Laura Purdie Salas tomorrow

Hi everyone,

Today it’s my pleasure to post a bio of Laura Purdie Salas. I first met Laura when she was nice enough to review a book of mine and our conversation led to an interview. The book was Pirates so naturally we both wanted to get the artist, Dan Burr, into the act. I was impressed by the way Laura handled the whole affair and looked forward to meeting her one day. I eventually had that opportunity when we both wound up on one of Marilyn Singer’s poetry blasts, which was great fun. Tomorrow you’ll enjoy Laura’s guest blog. You’ll find much to learn from her. For now, here’s her bio.

As a kid, Laura Purdie Salas devoured books. They were pieces of magic that showed her the world before disappearing down the library book drop. Since her parents constantly ordered her to “Go outside and get some fresh air,” she read a lot in her tree house or on the trampoline.

After working as a magazine editor and an 8th-grade English teacher, Laura decided to try to create some magic herself. She has published more than 60 poetry and nonfiction books, including STAMPEDE! POEMS ABOUT THE WILD SIDE OF SCHOOL and SHRINKING DAYS, FROSTY NIGHTS: POEMS ABOUT FALL. She enjoys school visits and connecting poems with kids, no matter what their age, mood, or personality.In addition to writing books and visiting schools, Laura also teaches online writing classes, speaks at writing conferences, writes materials for the educational market, does a bit of freelance PR work, and does website maintenance for a few children’s writers. And spends a lot of time trying to keep her schedule straight! You can find out more about Laura and her work at and .


Sylvia Vardell today

Hi everyone,

Today it is my pleasure to present Sylvia Vardell as my repeat Featured Guest. Sylvia first appeared on December 4, 2009. I know you’ll enjoy and learn from Sylvia. I always do. First I’ll post her original essay. Following that you’ll find a few new remarks she sent for today’s post.

Looking back: Poetry for children 2009

By Sylvia Vardell

At the end of last year (2008), I looked back and noted, “… there is an interesting variety, with picture book collections dominating, and new trends in poetry morphed with biography growing strong. I’m also seeing more experimentation with poetic form/topic and book layout which is fun for those of us who like to provide diverse models for aspiring writers and artists.” As I review the crop from 2009, I continue to see a preponderance of the picture book format (J. Patrick Lewis’s Countdown to Summer is one exception) dominating the market. But we’re also seeing some creative variations like anthologies which include CDs of audio recordings of poem readings (like Mary Ann Hoberman’s nature collection, The Tree That Time Built and Julie Andrew’s anthology) and poetry book design that creates a visual feast beginning with the very cover and binding (like Monsterologist by Bobbi Katz).

Humor is always a big trend in poetry for children, so I was surprised to see less of that than usual this year. Notable exceptions were Jon Agee’s clever, Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue, Robert Weinstock’s Food Hates You, Too and Karma Wilson’s What’s the Weather Inside?, among others. In contrast, it seemed like there were many collections of contemplative nature poems published this year, such as Heidi Roemer’s Whose Nest is This?, Michael Rosen’s The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems, Jane Yolen’s A Mirror to Nature and An Egret’s Day (do you see a bird theme emerging?)

I’m always glad to see curriculum-friendly collections published because they appeal to teachers (and kids) and add zest to science, social studies and other areas. Linda Ashman’s Come to the Castle is one such example as are Lee Bennett Hopkins’s anthology, Incredible Inventions and Deborah Ruddell’s A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Not one, but two collections about jobs were welcome this year: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s Steady Hands: Poems About Work and J. Patrick Lewis’s The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse. And don’t forget Douglas Florian’s Dinothesaurus, fun for science (for dino-facts) or language arts (for dino-words) or any time! Publishers tell me these are the most marketable anthologies and I can see why from a practical standpoint. (Of course I’m a fan of weaving poetry from all sources into the curriculum and beyond, but themes help make the connections more explicit for the un-initiated.) Teachers sure could use more collections with possibilities for mathematics, for example.

