Archives: Laura’s Bookshelf

5 Questions for the Author: Stacy Mozer

It was the solstice this week, Poetry Friday friends. Summer is here. I’m not a hot weather person, but there is one thing I will go outside for: baseball.

I love going to Camden Yards for an Orioles game on a hot summer night, eating crab cakes, drinking beer or Icees, and spending time with my family through the long innings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sports in the past several months as I finish up work on my next book, Take Down, which is set on a middle school wrestling team. Visiting me today for an interview — and to share a poem for Poetry Friday — is Stacy Barnett Mozer, one of the authors behind the blog Sporty Girl Books.

Stacy’s latest book is The Perfect Trip, about Sam (Samantha) Barrette, a girl who has just made the boys’ travel baseball league.

Thanks for joining me for 5 Questions for the Author, Stacy!

1. THE PERFECT TRIP works as a stand-alone novel, but can you fill us in on Sam’s first story, THE SWEET SPOT? How has the character grown and changed since that book?

In the first book Sam is struggling to find her place as a thirteen-year-old female baseball player. At the beginning of the book she learns that her coach feels she has an attitude and that the only way he’ll recommend her for travel baseball is if she gets a good performance at baseball camp. But when she arrives they expect her to be a boy and place her on the team with weaker and younger players and it goes downhill from there. As in this book, Sam’s family plays an important role in the story. At the start of the book Sam sees her stepmother Nancy as the enemy and is completely forgiving of her never-present birth mother. She has to learn to sort those relationships out too.

2. One of my favorite scenes in THE PERFECT TRIP takes place at a pick-up baseball game at a campground. A group of older boys is sure they’ll win against their younger brothers, even more so when Sam joins the younger boys’ team. I love the dramatic irony of this scene. Can you talk about how girl athletes challenge expectations?

Thank you for picking up on that scene. My two books were originally written in the reverse order and it was when I wrote that scene at the campground that I discovered the real motivation of my real main character. As an elementary school teacher, there have been many years that I have watched girls being undervalued when they want to play sports at recess. I used to be able to name on my hand the ones who were able to persevere and fight for the respect they deserved on the field. Fortunately, I do feel that trend is currently on the upswing. There has been more attention given to women and sports in the news and the boys don’t seem as surprised to see the girls playing with them. I don’t think it hurts that they all know about my book as well.

3. I loved the relationship between Sam and her younger half-sister, Deborah. Would you describe how you drew these sisters and made their moments of love, annoyance, and betrayal so believable.

My younger sister and I always had a very close relationship. Even though she is as different from Deborah as I am from Sam, I definitely put the emotion behind our relationship into the story. We had mostly good times, but there were those moments. Deborah also has in her some of my daughter Annie. Annie was Deborah’s age when I wrote the book and I would pluck some scenes and conversations from observing her behavior and interests. Then I would place myself in the role of her older sister to see how I would react.

4. Sam’s real name is Samantha — a name she doesn’t use much. One of the main characters in my upcoming book is a girl wrestler, and I played around with names and nicknames too. She’s Mikayla at home, but “Mickey” on the wrestling mat (on the advice of her older brothers). Why are names so important? When female athletes play on co-ed or male teams, do you think names impact how their teammates and opponents view girls and women?

When I first wrote The Perfect Trip Sam’s name was Zoey. When I realized I wanted the people at baseball camp to think she was a boy, I needed a unisex name. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, so I took it back to my third grade class. They voted for Sam. I don’t think that names should matter, but in this case it was important for the mix up.

5. Who was your female athlete hero when you were Sam’s age? What was important to you about her?

I can’t remember any particular female athlete heroes from my childhood, but there were two movies with female athletes that I’ve never forgotten. The first was Quarterback Princess with Helen Hunt as a female football player. The second is a lesser-known movie called Blue Skies Again, which is about a female baseball player. I remember watching both movies over and over and thinking how amazing it was that these girls were fighting for their right to play with the boys. When I was older, I admired Mia Hamm, which is why I had Sam’s best friend Tasha give her a few shout outs during The Perfect Trip.

School’s out for Heidi Mordhorst! She’s hosting the first Poetry Friday of summer at My Juicy Little Universe.

Please stop by Stacy’s website to read her full bio. I had no idea we were both NYU grads!

Since it’s Poetry Friday, I asked Stacy to recommend a poem to pair with THE PERFECT TRIP.

Her choice? The perfect poem! Here is “First Girls in Little League Baseball,” by J. Patrick Lewis — shared with Pat’s express permission.

 

 

First Girls in Little League Baseball

By J. Patrick Lewis

December 26, 1974
Title IX of the 1972 Education Act is signed, providing for equal opportunity in athletics for girls as well as boys.

The year was 1974
When Little Leaguers learned the score.
President Ford took out his pen
And signed a law that said from then
On women too would have the chance
To wear the stripes and wear the pants.
Now what you hear, as flags unfurl,
Is “Atta boy!” and “Atta girl!”

Posted with permission of the author.

5 Questions for the Author: Meg Eden

Mary Lee Hahn is hosting this week. Stop by the blog A Year of Reading for this week’s poetry offerings from around the kidlitosphere.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.

This week, I’m celebrating my friend Meg Eden‘s upcoming debut YA novel, Post-High School Reality Quest. I first met Meg when I was editing Little Patuxent Review. She is a talented young poet, and our journal published several of her poems.

Here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • blurb of Post-High School Reality Quest from Goodreads,
  • interview with author Meg Eden (she has fascinating insights into transitioning from poetry to long-form fiction),
  • a poem by Meg,
  • link to a book giveaway!

PHSRQ publishes next week, June 13. Here is the description from Goodreads.

Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.

After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.

While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.

***

Congratulations on your debut, Meg! Let’s dive into the interview.

  1. I love quest stories with female leads. How does Post-High School Reality Quest follow and/or break with the traditional quest narrative?

You could say Buffy’s quest is for Tristan, but there’s nothing epic about it. She’s not going to any dramatic lengths to get him, despite how much she might want him. What might be more accurate is to say that Buffy’s quest is to survive, to return to normalcy. When I think of quest narratives, I think of journeys and characters that actively travel to get what they want. Buffy isn’t “setting out” on a quest. In fact, her desire is antithetical to “setting out”—if it was up to her, she’d be “setting in,” remaining in the comfort of her patterns. But instead the world is changing around her, the text parser is calling her to action, and she’s just hanging on for the ride.

It’s interesting that many girl-led quests are about a return to normalcy. There’s Alice, Dorothy, Coraline. But that’s a topic for another day.

  1. It’s clear from your main character’s name (Buffy!) that there are a lot of Easter eggs in PHSRQ for geeks and gamers. Can you tell us about a few of those without revealing any spoilers?

Buffy’s name for her backpack is “inventory,” a shout-out to a vital attribute in pretty much every game ever. There are some beautifully illustrated memes, including a nod to “You don’t say” Nicholas Cage and “I know that feel, bro.” Merrill’s house has the address number 404, as if it doesn’t exist (a reference to 404 website errors). There’s a love letter written out like code, and a birthday cake written in binary. There are Slave Leia costumes, an NES Super Scope, multiple Pikachu instances, a prized Pokemon Stadium N64 cartridge, and all sorts of other things I’m currently blanking on.

  1. Your book is written in second person. That’s a challenging point-of-view to write from, but fitting for a novel about video games. Would you explain the importance of the “You” voice for non-gamers?

Post-High School Reality Quest is the form of a classic text-adventure game–that is, those old MS-DOS games, before graphics, where the game would narrate what was happening, and you would type in commands to interact with the game (e.g., “You are in a room. There is an axe. Exits are: out.” and to move out of the room, you’d type “out”). By narrating in second person, these games attempted to place the player in the environment as a character in their story. You could say that in text-adventure games, there are two distinct voices: that of the narrator and that of the player. This would be totally different if the games were narrated as “I”—they would make the game and the player one in the same.

Narrating from the “you” in PHSRQ allowed me to create conflict between the text parser and Buffy, to have two different narrators and two different goals. First or third person narration wouldn’t inherently carry this conflict.

  1. You’re a published poet who is debuting as a YA novelist. How was writing fiction was different than putting together a book of poetry? How did being a poet benefit you as you worked on this novel?

This is a great question, and a hard one to answer. I think in short: a book of poems is about (to me at least) different angles on a related experience. There are lots of tendrils, and there’s an emotional rise and fall, but not usually a plot. There’s not necessarily a climax or conclusion, and it’s focusing more on the experience than the end-goal. A novel is about following characters through a narrative of wants and obstacles. Poetry’s structure is a rising line: imagery leading to a realization. A novel’s structure is an arc of obstacles rising to a climax and choice, leading back down to a resolution.

All types of writing are exercises, like going to the gym. Poetry stretches my muscles for using space and words efficiently, using object-oriented language and imagery, and leading to a realization. Fiction stretches my muscles for keeping the action moving and going: of figuring out what my characters want, and what gets in the way of that.

Being a poet helped me focus in on the objects and specificity in Buffy’s experiences in PHSRQ. It gave me a fresh approach to writing a novel, where I was less concerned about what needed to happen or hitting the “outline” of what a novel’s structure is “supposed” to be and instead just enjoying observing what was already there. I feel like my background in poetry made me thrive on the complexity of the characters and situations, and observe instead of imposing my “game plan” of what should happen.

  1. Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first prose novel for teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a YA novel? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

I would LOVE it if Fatimah Asghar would do this. I teach her poem “Pluto Shits on the Universe” in so many of my classes for lots of reasons, but the big one that I love to point out is the language of the experience. She makes Pluto into a real character, with a believable and relatable voice.  Whatever her novel would be about, it would have character and voice and I would without question get sucked into it.

I asked Meg to share a poem in which she explores similar themes to those in PHSRQ.

Shigeru Miyamoto Goes Spelunking

with a line from an interview[1]

By Meg Eden. Previously published in Cartridge Lit. 

When you say you explored caves as a boy,
I think about the abandoned Sears catalogue homes
I grew up with: watching them rot, heavy with secrets.
What I’d give to go in that unreachable place.

Playing Zelda, seeing those doors on-screen
that resided on the other side of a wall—why
are there always so many walls? No matter
how many games I play there are always

impassable places. Disappearing places.
When McKenzie from down the street died
I told my dad I was biking to his house
to explore it & he didn’t stop me. I biked there

but couldn’t go inside: those ripped curtains
in the window, that sign on the back door
with drawing of a gun that read: If you’re here
today they’ll find your body here tomorrow.

I biked back home. If I was born a boy,
would I have gone inside? Or were there caves
in Sonobe that you were afraid of, too?
You say that going back home, someone has blocked

the entrances to your caves. Does that stop you
from going inside? I like to think I’ll go inside
the dilapidated houses I see off the side of the road
but instead I take pictures from my car & try

to rebuild them inside me. It’s not the same
as reaching your hand in a river & realizing
you’ve touched a fish but what else can you do
in this paved and partitioned world?

[1] from Master of Play by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker)

Would you like a copy of Post-High School Reality Quest? Enter this giveaway!

