Thursday, October 18, 2007

Author Interview: Sylvia Vardell on Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children

Sylvia Vardell on Sylvia Vardell: "I am currently Professor at Texas Woman's University in the School of Library and Information Studies, where I teach graduate courses in children's and young adult literature. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1983, and have taught at universities in Texas, Nevada, Maine, and Washington. I taught at the University of Zimbabwe in Africa as a Fulbright scholar in 1989. I am married, with two children (ages 19 and 23), and I am a naturalized American citizen (born in Australia, of German parents)."

Congratulations on the release of Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children (American Library Association, 2006). Could you tell us more about the book?

This book is intended to be very practical, with strategies for sharing poetry with children ages 5 to 12 in ways that are fun and participatory. There are six chapters, and they focus on introducing major poets writing for kids, different forms and formats of poetry for young people, poetry awards, poetry promotion activities, and on how to guide children's responses to poetry.

The emphasis is on the oral sharing of poetry, rather than on writing or memorizing poetry. Several major poets contributed essays and original poems to the book, including: Pat Mora, Jack Prelutsky, Douglas Florian, Janet Wong, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis (interview), Brod Bagert, Marilyn Singer, and Naomi Shihab Nye.

For anyone who wants to dip into poetry for children for the first time or to plan Poetry Month activities, I hope they'll find plenty of helpful ideas here. I'm proud to quote the Booklist review, "Loving work has gone into making this gem of a book, which should be required reading for all children's librarians."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I had the opportunity to develop a course for teachers and librarians focused only on the area of poetry for children. What fun! And although there were a few professional books about reading poetry and about writing poetry with kids, I couldn't really find anything current about sharing poetry orally, about exploring and celebrating the sound and music of poetry for children. But the more I tried poetry activities with kids, and the more I taught my poetry class to grown ups, the more I was convinced that this was needed.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The idea gestated for a very long time, but the writing actually went quickly, once I started. And the turning point was making a major professional transition in my life. I moved from nearly 20 years of teaching children's literature courses in a college of education to a new position teaching children's literature in a library school.

This catapulted me into a more active role in the American Library Association where I encountered a "call for manuscripts" from the ALSC (Association of Library Service to Children). I submitted a proposal in the fall of 2004, the ALSC committee approved it in January, 2005, I submitted the manuscript in September, 2005, and it was published by ALA in the spring of 2006. Voila!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Of course the biggest challenge was finding the time to write while teaching my regular load of courses and maintaining other professor responsibilities (committees and whatnot) and a tiny bit of real life, too. Complete isolation works best for me, so when I needed a jump-start or hit a rough patch, I rented an inexpensive hotel room for a few days. (My family was great about that!) Probably my biggest worry was whether I could write for the "library market," and I was so relieved when my editor read the first, sample chapter and loved it.

If you could suggest a couple of key poetry books at each age-range level for study, what would they be?

It's hard to choose just a handful. My own list of favorite poetry books for kids is 30 pages long! I wrote a piece for Book Links last year that noted 15 classics of children's poetry in honor of the magazine's 15th anniversary. And here are a few gems that are not-to-be missed.

picture books

Lee Bennett Hopkins, comp. School Supplies (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

J. Patrick Lewis. Please Bury Me In The Library (Harcourt, 2005)

Pat Mora. Confetti: Poems for Children (Lee & Low, 1996)(excerpt)

Janet Wong. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions (Margaret McElderry, 2003)(excerpt)

early reader

Kristine O’Connell George. Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems (Harcourt, 2004)

Eloise Greenfield. Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems (HarperCollins, 1978)

Mary Ann Hoberman. The Llama Who Had No Pajama (Harcourt, 1998)

Karla Kuskin. Moon, Have You Met My Mother? The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin (HarperCollins, 2003)

middle grade

Langston Hughes. The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems (Knopf, Reissued 1994)

Paul Janeczko, comp. Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets (Candlewick, 2002)

Naomi Shihab Nye. A Maze Me: Poems for Girls (Greenwillow, 2005)

Marilyn Singer. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water (Knopf, 2003)

young adult

Helen Frost. Keesha's House (Straus & Giroux, 2003)

Nikki Grimes. Bronx Masquerade (Dial, 2002)

Joyce Sidman. The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Sonya Sones. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy (HarperCollins, 1999)

So far, what are your favorite poetry children's books of 2007?

