected. For instance, at the Highlights poetry workshop I’ve been telling you about, one of the exercises David Harrison had us do was brainstorm words that had anything to do with a word he would give us. When he said the word was “jar,” everyone in the room was offering up words like “jelly,” “pickles,” and that sort of thing. One person said “sudden stopping movement,” as in the verb, “jar.”

Me? My first thought was Jar Jar Binks, that annoying character from Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I didn’t say anything, though. Even I thought it was a pretty far stretch. But my point is, dare to be different!

3) What poem do you wish you had written? 

None. There is not a single poem anywhere that I wish I’d written. There are some terrific ones out there, like Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Silverstein’s “The Little Boy and the Old Man,” Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the death of a favorite cat,” Poe’s “To My Mother,” and just about anything Robert Frost ever wrote. But I write my own poetry, and am perfectly content with that – whether it’s any good or not.

I’ve invited two people to join the blog hop:

Violet mug-2Violet Nesdoly is a poet and regular contributor to Poetry Friday.  She’ll post her Mortimer Minute next Friday, Oct. 25.
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papa j funk logoPapa-J Funk, meanwhile, never claimed to be a poet – although he is quite adept at creating fun and unusual rhymes in his picture book manuscripts. He’ll have his ‘Minute’ Friday, Oct. 25, as well!

Speaking of poetry…

Highlights - tree

…here’s another poem I wrote while at that Highlights poetry workshop.  Ironically, even though the workshop was geared to children’s poetry, this is definitely not a children’s poem! I was inspired to write it the first day I was there because a) it was situated in the field right across from all of our cabins and could not be missed, and b) fellow children’s writer/blogger Joy Acey prompted me to write a ‘nature’-themed poem, which is something I’ve had plenty of practice doing before!

“The Apple Tree”

An old tree
in the field across the road
stood in solitude amidst the sawgrass
and goldenrod
and a few errant wildflowers,
so full of precious fruit
I surmised it must be
in wont of a visitor
with whom to share
its treasures.

Desirous of the beauty
I beheld, I journeyed
through green-amber weeds
high to my waist, urgent
soft steps growing
quicker, quicker
and more deliberate.

The tree beckoned, lifting each coy leaf
to expose
sweet bounty beneath.
Soon, I saw boughs heavy
as the Milky Way, bearing
stars upon stars
that outnumbered
and outshone the very leaves
that held them
in the sky.

Faster and faster I trod, consumed
by a fervent lust
for sustenance;
such succulence I’d never seen!
Closer, closer, I came,
heart and eyes wide and longing
until
breaths away…

I stopped.

Under shade of canopy,
I saw clearly only now
blessed fruit blushed
with blight.

Mold-speckled faces frowned
through borers’ brown holes
while wind-wrinkled skin hung
criss-crossed with blemishes
of age and neglect.
I stared
for only a moment,
then sat close to its trunk,
where low-hanging corpses
mocked my desire…

yet,
I would not leave this spot,
for I knew my hunger
was insatiable, and my thirst
unquenched. Here
I would remain
yearning, never satisfied,
but content
with what could have been.

– © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

For all of today’s Poetry Friday links and info, be sure to visit Cathy at Merely Day By Day!

Highlights - tree close-up

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid 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!  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 , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

When a good story, well-told, doesn’t tell the right story

I wasn’t planning on posting another commercial critique today.  I had customer service, rate integrity, and children’s books on my mind.

But then I came across a new commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill, and new I had to share it.

Before we get to it, however, I’d like you to check out the commercial I featured last week HERE.  In that blog post, I explained why good stories are important in commercials, and why telling them in a compelling manner is important, too.  I also noted why the closing lines, voiced by an off-screen announcer, were so effective.

So with that in mind, take a look at this brand-new commercial (which, at over 3 minutes long, is more of a game trailer/web video) and see what you think:

Attracts your attention and creates interest? Check.

Compelling story? Check.

Emotional connection to the viewer? Check, check.

Clear message and call to action?  Uhhhhh….

As good as this commercial is, I don’t like it.  Not because it’s not a good story, and not because it’s not well-told.  This commercial fails, in my opinion, because what it’s promoting is not what the viewer thinks it’s promoting.

