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26. How to Publish a Successful Book


To publish a successful book, be sure you’ve got the following:

1. word of mouth (the everyday reader kind)

2. publisher support (this might come from a stellar marketing plan or in-house enthusiasm)

3. mysterious things out of everyone’s control that are often unnameable and unknown (these also can “doom” a book, like having a release in the midst of a blizzard/flood/hurricane)

4. magic

5. great trade reviews — I’m not convinced everyday readers even know these exist, but librarians and booksellers certainly do (and often base their purchases on them)

6. a great cover

7. a lot of reviews by “regular” people at Goodreads, Amazon, on blogs, and the like (this connects back to #1, but is less organic, more strategic, and less powerful, I think)

8. …and to give your book a second wind, make sure it’s nominated for awards


486. author efforts

How much of a book’s success is in the author’s hands? Is it even possible to measure an author’s promotional reach? The first question is easy: only the author’s efforts are in her control. But do writers really live this way? The second question is the more challenging one. I know of no hard and fast evidence that shows how an author’s promotional work affects overall sales, but I have to believe my one small voice doesn’t have the power to influence as many people as the other things on this list.

So where does that leave me?

Strangely comforted, believe it or not. I can’t make anything I write a hit. No one honestly knows how to make this happen, though we keep trying (and for those of us in publishing, it’s part of our job to do so). What I can do, though, is focus on promotion that excites me and drop the need to try everything.

How much of a book’s success do you think comes from an author’s efforts?

Anything you’d add to my list?

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27. Straight From the Source: Beth Kephart on Writing Historical Fiction

Beth Kephart has written memoir, history, poetry, a corporate fable, and many novels for young adults. Among her historical novels for young adults are DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS (Centennial Philadelphia), DR. RADWAY’S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT (1876 Philadelphia), SMALL DAMAGES (flashbacks to Franco’s Seville), GOING OVER (1983 Berlin, released April 2014), and MUD ANGELS (flashbacks to 1966 Florence, to be released in spring 2015).

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

It is such a mysterious process. Several things percolate; many things must collide. You need more than a location, a time period, a character, a theme. You need some urgent question. It can all sit there, going nowhere, until you find the urgent question.

How do you conduct your research? 

I use everything that I can find—old newspaper and magazine stories, diaries, books, photographs, videos, films, records—and, of course, I travel to the places where the stories take place.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I think that it is important not to know everything before you start, to keep the process mysterious as long as you can. I want to wake up with a desire to find out. I don’t want to follow an historical dot-to-dot map. So I do some research. I visit the place. I take photographs. I dream. And then I fill things in as I go, look for facts as I need them.

What is your favorite thing about research?

I studied the History and Sociology of Science at Penn, and so I feel very happy doing research, very alive digging into old things and looking for connections. I love the unexpected find. The price of a trolley ticket in 1876. The name of a restaurant on a certain corner. The brand of a telescope that an East German would have in 1970. The tonnage of rubble following a bomb.

Why is historical fiction important?

I think it is so important to try to imagine ourselves into the lives of others during critical junctures in world history. It is a hugely empathetic act. And empathy is, finally, what storytelling is all about—empathy for others, and empathy for ourselves.







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28. School Visits Galore

In the last six weeks I’ve done seventeen presentations in six different schools. Here’s a glimpse into this very busy, very rewarding time.

April 3 – Literacy Night: Truman Middle School, Albuquerque, NM

At Truman I talked to both kids and parents about the writing life: how long it had taken me to sell my first book, the inspiration behind May B., and finding satisfaction in the things we love. The evening ended with students sharing odes. My favorite? Ode to My Running Shoes.


April 15,16 – School visit: Dexter Elementary School, Dexter, NM

I’d never been to Dexter, NM — a community southeast of Roswell and 1,200 people strong. Let me tell you, I was incredibly impressed with everything happening there. Librarian Nancy Miles has brought thirteen authors to Dexter in the last fourteen years, all funded by proceeds from the school’s Scholastic Book Fair.

On the fist day, I spoke to K-2, doing a new presentation called The Poet’s Toolbox: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Repetition. On the second I pulled out my tried and true hands-on frontier activity called Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. Dexter’s Elementary Battle of the Books team hosted a special luncheon for the thirteen “BoB” readers. Check out the gorgeous table display which included May’s apple barrel and  tinned peaches. Nancy printed “The Voice of the Wind” poem as bookmarks and called it courage and hope — the phrase I use when signing May. And speaking of signing… those eager kiddos had me sign those cans of peaches!

As they were leaving the library, a girl shouted, “I love you!” and a boy said, “This is the best day of my life!”

17 – School visit: Dexter Middle School, Dexter, NM

Day three in Dexter took me to the middle school, where I ate burgers with the BoB readers and discussed the many things that might have happened to Mrs. Oblinger after she left May. Let’s just say Dexter middle schoolers are very, very creative. I was also informed middle schoolers are definitely not too old for stickers (they gladly took the May B. ones I’d brought along). I once again presented Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. For one session a BoB team from Roswell came to join the fun.

April 24 – School visit: Chaparral Elementary School, Santa Fe, NM

At Santa Fe’s Chaparral Elementary I led a Poetry 101 writing workshop for fifth graders and met with the BoB kids after school. Here’s a priceless exchange I overheard while setting up for the second presentation:

Student #1: I thought she’d have black hair.

Student #2: I thought she would be sixty.

April 29 and May 6 – School visit: Dennis Chavez Elementary School, Albuquerque, NM

I stopped at Dennis Chavez on two separate occasions, one day to talk about the writing process and another another to talk about the frontier. My favorite part? Several kids asking if I could pull strings to make more copies of May B. show up in the school library.


