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Peggy's Pages Blog 

Children's Poetry Books Giveaway!

And the Winners Are…!

Today is the final day of National Poetry Month 2013!

Special thanks to Heidi Bee Roemer, Amy Sklansky, Judith L. Roth, and Donna M. Bateman for your enthusiastic responses to my interview questions! I’ll be looking out for what comes next from them. Click on the names or scroll down to earlier posts this month to read the interviews with these children’s authors and poets.

I have enjoyed blogging about poetry all month! I give lots of credit to those bloggers who post more than once a week. For me it meant extra time at the computer—reading, writing and researching. All of which I love, but it also meant less time for actual writing for children, and other things. I’m planning to be back here once a week, or as close to it as I can get!

And now it’s time for the drawing for my picture books, NAME THAT DOG! and FROM DAWN TO DREAMS. With the help of my long-time friend and writing buddy, Karen Kulinski, here are the winners!

NAME THAT DOG!—Judith Aldape

Congratulations! I will be contacting the winners for instructions of where to send the books.

Thanks to my friend, Judy Roth, for interviewing me on her blog this month.

And thanks to all the readers who joined me here this month, those who left comments and those who just came to read! I’ll be back in May—hope to see you then!  Read More 
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Poetry Month Shares April with Autism Awareness Month

April is National Poetry Month. It’s also National Autism Awareness Month.
To tie the two together, I wanted to write a poem about autism. I found that it was not so easy!

Like many other things, there are different levels of autism. I got this definition from the Autism Society’s website:
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.”

Asperger’s Disorder is viewed by many to be a milder form of autism. “To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger's Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.”

I found a few good books for children about autism in our local library.

Daniel Stefanski
(an autistic kid), illustrated by Hazell Mitchell, Free Spirit Publishing 2011.
Daniel was diagnosed with autism at age nine. He wrote this book at age 14, with some help from his mother. This is an excellent book that helps kids understand autism, and helps them to interact with kids who have it.

Daniel is a friend of mine. He has done many book signings. He talked with me about his book, and he answered my questions through e-mail. You can read my interview with Daniel in my blog post dated June 9, 2011. Click on June 2011 in my archives on the left side of the page here.

MY BROTHER CHARLIE, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, Scholastic Press 2010.
This is the story of Charlie, told from his sister’s point of view. It’s also the story of a family who learns from Charlie about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.

RUSSELL’S WORLD, by Charles A. Amenta III, illustrated by Monika Pollak, Magination Press 2011.
This book gives readers an inside look at a boy with autism and his family. Kids can read about what Russell and his family experience together, including the challenges that can come with autism. Back matter includes a note to parents, how to find services and treatment, how to use this book, and a page about Russell and his family.

Each of these books shows a child with autism at a different level, which I also found interesting.

It’s now been two years since Daniel wrote his book on how to talk to an autistic kid. Mary Stefanski, Daniel’s mother, was recently a guest blogger on Free Spirit Publishing’s blog. Click here to read her blog post, Social Skills Classes Help Autistic Kids.

Near the end of the post is a link to the blog, Autism Speaks, and a post by Matthew Lerner about autism and Promoting Teen Social Skills.

I did write a poem about autism. It will probably be one of those poems that will take me six months or more to get it right! I figured that the next best thing to writing a poem of my own, would be to share some poems written by others. Click here to go to Child Autism Parent Cafe where you can read some poems about autism.

Happy Poetry/Autism month!  Read More 
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To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

What works and what doesn’t work when writing a picture book in verse?

When researching on line for information about writing picture books in verse, I came across several very good articles. The three that I chose to highlight were posted by a children’s author, a children’s author/illustrator, and an independent publishing company.

To get the complete picture, you’ll need to click on the links to read the full articles. But here is a sampling of some reasons for rejection that I plucked from their articles.

--Common rhyme schemes can be stale
--Forced rhyme or near-rhyme can ruin a story
--The meter (or beat) is not spot-on
--Awkward word order for the sake of rhyme
--The rhymes don’t make sense
--The story doesn’t stand on its own without the rhymes; there should be a real story
--Rhyming books are difficult to translate into other languages

In her blog post, Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme, children’s author Tara Lazar tells us “It’s not that editors don’t necessarily LIKE rhyme. It’s just that it is very difficult to do well.” She gives some reasons why editors reject rhyming picture books.

For some great insight into writing rhyming picture books, visit Tara’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), and read her complete article, which also includes examples from successful picture books in rhyme.

