Hope you are all enjoying autumn! So far, my family and I have enjoyed our first pumpkin patch together, and our first family costume. We also just got back from Ontario where I did an interview on Global TV for Goodnight, Anne, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout. You can watch the interview here.
After doing work and visiting friends in Toronto, we headed to Perth, Ottawa, where Luke's 90 year-old Grandmother lives. Irene is the most feisty, amazing, and smart woman I've met. She lives in a house that was built in 1823, and is a writer and historian herself. She has a beautiful office filled with letters from relatives who fought and died in WW1 and WW2.
Here's a picture of Irene going into her attic, where there was an original copy of Anne of Green Gables, amongst other amazing books.
Irene showed me letters of William McLean, who fought in WW1. The correspondence tells details of the trenches, like a friend who had false teeth who kept dropping them and putting them back in his mouth (mud and all). Mostly he tried to keep his letters upbeat.
It was quite the trip!
Now, I can't wait to see what the winter holidays bring. (I know a FEW things, but they are surprises I will share in my next newsletter!)
One thing that is happening this November (other than my birthday, which my husband says takes up the whole month, and he's not wrong :), is that I'm doing an event for Goodnight, Anne, (illustrated by Genevieve Godbout), with a really dear friend of mine, and an amazing poet and editor, Tiffany Stone. Her latest title is Tree Song, illustrated by Holly Hatam.
(If you ever peek at the acknowledgements at the back of my books you will see how much Tiffany helps me with my stories!)
Our event is at Collage Collage, a wonderful studio for kids and art store in Vancouver, on November 10, and we will be creating winter nature crowns (which is both Anne-ish AND tree-ish!)
I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to interview Tiffany, especially about her work as a poet. You don't meet many children's poets today, and I firmly believe that poetry is a fundamental building block for good writing and that children totally adore it!
Here is the interview:
Q: What are your favourite children's poems/ poets?
A: The poem “Alligator Pie” from Dennis Lee’s book of the same name holds a special place in my heart. In about grade 4 or 5, my teacher had us write our own verses to the poem. I can still remember what I wrote, even all these years later! That’s part of the magic of rhyming poetry. It sticks in your head.
Alligator cake, alligator cake,
If I don’t get some I’ll go jump in the lake.
Give away the garden hoe, give away the rake,
But don’t give away my alligator cake.
My favourite poems and poets are ones that really revel in the juiciness of the words themselves. Sheree Fitch’s Mabel Murple is a prime example. The line “Mabel Murple’s purple maple syrple!” makes my mouth happy just saying it! And Robert Heidbreder’s Lickety-Split and Drumheller Dinosaur Dance are full of language that is as energetic and playful as the poet himself. (I’m super lucky to be able to call Bob a friend.)
A new book that I really wish I’d written (writer’s jealousy, anyone?) is Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat. The whole story is told using only the word ‘dude’ (and a variety of punctuation marks) along with Santat’s fantastic illustrations. In my mind, it’s a brilliant minimalist poem—so many ways to say and interpret a single word.
Q: What drew you to writing children's poetry? What do you love about it?
A: I have always loved the sound of words as much as their meaning. I suspect this started when my mum and I used to read an etymological dictionary together—for FUN—digging into the origins of words and trying out their predecessors on our tongues and ears. Writing, and then performing, children’s poetry—especially children’s rhyming poetry—really allows me to delve into the joys of language, through alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. Because my readers are young, language is still new and full of possibilities to them, a plaything, not just a practical tool for communication. Also, there just isn’t much rhyming poetry written for adults these days.
Q: What are specific challenges of writing poetry for kids as compared to writing fiction for kids and other forms of writing, in your opinion?
A: I have only recently started writing prose for kids (I have four picture books coming out from fall 2019 to spring 2021) so, for me, this question applies in reverse. I’ve been writing poetry since at least back in elementary school with “Alligator Pie.” I’ve learned many tricks of the trade in that time—two of the most important being how to make good use of a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus (both in book form and online) and to do my best NOT to let the rhyme control the poem but rather to use the rhyme to say what I want to say. While many of my poems are narrative and tell a mini story, I’m finding extended storytelling and character development a challenge in my prose writing. But I always appreciate an opportunity to learn and grow!
Q: You are an editor, as well as a poet. Have the two influenced each other? If so, how?
Definitely! As an editor, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the value of every single word and the power, or lack thereof, it can have. As a poet, I’ve learned to follow the advice I give as an editor—most of the time, anyway!
Q: What are inspirations for your poems?
A: Anything and everything. But especially words, as well as animals (we have a menagerie of pets: a dog, three cats, two snakes and two land hermit crabs) and, of course, my three teenage kids. For example, this is the process by which I came up with the title poem for Floyd the Flamingo and his flock of friends. First of all, I thought of an animal, something slightly unusual: a flamingo. Then, using alliteration (the repetition of the initial sounds of words), I picked a name for this flamingo: Floyd the Flamingo. Next I thought of a problem a flamingo could have. It seemed like standing on one leg for long periods of time might be uncomfortable. And, ta-da, the idea for a poem was born:
I’m Floyd the Flamingo.
Don’t mean to complain
but standing like this
is a terrible pain.
Q: What is the favourite poem you've ever written and why?
A: Very, very rarely, a poem comes to me fully formed and ready for print. “Nighttime Rhyme” from Floyd the Flamingo and his flock of friends is one of those poems. Plus, at this time of year, so soon after Halloween, a poem with a candy simile seems appropriate!
I eat the stars like candy.
They tingle and they fizz.
And when my belly’s finally full,
I’m amazed how dark it is.
Q: Your poems, collections and picture books are often SUPER funny! Being funny in writing is really hard! Any tips for writers or kids (or me) on how to be humorous?
A: First of all, thanks for the compliment! I think I’m funny—or at least hope I am—because I’m rubbish at being serious. Most of the time when I try to be serious, it ends up being funny anyway, but not in a good way. I think characters and situations are probably most funny when one or both is unusual but genuine. Floyd is funny because, although he takes his problem very seriously, we don’t usually see things from a flamingo’s point of view. To us, a complaining flamingo is funny, especially since he is so caught up in his complaining that he can’t see there’s a simple solution to his problem—just put both feet down on the ground. One of my upcoming picture books is about a knot who wants to be a snake. The humour in the story comes from my use of homonyms (knot/not, etc.) but also from the fact that knot truly wants to be able to slither and hiss and be like a snake. Yes, having a protagonist who is a knotted piece of string is absurd but I truly hope readers will find him believable and in that intersection of the believable and the absurd, they will find the story hilarious. Fingers crossed!
Thanks for the amazing answers, Tiffany! (And I think everyone is going to love reading about a knot who wants to be a snake--I know I do :)!
Okay--thus ends this VERY long newsletter!