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NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Holly Thompson

National Poetry Month 2017 has flown by in a blur of words. I’ve asked poet and author Holly Thompson to close out my NPM17 series of interviews with verse novelists. You’ll find links to each interview at the bottom of this post.

Holly has published many books–including a picture book, MG, YA, and new adult novels–but two of my favorite are her verse novels ORCHARDS and THE LANGUAGE INSIDE. We met years ago at an SCBWI conference and connected over poetry (what else?!) As I was working on my own novel-in-verse, Holly read early drafts. I am grateful for her feedback and her willingness to mentor a pre-published author.

Happy National Poetry Month, Holly!

Tell us about your most recent verse novel. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

My third and most recent verse novel Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth confronts school bullying in Japan. As with my verse novel Orchards, and sections of The Language Inside, Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth is set in Japan. Bullying, or ijime, is a chronic social problem in Japan. Incidents of bullying and intimidation are on the rise in U.S. schools as well, but in Japanese schools, bullying tends to be a group phenomenon. My children’s experiences as outsiders in Japanese schools and the experiences and struggles of many other intercultural children I have come to know in my years of living in Japan led me to write this story. Main character Jason, a non-Japanese boy attending a Japanese school, has so much bottled up inside him as he copes with bullying—yet he confides to no one. Writing this story in a spare free verse style enabled me to tap into his struggles—and his valiant efforts to overcome his problems.

Does your story spin on one central event and how it impacts the characters in the book? If so, how did you incorporate poetic elements such as metaphor and symbolism to show the echoes of that event through the novel? Would you share an example of this from your book?

In Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth, Jason is an outsider and a year older than his classmates, and when the classroom han groups are changed, Jason finds himself placed with five of the most aggressive members of the class. He knows he will be with seated with this han for many weeks—in homeroom for most classes, at lunch, and during unsupervised school cleaning periods. His friends at school are sympathetic but remain passive bystanders, urging Jason to just go along with the bullies and not make waves. Jason tries to find confidence and balance through his practice of the martial art aikido as aggressions escalate.

The following are two of five “page poems” in an early chapter of Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth called “Centering.”

You can see the correct formatting of the poems on the page in this photo.

_____

at the dojo
you bow to enter
and on the mats
you kneel, you meditate
you hold your one-point center
even when Yamada-sensei
pushes your forehead to test you

you chant, you stretch
you roll
across
the mats
forward
and back
you bow to your opponent
you practice holds and moves
you take your opponent’s energy

and turn it to overcome him
or her

and what matters most
through every move and fall
is you keep firm
you stay in control
you hold your center

_____

in aikido
we practice protecting
we imagine attackers
we use mind and body together
our ki energy
to keep calm
perform our best
so we can dare to face
an enemy of millions

but today I picture real attackers

so while entering and turning
and receiving strikes
I’m thinking of
Shunta

Yuki
Naho
and Mika

I focus hard
make no mistakes
calm and action
as one
_____

Have you ever written a full or partial draft of one of your verse novels in prose (or vice versa), only to decide to switch? How did you go about making that change? What were some of your clues that you needed to rethink the form?

Before setting out to complete a full draft, I always play with scenes in both prose and poetry, and listen to the narrative voice closely to test and confirm that verse is the appropriate form for the novel. One scene of Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth had first existed as a prose short story, but that storytelling mode felt too distant. For a character enduring ongoing harassment in a society like Japan that emphasizes conformity and where the standard survival mechanism is to do anything to blend in and gaman—persevere stoically, I felt that free verse enabled an interiority that was critical in this book. In verse, you can pare the language down to reach the core of an episode, which can make the experience of a scene more visceral. With this interiority, and with pages that don’t overwhelm with details, verse can also enable readers to enter a world they may not know and to experience a situation in a first-hand sort of way.

I see a similarity between the poems in novels-in-verse and dramatic monologues. Each poem in a verse novel has a character communicating his or her emotions and observations. There is often a realization or shift in thinking that happens in both monologues and in a verse novel’s poems. What do you think about the overlap between a speech for the stage and a poem in a verse novel?

In my three verse novels so far, I’ve written in chapter poems that are composed of “page poems” or “sub poems.” These page poems are not titled, and rarely can they stand alone, but they are broken deliberately for page turns that affect the pacing in the novel. As a result, some chapters may resemble dramatic monologues. Or, a series of page poems from a subplot that spans multiple chapters may cumulatively serve as a dramatic monologue. I was pleased to learn that students sometimes perform dramatic interpretations for speech contests using my excerpts from my verse novels.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

I think any genre of story can be told with poetry. There are so many ways to write poetry, and limitless possibilities for using poetry to propel a narrative, so I think we’ll be seeing many style, structural and genre variations in verse novels in the future. Why not a fantasy novel? Why not sci-fi? Poetry can do anything, and verse novels are a completely malleable form. I look forward to future verse novels!

I agree. With poetry, anything is possible. Thank for visiting, Holly!

Holly Thompson (www.hatbooks.com) is a longtime resident of Japan and author of the verse novels Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth, The Language Inside, and Orchards. She edited Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, and she writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction for children, teens and adults and teaches writing in Japan, the U.S. and internationally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of  interviews with verse novelists. Thanks to all of the authors who took the time to share insights in their writing.

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Amanda Rawson Hill

It’s the last Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month. We’re down to the last two author interviews of my NPM17 series on verse novelists.

A quick note first: I’m part of Bookology’s month-long poetry mosaic, which features many of our Poetry Friday friends reading their own poems. You can find that here.

Thanks to JoAnn Early Macken for hosting Poetry Friday this week. You’ll find April and all of this week’s poetry links at Teaching Authors.

I have something and someone different to share with you today:  A verse novelist in the making! Meet Amanda Hill, a debut prose-novelist who just finished polishing up a novel-in-verse with her agent. The working title of that book is THE HOPE OF ELEPHANTS.