In an article posted on her website, PJ Lyons gives readers some “parameters by which to judge picture book texts that tell a story in verse.” Lyons says, “Poetry is like music. You write it with a conscious ear to its sound, and use the tools of analysis if something doesn’t work to assess why.” Some of the points she makes apply to writing poetry as well.

Read the article on her website, Writing in Rhyme, to learn more about her paremeters for writing picture books in rhyme.

Nosy Crow is an independent company, which publishes children’s books and apps, and has published children’s books in rhyme. On their website, Kate tells us three things that editors look for in rhyming texts.

Read the complete article for an editor’s inside look at rhyming picture books at A View From the Crow’s Nest.

Some other great web resources on rhyming picture books are:

from CBI: The Fighting Bookworms, by Laura Backes
Writing in Rhyme

from Margot Finke on Harold Underdown's website
How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous "R & M"

from Tracy Preston Cook
Rhyme = Rejection Letter? Rhyming Children’s Picture Books

from Tamsom Weston Books
Rhyming Picture Books Aren’t So Scary

In her picture books about nature, Donna Bateman’s rhythm and rhyme add so much to the book (See an interview with Donna in my previous post)! Here are some other rhyming picture books that I enjoyed:

GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, Chronicle Books LLC 2011.
First line: “Down in the big construction site,/ The tough trucks work with all their might…”
At sunset, when their work is done for the day, a crane truck, a cement mixer, and other pieces of construction equipment make their way to their resting places and go to sleep.

BEAR SNORES ON, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2002.
First line: “In a cave in the woods,/ in his deep, dark lair,/ through the long, cold winter/ sleeps a great brown bear.”
On a cold winter night many animals gather to party in the cave of a sleeping bear, who then awakes and protests that he has missed the food and the fun.

HUSH! A Thai Lullaby, by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade, Orchard Books 1996.
First lines: “Hush! Who’s that weeping in the wind? Wee-wee, Wee-wee,/ A small mosquito.”
A lullaby which asks animals such as a lizard, monkey, and water buffalo to be quiet and not disturb the sleeping baby.

THIS LITTLE CHICK, written and illustrated by John Lawrence, Candlewick Press 2002.
First line: “This little chick from over the way/ went to play with the pigs one day./ And what do you think they heard him say?”
A little chick shows that he can make the sounds of the animals in his neighborhood.

BINK AND SLINKY’S ARK ADVENTURE, is a new picture book written by my friend, Donna Arlynn Frisinger, and illustrated by Monica Gutierrez, Standard Publishing 2013.
First line: “What is this strange message two groovy snails found/ at the Garden of Chewies, in slime on the ground?”
Two small snails overcome obstacles and, with the help of others along the way, find their way to the ark before it’s too late.

If you have a favorite picture book in rhyme, feel free to let us know in your comments here!  Read More 
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Wednesday Interview with Donna M. Bateman, Children's Author!

Children’s author Donna M. Bateman’s rhyming text combines with interesting facts to create wonderful non-fiction for children. Her first book, Deep in the Swamp, won the Southern Independent Book Alliance award. Out on the Prairie is her second picture book published by Charlesbridge, and is a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. Donna is a former high school language teacher. She lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two children.

Welcome, Donna! I’m so happy to talk to you here during Poetry Month.

I love the language in your books, as well as your rhythm and rhyme. Are there any books or authors that have influenced your writing?

A: My two favorite rhyming writers are Lisa Wheeler and Karma Wilson. Both are so clever in their use of language and rhyme, with stories that surprise and delight.

Favorite rhyming picture books are The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Another favorite book, non-rhyming, is Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root—so fun to read aloud with an appropriate hillbilly accent. I have many other favorites among the 200 or so picture books that I own.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book, Out on the Prairie? What was the inspiration for writing this book?

A: After the success of Deep in the Swamp, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, teachers were asking for more books in the same format. After considering possible biomes, I chose the prairie as one that interested me. Missouri is a prairie state, although there is not much prairie left. As with SWAMP, I chose a specific setting. SWAMP is set in the Okefenokee Swamp and PRAIRIE is set in the badlands of South Dakota. Both books include a variety of animal types—mammals, birds, reptiles, even a grasshopper and a crayfish!

I know that you don’t consider your text poetry, but rather a story in verse. What do you feel is the difference between poetry and a story in verse? Which for you is more difficult to write?