Verse novels continue to be with us, although these may have peaked, since I’m seeing fewer now, I think. Three standouts, in my opinion, were Ann Burg’s All the Broken Pieces, Thalia Chaltas’s Because I Am Furniture and Betsy Franco’s Metamorphosis (part prose, part poetry). Tweens and teens love this format, so I hope we’ll continue to see these coming. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a graphic novel/novel-in-verse hybrid? How about a dystopian sci fi novel-in-verse?

Participatory poetry also made an appearance this year in two noteworthy collections, Messing Around the Monkey Bars and other School Poems for Two Voices by Betsy Franco and A Foot in the Mouth; Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout compiled by Paul Janeczko. Of course nearly any poem can be participatory in some way, but I think teachers, in particular, appreciate collections that provide guidance and models for doing so with kids. More please!

Poets continue to focus on form and I enjoy those so much, seeing how poets can take one form in so many different directions. Some of this year’s examples include books of concrete poetry (Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco), acrostic poetry (African Acrostics; A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley), list poetry (Falling Down the Page collected by Georgia Heard) riddle poetry (Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis), definition poetry (Well Defined; Vocabulary in Rhyme by Michael Salinger), mask poetry (Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle), and haiku (Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum). The amazing Helen Frost cast a beautiful new form of “stone” poems for her novel-in-verse, Crossing Stones.

Probably the most distinctive trend I saw in poetry this year was a focus on time passing as a connecting thread in poetry collections (such as in Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors or Heidi Mordhorst’s Pumpkin Butterfly or David Harrison’s Vacation, We’re Going to the Ocean!). But that’s the topic for another posting. In the mean time, if I could offer a “wishlist” of future books of poetry that I would love to see in print, it might include some of these ideas:
• Reissues of old favorites (e.g., Myra Cohn Livingston, David McCord, Eve Merriam, John Ciardi, Turtle in July, Near the Window Tree, and so many others), perhaps mixes of these poems and new voices
• Poems about food, especially food around the world
• Call and response poetry
• Question poems, ala Pablo Neruda, in fact an anthology of Neruda for kids would be awesome
• More poetry about cultures in the U.S. and around the world, especially Latino and Asian cultures (India? Mexico?) In fact, more world poetry altogether
• Poems about hard times, about surviving
• Where are the gay voices? The poetry for teens about being gay or questioning, coming out, gay-straight friendships and conflicts
• We now have poetry books with CDs of audio recordings of poems; how about books with DVDs of poem performances or poems interpreted in American Sign Language?
Thank you, poets and publishers, for a bountiful year of poetry. (Thank you, David, for this opportunity to pontificate!) These are just a few of the gems we enjoyed this year. Keep ‘em coming!

Here’s Sylvia’s new post written for today.

As I look over my review of 2009 books, I see I was wrong about one thing: verse novels have definitely NOT peaked. I see several exciting new examples coming out this year in 2011, including:

1. Chaltas, Thalia. 2011. Displacement. Viking.
2. Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Henry Holt.
3. Frost, Helen. 2011. Hidden. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
4. Grimes, Nikki. 2011. Planet Middle School. Bloomsbury.
5. Herrera, Juan Felipe. 2011. Skate Fate. HarperCollins.
6. Janeczko, Paul. 2011. Requiem; Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Candlewick.
7. Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins.
8. Marcus, Kimberly. 2011. exposed. Random House.
9. Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma. Penguin.
10. Ostow, Micol. 2011. family. Egmont.
11. Shahan, Sherry. 2011. Purple Daze. Running Press Kids.
12. Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.
13. Van Cleave, Ryan G. 2011. Unlocked. Walker.