I haven't seen everything yet, but these are some that have really impressed me:

Leo and Diane Dillon. Mother Goose; Numbers on the Loose (Harcourt, 2007)

Jane Yolen. Here's a Little Poem (Candlewick, 2007)(excerpt)

Doug Florian. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars (Harcourt, 2007)

John Frank. How to Catch a Fish (Roaring Brook, 2007)(scroll)

Carole Boston Weatherford. Birmingham, 1963 (Wordsong, 2007)

Stephanie Hemphill. Your Own, Sylvia (Knopf, 2007)

How has the field evolved in recent years?

Just ten years ago the Academy of American Poets initiated the observance of National Poetry Month to celebrate poetry and its place in American culture. Since then, poetry has continued to gain momentum with the emergence of Young People's Poetry Week in 1999 sponsored by the Children's Book Council, a focus on poetry slams as the centerpiece for Teen Read Week in 2003 sponsored by the American Library Association, and the inauguration of the Poetry Blast in 2004, a concert of children’s poets held at the annual conference of ALA.

I enjoyed the ALSC blast so much that I brought the idea to TLA (the Texas Library Association) and we'll be hosting our fourth annual "Poetry Round Up" at the TLA conference next spring with poets, John Frank, Charles Ghigna, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park (as a poet!)(interview), Adam Rex, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author interview).

What trends have you noticed?

Picture book collections of poetry have been around a long time, but the illustrations in this format are continuing to evolve, with double-page spread art becoming the norm with the poems superimposed on the images, rather than with drawings supplementing the verses. Now we have to be careful that the art doesn't overwhelm or derail the poetry!

For young adults, the verse novel or the novel-in-verse, as it's sometimes called, has emerged as extremely popular. I'm also glad to see some older poetry for all ages being reissued in new (often richly illustrated) formats, such as that of Myra Cohn Livingston, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Langston Hughes.

What other academic/critical resources do you recommend?

To be absolutely shameless, I have published another book in the area of children's poetry just this summer. It's entitled Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), and it's another practical resource—this time providing one entry for each of 60+ children's poets, with biographical information as well as ideas for using each poet's work with kids.

I also recommend Three Voices: An Invitation to Poetry Across the Curriculum (Stenhouse, 1995) by Bea Cullinan, Marilyn Scala and Virginia Schroder; The Poetry Break: An Annotated Anthology with Ideas for Introducing Children to Poetry (H W Wilson, 1995) by Caroline Feller Bauer, and Pass the Poetry Please (HarperCollins, 1986) by Lee Bennett Hopkins (HarperTrophy, 1998).

There are also several excellent resource books written by the poets themselves, including Georgia Heard, Sara Holbrook, Ralph Fletcher, and Myra Cohn Livingston, for example.

There are also a number of excellent Web sites related to poetry (for adults and for young people) that I find so interesting and helpful, including: The Academy of American Poets; Favorite Poem Project; Poetry 180; Poetry Hill Poetry; Giggle Poetry; Children's Book Council Young People's Poetry Week.

In July 2006, you launched a blog, Poetry for Children! What prompted you to enter the blogosphere?

I enjoy the lively immediacy of blogs and blog postings, particularly those in the kidlitosphere. But I didn't see any that were devoted particularly to kids' poetry, so I thought that might be a niche I could fill. I try to post weekly with poems and background information (lots of lists of poetry books by theme or topic) that link with an event or happening of the day. In April (National Poetry Month), I posted daily—that was a challenge!

What do you like about it?

I like the discipline of it—-it pushes me to write about poetry, in particular, on a regular basis. I also like being connected with the rest of the kidlitosphere, especially on "Poetry Fridays."

What are the challenges?

I'm worried that I'll start repeating myself, but I check my previous postings all the time to guard against redundancy and so far, so good. I'm also learning how to reach an ever widening audience through feeds, links, and whatnot.

What's next up for you?

I'm writing a regular column for Book Links magazine called "Everyday Poetry," which showcases fast and easy ways to integrate children's poetry into daily practice. I plan to keep rolling with poetry and am working on a massive "poetry calendar" project, finding poems for children for every day of the year hooked to some special or historic event each day. That's been quite an ambitious undertaking and I'm nearly finished.