May 1 – School visit: Holy Ghost Catholic School, Albuquerque, NM

This little school reminded me of my beloved St. Matthew’s Episcopal School where I taught in Houma, Louisiana. Along with authors Kimberley Griffiths Little and Stephen McCranie I talked with kids K-8 at the school’s annual Author’s Day. The day began with an assembly celebrating books the children had written. It was a lovely thing.

For those of you interested in some nuts and bolts posts I’ve written about school visits, you can find them here:

School Visits: Seeking Them Out and Setting Them Up
Tis the Season to Skype!
Planning, Preparing, and “Performing” School Visits


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29. Adventures in Spain

Take a friendship fifty-two years strong,


add in a handful of kids and many visits to and fro,

With the Olabarrias

a year on exchange,


a wedding for one girl,


and now a wedding for the other!

After returning from Spain in January, my mom called to tell me Ines, the daughter of her friend Rosalia (her host sister during a student exchange in the 60′s) was getting married. Ines and I have known each other our whole lives through. Mom wanted to know if I’d be her date to Ines’s March wedding. I was ready to go on the spot.

I hadn’t been to Spain in twenty-six years. Hadn’t seen Ines since my own wedding eighteen years ago.

Mom and I met in Dallas and flew to Bilbao. We took a bus to San Sebastian to see Paula, our exchange student when I was in fourth grade.



Paula joined us in Bilbao one day.


On another we went to the Guggenheim.



These two girls got some time together again.



There was that wedding (Ines and Christopher both sing opera. Aren’t they especially glam?).


My lovely date.


All the Olabarria kids.


Because of that friendship made so many years ago, three families are now forever intertwined. How lovely is that?


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30. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Character

When revising, it’s essential you study your characters carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:


Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Villains and emotional complexity: “Look for a place where you dislike the villain the most. At that point, how can you work in a tender scene with the villain’s friend?”

“Most dialogue is too long winded, too formal, and includes too much information.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“At the end of your book, your main character should be better equipped to live that life…”

Characters often don’t know what they truly NEED. Don’t spell it out for the reader! Let them figure it out.

“…a character is a plot.You just have to find the other characters and the moral dilemmas that will force the character to change and grow.”

“Put those characters in situations that fascinate or trouble you personally — problems you want to write about, conflicts that move you in some way.”

Samuel Johnson: “Inconsistencies cannot both be right; but imputed to man [and characters!], they make both be true.”

“Use backstory to show the reader how the character became who she is, what her relationships with other people are like, and why the frontstory matters to her.”

“Action: what a character does to get what they want. Action is a result of Desire plus Attitude.”

“ To the minor characters in your book, the hero of your books isn’t your main character — it’s them…Everyone has reasons for doing the things they do and you need to know the reasons.”

“[As we read] we are right there in [the characters’] heads, having these experiences with them, sharing their pain; as as a result we share their growth as well.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“No description should ever be content to play only on the surface. Whether a reader is aware of it or not, he should always be learning about character on multiple levels, especially at the beginning of your story.”

“We must always know what your characters want (each and every one of them) when we see them in a scene together.”

Unconscious objective (Cheryl would classify this as an unknown need / desire): “Characters struggling with Unconscious Objective shouldn’t be able to articulate them. But those deep desires are something that you, the writer, must absolutely think about.”

“Think of yow you can lend your stories a more complex undertone by always reminding us of your character’s worries and anxieties.”


Where Do Character Strengths Come From? :: Cynsations
Determine Your Character’s Destiny :: The Write Practice
The Sensitive, Passionate Character :: Live, Write, Thrive
Character Development :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (a collection of articles covering protagonists, antagonists, developing strong characters, secondary characters, and character arcs)


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31. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Plot

When revising, it’s essential you study your plot carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:

plot line

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

“The connection between the inner and outer arc, the emotional arc and the plot arc, isn’t always easy to see! When you set up an initial plot conflict, you need to immediately ask yourself what obligatory action scene is set up. When the inner conflict is set up, you need to ask what epiphany is set up.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

Good fiction creates “deliberate emotion…through immersing us in the character’s lived experience [via] well-crafted prose: prose where every word has been considered carefully by the author and belongs in the work; prose that communicates clearly.”

WANTS = action plot / NEEDS = emotional plot

“The difference between starting with premise and starting with character is usually that in a premise plot, the character has something done to him or her from the outside; and in a character plot, the character is the one who causes the action, thanks to the Desire.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

Avoiding the infodump: “Information must emerge organically, usually within the context of action.”

“A kid reader, whether he knows it or not, is picking up a book with the following request in mind: Make me care.”

“Fiction runs on friction and trouble.”

“Decide whether we need to see the full action of every instant in your book? …Focus on your most powerful scenes.”

“You are a writer, not a security camera…Shape events and cherry-pick the ones that are going to be the most exciting and most significant for your story.”


Plot Structure :: Ingrid’s Notes (This is an incredible series on classic plot and arch plot, alternative plots and alternative structures)
Plotting :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (Another comprehensive list of posts on plot)

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32. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision

Revision requires an author to see her work with new eyes. Here are some quotes and links to point you in the right direction:


Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Revision: What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories. …I never tell someone how to revise their story. Instead, I ask you to look at your story in different ways, apply various strategies of revisions, and tell your story, your way. You are in control and will make all the decisions yourself.”

“Competence is a hard-won prize that only comes with lots of study and practice.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“When you’re writing that first draft, don’t worry about following the rules. Instead, tell yourself the story you’ve always wanted to hear, the story you’ve never read anywhere else, the one that scares you with the pleasure of writing it. Treasure the joy of the work, because it is hard work, but when you can find that just-right word, that perfect plot twist — there are fewer greater pleasures.”

