One of my very favorite things to do is to feature children’s books by first time authors, especially when they’re written by dear online friends.
I’ve been a fan of Elaine Magliaro’s poetry and blog Wild Rose Reader for about ten years now. I first began reading her wonderful posts at Blue Rose Girls before she launched Wild Rose Reader in April 2007. A retired elementary school teacher and librarian, Elaine is extremely knowledgeable and unfailingly passionate about children’s poetry, which she shared in the classroom for over three decades, and which she herself has written for many, many years.
Though I’ve loved the insightful book reviews, fascinating interviews, and general wealth of amazing educational resources available at Wild Rose Reader, I was always most excited when Elaine posted her own poetry. Over the years, her poems appeared in several anthologies, but now (hooray, hooray!), she finally has her own book!
Things to Do (Chronicle Books, 2017) is an absolutely stunning debut and I’m thoroughly delighted to sing its praises. The fourteen list poems, paired with Catia Chien’s evocative acrylic paintings, chronicle the small, sweet moments of a child’s day. Most illuminate wonders of the natural world: sun, moon, sky, rain, a bird, an acorn, a honeybee, crickets, a snail — from a uniquely childlike perspective that is refreshing, innocent, and thoroughly charming.
I love Elaine’s sparkling diction, spot-on sensory details, and inventive use of dynamic verbs, rhyme, personification, alliteration, and onomatopoiea. Good things abound in these small packages, which are like lyrical mini-science lessons infused with whimsy and enchantment.
Things to do if you are DAWN
Shoo away night.
Wash the eastern sky with light.
Wake the sleeping sun:
Rise and shine!
Rouse resting roosters.
Set songbirds singing.
Let dreams drift away.
Start a new day.
Catia Chien’s dreamlike illustrations with their gauzy layers of color feature a dark-haired child and a dog constantly in motion — flying a kite, swinging high, splashing in rain puddles, running through a meadow. Clever use of different typefaces for key words amplifies emotion and playfulness, making the poems even more fun to read aloud.
I know you’ll enjoy hearing what Elaine has to say about her writing and revision process, the book’s path to publication, poets who’ve had the most influence on her work and more. Because she’s a good cook, of course I had to ask for a favorite recipe, too. 🙂
We’re thrilled for you, Elaine. Congratulations on your first book baby!!
🐝 AUTHOR CHAT WITH ELAINE MAGLIARO 🐌
How does it feel to have published your very first collection of children’s poetry? What are you most proud of?
It’s almost unbelievable! I was elated when I received my advance copy of Things to Do last August. I never thought I’d actually publish a book of poems. Poetry is not the most popular literary genre. Yet it is the genre that I feel suits me best as a writer. It’s MY artistic medium. I feel proud that–after decades of writing poetry–I didn’t get discouraged by rejections and that I continued to write because it seems to be a calling. I followed my dream…and my dream finally came true. I feel a bit like the Grandma Moses of children’s poetry–having published my first book at the age of seventy.
When and why did you start writing poetry for children?
I began writing poetry when I was in my late twenties. I got hooked on children’s poetry while sharing it with my elementary students. I had had a “writing bug” from the time I was ten-years-old. I wrote funny plays when I was in grammar school, short humorous poems and skits for school performances in high school–as well as a parody of Oedipus Rex. What I really wanted to be was a comedy writer–but I became an educator instead. I doubt that I would ever have written children’s poetry if I hadn’t been a teacher.
Is the list poem your favorite poetic form? What is your writing process like?
“Things to do” list poems and mask poems are my favorites. I especially like writing animal mask poems. I enjoy pretending to be a grizzly bear, lion, blue whale, garden snake, beetle, or a bunch of termites. It’s fun imagining what they might say if they could to speak to us. My elementary students wrote wonderful animal mask poems. I think they enjoyed writing them as much as I did!
My writing process? Let me think. It has changed over the years. I compose many of my rough drafts in my head–often while I am out walking or taking a shower. Sometimes the beginning line of a poem just pops into my head.
Back in the day, I used to write all of my poems out in longhand. Then my husband bought me a typewriter. I love having a word processor now! I can cut and paste, move lines around. It really makes writing and revising poetry so much easier.
Here is what is most typical of my writing process:
- I get an inspiration/idea for a poem and begin composing it in my head.