I'm also working in other areas of children's literature and am honored to serve on the ALA Odyssey Award committee selecting the best audiobook of the year, the ALA Sibert Award committee next year (for nonfiction), and I'll publish a children's literature textbook early next year, Children's Literature in Action (Libraries Unlimited, 2008).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sarah Ellis Awarded Third Annual TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Author Receives $20,000 - One of the Largest Prizes for Canadian Children's Literature

TORONTO--TD Bank Financial Group (TDBFG) and the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) have announced that author Sarah Ellis is the winner of the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for the most distinguished English-language book of the year. Ellis's book, Odd Man Out (Groundwood) was selected from five finalists who represent some of the leading authors of Canadian children's literature. Ellis was awarded $20,000, one of the largest prizes for Canadian children's literature.

All entries were judged on criteria including the quality of the text and illustrations, where applicable, as well as the book's overall contribution to children's literature. The book must also be an original piece of work written for a young audience.

"We are delighted to present Sarah Ellis with the 2007 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award and take great satisfaction in knowing parents and young readers across the country will enjoy Odd Man Out as much as our judges did," said Frank McKenna, Deputy Chair, TD Bank Financial Group and TD's Literacy Champion. "This award acknowledges and rewards Canadian children's authors and illustrators who produce creative and memorable stories that inspire the joy of reading in young Canadians."

Ellis is an author and librarian who resides in Vancouver. Raised in a family who loved to share stories and read books, Ellis transferred that passion to a career as a librarian at the Toronto Public Library and Vancouver Public Library before starting to write her own books. Odd Man Out has already been awarded the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize (scroll) this year.

Odd Man Out is the story of Kip, a young boy spending the summer with his grandmother and five eccentric girl cousins. Ellis uses her trademark quirky characters, insight and wit to weave themes of family, memory and creative imagination into this story of a boy who struggles with his own ideas and memories.

In addition to the $20,000 awarded to Ellis, the remaining four finalists, Jan Thornhill for I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids' Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death, Hadley Dyer for Johnny Kellock Died Today, Linda Bailey and illustrator Bill Slavin for Stanley's Wild Ride, and Tim Wynne-Jones for Rex Zero and the End of the World, will share a $10,000 award.

Three additional children's literature awards were presented at the awards gala. Jan Thornhill, author of I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids' Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death received the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction, author Sara O'Leary and illustrator Julie Morstad were the recipients of the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award for When You Were Small and Eva Wiseman took home the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People for her book Kanada.

"We're very proud to play an important role in recognizing the best in children's literature. No price can be placed on great books that encourage children to read, learn and ultimately improve their literacy," added McKenna.

This year's TD award judges included: Merle Harris, author and storyteller; Theo Heras, Children's Literature Resource Collection Specialist, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto Public Library; Dr. Dave Jenkinson, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba; Norene Smiley, author; and Maya Munro Byers, owner, Livres Babar Books, Montreal.

"We congratulate Sarah Ellis on creating a story that will delight Canadian youth again and again," said Charlotte Teeple, Executive Director, Canadian Children's Book Centre. "We'd also like to thank TD for supporting the reading and writing of children's books in Canada and recognizing the strong talents of children's authors and illustrators."

The TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for the most distinguished French-language book of the year will be presented in Montreal on October 25, 2007.

About TD Community Giving: Making a Difference Together

Children's health, literacy and education, and the environment are the three primary areas of focus for TD's community giving. The major flagship programs within these areas are: TD Children's Hospital Fund, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, TD Canadian Children's Book Week, TD Canada Trust Scholarships for Community Leadership, and the TD Summer Reading Club. In addition, through the support of our customers and employees, TD is involved with a host of national, regional and local programs in support of diversity, arts and culture and other causes. In 2006, TD donated $33 million to more than 1,600 charities and not-for-profit organizations across Canada.

About the Canadian Children's Book Centre (

A national not-for-profit organization and registered charity, the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) was founded in 1976 to promote, support and encourage the reading, writing and illustrating of Canadian books for children and teens. With book collections and extensive resources in five cities across Canada, the CCBC is a treasure-trove for anyone interested in Canadian books for young readers.

Cynsational Notes

Sarah is the most recent of my colleagues to join the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. Tim also is a member of the faculty.

Author Interview: Melissa Marr on Wicked Lovely

Melissa Marr on Melissa Marr: "The easy version--I write; I'm a mom; and I used to teach.

"The longer version--I grew up in Pennsylvania. I tended to be too curious for my own good, so I experimented with trouble. I knew though that I wanted to teach and write some day, so I went to college and then grad school. Somewhere in there, I started bartending and teaching university--both of which were great fun. In 1998, I switched from bartending to motherhood, and in 2006 I switched from teaching to writing novels."