A: For me, poetry is more about evoking a feeling, usually in shorthand rather than coming right out and saying “you should feel happy now,” or “you should feel angry now.” And although we tend to expect poems to rhyme, prose poems are also possible. A rhyming story has all the requirements of any other good story. The rhyming component just makes it a little more difficult to write, but I have found that some of my stories cry out for rhyme, while others definitely need to be written in prose. I have written a few poems, rhyming and otherwise, but poetry is not my forte.

Your books are counting books about nature and animals. The last sections in your books give interesting facts about the animals and plant life in your books. What kind of research do you do before writing your books?

A: For Deep in the Swamp I did book research and online research. I also contacted experts, including at the St. Louis Zoo, for answers to specific questions. In addition to turning to books, online information and experts in my research for Out on the Prairie, I was able to visit the Badlands of South Dakota to experience the prairie first hand. I was so excited to actually see four of the animals included in my book—bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs and a Western Meadowlark.

How awesome to be able to see first-hand where your book takes place! Do you have any input on the illustrations for your books?

A: No, the editor and art director choose the illustrator. I do see the art at various stages and can point out any mistakes based on my research, although the illustrators do their own research so they know what the animals and plants look like.

The illustrations for both of your books compliment the text very well, but they have very different styles. What do you feel the illustrators have brought to your stories?

A: The art definitely gives the book shelf appeal. The books would be less appealing without the beautiful illustrations to complement the text. My editor wanted the illustrations to be realistic yet whimsical. I think both illustrators—Brian Lies (SWAMP) and Susan Swan (PRAIRIE)--succeeded wonderfully!

Your first two books are non-fiction for children. Do you have any interest in writing fiction for children? What about writing for adults?

A: Actually, SWAMP and PRAIRIE are my only non-fiction works. I have well over a dozen other picture book stories on my computer, all of which are fiction.

When I first conceived of Deep in the Swamp, it didn't occur to me that the story would be non-fiction. I had read the original rhyme, Over in the Meadow, to my children and I thought it would be interesting to write a similar rhyme set in a specific biome. I chose the swamp as an interesting setting for my rhyme. Of course, I was not satisfied with just writing a rhyme willy-nilly, as it were. For me, everything had to be true and correct—each animal mother must have an appropriate number of babies, each animal must behave appropriately for the time of day (both books show a story arc starting in the morning, through the afternoon, and into the evening/night), the setting must show plants that are found in each area of the swamp or prairie. Once I decided to add the back matter to SWAMP—flora and fauna facts—it dawned on me that I had written a rhyming, non-fiction picture book.

I have no desire to write for adults. I seldom even read adult fiction. Middle grade and young adult novels are so wonderfully written, so cleverly conceived, so rich, that whenever I read adult novels, I find myself comparing them unfavorably to the children's literature I read.

When my children were small, I read a plethora of picture books to them and fell in love with the genre. In the writing world, picture books are my first love. Perhaps I'll try to pen a novel for children or teens at some point, but my brain is so geared toward picture books that I'm sure I would find it quite difficult.

What current projects are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on a story about a short Sasquatch.

Where do you turn for writing instruction and inspiration?

A: I have quite a few “how to write for children” books that I'll turn to from time to time for instruction. Of course for specific help with my stories, I turn to my fabulous critique group. For inspiration, it's all around, although my children have been the catalyst for several stories. Just a word or two can spark a story idea or a story title that I'll develop a story around. But I have never written a story about my children and I never will. I write fiction and no matter how cute or funny I think my children are, their real life activities or adventures do not make for good picture book stories.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

A: In order to learn the craft of writing for children, I suggest that beginners read as many “how to write for children” books as possible. Your local library is a good source for these books. Read, read, read books of the type you wish to write—PB, MG or YA. Once you have a handle on how to write for children, write! Or revise stories you may have already written.

Join SCBWI and take advantage of all the SCBWI has to offer. You may be able to find a critique group, either online or in person, through SCBWI. A critique group is an important tool for any writer, especially for beginners who would greatly benefit from the guidance of more seasoned writers. Attending conferences allows you to learn, network and possibly receive feedback from a published author, editor or agent. Although a beginner may be tempted to jump right to this step, bypassing some of the others, I strongly suggest you wait until you have a good idea of what you are doing through reading and learning your craft before attending your first conference. I believe you will get more from the experience if you have the basics of writing for children under your belt first.

Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: I don't have a website so the best place to find out about my books would be the Charlesbridge Publishing website. If you Google the books, you might find the reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. Both books received stars from all three publications. Some of the reviews are also included on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your books with everyone here, Donna!

You can find out more about Donna and her books on the Charlesbridge website.

DEEP IN THE SWAMP, illustrated by Brian Lies
ISBN: 978-1-57091-596-3
OUT ON THE PRAIRIE, illustrated by Susan Swan
ISBN: 978-1-58089-377-0
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Are picture books with rhyming verse considered poetry?

I’ve always thought of picture books in verse as poetry. But apparently not everyone agrees. And what about picture books in which there is a rhyme, sometimes repeating, within the story?

Some of my kids’ favorite books were the Frances books by Russell Hoban. Frances is a badger, and her stories relate to some of the insecurities that young children experience. Titles about Frances include BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES, A BABY SISTER FOR FRANCES, and BEDTIME FOR FRANCES.

A common trait in the books is that, at times, Frances makes up rhymes. For my kids, a favorite Frances rhyme (BEDTIME FOR FRANCES) goes like this—

“S is for sailboat,
T is for tiger,
U is for underwear, down in the drier…”

They would read that line over and over! I’m sure the rhymes in these books played a part in their enjoyment of poetry as well as honing their reading skills. The rhymes, and the humor, make these books fun to read.

BELLA & BEAN by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, is a story about two mice with different personalities who are friends. Bella is a poet. In this book, not all of the poems that Bella writes rhyme. She writes lists of words, and then uses them to create a poem. At the end she writes a poem about the two friends. It begins—

“One blanket
holds two friends
calm and cozy
at the edge of a pond….”

To me this book is about creating a poem as much as it is about friendship. And it brings home the point to young children that all poems do not have to rhyme.

Please stop by this Wednesday for an Interview with Donna M. Bateman, author of two wonderful picture books in verse about nature!

The Frances books by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams, HarperCollins Publishers 1960’s
Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Aileen Leijten, Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2009

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Exploring Poetry Forms

There are so many types of poems to explore! In my interview with Judith L. Roth on Wednesday (see my previous post), I asked her about the sonnet in her book. I didn’t realize that there was an English sonnet and an Italian sonnet (I learn a lot when I blog!).

According to Allan Wolf in his book, IMMERSED IN VERSE, a sonnet is a form of closed poetry. Wolf says, "No matter who writes a sonnet, as long as the poet follows the rules, the end result will look" the same on the page. He says writing the closed form poem “requires you to use your right brain—the creative side—to explore your subject while you use your left brain—the logical side—to follow the form’s rules properly.”

Another book for students on poetry that focuses on “writing poetry, not analyzing it,” is Ralph Fletcher’s POETRY MATTERS. I love this book. It’s very encouraging and helpful. The book includes examples of poems, many written by students. There are interviews and advice from well known children’s poets, including Kristine O’Connell George, Janet S. Wong, and J. Patrick Lewis. At the end is a list of recommended poetry books.

Sometimes you find advice or information about writing poetry in unexpected places. Another favorite book of mine is LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech. The teacher’s edition includes a 16-page teacher’s guide with tips on teaching poetry, poetry terms and concepts, writing activities and more.

If you’re like me, and didn’t really get into classic poetry in school (my focus was more left brain at that time, since I was planning a career in nursing), a good book to explore is AN INVITATION TO POETRY, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. This book is a collection of 200 poems written by poets such as Robert Browning, E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, Longfellow, Walt Whitman and many more, chosen by American readers. It’s accompanied by a DVD featuring readings of many of the poems in the book, which are introduced by people from across the United States who talk about their connection to the poem.

I find myself wanting to re-read these and other books on my bookshelf! And maybe I’ll try some different forms of poetry myself.

Leave your comment here for your chance to win one of my poetry books for children! Read more about the giveaway on the left side of the page.  Read More 
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Wednesday Interview with Judith L. Roth, Children's Author and Poet

Judith L. Roth is a children’s author and poet. Her poetry has appeared in more than a dozen magazines, and together with her husband, she's had over 50 children's songs published.

Her newest book, SERENDIPITY & ME, is a middle-grade novel-in-verse. School Library Journal said of this book: "This is a compassionately told tale, reminiscent in tone of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (HarperCollins, 1977) and Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May (Orchard, 1991)." SERENDIPITY & ME was released by Viking in February 2013.