Amanda interviewed me about writing verse novels a few months ago. (Read part one of that interview here.) I’m happy to include her in this months verse novelist series.

Tell us about the verse novel you’re working on, Amanda. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

The verse novel is an MG/YA crossover about a girl who finds out she has a 50/50 chance of having the same cancer gene that is killing her father.

I knew it was in verse almost from the very beginning, simply because that is how the character started speaking to me before I even wrote anything down. It took me a couple minutes of listening to her words and hearing the rhythm of them before I said, “I think she’s talking in free verse.”

Sure enough. She was. And it’s a good thing, too. Because the idea in the story of something being 50/50 and having two different paths one can possibly take in life is something that I was able to actually illustrate in form using poetry.

Does your story spin on one central event and how it impacts the characters in the book? If so, how did you incorporate poetic elements such as metaphor and symbolism to show the echoes of that event through the novel? Would you share an example of this from your book?

My story spins on this idea of the character wondering, “Am I living or dying?” while simultaneously watching her father die. So, this idea of death and what it means to die is echoed a lot through my book, especially through the last half. Although, I very rarely talk about it outright. I use a lot of symbolism. One poem says death is like finishing a really good book. Another compares terminal illness and death to waiting in an airport and then getting on a plane. The very last poem is left up to the reader as to whether it is another metaphor for dying, or simply something that truly happened, and it’s about crossing a bridge.

Your debut is a prose novel. How was the experience of working on this book different from writing prose fiction? What made you turn to poetry as the backbone of how you tell a story?

Writing a verse novel felt harder to me. First of all, the number of words I could get onto the page in an hour was totally different. When I’m writing prose, I can do 1000 easy. With a verse novel, my max was about 400. After that, I would feel so drained mentally, that I just couldn’t do anymore. It was also different in how the story was told. While there were still scenes, I had to tell them in glimpses. Each poem feels more like telling a story through snapshots. A certain feeling or symbol or focus for each poem all adding up to a greater whole and story. It was hard to train my brain to think in snapshots instead of narration, if that makes sense. It still took several rounds of revision to realize that I didn’t need so many poems for one scene. That I was still trying to narrate some things, instead of just giving a glimpse.

That makes perfect sense. My brain tends to think in those snapshots. Even when I’m writing in prose, it’s scene by scene. The narration, the glue between moments, comes later.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

That’s a good question! I think it definitely could, but probably with limitations. I don’t know if you could do a real epic or high fantasy that needs a ton of world building because I think that would either bog down the poetry, or not be effectively communicated. But I think a light fantasy or a contemporary fantasy with familiar characters like werewolves, vampires, fairy tale characters, etc. could definitely be done well. So I say, Yes…with limits.

Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first verse novel for children or teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a kidlit novel-in-verse? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

I have lots of favorite poets. But when I think about which one could write a great novel in verse for kids, I’m going to have to go with Maya Angelou. I just think MG lit is all about finding hope and starting to figure out how the world works. I think those themes and ideas are really exemplified in some of her poetry. I can totally see an MG character saying, “I rise, I rise, I rise.” Or, “Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone.”

As to what it would be about, I think it would follow in the tradition of Nikki Grimes and Janice N. Harrington. a beautiful, family-centered story with a black main character finding their voice.

I’m excited to read your prose novel, Amanda — and happy to have  you in the verse novelist community too.

Amanda Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming, with a library right out her back gate (which accounts a lot for how she turned out.) She attended Brigham Young University, where she earned her bachelor’s in chemistry. From there, Amanda has lived all over the country with her husband and family. She now resides in central California, where she enjoys homeschooling her children, gardening, working with refugees, and, of course, writing. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown and has a debut novel  being published in 2018.

We wrap up my series of National Poetry Month interviews with verse novelists on Sunday. Holly Thompson will be here to talk about her MG verse novel, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH.

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

NPM 2017: 5 Questions (+1) for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Tamera Will Wissinger

It’s the last week of National Poetry Month. I’ve got three more author interviews lined up for us. They’re part of my NPM17 series on verse novelists.

I met Tamera Will Wissinger last year, at the 2016 ALA conference. We were both in the audience–and both of us were totally fangirling–when Marilyn Singer  hosted a wonderful reading by kidlit poets.

I’m a big fan of Tamera’s debut novel-in-verse, Gone Fishing. And I’m thrilled to welcome her to my blog today.

Tell us about the most recent verse novel. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

Gone Camping is a companion book to my first verse novel, Gone Fishing. I enjoyed that process of poetry story telling so much that I decided to try again. For me it was trickier writing a follow up than the original. The story line, setting, and characters needed to be familiar but not the same – a delicate balance. The poetry aspect was actually easier than getting the story line just right. Since forms are fixed, it’s a matter of selecting those styles that best help tell the story.

Does your story spin on one central event and how it impacts the characters in the book? If so, how did you incorporate poetic elements such as metaphor and symbolism to show the echoes of that event through the novel? Would you share an example of this from your book?

There are actually two central events – the setting and plotline are built around a camping trip, and there is also an emotional arc of one of the character’s fear of staying overnight in the tent. Incorporating poetry elements seemed like a natural way to echo the fears that Lucy has from early in the story. I like to use repetitions, refrains, and strong rhythm and end rhyme to drive home those fears, and how Lucy overcomes her fears. One example is in a poem called “To Noises in the Night”. In it Lucy talks directly to Spookiness, Shadows, and Strange Noises, which is personification. Since the whole poem is done in this way it’s a poem of address. I also threw in anaphora, the repetition of a phrase, because it echoes a chant from a favorite story from my childhood. (More on that below.)