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I suppose it depends on what we consider as the starting point. I decided I wanted to write when I was 12 or so, but I didn't really do anything about it until I was around thirty. I was afraid, so I decided to wait until I was 40 to try it. The biggest stumble was my belief that I couldn't provide for my family and be a writer. When I did start writing novels, when I was around 30, things happened pretty much instantly.

Congratulations on the publication of Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins, 2007)(excerpt)! Could you fill us in on the story?"

I'm so bad at this part. Hmmm. It's a story about three characters who each want something. Keenan wants to find his missing Summer Queen (who happens to be a mortal); Donia wants freedom from the curse she's carrying (because of Keenan); Aislinn wants a normal life (but she sees faeries). Keenan and Donia are at odds, bound to compete to convince Aislinn to choose as they want/need. Aislinn is trying to hide the fact that she knows faeries are real. Ultimately, it's a story of choices made and un-made.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

An obsession with the importance of choices? The name Aislinn? Fascination with faeries? Egalitarian issues? Being a mom? I'm not sure there's a solitary inspiration. I can do the retrospective assessment bit, but that's assigning meaning after the fact. At the time, I only knew that I couldn't get the characters out of my head.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

In late 2004, I wrote a short story that would linger in my mind for the next eight-to-nine months. Then in 2005, I wrote two novels--one that didn't work and the one that was an evolution of that short story. That novel became Wicked Lovely. Once I started writing WL, things became blurry. I finished it in January, queried agents, picked an agent in February, sold the book in a multi-book co-acquisition (with the US and UK) in March. From starting the novel to signing with an agent to deal was six months total. It was ridiculously fast.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

I don't know that I think of it that way. People appeal to me. Some of the most interesting people I've met are those I met through teaching, so I guess it made sense to write a text that was available to this readership.

What is it like, being a debut author in 2007?

For me, it's been surreal. I never thought much about the "being an author" part. I wrote a book. I've dreamed of seeing it in readers' hands. I'd never thought about the between writing and on the shelves part. I never thought about events. I'm just not a book-signing, event, author-party kinda person. But my publishers are energetic. There was a pre-publication tour. There was a lunch date with BGI. There's another tour coming. And, of course, there were (and will be more) events, signings, and...just things. There are things, and I had no clue how to do most of them. I regularly have great fears of failing my publishers by not doing these things well enough.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I'm pretty simple in that I believe that where we are today is the result of every aspect of where we were before, so I wouldn't want to say anything to my prior self.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I hang out with my family, read, travel, go to museums, roam with my camera, get tattooed, meditate... To write, to live, I think it's pretty important to keep the well full, so I try to sate my senses and spirit.

Luckily, my family thinks this is a fine plan, so they're game for new adventures and cool with my going on solitary adventures. For example, we just returned from a wonderful trip to Ireland and a few days in England. I'm preparing for a work trip on my own, but that schedule also includes "go to museum" and "roam" time.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

I'm not sure I am very good at the balance part yet. I'm lucky in that my Harper US publicist (Melissa Ditmar) and my US & UK editors (Anne Hoppe & Nick Lake) are very good at this, so they look at my schedule and sort things out so I'm not terribly dizzy. My agent, Rachel Vater, also does a great job of taking care of me.

Between the lot of them (and my at home support team), I generally know where I'm to be and what I'm to be doing. Plus, I like caffeine, so that helps.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Readers can expect to see Ink Exchange in Summer 2008. This story picks up about six months after Wicked Lovely; this one centers on the Dark Court. It's the narrative threads of characters we meet in WL--Leslie (Ash's friend), Irial (Dark King), & Niall (Keenan's friend). The MCs from WL are in it, but it's not their story. There will also be a short story in the Love Is Hell anthology in Fall 08. Then my manga series (and another novel) will be out in 2009.

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure 2007

Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More than 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates.

See the whole list at Liz In Ink.

Please stop by to view all the 2007 snowflakes here.

Robert's Snow Illustrators (more to come!)

Robert's Snow: Selina Alko from Cheryl Klein at Brooklyn Arden. Here's a sneak peek: "Selina's delightful snowflake is called 'Snow Taxi,' and it features one of our indomitable NYC taxicabs driving up the side of the Chrysler Building on a snowy day."