“Editors work forward from the manuscript to make its truth all it can be…paying attention to details that add up to an overall result.”

“Good prose repeats words in close proximity to each other only by strategy or design, not by accident or sloppiness.”

“I test every sentence against the question ‘What purpose doest this serve?’”

“An editor’s greatest joy is a writer who can recognize his own weaknesses and respond with an intelligent revision.”

“For a writer, an artist, making a choice gives you something to work with. You make a choice, get the words on the page, see if it feels right. If it doesn’t, you edit it or go back and make a different decision. The hardest thing is getting past the fear of making a choice at all.”

Saul Bellow: “The main reason for rewriting is not to achieve a smooth surface, but to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“As you’re sitting down to write, you need to ask yourself: Am I writing a specific story that could only happen to this character in this world, in this time? What am I trying to say with this story? What do I want my readers to think when they put my book down?”

“What questions or mysteries does your first line raise?”

“Just because you put it first doesn’t mean that your current opening section is the real beginning.”

“Be a curator, not a camera…Believe it or not, most beginning writers will transcribe, as if they were a video camera…Another big mistake is focusing on transition scenes because you think you need to show how a character gets from one place to another.”


Novelists: You Are Gifted and Talented :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD The Bones of the Writing Process, Parts 1 and 2 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway About Writing :: The Write Practice
WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day) Revision Roadmap #18 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
 WFMAD Temper Tantrums and Do Overs :: Laurie Halse Anderson
I don’t want an honest critique :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD Getting Feedback on Your Story :: Laurie Halse Anderson
WFMAD Belonging to a Critique Group Without Murdering Anyone :: Laurie Halse Anderson
Balancing Thoughts, Description, Dialogue, and Action :: Between the Lines: Edits and Everything Else

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33. While I Was Away: Novel Revision Class

It’s been a good, long while since I’ve written a post around here. March 5, to be exact. Since then it’s been quick quotes or photos, guest posts or repeats.

March and April have been busy for me. I was on deadline with BLUE BIRDS, taught a Novel Revision class for our local SCBWI chapter, spent a week in Spain, and traveled to Dexter, NM and Santa Fe for school visits.

I thought it would be fun to share about these experiences in detail with you here. I’ll start with my Novel Revision course.

The idea for this course came while I was on a run. I was listening to Cheryl Klein and James Monohan’s Narrative Breakdown podcast on Revision Techniques, and it struck me how perfect this podcast would be as a starting place for a revision class. From there I developed a course for SCBWI members who’d drafted a middle grade or young adult manuscript but weren’t quite sure how to go about revision.

Those who signed up for the course received copies of Darcy Pattison’s NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT. Because so many already had Cheryl’s book, I gave those participants Mary Kole’s WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT.

Members were paired with partners and exchanged manuscripts. They focused on big-picture changes (character growth instead of punctuation, for example) and wrote a letter to their partner which focused on three things:

  • What works
  • What needs work
  • What stuck out

Participants also wrote “letters to a sympathetic reader,” a technique Cheryl Klein sometimes uses with her authors when they begin the editing process together. The sympathetic letter focuses on

  • The real thing / key ideas / effect on reader the author is aiming for
  • Where the novel started from / idea came from
  • Big ideas the author is exploring
  • The things the author loves and wants to keep
  • The things the author knows are not working
  • How the author sees their main character (their purpose, journey, etc.)
  • What the book is now and where it should be
  • Mission / vision statement for the book

A sympathetic letter helps a writer to get back in touch with their initial ideas. It can also show how ideas have changed over the course of the draft. Though partners exchanged letters, its primary function is to teach a writer about their own work.

Much of our class centered around tips I gleaned from the Revision Techniques podcast and from Cheryl and Darcy’s books. My next two posts will be a collection of quotes and links I shared with my students on revision, plot, and character.

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34. Progressive Poem: Three Blue Eggs

I’m participating in the 2014 Progressive Poem, the brain child of poet and novelist Irene Latham. For every day of April, a different person adds a line. The poem’s been shaped along the way — broken into couplets, named by our last poet, Kate Coombs. The name is what inspired my line.


Three Blue Eggs

Sitting on a rock, airing out my feelings to the universe
Acting like a peacock, only making matters that much worse;

Should I trumpet like an elephant emoting to the moon
Or just ignore the warnings written in the rune?

Those stars can’t seal my future; it’s not inscribed in stone.
The possibilities are endless! Who could have known?

Gathering courage, spiral like an eagle after prey,
Then gird my wings for whirlwind gales in realms far, far away.

But, hold it! Let’s get practical! What’s needed before I go?
Time to be tactical—I’ll ask my friends what I should stow.

And in one breath, a honeyed word whispered low—dreams—
Whose voice? I turned to see. I was shocked. Irene’s!

“Each voyage starts with tattered maps; your dreams dance on this page.
Determine these dreams—then breathe them! Engage your inner sage.”

The merry hen said, “Take my sapphire eggs to charm your host.”
I tuck them close—still warm—then take my first step toward the coast.

This journey will not make me rich, and yet I long to be
Like luminescent jellyfish, awash in mystery.

I turn and whisper, “Won’t you come?” to all the beasts and birds
And listen while they scamper, their answers winging words:

“Take these steps alone to start; each journey is an art.
You are your own best company. Now it’s time to depart!”

I blow a kiss. I hike for days, blue eggs pressed to my chest.
One evening’s rest, campfire low, shifting shadows brought a guest.

