chatting with poetry man lee bennett hopkins

Roll out the purple carpet, pass the poetry and the pizza: the one and only Lee Bennett Hopkins is here!

For years and years, I’d see the name “Lee Bennett Hopkins” on dozens and dozens of book covers as poet, author and anthologist, but never once imagined one day I’d have the pleasure of welcoming him to my blog. No one, in the history of children’s literature, has compiled more poetry anthologies than he has (100+ to date), and I’m certain most everyone — whether poet, author, educator, librarian, editor, publisher or reader — agrees that no one else has done as much to nurture, support and promote children’s poetry with such full-hearted enthusiasm and tenacity.

He’s won numerous awards and honors as author and anthologist, such as the Christopher Award, Golden Kite Honor, and NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, and has established two awards: the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA Promising Poet Award.


But apart from his long list of accomplishments and accolades, he’s also someone who likes the color purple and a good pizza, and who, in his heart of hearts, truly believes that poetry is absolutely essential for all children, both at home and in the classroom. Bring books and children together, and teach them to love reading. I’m so honored to have Lee visit alphabet soup to tell us a little about the art of compiling anthologies and to share a few tidbits about the three books he’s published so far this year:

I Am the Book (Holiday House, 2011), a collection of 13 exuberant poems celebrating the magic of reading with whimsical illustrations by Colombian artist Yayo,

Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems (HarperCollins, 2011), 19 humorous poems selected especially for the beginning reader with vibrant cartoony illustrations by Barry Gott, and

Hear My Prayer (Zonderkidz, 2011), a selection of 13 simple verses on a variety of universal themes with illustrations by Gigi Moore.

Help yourself to a slice of pizza and enjoy my chat with Lee!

Jama: In previous interviews, you’ve stated that when creating an anthology, you begin with a theme and then select appropriate poems (some newly commissioned, some previously published). Which part of the overall process do you enjoy the most and why?

Lee: I enjoy both, actually. It is always refreshing to go back and read the masters; I’ve reread, for example, the works of Sandburg and Hughes a zillion times. I also love working with contemporary poets, some of whom have never been published before. It gives writers a chance to be heard. Many times their work is reprinted in a variety of ways. It gives me great pleasure to launch new talent.

Jama: What are three things the average person might not know about the art of compiling anthologies, aside from the obvious challenge of accruing an adequate number of high quality poems to fit a theme?


1. It is the responsibility of the anthologist to clear and pay for all permissions. Sometimes permissions can take months to clear.

2. Permissions can run quite high. A book of 14 poems might easily cost $6,000.00 in permission fees.

AMERICA AT WAR and SHARING THE SEASONS ran close to $10,000. Publishers sometimes will provide a specific budget; if you go beyond the stated budget it is deducted from any royalties.

3. It is up to the editor to choose the illustrator. Often I have not seen artwork until the book is in galleys.

Jama: What makes a good anthology?

Lee: A good anthology should have an arc. Most of my collections have a beginning, middle, and end so that readers feel they are completing a whole story.

Jama: You’ve said that poetry anthologies are an endangered species. Recently, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong compiled the first e-anthology, PoetryTagTime, which includes one of your poems. As it becomes more and more difficult to publish poetry via the traditional route, are you/will you be publishing your own e-anthologies? Do you think it is a good medium for poetry (advantages and disadvantages)?

Lee: It is up to publishers to get involved with e-books. Some of my collections are available on e-books. I am not particularly fond of new technology as it relates to poetry. Format, like line breaks, are very important in a poem.


Jama: Did you have any say in selecting the illustrator for I Am the Book (had to ask because I LOVE the art for this book!)?

Lee: Again, it is the editor who makes the final selection for artwork for any book. I feel Yayo did an extraordinary job with his whimsical interpretations of each poem. A hidden delight is to have children find out where the book appears in each illustration.

Jama: Best and most challenging aspects of this particular project?

Lee: I worked with writers on many pieces that were never published before. I AM THE BOOK was a delight to do. There was little challenge creating this delight.

Jama: Is it more difficult selecting poems for the beginning reader?

Lee: Yes, definitely. I CAN READ BOOKS (HarperCollins) have a VERY strict formula. No poem can be longer than 13 lines including the title; no line can have more than 36 characters, including spaces and punctuation marks. I began the I CAN READ POETRY series back in 1984 with SURPRISES, which is still in print. It was an idea I had. I approached my wondrous editor, Charlotte Zolotow, with the concept; she immediately went with it. Charlotte was one of the best editors I ever worked with. I miss her very much.

Jama: Your favorite dinosaur?

Lee: The Apotosaurus, once called Brontosaurus, a gentle, giant plant eater.


Jama: Please tell us about HEAR MY PRAYER.

Lee: HEAR MY PRAYER follows children from morning to night. The prayers are about friendship, communicating with nature, being appreciative of friends and family. I put this collection together for my Godchild, Alexis Maria Garcia.

Jama: Any upcoming publications or new projects you’d like to mention?

Lee: A wondrous departure for me is a picture book, FULL MOON AND STAR just published with Abrams. It is about two friends, Kyle and Katie, who write plays about the universe. I happily was teamed with Marcellus Hall, who did the artwork for my book of poetry, CITY I LOVE, one of my personal favorites. I’m truly over the moon over FULL MOON…”.

And I can’t wait to see it! Thanks so much, Lee, loved having you here today (still pinching myself)! ☺

Wanted to mention that FULL MOON AND STAR’s official release date is not until August 1, 2011, but it’s available for pre-order through major booksellers.

Here are a few of my favorite Lee books:



♥ Lee Bennett Hopkins Official Website.

♥ Lee’s essay, “Children and Prayer,” at the Huffington Post. Includes samples from HEAR MY PRAYER.

Click here for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Teaching Toolbox.

♥ Poetry Makers interview at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

♥ Interesting and informative posts about Lee at Wild Rose Reader.

♥ Something to nosh on before you go: a sample poem from I AM THE BOOK:

by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Buried in blankets
Book in my bed
Snuggled in story
By heart
In my head
I wallow in words
Chapter One
Till The End.

Closing the cover
I sigh —

Goodbye, friend.

Copyright © 2011 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


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