TO NOISES IN THE NIGHT 

Poem of Address

Spookiness, Shadows, Strange Noises: Beware.
I’m not so little or easy to scare.

Spookiness, Shadows, Strange Noises: Behave.
I am ferocious: I’m Lucy the Brave.

My shield is this pillow, my sword – this flashlight.
Spookiness, Shadows, Strange Noises: GOODNIGHT.

Illustrations by Matthew Cordell.

 

Have you ever written a full or partial draft of one of your verse novels in prose (or vice versa), only to decide to switch? How did you go about making that change? What were some of your clues that you needed to rethink the form?

Yes. I have a full prose novel that I’m rewriting as a verse novel. The topic is sort of heavy for young readers and the prose also felt heavy, so I’m hoping that the switch will give it balance. It’s more free verse than I usually use, so it’s very liberating to give it a try.

I see a similarity between the poems in novels-in-verse and dramatic monologues. Each poem in a verse novel has a character communicating his or her emotions and observations. There is often a realization or shift in thinking that happens in both monologues and in a verse novel’s poems. What do you think about the overlap between a speech for the stage and a poem in a verse novel?

It’s interesting and not something I had thought of before, but I like it and think it makes sense. I have tended to think about musical theater – a sister to dramatic monologues – for my inspiration. If you look at the sample poem above, there is a link to a certain L. Frank Baum-based musical film chant from the 1930s involving Lions and Tigers and…(oh my!)

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

Yes! I would love to see the form expand to any genre that authors and readers may be interested in writing and reading. It’s probably not that simple, though. Since prose is the standard storytelling format and other forms such as poetry or epistolary add a literary constraint beyond sentences, paragraphs and chapters, it’s not something that everyone is interested in writing. Also, fantasy and sci-fi have the world building aspect which is another constraint that is more integral to the story for those particular genres, than a format choice. If someone does take on all those challenges, though, I will eagerly read it and I bet there are many others who will, too.

Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first verse novel for children or teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a kidlit novel-in-verse? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

Ooh, this is fun! I would choose Samuel Taylor Coleridge because he has a strong grasp of poetic storytelling and he also understands poetic forms: “What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole, / It’s body brevity, and wit its soul.” I would guess it might be a ballad of some sort, maybe about something or someone at sea, with a boat, maybe fish…

Thank you for including me in your National Poetry Month verse novelist feature, Laura. What fun!

Thank you, Tamera. It was fun to catch up with you!

Tamera Will Wissinger writes poetry and stories for children. She earned her B.A. degree in English from Sioux Falls College (now the University of Sioux Falls, and her M.F.A. degree in Writing from Hamline University. She is the author of GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse, GONE CAMPING: A Novel in Verse, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers) THIS OLD BAND and THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK (Sky Pony Press).

My series of National Poetry Month interviews with verse novelists continues on Thursday with Amanda Rawson-Hill, who will tell us about her debut verse novel!

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Margarita Engle

It’s the last week of National Poetry Month. I’ve got four great author interviews lined up for us. They’re part of my NPM17 series on verse novelists.

The community of authors who write novels-in-verse for children and teens is a small, supportive one. One of the widely published verse novelists who gives tireless support to newer authors is Margarita Engle.

I’ve been a fan of Margarita’s historical verse novels for many years and we’ve done several interviews together. (We talked about SILVER PEOPLE at my old blog.) I was thrilled when Margarita wrote a blurb for my own debut verse novel.

Welcome, Margarita.

Tell us about your verse novels publishing in 2017. What is it about the stories and characters that led you to write these books as poetry?

My newest verse novel is Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero (HBE Publishers), which will soon be followed by Forest World (Atheneum).  Both are middle grade. The first is historical magical realism, while the second takes place in Cuba in 2015, a time of change. I wrote both in verse simply because poetry makes me happy.  For years, I have struggled to pinpoint the source of my preference for verse novels, and in the end, I realized that it is not a complicated decision.  I choose poetry for the sheer beauty and comfort of rhythmic language. Even when I write about a sad topic, I can feel happy if the vessel for my sorrow is verse.

Why do you think verse pairs so well with historical narratives?

I realized long ago that poetry allows me to distill complex historical situations down to their emotional essence. What did it feel like to live in a particular time and place? Most of my verse novels have been historical, and most have been about Cuba, but Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero actually follows a young refugee girl from the island to an unusual school in San Diego, California, where Spanish American War orphans became known as the Raja Yoga Cuban Kids. By using first person and present tense, I hope to offer young readers a sort of time travel experience, eliminating the distance found in academic history books.

Morning Star Horse is published by an innovative small press which has made it available in a choice of English, Spanish, or bilingual editions.

Forest World is an environmental-themed verse novel about the reunion of estranged siblings in rural Cuba, during the summer of 2015.  The boy grew up in Miami, and doesn’t even know he has a sister. Once they get to know each other, they end up having adventures, in an effort to save endangered species.

Forest World will initially be published in English in August, 2017, and will become available in Spanish the following year.

Have you ever written one of your verse novels in prose, only decide to switch?

For ten years, I struggled to write a traditional adult prose version of my first children’s verse novel, The Poet Slave of Cuba.  The clue that I needed to rethink the form came in the form of a knock on the head from my subject, Juan Francisco Manzano, who reached down from heaven to remind me that he was a poet, and needed his story told in poetry.  The clue that I needed to write about him for children instead of adults was the simple fact that only the first half of his autobiographical notes survived the era’s censorship.  In order to have his first person narrative as my primary source, I had to focus on his childhood and youth.

Many of your verse novels are written in more than one voice. How do you develop the vocabulary and the rhythm for each character? What methods did you use to differentiate the characters’ voices?