A boy, with hair in wild waves and eyes blue as the sea,
Says, “You’ve traveled far. What did you find—your best discovery?”

“I found a bird, I found a song, I found a word,” I say.
The hidden eggs, I make them known. “I’ve brought these on the way.”

Please consider following the poem to its end.
April 29 – Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
April 30 – Tara at A Teaching Life

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35. Writing Links

Query Questions with Tracey Adams :: It’s in the Details
Counting by 7s’ POV :: Augusta Scattergood
The Time it Takes :: Nerdy Book Club 
(includes a great ten-year timeline showing the writing process, from idea to publication, for Melissa Stewart’s picture book, NO MONKEYS, NO CHOCOLATE)


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36. Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the StarsSparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her poetry and fiction have been recognized with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight and the Minnesota State Arts Board. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.  Keeping Safe the Stars has recently been released in paperback.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I always begin with a character, and from there it is a character in a situation. I’m interested in the character’s trouble—why is their story important?  What are they up against and why? That’s the early work I do on a book.

How do you conduct your research? 

I like to jump into the story, discover the time period, and then ask myself: What elements of that time period are pressing in on the story?  We are all influenced by our historical time and place, and fictional characters are no different.  The world we live in shapes us. Once I’ve settled on the time and place of a novel, I immerse myself in it through books, movies, music, and lots of web research.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I wish I did. I tend to empty the library of materials, and spend too much time on Google. I call people, I ask questions of people who may have lived during that time. I’m especially interested in talking to people that would have been the same age as my characters in that time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Magazine, catalogues, newspapers, books, music, films, photos—anything I can get my hands on. The book I’m working on now has required looking at old baseball cards, Schwinn catalogues, reading obscure articles on psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, among other odd activities. I love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the way the time period determines certain events in the book, the kinds of choices characters have available to them, the way cultural norms of the time period would influence their decisions. My previous novel, KEEPING SAFE THE STARS, was set in 1974, during the week of the Nixon resignation, and there were all kinds of cultural norms at work during that time that helped me discover the story. Beyond that, I think it’s my own particular kind of fantasy, because I’m able to return to a time that no longer exists, and make it real again—which is a fantasy for me. We know our time and place, but the work of fiction allows us to occupy another, and whether it’s an imaginary country, or a small town in Minnesota in 1974, it’s a fiction world I’ve never inhabited.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction allows us to see the path behind us, to see how we’ve arrived at this moment, and in some ways it allows us to make sense of the world as we know it now. Beyond that, it can teach us things–both major and minor–things we might not otherwise know. I don’t write books to teach, but historical novels are rich opportunities for readers young and old to learn about another time and place, to imagine what it was like to be living in a reality other than our own.



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37. Poetry, The Art for All Occasions — Carolee Dean

This is the final post for National Poetry Month. Much thanks to all who have participated and those who have read.

A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law died and I went to Texas to be with my mother-in-law. The ashes were coming from California and it was going to take several days to have them shipped from Texas, so we settled down to write the obituary and to share stories of his long and colorful life. There was a continuous stream of people arriving with food, flowers, and good wishes.

I had to leave to return to work and go on a long-planned trip to Colorado to see my son and daughter in college there. As I was back in New Mexico packing, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if I could recommend a short poem to print on the thank you notes she was planning to send. I told her I would take some books of poetry on my road trip and send her a selection.

I searched the shelves in my daughter’s old room, where all the books of poetry are kept. Tired and a little frazzled, I couldn’t seem to find anything but a collection by Walt Whitman. Not many short selections there.

The next morning, armed with coffee, my suitcase, and a book of poems about two inches thick, I recalled that Whitman had written an elegy to Abraham Lincoln upon his death. As my husband drove north on Interstate 25, I found the poem and excitedly typed the first stanza into my phone to send to my mother-in-law.

     When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning

     O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
by  Walt Whitman

After sending off the poem and returning numerous phone calls regarding the obituary, I breathed a great sigh of relief and opened a book I’d been meaning to read since Christmas, The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes. It was my son’s college text from his poetry class. I’d read a bit of it while he was home for Thanksgiving and wanted to read more, so I asked him for a copy for Christmas.

Because I knew he was a poor college student, I told him he could even give me the used copy from class. And that’s exactly what he did, he gave me a book tattered around the edges, filled with notes and bent back corners. An absolute treasure. Best of all, he included some holiday haiku he’d written. Here is one of them:

Bells jingle and ring.
Tis the season to believe
everyone can sing.

As we sped past the Rocky Mountains and I read my son ‘s haiku, I thought of the many times I’ve given poems printed on bookmarks as Christmas gifts, and I was reminded of how much poetry touches our everyday lives. I also thought of how often I have received poems as gifts and how many of those poems now hang on the walls of my home.

Poetry has been used throughout the centuries to express thanks, regret, sorrow, humor, love, and a host of other emotions. It is printed on cards and written on walls. It is tucked into books on little slips of paper.

But most of all, poetry is engraved on our hearts and imprinted in our minds so that even after reading a poem years or decades earlier, we can recall its lines.

Carolee Dean is the author of several books including the young adult verse novel, Forget Me Not.
You may follow her blog at http://caroleedeanbooks.blogspot.com
Twitter @CaroleeJDean
Facebook Carolee Dean, Author



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38. A Pawful of Poem Quotes — Lee Wardlaw


“A dog…is prose; 
   a cat is a poem.”
– Jean Burden

I’m a poet – and a cat person. So in honor of National Poetry Month, here is a small pawful of my favorite poem quotes and cat pix.  Enjoy!  – L.W.