Not only is this a significant increase in the number of novels in verse being published, but the variety of voices is significant too. I’m particularly intrigued that this format is showcasing multicultural stories (e.g., Engle, Grimes, Herrera, Janeczko, Lai, Ostlere). In addition, many of these are historical in setting and context (e.g., Engle, Janeczko, Lai, Ostow, Shahan), an interesting blend of poetry and history. Finally, this format also marks the debut of several new voices in poetry for young people (e.g., Lai, Marcus, Ostlere, Ostow, Shahan). I’m so glad to be wrong in this case. I’m a fan of the novel in verse form and I know many teen/tween readers love it, too. So, it’s terrific to see so many choices and voices in this format emerge. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph.D.
Texas Woman’s University
School of Library & Information Studies
P O Box 425438
Denton TX 76204-5438
940-898-2616 /

June WOM winners and July WOM word and WRITERS AT WORK: We get letters — and e-mails, too! (Part 4)

Hi everyone,

Today has three parts.
1) Announce our winning poets for June Word of the Month.
2) Present the WOM word for July.
3) Post the 4th segment of June’s WRITERS AT WORK.

1) Remember, we have two categories for winning poets. Hall of Fame Poets are chosen by ballot and Word of the Month Poets are selected by judges.

This month we had no poems posted by young poets in either of our two categories: grades 3-7 and grades 8-12. We had nine poems posted by adults. That may be a record for the fewest poems we’ve seen since starting Word of the Month in October 2009. Also, voting was unusually light. It must be summer!

My thanks to everyone who pitched in a poem for our readers’ pleasure. I love it when one word blown on the wind cames back in so many forms and with such a multitude of messages. I hope you agree that the exercise is a good way to keep your imagination flowing. Many of you now have a collection of fifteen or twenty poems inspired by WOM.

This month our Hall of Fame Poet is Susan Carmichael, from Columbus, Ohio, for her poem, “Such a Good Puppy.” Some comments from our judges: Love the originality of this one
told from the puppy’s point of view.
“Espadrille” does sound like the name of a small, furry animal
instead of a lady’s shoe! 😉
This poet not only has a keen sense of humor,
but also has a well-tuned ear for poetry.
The rhythms and internal/external melodies are brilliant,
(e.g. “…how cunning are my hunting skills…”
“…teasing me to take a taste…”
“…but Sunday’s news sounds savory…”).
“Great metaphors and voice. Love the ending.”

Joy Acey, from Tucson, Arizona, placed second with her poem, “Our New Puppy.” One judge commented, “I like the way the poet begins by offering
images that are believable in a puppy’s
repertoire of chewables, than builds toward
a litany of unbelievable, unchewable items
in this hyperbolic tour-de-force that ends
with the poet begging for someone to give
his puppy a bone! Clever!”

Our Word of the Month Poet is also Susan Carmichael who won in a close race with Cory Corrado from Quebec, Canada, for her poem, “Letting Go.” But a win is a win and I say, “Way to go, Susan!” Technically, Steven Withrow got more votes but he’s a past winner in this cycle so he has to sit this one out. But Steven, your poems are always anticipated and enjoyed. Keep ’em coming!

Congratulations to everyone who plays the game of writing poems each month to post on my blog. I hope you continue to enjoy the experience and to find support and encouragement for your work. I’m pleased that so many have found us over the months and then return to read and/or participate. We welcome poems from the pros and are always glad to see early efforts from writers who want to try their wings as budding poets.

2) The word or July.



Letters, We Get Letters – and Lots of Email, Too
Response 4 – David
June 28, 2011

Sandy, as we conclude June’s four-part chat about the correspondence authors receive, I confess that this topic has brought back more memories than any of our others. And I know why, at least in my case. We’ve both said many times that the first thing an adult reader must do when presented with something written by a child is to celebrate the gift. One of my favorite quotes is by Susan Ferraro who writes, “To a great extent, we are what we say and write. Laugh or sneer at how we express ourselves, and we take personal offense: Our words are all about us.”