- I type the poem on my computer.
- That poem may inspire me to write a collection of poems on the same subject/theme.
- I usually jot down more poem ideas for the collection in a notebook or on an index card.
- Then I write more poems for the collection.
- When I am satisfied with the first draft of a collection, I print it off.
- I reread the poems and make my revisions on paper.
- Next, I revise my poems on the computer.
- Sometimes I set the poems aside for a period of time.
- Later, I return to my poems with “fresh” eyes…and revise those that need work.
- Then I print off my second draft and follow the same process that I did with the first draft.
What inspired this particular collection, and what were some of the ups and downs on its path to publication? Anything surprise you?
Let me start at the beginning–circa 1995: Bobbi Katz’s book Upside Down and Inside Out (1973) was the inspiration for my writing “things to do” poems. There are six “things to do” poems in that book. I liked the idea of those list poems. I led my students in writing some collaborative class poems modeled after Bobbi’s. It was a really successful creative writing activity. Later, my students wrote their own individual “things to do” poems. Theirs were so good they inspired me to write my own “things to do” poems on a variety of subjects: dawn, moon, grandfather clock, mole, grass, the sun, night, etc. I eventually sent my manuscript to a publisher. It was rejected. The collection was too broad. It didn’t have any focus…or “hook.”
Then my good friend Grace Lin suggested that I take the collection through the arc of a day from dawn to night. I thought it was a great idea. After further thought, I decided to take my collection through a “child’s day.” I deleted some poems from the collection and wrote new poems about school: things to do if you are an eraser, scissors, spelling test, school lunch, etc.
Grace Lin sent my Things to Do manuscript to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle Books. (Grace informed me later that she had done it.) Fortunately, Melissa loved the idea of my “things to do” poems–but asked if I’d be okay with eliminating the poems about school. She wanted the book to appeal to young children who had no school experience. That said, she really liked the scissors and eraser poems–so they stayed.
Once your manuscript was accepted, did you have to revise many of the poems? Were any poems left out of the original manuscript, any new ones written?
Did I have to revise the collection? Oh, yes! The final product is quite different from the original manuscript. I am SO glad Melissa asked me to scrap the school poems. I think the collection is much better with its main focus on the natural world.
As I mentioned earlier, I eliminated most of the school poems. There were also a few others that were eliminated.
I revised a number of poems:
- The original bee poem was much longer. I kept just two lines…and added two more.
- I changed the last two lines of my snail poem–as well as the last four lines of my sun poem.
- I deleted one word from the dawn poem…and one word and a line from the acorn poem.
- I changed two words in the eraser poem.
- I revised the rain poem. The original didn’t rhyme.
- I wrote a few new poems for the book: Birds, Sky, Boots, and Crickets.
- In addition, I decided to send Melissa the spider poem that Grace and I had cut from my manuscript. Melissa liked it…and decided to include it in the collection.
Which poem in this book was the most challenging to write and why? What’s your favorite poem in the book?
To the best of my recollection, it was the poem about birds. I had to revise it several times…until Melissa gave it the okay. The boots poem, however, needed no revision. It’s funny how every now and then I’ll write a poem that seems just right in its first draft.
Things to do if you are BOOTS
Splish in puddles.
Splash on the walk.
Make the fallen
I’m not sure which is my favorite poem. I really like the spider poem and was so happy it found a home in my book. It may be because it reminds me of Charlotte the spider in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I LOVE that book–and all of the characters in it. I also like the rain poem because I was able to use lots of interesting verbs in it–polka dot, freckle, whoosh, gurgle, patter, tap dance.
I should note that my second-grade students had quite a bit of experience writing “things to do” poems in my classroom–collaborative class poems as well as individual poems. A main focus in writing the poems was to get my students to use the strongest and most appropriate verbs. In addition to being an excellent creative writing activity, it was a wonderful language arts and vocabulary exercise.
What do you love most about Catia Chien’s illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?
What do I love most? Everything! When I saw the finished illustrations, I nearly swooned. They are beautiful…and a perfect complement to my text. Both Grace and Melissa described Catia’s art as “dreamy.” She captured with her pictures exactly what I was trying to convey with my text.