“A poet is… 
a person who is passionately in love with language.”
– W.H. Auden

“Poetry is life distilled.”
– Gwendolyn Brooks

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. 
Anything else is just a footnote.”
– Yevgeny Yevtushenko

“Poetry and I fit together. 
I can’t imagine being without it…
It is food and drink, it is all seasons, 
it is the stuff of all existence.” 
– Lee Bennett Hopkins


“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove
the poem must ride on its own melting.”
– Robert Frost

“Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry
 because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” 
– Valerie Worth

“Poetry is a language 
in which man explores his own amazement.”
– Christopher Fry

“I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer 
so his son can be a poet.” 
– John Adams


“Poetry is like fish: 
if it’s fresh, it’s good; 
if it’s stale, it’s bad; 
and if you’re not certain, 
try it on the cat.”
– Osbert Sitwell

“A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer….
He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. 
A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.” 
– E.B. White

“If you can’t be a poet, be the poem.” 
– David Carradine

“Poems are the ‘daredevil’ of writing
because a poem will say what nobody else wants to say.”
– Ralph Fletcher


“A good poem leaves me with further questions about
what came before and what came after, 
just like a photograph.
Of course, I could make up my mind
 that poetry is like pond algae, too.
Or even ice cream.”
– Thalia Chaltas

“Writing a poem is making music with words and space.”
– Arnold Adoff

“Prose is words in their best order;
 Poetry is the best words in their best order.”
– Samuel Coleridge

Kid snack

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” 
– G.K. Chesterton

“Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.” 
– J. Patrick Lewis

“The distinction between historian and poet
is not in the one writing prose and the other verse…
the one describes the thing that has been,
and the other a kind of thing that might be. 
Hence, poetry is something more philosophical
 and of graver import than history,
 since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, 
whereas those of history are singulars.” 
– Aristotle

“We especially need imagination in science. 
It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, 
but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
– Maria Montessori

“As poets we are archaeologists of the interior and external worlds.  
Our work builds bridges between the two.”
– Ellen Kelley

“I have no doubts that the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins –
The other kind don’t matter.”

– Robert W. Service


“I once found a pretty good poem in the ear of my cat.”
– Alice Schertle

Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published 30 books for young readers, including WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), recipient of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award, the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and the Beehive (Utah) Poetry Book Award.  WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, a companion title also illustrated by Yelchin, will be released by Holt in 2015.



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39. Tropical Rain Forest Sky Ponds — Margarita Engle

Here’s a poem by Margarita Engle from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

engle tropical jpg

Looking for more ways to connect science and poetry? Here’s a great place to start.

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40. Jumping In Feet First: A Guest Post at the Art of Simple


My first blog post ever  talked about my decision to leave the classroom and pursue writing full-time. Now I’m sharing about the experience over at The Art of Simple — how this crazy, counter-cultural choice was exactly right for me. Will you join me today?



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41. Poems About Science — Margarita Engle

My passion for poetry is combined with a love of nature. As a children’s book author, botanist, and agronomist, I don’t see why I should have to choose. There was a time when many naturalists also wrote poetry. During the twentieth century, specialization became the norm, and most scientific writing was strictly technical.

science front cover jpeg

Now, with THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS FOR SCIENCE, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong offer teachers and students a chance to once again unite the two. Verses written in many styles help teach a wide variety of specialties, through the voices of an amazing array of poets.  I feel fortunate to have several botanical and ecological poems included. Even better, some of them are offered in a bilingual format.

The tropical island of Cuba has always been at the heart of my writing. As my mother’s homeland, it was the place where summer visits to relatives inspired my childhood love of nature. At the same time, I was an avid reader, and poetry books were my favorites, so any opportunity to combine nature and culture in my writing is treasured. My new verse novel, SILVER PEOPLE, is not only a historical tale about the laborers who dug the Panama Canal.  It is also a love letter to the tropical rain forest, using the voices of animals and plants to convey the astounding diversity of life forms.  In my middle grade chapter book in verse, MOUNTAIN DOG, I filled an adventure story with scientific facts.  Several of my picture books—currently in the illustration stage—combine poetry with science.

In short, one of the reasons I love writing for children is the freedom to experiment.  Unlike scientific works written at the specialized professional level, books for children can be filled with fascinating factual information, without sacrificing the beautiful mysteries of language.

Margarita Engle is a poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include THE SURRENDER TREE, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; and HURRICANE DANCERS, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. Her most recent book, SILVER PEOPLE: VOICES FROM PANAMA CANAL, released March 25.

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42. Language and Imagination in Poetry — Robert Forbes

In my travels to schools and libraries doing readings of my poetry, I tell my listeners that word choice is the vehicle of writing, and imagination is its unlimited supply of energy.

For poetry, because it is such a distilled and precise form of writing, word choice is even more important. I tell them: find words with pizzazz, which say something about you, which are not expected and are not clichés. Be thoughtful, be playful, see where the words take you, let your words reflect who you are.

Here are a few of my poems that show this.

Dizzy Lizzie

A friend of mine, a giraffe named Lizzie
Also has the nickname Dizzy.

Her neck is very, very tall,
So tall she towers o’er us all.

She’s so tall it makes her proud,
For only she can eat a cloud.

Well of course giraffes have long necks, so how can you make a giraffe poem not be a cliché? So I made her different from the other giraffes. I think all of us at times have felt we were different from the other kids, so there is a lesson here. Lizzie likes her difference because it allows her to do something none of the other giraffes can do, and that is to eat a cloud. I then ask, What do you think a cloud tastes like? The answers usually start off with a scientific approach such as “water” and “fog” but then someone says “cotton candy!” Off we go! Imaginations kick in and soon we cover practically every food group!