Welcome, Judy! Thank you for joining us during poetry month! You and I have been friends and have shared many critiques in the past. You have such a beautiful way with words, and I’m so happy to be able to share you and your work here!

At what age did you begin to have an interest in writing poetry?
I started writing four-line rhyming poems when I was about 8. By the time I was in junior high, I’d moved on to free verse. In high school, I spent all of geometry class writing poetry. And yes, I almost did fail that class, but I was brought back from the brink. In a high school creative writing class, I learned how to write my favorite form of structured poetry, the Italian sonnet.

Do your poems come easy for you, or do you spend a lot of time writing a poem?
Free verse poetry is the most natural form of writing for me. I spend the most time of poem-writing on the little word tweaks. But that’s fun, too. The hardest parts for me in a novel-in-verse are plotting and putting in more detail.

SERENDIPITY & ME is your first novel-in-verse. Judy, I know that you love cats, but was there anything in particular that inspired you to write this book?
I don’t really know where this book came from. It started as a picture book of poems. The voice of Sara just came out. I think there were 17 poems, and that seemed like enough of a story to me. But an editor said she thought I had more to say about this father and daughter, and it ended up that I did (when prodded). The setting is from my college years where I hid a cat in the dorm. Since I went to college in Central California (Fresno Pacific), it seemed natural to put Sara and her father there as well.

Did you need to do any research when writing this book?
I had to learn a lot about Peter Pan (the book) and Sara Teasdale (the poet). I started off just learning about them online, but found soon enough that I needed the actual books in my hands. That fed right into my book addiction and collection. I found a great copy of “Love Songs” by Sara Teasdale online, a 1926 edition. So cool.

What can you tell us about the revision process once your book was accepted?
There was so much more to it than I expected. The first words I heard were, “since you’ve already done the heavy lifting, the revision won’t be too difficult.” Then there were four single-space pages of revision notes. After those revisions were made, I got another four single-space pages of revision notes. After those revisions were made….ad infinitum, it seemed. But there was a publishing deadline, so at some point it was deemed ready to go to copyediting. Which brought up another slew of corrections, revisions, and appraisals. I am amazed at all the work that goes into a novel after it’s been accepted. And the number of people who are involved in making sure it’s as good as it can be. It’s a little overwhelming, but very satisfying.

Most of your book is written in free verse, but the voice of Sara's mother comes through in other forms, like the sonnet on page 274. What can you tell us about this particular poem?
This poem didn’t end up in the novel until the end of the revision process. It’s the first poem of mine that was ever accepted, but it never got published because of the death of the publisher. So it is finally published, 33 years after that first acceptance. I think the editor wanted the mother’s poetry to be more grown-up, so I put in a structured poem.

Why do you write sonnets using the Italian rather than the English (Shakespearean) form?
I like the rhyme scheme better. The couplet at the end of English sonnets sounds too artificial to me. Although I feel like I’m using the Italian sonnet’s structure, I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to the iamabic part of the iambic pentameter. So I guess I don’t follow the Italian sonnet’s rules all the way. I’m such a rebel.

For myself, and any readers who might not know, what is the difference between the English sonnet and the Italian sonnet?
The rhyme scheme of the English sonnet is ababcdcdefefgg. The rhyme scheme of the Italian sonnet is abbaabbacdecde. I believe they both usually use imabic pentameter, but I basically follow this by simply making sure there are 10 syllables (and only 10 syllables) in each of the 14 lines.

Do you work with an agent? What is that experience like?
My agent is Stephen Fraser. He was first an interested editor, then moved into the agenting business. After being in charge of my own submissions for so long, it’s a little hard to let go. But it’s great to have someone on your side, cheering you on, who can actually get heard by big publishers.

How did you come up with the title for your book?
The father in the book says of the arrival of the kitten when Sara is upset, “Serendipity, Sara. Someone’s brought you a blessing for a visit.” When I played with the word, I got Serendipkitty. But I didn’t like the sound at the end of that. Another writer said it ought to be Serendipikitty, which fixed that. Serendipikitty was the title until the very end of the time it was being edited. Then the marketing people at Viking said that title was too difficult to pronounce, so my editor suggested I change the name of the kitten from Marshmallow to Serendipity, and rename the title Serendipity & Me.