I often use many voices in young adult novels, but for middle grade ones I tend to limit the text to one or two voices.

Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero alternates between the free verse voice of a girl and the prose poem voice of a magical horse.

Forest World alternates between the free verse voices of two siblings. Because one grew up in the U.S. and the other in Cuba, their experiences are extremely different. The life style of the boy will be more familiar to American readers.  His sister has grown up without WiFi, a cell phone, dependable transportation, electricity, or adequate food rations, but she knows a lot more about nature, wilderness, agriculture, and art.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? 

Writing Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero was a wonderful experience that allowed me to return to my magical realistic Latin American roots.  When I was writing for adults in the 1990s, magic realism was at the heart of every story.  Of course, in Spanish it’s a much more beautiful term, lo real maravilloso, marvelous reality.  Gabriel García Márquez described it as Caribbean reality, because strange things happen during the daily lives of people who live in places that seem to be lost in time, with a natural blend of modern life, traditions, superstitions, and legends.

In Forest World, only the Cuban sister understands magical realism, and uses it in her art.  Her American brother has grown up with so many technological distractions that his view of the term magic would lean toward the dragons and trolls of video games, rather than the marvelous aspects of culture and nature.

Thanks for joining my National Poetry Month project, Margarita! 

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of verse novels such as The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner.  Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others.  Margarita’s books have received multiple Pura Belpré, Américas, International Latino, and Jane Addams Awards and Honors, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and an International Reading Association Award.  Her picture book, Drum Dream Girl, received the Charlotte Zolotow Award.

Margarita’s 2017 verse novels are Forest World and Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero.  Her 2017 picture books are Bravo!, All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight.  She lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband train his wilderness search and rescue dog. You can find her at www.margaritaengle.com

My series of National Poetry Month interviews with verse novelists continues tomorrow with Tamera Will Wissinger.  

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Ellie Terry

Happy Poetry Friday! I’m excited about today’s interview.

A few years ago, my PitchWars mentor, Joy McCullough-Carranza, was working with a new mentee on another middle grade novel-in-verse. Joy asked me to read the manuscript and share some feedback.

This story has two happy endings! The manuscript Joy sent me became Ellie Terry’s debut novel, FORGET ME NOT. And then Joy sold her own young adult verse-novel, BLOOD/WATER/PAINT which will be out in 2018.

Congratulations on your debut, Ellie! Tell us about FORGET ME NOT. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

FORGET ME NOT was released last month from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. It is the story of a girl named Calliope June who is desperate to hide her Tourette syndrome from her new school, while trying to convince her mother not to move them yet again, especially after she makes friends with Jinsong, the boy next door, who also happens to be the school’s popular student body president. It is told in two points of view. The MC, Calli’s, POV is in free verse and her neighbor Jinsong’s POV is in regular prose.

I did not set out to write the novel in (mostly) poetry. When I first began drafting Calli’s story, I heard her voice a certain way and I typed it into the computer that same way. When I looked it over, I realized I was writing a verse novel. Although I’d had plenty of experience writing free verse poetry, the thought of combining poetry with an actual PLOT really scared me. I’d never done it before. But I knew it was the way the story needed to be written.

Have you ever written a full or partial draft of one of your verse novels in prose (or vice versa), only to decide to switch? How did you go about making that change? What were some of your clues that you needed to rethink the form?

Yes! Both with my debut novel and a manuscript I am currently working on. With FORGET ME NOT, both Calli and Jinsong’s POV were originally in verse. But in order to differentiate between the two voices, I switched Jinsong’s to regular prose. (And I’m REALLY glad I did. His voice really came alive after that switch!) Besides wanting to differentiate between the two voices, Jinsong’s voice in verse felt . . . forced somehow. Stilted, perhaps? Whereas if felt completely natural for Calli.

The all-verse draft was the version I read. I’m excited to see what you did with Jinsong’s voice.

As a first time verse novelist, how was the experience different from writing prose fiction? What draws you to poetry as the backbone of how you tell a story?

My experience writing the verse for FORGET ME NOT felt like a very natural extension of how I feel and think inside my own heart and head. And having been writing poetry nearly all my life, it felt very natural for me and therefor seemed to flow from my fingers a bit easier than writing in prose. In fact, sometimes when I’m having trouble getting feelings out with my prose, I write it in verse first, then switch it over.

I see a similarity between the poems in novels-in-verse and dramatic monologues. Each poem in a verse novel has a character communicating his or her emotions and observations. There is often a realization or shift in thinking that happens in both monologues and in a verse novel’s poems. What do you think about the overlap between a speech for the stage and a poem in a verse novel?

I think the purpose of poetry is twofold:

  1. To be seen on the page
  2. To be spoken out loud

Really, you need to do both to get the full experience of a poem. If I may quote the first two lines of a poem I wrote when I was twelve . . . It’s titled, POEMS (really original, huh?) “Poems are meant to be read aloud / over and over again to a crowd.”

Also, as my children and husband will attest, I regularly read my verse out loud over and over again, to test the flow of words and catch bumpy syntax, to make sure the lines are conveying the emotions correctly, and to just enjoy hearing the words spoken aloud. So, I definitely see dramatic monologues and free verse poems as being related. Something like cousins, I imagine.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

I think verse novels in general seem to be more character driven, rather than plot driven, so that may be one reason why verse lends itself more easily to contemporary and historical fiction. Lots of exploring of character feelings and such and less explosions and intricate conversations. However, I think it can work with fantasy and sci-fi, as long as the writing is good, it just may be slightly trickier to accomplish. I critiqued a friend’s fantasy verse novel a few years ago, and thought it worked very well. I personally would love to see a good fantasy or sci-fi verse novel published! (You hear that readers? Get your pens out and start writing!)