Bitty and Bobby

Bitty the Bedbug bit Bobby the Bat
While he was tucked into his bed.
But he sleeps upside down
So she got turned around
And instead of his toe bit his head.

Ouch! This limerick form has a few elements going on. The ending is a bit unexpected and makes for a punchier poem. It is the first line, though, that I go back and reread and then have everyone repeat along with me. It’s a tongue twister, yes, but what is going on? I am having fun using the same letter, B, for most of the words. I am delighted when a 3rd Grader can tell me that this is a device called alliteration. (So is the teacher!) This is some of the fun found in writing a poem.

As you can see, I inhabit an imagined world where the animals are my friends, and sometimes they talk to me, but in certain ways they always maintain their natures. I let each poem take me – and the reader – to a new place, using language and word choice to define the situation and personalities. What joy when I find the right combinations! Try writing poetry yourself and see what happens. You will be amazed at what you discover.

“He spends a lot of time looking out the window,” read one of Robert Forbes’ 7th grade report cards. Even so, he managed to graduate from school and university, and had a full-time career in the family business, Forbes Media. After 25 years in New York City and six in London, he and his wife and new dog Luna now reside in South Florida. Luna is a Jack Russell Terrier mix and is full of beans. Robert is the author of three books of poetry for children, BEASTLY FEASTS! A Mischievous Menagerie in Rhyme, 2007; LET’S HAVE A BITE! A Beastly Banquet in Rhyme, 2010; and, BEAST FRIENDS FOREVER!, Animal Lovers in Rhyme, published in 2013.  All three are from Overlook Press and fully illustrated by master caricaturist Ronald Searle.  Visit him at his website robertlforbes.com.



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43. Growing — Theresa Milstein

A year ago, I wrote the little poem “Becoming”  on Caroline’s blog as a way to portray my evolving relationship with poetry. Over time, my confidence as both a poetry reader and writer has grown. Publishing poems in places like Vine Leaves Literary Journal  and Halcyon magazine  further boosted my belief in my ability.

While I don’t devote nearly us much time to poetry as I do to reading and writing children’s books, it has become a thread in my life’s fabric. In fact, I’ve included poems in my recent YA to lyrically reflect my main character’s challenges and growth. And during this snow-centric winter, I wrote a little haiku:

Hush of falling snow
Shovel scraping on pavement
Mars the quiet mood

Floating, fleeting flakes
Ethereal, crystalline
Cannot capture—free

Did you know the snow
watched waited swollen crested
upon smoky breath?

Thick flakes descending
Like tears running down mourning
Wintertime farewell

My passion for poetry has found a perfect outlet. Recently, I joined the Vine Leaves Literary Journal staff as Publishing Editor’s Assistant.  One of my tasks is to read and vote on the shortlisted submissions. While workshops have challenged me to analyze poetry and determine why a particular poem is praiseworthy, I’ve never had to determine which ones fit a specific journal. It’s been thrilling and humbling. There are many talented poets. I’m proud to have contributed to the April issue. 

While I wait for the next batch of shortlisted submissions, I continue to read and write poetry. After this seemingly endless winter, which inspired too much bleak haiku, I want to share a little bit of warmth:

Trellises cradle
Vine leaves’ ascent while splendid
Morning Glories soar

I’d love if you’d share a spring haiku in the comments, written either by you or a favorite poet.

Theresa Milstein has poetry and short stories published in various journals and anthologies. While her small pieces are for adults, she primarily writes middle grade and young adult novels, and is active in the New England chapter of SCBWI.  She works in the public school system, which gives her ample time to observe tweens and teens in their natural habitat.

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44. Writing and Running

Most of my life, I’ve thought runners were like Chemistry majors — skilled in a way I wasn’t and fans of pain and tedium. This all changed after my second son was born, when my walking partner of many months turned to me and said, “We’re running the next mile. Go!”

For weeks, we steadily built our distance. I insisted Rachel talk to me the entire time about books, teaching, raising boys, recipes — anything to distract me from the hard work. Somehow, while pushing that double jogging stroller and learning about couscous salads, I got hooked.

My husband wasn’t surprised. He’s always said I have the perfect personality for a runner: outdoorsy, disciplined, someone who craves time alone. I’ve never been fast, and as I’ve gotten older, worked through injuries, taken time off, and battled the adjustment moving from sea level to a mile above, I’ve gotten slower still.

Lots of runners talk about the grand thoughts they have while they’re covering the miles. While I’m not one of those (my mind is usually in rest mode while my legs do the tough stuff), I have, at times, thought through the similarities between running and writing.
Here are a few I’ve come up with:

  • be in it for the long haul
  • every step counts
  • hold onto success to motivate later
  • some days are great, some days aren’t
  • love what you do
  • find your rhythm
  • keep track of your goals
  • when things don’t work, try something new

Any other running writers out there? What similarities do you find between the two?

This post originally ran March 9, 2011

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45. Running as a Metaphor for Writing

On Wednesday I posted about the similarities between running and writing. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of these more closely:

In it for the long haul:
Just like the hard work required to add miles or increase speed, writers need to be committed long term. You can’t “become” anything overnight.

Every step counts:
It’s not glamorous to think about those early mornings you force yourself out of bed just to put one foot in front of the other. Neither is it deeply exciting to recall every word you’ve ever put down on paper. But each small effort builds on the next.

Hold onto success to motivate later:
Early last December, my sister called to tell me my brother-in-law wasn’t going to be able to make the half marathon they’d planned to run together. The race was in ten days. Would I like to take his place?