Your other books for children were picture books. What are the differences in writing a MG novel from writing a picture book? Which do you enjoy the most?
Small canvas to humongous canvas. There are different aspects of both that I enjoy. With novels, I miss having the lovely illustrations of a picture book and the relative ease in writing and revising. The simplicity of a picture book is satisfying to me. It’s hard to maintain focus on the large projects that novels are. But it’s wonderful to get so deep into a layered project—there are so many things in a novel to figure out, threads to unravel, facts to learn. I can’t say I enjoy one more than the other.

What advice can you give to aspiring children’s writers/poets?
If you’re doing it to make a living, run away as fast as you can! If you’re doing it because you can’t ‘not’ do it, you’re in the right place. Find like-minded people to share the journey with you. Celebrate the small victories. Find joy in words and stories.

What are you reading now?
I just finished reading Heft, by Liz Moore. So good. She is an amazing writer. Not only was the story wonderful, but the voice and craft were superb. Something to aspire to.

What are you working on now?
I’m writing another MG novel, but this one is not contemporary, not poetry, not first person. It’s about three young teens in the 1850’s who are each isolated for different reasons and who come together for a short time as they try to help one of the three escape. Now that I think about it, it does begin with a sonnet. The first line starts, "One night, a long time ago, three prayers went up to heaven….”

A very beautiful, poetic first line! Do you do author visits, and if so, how can you be reached about that?
Yes, I do. I can be reached at my website or my email, which is mjbcroth@frontier.com.

Thank you for giving us an inside look into your writing life, Judy!

Judy lives in Elkhart, IN with her husband and three cats. You can find out more about Judy on her website at http://judithlroth.wordpress.com/.

SERENDIPITY & ME: ISBN #978-0-670-01440-8  Read More 
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Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 18th

“Throughout history, poems have been stowed in pockets in a variety of ways, from the commonplace books of the Renaissance to the pocket-sized publications for Army soldiers in World War II.

A Heads up! This Thursday, April 18th, is National Poem in your Pocket Day!
In 2002 the city of New York initiated Poem in Your Pocket Day as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008 the Academy of American Poets took the idea nationwide.

“The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.” –from the Academy of American Poets website.

Visit the Academy’s website above to see some ideas for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day!

You can celebrate by leaving the title and author of your favorite poem in the comments here on my blog on Thursday. Plus, anyone who leaves a comment on my blog during poetry month will be entered to win one of my children's poetry books, NAME THAT DOG!, and FROM DAWN TO DREAMS, on April 30th! See guidelines for the “book giveaway” on the left side of this blog.

Don’t forget to come back this Wednesday, April 17th, when I’ll be posting an interview with children’s author and poet, Judith L. Roth! Judy’s middle grade novel-in-verse, SERENDIPITY & ME, was released from Viking in February.

Oh, and if you’d like to read an interview with me, go to Judy’s website. Thanks Judy!  Read More 
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TGI(P)F--It's Poetry Friday!

Many children’s authors and poets celebrate Poetry Friday. But what exactly is Poetry Friday and where did it come from?

On the Poetry Foundation's website Susan Thompsen tells us: “every week, children’s book lovers and bloggers gather in cyberspace for Poetry Friday, a tradition launched by Kelly Herold, editor of the children’s literature webzine The Edge of the Forest.” Taking her cue from some favorite academic bloggers, Herold instituted poetry Fridays to celebrate children’s poetry. On her blog, Big A, little a, she shared a favorite poem from her childhood, A.A. Milne’s “Disobedience,” as the first poetry Friday blog.

The idea of poetry Fridays took off right away! Since then Kidlitosphere, a community of bloggers who write about children’s books, has embraced Poetry Friday. Bloggers have been sharing favorite poems, poetry books, websites and anything and everything about poetry for children and adults alike.

When I was a child some of my favorite books were nursery rhymes. I loved Little Miss Muffet, Little Boy Blue, and The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe!

Reading Rockets says “Nursery Rhymes are important for young children because they help develop an ear for our language. Both rhyme and rhythm help kids hear the sounds and syllables in words, which helps kids learn to read!”

Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. Click here to see their post on National Poetry Month.

Mary Had a Little Lamb
Author: Sarah J. Hale - 1788-1879 (1830)

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned him out,
But still he lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.

"What makes the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cried.
"Oh, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher then replied.

For a collection of nursery rhymes for children and a history of the meaning behind the nursery rhymes, see Jane Yolen's Mother Goose Songbook.  Read More 
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A Visit with Amy Sklansky, Children's Author and Poet

Amy Sklansky is an award winning author of children’s picture books and poetry.