Robert's Snow 2007: Starring Scott Bakal from Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. Scott says: "Originally, it was a take-off of an image I created called The Snowman Realizes His Future, which recently was awarded to be in the American Illustration Annual 26. It shows a sad snowman looking up at a branch, which is his nose, sprouting leaves—a telltale sign that Spring is coming and that he will be melting away."

Blogging for a Cure: Alexandra Boiger at Paradise Found. Here's a sneak peek: "Since I became a parent I am always in a 'time dilemma', but at the same time it taught me to be disciplined about the time I do have. In short, I sit down at my drawing desk no matter what. Sometimes, on a day I didn’t feel creative things go slowly and not much valuable happens, sometimes I just needed to break the ice and all of a sudden I feel like riding a wave."

Paige Keiser, illustrator, Robert's Snow participant from Your Neighborhood Librarian. P Dog explains "Her interests moved to fine art and still life painting in college, and after discovering a book about N.C. Wyeth at a book store, fell in love with illustration."

Robert's Snow Illustrator-Janet Stevens from Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Tricia observes: "I love the wrinkled face full of personality and can just imagine getting thumped by that tail as it swings."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure 2007

Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More than 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates.

See the whole list at Liz In Ink.

Please stop by to view all the 2007 snowflakes here.

Robert's Snow Illustrators (more to come!)

Meet Randy Cecil by Liz Goulet Dubois from Chat Rabbit. Here's a sneak peek: "I graduated in 1994. I was very lucky to get a paid internship as a graphic designer at Henry Holt for the summer before my senior year. It was a great experience and a great help in understanding how things work in publishing. I was a painting major so I had very little practical experience."

Art for the Cure: An Interview with Michelle Chang from The Longstockings. Here's a sneak peek: "Don't obsess about your imaginary and real competition and push ahead towards the direction you want to go. You will get there eventually."

Interview with Illustrator Kevin Hawkes by Cynthia Lord from Cynthia's LJ. Here's a sneak peek: "'My second-grade teacher complimented one of my drawings,' he told me, and when I asked if he remembered what she'd said, he thought it was, 'You draw good monsters.'" Note: don't miss the Big Wicked Contest for a signed copy of Kevin's The Wicked Big Toddlah (Knopf, 2007). See also a Cynsations interview with Cynthia.

Snowflakes for Robert's Snow: "Snow Day!" by Barbara Lehman from the Excelsior File. In sum, she says, "One event, many perspectives, the art of Barbara Lehman at its best." Read the whole article.

Grace Lin from In the Pages... Grace says: "I thought it might be interesting for people to know that the style I painted my snowflake was inspired by Chinese Cloisonn├ę." Read the whole interview. Note: also enter to win a signed copy of Grace's Cissy's Friends (Viking, 2007) and a Cissy Doll. See also a Cynsations interview with Grace.

Do the Math: Incorporating Math and Numbers into Library Programming

From Jeanette Larson:

Too many children and teens may feel they hate math because it just doesn’t seem important or useful to them. But exploring this subject--which includes everything from counting, comparing, and recognizing patterns to problem-solving and organizing data--through stories and literature can make the concepts relevant and fun.

Please join us on Nov. 16 when Wendy Lichtman, author of Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra (Greenwillow, 2007), will discuss how fiction can be used to help kids better understand how they use math in daily life – even in their social relationships.

In a Web-based seminar, Wendy will discuss activities including understanding mathematical poetry, composing secret math codes, and designing math-symbol tattoos that will engage young people in math-related projects that can be incorporated into library programming.

Wendy's YA novel, Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra, is about an eighth-grade girl who uses math metaphors to help her navigate the interpersonal storms of middle school.

Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and other national publications. She often presents her ideas about math and literacy to groups of teachers as well as students and has recently spoken at the UCLA Summer Math Institute in Los Angeles, the Toyota Math and Science Program for Girls in Oakland, and the East Side Community High School in New York. She has a degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

Seminar Details At-A-Glance

Seminar: "Do the Math: Incorporating Math and Numbers into Library Programming"
Author Expert: Wendy Lichtman
Date: Nov. 16
Time: 11 a.m. Eastern Time [10 a.m. CT, 9 a.m. MT, 8 a.m. PT]

Format: This is a Web-based seminar. Registered participants will receive participation instructions, log-on information and a toll-free number to dial in for the audio portion of the seminar upon payment of the registration fee. Seminars run for one hour.

Cost: $50 per person; discounts are available for group registration. To Register: send name and contact information to: You may either email or call in your credit card information at 914-241-2117.
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