My longest race before this was a 5k. I had no time to train. My sister flew me out to Kiawah, South Carolina, where we walk/ran the first six miles. Then something came over me: I wanted to finish out the race on my own. Though I hadn’t run that far in years, I finished the last seven miles without stopping. I’ve used this moment as motivation ever since.

Have you ever had a breakthrough writing moment? A time you knew what your story was missing, a writing session where every word worked? Save those moments to use as future motivation.

This post originally ran March 11, 2014


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46. And Finally…

…wrapping up the running theme

Some days are great, some days aren’t:
Some running days are fun, some start hard and get easier, some start easy and get hard. And there are some that you just have to get through. Writing is the same. Don’t let a hard writing day scare you from getting back into the groove.

Love what you do:
I’m slow, I’ve got funny form, but I love the way running makes me feel: strong and powerful and joyful, like a little kid.

While I set goals and due dates for certain projects, I never know how easily the words will come. This is where love for the writing process helps to sustain me. Last summer I got stuck on two stanzas for a picture book and couldn’t move forward for weeks. I spent hours and hours on what amounted to roughly twenty words. Twenty words! As frustrating as this was, I’m so thankful I kept returning to the story, sat with what I had, and trusted the words would come. The writing process has never worked the same way twice for me, but I love what eventually unfolds.

Find your rhythm:
There is something very familiar and comfortable about settling into your pace. The same can be said about your own writing process. Maybe you need music in the background. Maybe you have to re-read everything you wrote the last time you sat down. Whatever your system, if it works for you, use it. From that familiar place your work will grow.

Keep track of your goals:
Just like runners love to record their fastest times, make sure you’re paying attention to — and celebrating! — your progress: finishing a manuscript, positive feedback from critique partners, requests for partials from agents. Those milestones keep you moving forward.

When things don’t work, try something new:
I’ve had my share of injuries and have had to alter the way I’ve approached running. For months I practiced the walk/run system my sister swears by. Other times I kept all running to a mile — holding onto the fun and cutting back on the work.
Are you working on a manuscript you need to retire? Are you writing in a genre that just doesn’t fit? Give yourself permission to try something new or approach your work differently.

Metaphor for life:
Running is hard, but life is harder. When I push myself physically, I feel like I can take the world on.

Isn’t it just the same with writing?

This post originally ran March 16, 2011

Update:  A friend just told me about  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by author Haruki Murakami. Can’t wait to dig in!

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47. The World According to Uncle Charles — Charles Waters

Welcome to National Poetry Month.  In the next few weeks we’ll join the celebration by sharing posts from readers, teachers, authors, and poets. Here’s our first, from poet Charles Waters.

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

–Samuel Beckett

Those 12 words by Mr. Beckett pretty much describe what human existence is all about.  No one is great at EVERYTHING.  There’s always room for improvement, room to allow grace to come in and take you in a journey, whatever it may be.  I’m coming up on the 10 year anniversary of when I wrote my first poem, and in that time I realized that no matter how many children’s poems I write (or rewrite as it were) the process humbles me.

Poetry time Logo (1)To get you started on your poetic quest I suggest that you dear readers follow the advice of Uncle Charles and read children’s poems by the boatload.  Heaven knows there are enough books for you to get lost in.  Go to Section 811 of your library; pick out anything by old school masters such as Langston Hughes, Myra Cohn Livingston, Valerie Worth, Eve Merriam and David McCord as well as contemporary poets like Lee Bennett Hopkins, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Jane Yolen, Arnold Adoff and Allan Wolf.  That’s just for starters.  I advise you to take it one poem at a time, say the words at loud, read it multiple times, let the words flow out of your mouth into the universe.  This is what I did 10 years ago and the words of these poets and many others have never let me down.

When you write your own poems please don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you should make mistakes, otherwise you’re not writing.  Cross out words that don’t feel or sound right when you say them, flip sentences around, think in metaphors and similes, think about how your day was and write about it, think about your summer vacation, time spent with your beloved pet or pets, describe what usually happens at your family dinners.  There’s so much material you have inside you … unlock it.  One last bit of advice, believe in yourself because Uncle Charles believes in you.


Gazing at gothic,
Rib-vaulted ceiling
I pray for gentle hugs
To be received
Throughout humanity.

© Charles Waters 2014 all rights reserved.

Charles Waters’ poems have appeared in several anthologies: Amazing Places, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (2015), The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis (former Children’s Poet Laureate), The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Anthology for Science and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, The Arrow Finds Its Mark: A Book of Found Poems, edited by Georgia Heard and The Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer.

Charles conducts his one man show POETRY TIME, as well as poetry performance workshops for elementary and middle school audiences all over the nation.

You can find him in the following places:

Website: www.charleswaterspoetry.com
Blog: www.charleswaterspoetry.com/#!blog/c16qh
Facebook: www.facebook.com/charleswaterspoetry
YouTube: www.youtube.com/thecharleswaters
Twitter: www.twitter.com/waterscharles

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48. Anaphora — Margaret Simon

I am particularly fond of poets laureate.  In my experience, every one I have met has  a gentle, generous soul.  Ava Leavell Haymon is no exception.  She is the Poet Laureate of Louisiana for 2013-2014.  She recently came to my hometown for a poetry reading.  The best part of her visit was the personal time I was able to spend with her.

As a poet and teacher myself, much of our conversation turned to poetry and teaching.  She told me about the technique of using anaphora.  Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases for poetic effect.   In her latest collection, Eldest Daughter, Ava uses anaphora in a few of her poems.  She explained to me how this technique helps you focus on the details.  A simple test: Read this poem aloud and then list all the details that you remember.  There are probably quite a few.