Thanks for being part of my National Poetry Month project, Ellie! 

Ellie Terry writes heartfelt contemporary fiction for middle-grade readers. Her middle-grade debut, FORGET ME NOT, was published March 14, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. She lives in southern Utah with her husband, three kids, two zebra finches, and a Russian desert tortoise.

My series of National Poetry Month interviews with verse novelists continues next week with Margarita Engle.  

And we’ve added a bonus interview! Holly Thompson will be here on April 30 to wrap up the series.

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

My dear friend Tabatha Yeatts-Lonske is hosting Poetry Friday this week. To find poetry posts from around the blogosphere, visit The Opposite of Indifference.

NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

April is one of my favorite times of year. Looking out my window this morning, the dogwood and redbud trees are in bloom. A carpet of purple phlox greets visitors at our door. And, of course, it’s National Poetry Month.

My series of interviews with verse novelists continues today with middle grade author Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu.

Welcome, Annie! Tell us about your debut novel, SOMEWHERE AMONG. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

Somewhere Among is a middle grade novel set in Japan 2001. Ema, 11, is a bicultural, binational girl living in Japan with her American mom and Japanese father. Her mom is having a difficult pregnancy so they move in with her Japanese grandparents. Her grandmother  hasn’t spent much time with her and wants to make sure she knows Japanese culture. She is persnickety and creates a lot of stress for everyone. Ema is a peacemaker and doesn’t complain or confide, even when she is confronted by a bully at the school she has to attend temporarily.

I love the way that historical verse novels communicate a time and place without feeling weighed down by background information. Why do you think verse pairs so well with historical narratives?

I think verse pairs well with everything! Somewhere Among is a historical novel and it is a bicultural novel. The grandmother was trying to make sure her grand-daughter knew how to be Japanese, so it was imperative to include many cultural details. I was able to reveal culture in glimpses to illustrate the grandmother’s sensibilities.

Does your story spin on one central event and how it impacts the characters in the book? If so, how did you incorporate poetic elements such as metaphor and symbolism to show the echoes of that event through the novel? Would you share an example of this from your book?

Somewhere Among spins on the sinking of The Ehime Maru, a Japanese teaching vessel, on February 9, 2001 and the falling of the Twin Towers on September 11. The main character’s grandfather had witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki and her grandmother had experienced the bombings of Tokyo. The focus of the story is not these events, but memorializing the dead and moving on is. The characters are working on their hearts.

Images, poem titles, scenes and words of depth and elevation, water and space (stars, moon), grounding and lightening, burdening and brightening (hearts), and seasons changing are woven throughout.

The lotus is a symbol of change. In Great-grandfather’s garden in the past, lotus leaves reached up through muddy water. A dried lotus pod became Papa’s souvenir. At the New Year’s meal for 2002, the grandfather looks through the lotus root (like my father-in-law always did) and says “I see a better year ahead.” We are left with the hope that their hearts will blossom in time.

Like the Flow of the River

The molasses time of day

sakura leaves

pedal the wind at my feet.

I am going too fast
for Jiichan.

Waiting,
soles on the ground
in leaf drifts, I watch

a constellation,
dark and light
dull and sparkling
deep and shallow,

glide past me–

the river’s kimono
of autumn amber sun
flowing.

A dragonfly clings
to a waving pampas grass.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. Id love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

Yes! It may be a challenge to ground a whole novel so readers don’t totally escape (the storyline.) Less white space between the fantastic and the tangible may be the key, I think. I have toyed with Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale (but not it being all a dream.)

Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first verse novel for children or teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a kidlit novel-in-verse? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

I would love to see Naomi Shihab Nye write a midddle-grade verse memoir set in the US. We share the same childhood decades, growing up in the 1960s and 70s. I would love to hear her bicultural story. Her prose novels and poetry for children are wonderful.

That’s a great idea. I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful MG novel THE TURTLE OF OMAN recently (read a review at Notes from an Islamic School Librarian here). Like you, I’m part of a bicultural family and love that aspect of her work.

Thanks for being part of my National Poetry Month project, Annie! It’s been great to hear from you and Leza Lowitz this month, and how living in Japan has influenced your writing. Visiting Japan is an important item on my bucket list. Someday.

Somewhere Among is Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu’s debut novel. It won the 2013 Writers’ League of Texas award in the middle grade category and is listed on Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of 2016. Annie is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Tokyo, Japan. She taught reading and English for Academic Purposes at university programs in the United States, Malaysia, and Japan before marrying and raising two children in a multi-generational home in Japan. Her author website includes resources and bilbiographies for teachers. Her photoblog for children, Here and There Japan, provides cultural background. The paperback edition of Somewhere Among will be available on April 25.

My series of National Poetry Month interviews with verse novelists continues on Thursday with debut author Ellie Terry.

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

 

It’s National Poetry Month: Let’s Teach Poetry

Thanks to everyone who joined me at the Nerdy Book Club last night. What began as an idea to encourage people to teach poetry during National Poetry Month grew into a full-on event when my Nerdy friends invited me to post the live video on their Facebook page. Wow!

In case you missed it, I’ll try to embed the video at the bottom of this post.

As promised, here is a list of some of the books I recommended in the video. Plus a few extras. These are all poetry books, except where noted.

Find this deliciously creepy book at Indiebound.