Throughout the spot, we see the industrialization of agriculture destroying the American way of life – a common theme in many of Chipotle’s past spots.  So the message is: Locally-sourced, sustainable, non-GMO food is better for us, for the animals, for the world.  (Keep in mind, I’m not here to debate whether this is true or not; I’m just pointing out that that’s the message.

Then, after three minutes of them pulling me into their story, their call to action is…download our app???

Did I miss something? I was just having my emotions played with and my heartstrings tugged, and was all set for Chipotle to suggest I visit them – but instead of asking me to dine at one of their restaurants, they want me to download a game app!  Talk about missed opportunities.

Had the story encouraged me to feel compelled to download the app, I’d probably love the commercial. As it is, though, this story made me feel like supporting local agriculture, buying chemical-free meat, and going to Chipotle Mexican Grille for dinner…

…but, OOPS!  That’s not what the folks at Chipotle want me to do. They don’t want me to patronize their restaurant.

They want me to download an app.

Another fail – and a BIG Plus

ID-1009466 (veggies)
“Eat FRESH!” Oh, wait – that’s a different company, too.

One other thing that caught my attention – and not in a good way – comes at 2:17, when the scarecrow goes to the farm and picks a fresh vegetable from the vine. Now, he could have picked any veggie there – tomato, onion, corn, whatever – but the very first one he picks…is the Chili’s Grill & Bar logo.  I know, I know – Chipotle uses a chili pepper as their logo, too – but Chipotle’s is a black & white artistic rendering of a chili pepper, not a bright red, curvy chili pepper with a green top that looks like it was just pilfered from a Chili’s Bar & Grill sign.

Not a good idea, when you haven’t stated the name of your business in your commercial yet – or haven’t even hinted at a call to action yet.

Which brings me to the Big Plus. For years, I’ve been telling clients and sales reps that the business name does not need to be mentioned in the first 5 seconds of a commercial, nor does it need to be splattered throughout the body of the spot 20 times to make sure the listener remembered it. Heck, I’ve written and produced 60-second radio commercials that don’t give the client name until 45 seconds in!  If the story is compelling, the listener (or viewer) will wait for it – and remember it.

I also have to give a “little plus” to their choice of music:  the song, “Pure imagination” from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory fits the mood of the production perfectly.

This commercial will help Chipotle get people in the door only because the public has grown accustomed to their style of commercial and their message (even though it was quite muddled this time).  I’m sure it’ll become somewhat of a viral hit, too, which will be a positive.

So to say the video won’t be effective is doing it a disservice; a commercial is effective if it works.  In this case, if Chipotle gets more people through their doors – but very few download the app – can it be considered an effective commercial or not?  What do you think? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid 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!  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 , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

A good story, well-told, always trumps the gimmicks

This is going to be a short post; as you may know, my wife gave birth to her second child a mere 3 weeks ago, so neither of us have been getting much sleep lately! Granted, I get more than my wife since she’s nursing the baby, but all that means is that I get 4 hours of sleep compared to her 2…so neither of us is ‘winning’ in the REM-stage department.

Because of this, it’s all I can do to help keep the house maintained while trying to actually do work. So I was considering  posting a short blog entry today when I came across this commercial; as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to share it.

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I’ve written previous posts about the importance of storytelling in commercials, the necessity of keeping the story and your message straightforward, and of the value of using language everyone understands.  I’ve also given numerous examples of why a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is so important.  Even if it wasn’t an advertisement, the following commercial is a terrific example of storytelling.

It does not rely on sexy women, talking animals, precocious kids, fantasy dream-sequences, or multiple jump-cuts. It is not funny, stylish, artsy, outlandish,or hip.

Rather, it features a simple-to-understand and emotionally stirring plot, and because it is told more visually than verbally, anyone watching it can understand what’s going on. Although the USP may not be explicitly stated, this is a brand most folks recognize as being unique unto itself, and the ultimate message of the commercial – that it’s a special kind of person who uses this product – is unmistakable.

That message is driven home by the last sentence spoken at the end of the spot:

Move over, Budweiser Clydesdales…there are still more heartstrings yet to be tugged, and Guinness has a firm grasp on them.

What do you think of the commercial – as an ad, or simply as a story? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid 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!  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 , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!