2014-01-13 17.03.55

Color of the Moon

Anyone can name a baby
Anyone can name the town, too, at least in theory
Anyone can name the color of the moon

Who can name the last time?
Who can see it coming far enough ahead?
Who can find the marigold bed?
Who can remember the smell?

Anyone can guess what happened
Anyone could forget the next day
Anyone could hear the conviction in her voice
Anyone could see she has it all mixed up
Who could forget a thing like that?

Who can see as far as the river?
Who can try any harder than she did?
Who could leave after that? Who could stay?
No one says the same thing any longer
No one remembers the last thing they said
No one quite remembers how they got there
No one wants to be outside alone

–Ava Leavell Haymon, used with permission by the author

Another poet-friend, Clare Martin, used this technique in a poem she had published in the Mad Hatters Review.


This morning the house empties its sugar.
This morning something good has gone to rot.
This morning fire catches the pillows under our heads.
This morning the ground quakes with your rising.
This morning the night no longer haunts the air.
This morning the mirror reflects another mirror. Who is there to see it?
This morning we feed ourselves silence after silence.
This morning the cup cracks.
This morning: a new sun.
This morning crooked lines right themselves.
This morning the cat reveals her throat in a yawn.
This morning we walk into spider webs.
T his morning grief sours on our tongues.
This morning is written on a blank sky.
This morning a woman becomes more herself.
This morning there are shards of china under our bare feet.
This morning we weep in our sewing.

–Clare L. Martin, all rights reserved

This method of writing a poem works for students in upper elementary through high school.  Much like the I am From poem form of George Ella Lyons, the repetition of a line helps focus the poem.  For my students in 6th grade, I gave them a list of possible beginning words to use, such as anyone, someone, today, yesterday, in time, when I knew you, this morning, everyone, everybody knows, for you, until, how often, etc.

Whenever I ask students to write to a prompt, I write too.


Something rustles the leaves.
Something steams on the stove—
beans, tomatoes, thyme.
Something sounds like the morning,
but the sun is low in the sky.
Something rocks the chair.
Something chimes in the distance—
a church bell? a neighbor’s wind chime?
Something enters this poem without
me knowing it’s there.
Something squirms in the window.
Something sparkles in her hand—
a crystal? glint of glitter?
Something feels as soft as my grandmother’s cheek
When I kissed her goodbye.

–Margaret Simon

Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life.  She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff.  Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha.  Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish.  She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, and wrote a chapter about teaching poetry to young children for Women on Poetry published in 2012 by McFarland  & Company, Inc. Publishers.  Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013.  Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards.  Margaret writes regularly about teaching, writing, and living athttp://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com.



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49. Valerie Geary’s CROOKED RIVER has a cover!

Just have to jump in during the middle of National Poetry Month to share my my dear friend Valerie‘s cover for her debut novel, CROOKED RIVER, coming October 2014 (William Morrow). It’s an amazing book. I can’t wait for others to have a chance to read.

With the inventiveness and emotional power of Promise Not to Tell, The Death of Bees, and After Her, a powerful literary debut about family and friendship, good and evil, grief and forgiveness.

He is not evil. I am not good.

We are the same: broken and put back together again.

Still grieving the sudden death of their mother, Sam and her younger sister Ollie McAlister move from the comforts of Eugene to rural Oregon to live in a meadow in a teepee under the stars with Bear, their beekeeper father. But soon after they arrive, a young woman is found dead floating in Crooked River, and the police arrest their eccentric father for the murder.

Fifteen-year-old Sam knows that Bear is not a killer, even though the evidence points to his guilt. Unwilling to accept that her father could have hurt anyone, Sam embarks on a desperate hunt to save him and keep her damaged family together.

I see things no one else does.

I see them there and wish I didn’t. I want to tell and can’t.

Ollie, too, knows that Bear is innocent. The Shimmering have told her so. One followed her home from her mom’s funeral and refuses to leave. Now, another is following Sam. Both spirits warn Ollie: the real killer is out there, closer and more dangerous than either girl can imagine.

Told in Sam and Ollie’s vibrant voices, Crooked River is a family story, a coming of age story, a ghost story, and a psychological mystery that will touch reader’s hearts and keep them gripped until the final thrilling page.

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50. Celebrating MISS EMILY — Jeannine Atkins

In April thoughts turn to poetry, and with poetry, thoughts often turn to Emily Dickinson whose life inspired this happy circus of a book. Almost every page of MISS EMILY by Burleigh Mutén gave me something to smile about as four children and the poet go on a small adventure. Ten-year-old Mac, a preacher’s son based on a real-life neighbor, narrates the verse novel aimed at children around his age. Characters easily shift the curtain of imagination as Miss Emily takes the role of Queen Prosperina and Mac becomes known as King Boaz the Brave. Queen Prosperina tells stories while leading the children through darkness to met night train carrying circus animals. The children feel safe with a trusted adult who follows the tradition of someone older and trustworthy, while not as dull and dependable as a parent, like Mary Poppins or the Professor in the house where children find a wardrobe that takes them to Narnia. Who’s child and who’s adult? What’s real and what’s pretend?


An invitation to imagine comes through both the beautifully-chosen words and Matt Phelan’s charming graphite illustrations. No answers are pounded, so readers can enjoy the wondering, which is heightened, not lessened, when a mishap that briefly changes the tone, but only deepens the joy, teaches Mac about when to pay attention to Consequences. This book offers both an invitation to meet a poet and a reminder to keep playing. Miss Emily tells Mac, something most of us ache to hear: “Please never improve – you are perfect now.”

Jeannine Atkins is the author of Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt) and Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com.




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