Extending Your Onomatopoeia Lesson:

The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth: A Celebration of Music, Jaime Adoff
The Louds Move in!, Carolyn Crimi (non-poetry picture book)
Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, ed. Nikki Giovanni
The Raven, illus. Ryan Price
Forest Has a Song, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat, Muriel Harris Weinstein

Also Mentioned:

Once Upon a Poem: Favorite Poems that Tell Stories (Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is in this anthology)
Poe: Stories and Poems, adapted by graphic novelist Gareth Hinds
Love to Langston, Tony Medina
I and I Bob Marley, Tony Medina
Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks, by wordplay master Calef Brown
Mirror Mirror, Marilyn Singer
Echo Echo, Marilyn Singer

Books with Poetry Writing Prompts:

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (you’ll find the sound riddle prompt that goes with last night’s lesson on page 240).
Gone Fishing, Tamera Will Wissinger
The Poetry Friday anthology series, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

What Else Was on My Shelf?:
Some of the books I use for my poetry residencies…

Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems, ed. Georgia Heard
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building, Christy Hale (great example of concrete poetry)
Sports Pages, Arnold Adoff
Love that Dog, Sharon Creech (verse novel)
Neighborhood Odes, Gary Soto
Poetry Speaks Who I Am, ed. Elise Paschen (my favorite anthology for middle schoolers)

A Limited List of Other Favorite Poetry Books:
(I’ll come back and add a screen shot of my bookshelves later)

I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, Donald Hall (great for teaching opposite poems)
A Bad Case of the Giggles, ed. Bruce Lansky

Additional Resources:

March 31 Poetry Friday round-up at The Poem Farm
Laura’s Shoe Odes Workshop at Woven Tale Press
Laura’s Persona Poem Workshop at Today’s Little Ditty
and … in case you need to make a case for poetry at your school, here is my Baltimore Sun op-ed piece, “Does poetry have a place in the Common Core?”

NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Jeannine Atkins

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone!

Today, I’m kicking off my NPM 2017 series on verse novelists with my friend, poet and author Jeannine Atkins. In addition to answering five questions about their work, I’ve asked each author to share a photograph of a poem from her book, so we can get a peek at how the poems look on the page.

Jeannine, tell us about your most recent verse novel.

I’ve long been intrigued by the women artists working quietly but fiercely in the mid-1800s. Edmonia Lewis’s grand marble sculptures were famous during her time, but she essentially vanished until feminist and African American art historians brought the work back to light in the 1970s. I read all I could find about Edmonia Lewis, but she wasn’t much of a talker or writer, so most of what’s known came secondhand or from material written for marketing her work. The gaps frustrate biographers, but make her a good subject for poetry. I had some facts and chronology, but I was missing a personal voice, which I imagined for STONE MIRRORS: THE SCULPTURE AND SILENCE OF EDMONIA LEWIS.

Have you ever written a full or partial draft of one of your verse novels in prose (or vice versa), only to decide to switch? How did you go about making that change? What were some of your clues that you needed to rethink the form?

I wrote STONE MIRRORS first as prose, sent it around, had it rejected, and put it away for years. But the story stuck with me, and when I took the manuscript out again it felt a bit weighty – as If made of stone, while I was interested in what can be found in what’s chipped away. Her story rings with themes of memory and disappearing, which the white spaces of verse help suggest. The white space also frames and softens some of the violence in her history. Much of Edmonia’s life was spent choosing subjects for sculpture. Rather than just cite the names of her work, verse let me explore metaphors for her choices and come closer to her artistic sensibility.

I love the way that historical verse novels communicate a time and place without feeling weighed down by background information. Why do you think verse pairs so well with historical narratives?

I agree – there is something about the lightness of verse that may invite more than a fact-filled tome. When I research using bulky histories, biographies, or memoirs– which I do treasure – I’m on the lookout for common nouns, references to everyday things like a green butterfly net, a bowl of blueberries, a checked tablecloth, or speckled notebook. More than epic arcs, small things help the past come alive for me and they’re what I use to shape my verse.

Does your story spin on one central event and how it impacts the characters in the book? If so, how did you incorporate poetic elements such as metaphor and symbolism to show the echoes of that event through the novel?  Would you share an example of this from your book?

Breaking stone is a metaphor throughout for the power to change what seems impossible to change: as a woman of African-Haitian and Ojibwe descent, Edmonia faced discrimination and attacks. Sculpture is an art of taking away, so reflects on the silences both demanded of Edmonia and silences she chose. In the following poem I show ways that her work as a housekeeper reflects the theme of visibility.

“The Art of Disappearance” from STONE MIRRORS.

 

From “The Art of Disappearance”

Edmonia fetches clothes to be mended
from brick houses with little land between.
She carries baskets past ladies who are tight-belted,
buckled, buttoned, their necks straight below hats
burdened with flowers cut from cloth
and feather taken from birds they can’t name.
Boys toss balls. Girls run behind sticks and hoops.
Boston’s curving streets aren’t courtrooms.
Here Edmonia doesn’t have to shove past staring,
but her story still follows her like a fox…

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

So interesting — we’ve talked about this omission in the class I teach about verse novels in the MFA program at Simmons. Some verse novels rely on imagery from myths and fairy tales, since images from those can suggest whole stories in just a few words. But many fantasies rely on world building and its bulk, while verse is all about compression. Fantasies are often about escaping reality into another world and may have fast-paced plots at the expense of careful wording and common images that may move into metaphors. But really there’s no reason why the forms can’t be combined. I’m with you, Laura. Before long, I bet we’ll be reading some fabulous verse fantasies!

Let’s hope so. Thanks for being part of this series, Jeannine.

Jeannine Atkins’s historical verse includes Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis, Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science (both Atheneum), and Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt). She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, cat, and dog. Her website is www.Jeannineatkins.com.

My series of interviews with verse novelists continues later this week with Caroline Starr Rose. Here is the full schedule of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.