Her picture book, OUT OF THIS WORLD (Alfred A. Knopf 2012), is a collection of poems and facts about space. Publishers Weekly calls it “an evocative mix of the whimsical and the scientific.” OUT OF THIS WORLD was selected as an "Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2013" by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council, and as one of "Our Favorite Children's Books of 2012" by Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine. It was #4 on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers List.

Amy’s newest book, YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE, will be released from Little, Brown this fall. It is a follow-up to YOU ARE MY LITTLE CUPCAKE.

Welcome, Amy! Thank you for celebrating Poetry Month with us here on my blog.

Your picture book, OUT OF THIS WORLD: Poems and Facts About Space, was just nominated for the Utah State Beehive award. Congratulations, Amy! I enjoyed the different poetic forms and the interesting facts about space and space travel.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?
A: Space is one of our last true frontiers. I loved exploring what is known about space and learning what is still unknown. I think kids feel the same way. And there is so much to write about.

And your book makes learning about space a lot of fun! What kind of research went into working on this project?
A: My library card got some heavy use as I read both in the children’s and adult sections about any of the topics I was interested in writing about – the moon missions, what stars are, how astronauts prepare to live and work in space, etc. The NASA.gov website is a fantastic resource and one I made good use of as well. Ultimately, my editor showed the manuscript and sketches to an astronomy professor just to make sure all my scientific facts were correct. I refined what I knew with each research step.

The illustrations and placement of your words on the page add so much to this book. Did you include notes for the illustrator with your text?
A: A great illustrator knows her stuff, and Stacey Schuett is a great illustrator! There were some poems in which I had roughly laid out how I thought the text should be placed, where verses should be placed, etc. “Black Hole” is one example of this. But as far as illustrations go, that was all Stacey. I like the way she combined traditional and digital art.

Did you have any input regarding the illustrations or who the illustrator would be?
A: As is common practice, the publisher chooses the illustrator. Lucky me that Knopf chose so well. I looked at sketches and had some minor comments and occasionally rethought the placement of text on the page once I’d seen a sketch (because sometimes she had a better idea), but that’s it. I leave the art directing to the publisher and the illustrator.

You’ve written other poetry collections and rhyming picture books. When did you begin to write poetry?
A: I have a copy of a short poem I wrote back in 3rd grade, so I’ve been writing at least that long. I published my first book in 2002. It was a poetry collection called “From the Doghouse: Poems to Chew On.”

Do your poems come easy for you, or do you spend a lot of time writing a poem?
A: I probably revise each poem anywhere from 7 – 12 times before it is completely and forever finished. The same is true for prose. The thing I find most helpful is some distance, coming back to my writing a few days later and looking at it with fresh eyes.

Are there any books or authors that have influenced you as a children’s writer?
A: Some of my favorite children’s poets writing today are Joyce Sidman, Kristine O’Connell George, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Douglas Florian.

Your newest book, YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE, is a board book for toddlers. Can you tell us a little bit about this book?
A: This sweet (pun intended) book is a celebration of parents’ love for their child. I love the way Talitha Shipman illustrates a variety of parents in terms of race, setting, and sex. Everyone who loves their child should be able to see themselves and their child in this book.

Board books for toddlers are very short, and that can make them look easy to write. I know this can be deceiving. Is this a difficult genre to write for?
A: Being a parent of two wonderful children myself, I find it fairly easy to write for this genre. However, as in any poem, each word has to be carefully weighed and balanced. There are so few words in a board book, and each one is important. I also like to read board books aloud and make sure they are successful when enjoyed this way.

Do you have any other projects that are currently in the works?
A: I’m attempting my first chapter book – a whole new challenge for me. I’m also researching a nonfiction project – a story I plan to tell with poetry.

Besides writing, you also do author visits to schools. How should someone contact you about doing an author visit?
A: I love visiting schools in person or virtually via Skype or videoconference. Information about some of my typical programs, photos of me at schools, a map of schools I’ve visited, etc can be found on my website: www.amysklansky.com. Anyone can email me from there for further information.

Thank you for sharing a bit of your writing life with us here, Amy!

Readers can find more information about Amy and her books on her website.

OUT OF THIS WORLD: (illustrated by Stacey Schuett)
ISBN-10: 0375864598
ISBN-13: 978-0375864599
YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE: (illustrated by Talitha Shipman)
ISBN-10: 0316207144
ISBN-13: 978-0316207140
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