It’s easy to forget to appreciate the gift of a beginning writer, whose work is disjointed and filled with errors, when our first impulse is to suggest how to make it better. Teachers know this and remind themselves all the time to look past the mistakes to the vulnerable child who is holding his or her breath, hoping for a kind word of congratulations before the red ink comes out. Professional writers, when confronted with less than professional efforts by emerging writers, have to resist the same temptation to make judgments before seeing that adults have the same vulnerability that children do. We may think we’re tougher, but Ferraro got it right: “Laugh or sneer at how we express ourselves, and we take personal offense.”

So, Sandy, back to me, and why I think those letters from fans of all ages mean so much to an author. It’s because they represent unsolicited affirmation that our words are good. We got them right, at least this time, and so maybe we’ll get them right again on something we do in the future. They are, often, among the few positive remarks an author receives. Most editors are good about complimenting what they like, but during the course of editing a book, getting it ready on time to ship off to the copyeditor or artist, exchanges between writer and editor become mostly about the business at hand. Adults who buy books for children rarely take time to send fan letters of their own and most children are not likely to think about writing a letter to anyone these days, or an e-mail to someone they don’t know.

That’s why those letters, notes, and e-mails that manage to make it to my mailbox or computer screen are meaningful. They got here to my house against some pretty serious odds and are all the more appreciated because of it. Recently a little girl wrote to say, “I like your poems. They are fun. I enjoy reading your poems a lot. Your friend, Camrin.” Camrin took the time to tell me specifically which of my poems she liked best. That made me smile. I got those poems right! She printed her letter on a piece of lined paper, addressed it herself, and (I can imagine) placed it in her mailbox so the postman could pick it up and send it on its way to me.

Sandy, I mentioned last time that people who write asking for information about getting published are another category of an author’s correspondence. Sometimes such letters come from kids but more often they are written by young adults or adults who love the idea of becoming a published author and wonder how to go about it. Such letters can be time consuming to answer, and sometimes the temptation is to rush through them and keep them short. Why can’t these people figure it out on their own? But then I remember how confused I was in the first few years of struggling to get the words right, and how much I appreciated any encouragement and help I could get. And I realize that to be asked how to do it is a form of flattery. The person asking must have decided that I do indeed, at least on occasion, get it right. And so I do my best to see the vulnerable person behind the question who wants very much to become published, and I take a little longer to give a response that might help.

So, Sandy, it’s a wrap for June’s topic about letters and e-mails. I’ve had a good time and know that you have too. We’ve also been blessed with a number of warm comments from readers, which are appreciated!

Folks, Sandy and I are taking off the months of July and August before considering what to do this fall. We are both swamped with work and have travel plans as well.


Sylvia Vardell on Wednesday

REMINDER: Voting for June’s WOM poets ends today at noon CST. Don’t forget to vote!

Hi everyone,

We’ll hear from Sylvia Vardell Wednesday when I’ll be delighted to reintroduce her as my Featured Guest. I’m eager for you to read her thoughts, insights, and recommendations. To give you a frame of reference for Sylvia’s remarks, here is her bio.

I’ll preempt what I originally posted about Sylvia with this reminder that in the time since then Sylvia and Janet Wong partnered on the innovative new ebook collection of poetry for children called POETRY TAG TIME. If you haven’t checked this out, here’s your chance. For 99 cents, it’s a rare bargain indeed!

Sylvia M. Vardell is currently Professor at Texas Woman’s University where she teaches graduate courses in children’s literature. She maintains a regular blog on sharing poetry with kids ( ) and has authored two practical books on poetry, POETRY ALOUD HERE! SHARING POETRY WITH CHILDREN (ALA, 2006) and POETRY PEOPLE; A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CHILDREN’S POETS (Libraries Unlimited, 2007). She is currently co-editor of the international journal on children’s literature, BOOKBIRD. She has served on several national award committees including the ALA Odyssey Award for audiobooks, the ALA Sibert Award for informational literature, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction, and the NCTE Award for Poetry. She has conducted over 100 presentations at state, regional, national, and international conferences, and has received grants from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, NCTE, the Texas Library Association, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She taught at the University of Zimbabwe in Africa as a Fulbright scholar, is married, has two children, and is a naturalized American citizen.