I’d like to add that I was like the young child written about and pictured in this book. I spent a lot of time “living” in my imagination…my own world. I enjoyed collecting wildflowers, watching grasshoppers springing through tall grass, observing ants climbing in and out of anthills. I’d bring home all kinds of things in my pockets–including rocks that I thought were interesting specimens.
Learning how to be a careful and thoughtful observer and taking time to think and ponder are things I tried to encourage in my students when I was teaching. Unfortunately, these days education is more focused on prepping children to take high-stakes standardized tests. That is NOT how we engage children in the learning process! It is the reason I decided to leave teaching in 2000. Fortunately, I was able to spend the last three years at my school as a teaching librarian. I really enjoyed being an elementary teacher–but I absolutely LOVED being our school’s librarian!
My favorite spread? It changes from day to day. I love them all!
Any tips for using this book in the classroom?
I created some curriculum activities and exercises for Things to Do for Chronicle. It will be available at the Chronicle website. NOTE: It is part of a Poetry Picture Book Teacher Guide that includes curriculum activities for other collections: Marilyn Singer’s A Strange Place to Call Home, Kate Coombs’s Water Sings Blue, J. Patrick Lewis’s When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, and J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt’s Bigfoot Is Missing!.
I did cull out all of the activities and exercises related to my book because I plan to distribute my curriculum guide for Things to Do to teachers when I do presentations for them. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater was kind enough to convert my guide into a Google Doc.
Which children’s poets do you think have been the most influential on your writing?
There are so many! It would be hard to name them all. I’d say that dozens of the children’s poets like Bobbi Katz who came before me have had an influence on my work. That said, I have to acknowledge a few:
- David McCord: David was my good friend and mentor. We met in the early eighties..and became fast friends. He visited my classroom every year until he was unable to drive. He introduced me to Myra Cohn Livingston, Karla Kuskin, and John Ciardi. He pushed me to do my best. He’d criticize what he felt wasn’t good enough. (BTW, We shared the same birthday–November 15th.)
- Myra Cohn Livingston. I own most of her poetry collections. I have also read her other works, including Climb into the Bell Tower: Essays on Poetry and The Child as Poet: Myth or Reality? Her book Poem-making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry became a Bible for me. Reading it was like taking a course in poetry. It was specifically written for kids aged 8-12. It is clear and concise…and introduced me to mask/person poems, apostrophe/poems of address, cinquains, etc. It became an invaluable classroom resource for me. I should add that the book also includes poems that provide examples of the different types of poetry that Myra wrote about in her book.
- Karla Kuskin: When I read Karla Kuskin’s book Any Me I Want to Be, I immediately fell in love with mask poems. I loved that book SO much that I bought myself a second copy–in case I lost the first one.
I’d also like to acknowledge a few more people:
- Janet Wong: Janet is always there for me when I need someone to give me advice or to critique my work.
- Anthologists like Lee Bennett Hopkins, Paul Janeczko, and Jack Prelutsky: Their books provided me with poems written by hundreds of different writers. The books often included poems in collections that are out of print. I’d often find a poems that I loved in their anthologies. Then I’d check out the poets who wrote them and try to find poetry books written by them.
- Joanne Ryder: I like Ryder’s picture books about animals and nature–including My Father’s Hands, Step Into the Night, Under Your Feet, and Dancers in the Garden. I enjoyed reading her books to my students–books that helped them get a close-up look at the lives and experiences of particular animals from their point of view in titles such as Where Butterflies Grow, Sea Elf (sea otter), The Snail’s Spell, and Chipmunk Song. So many of her books are about taking a good long look at the natural world. Her prose is often lyrical…poetic. I think her books probably had a subtle influence on my writing and my appreciation for nature.
What are you working on now?
The beginning of 2017 has been difficult for me. I lost my beloved mother and a very dear friend on the same day in January. My creative juices haven’t been flowing the way they normally do. In addition, I have been battling my third respiratory infection since late November.
Last year, however, I was much more productive. I completed work on two books of mask poems. In Farm Talk, the poems are told in the voices of a farmer and his wife, their domestic animals, and a few wild animals. The collection takes the reader through the arc of a day on a farm from dawn until evening. Voices All Around Me is a seasonal collection told in the voices of plants and animals–including a crocus, spring peepers, a beetle, dandelions, migrating geese, a snowshoe hare, and a spruce tree.
In addition, I returned to an older manuscript titled Docile Fossil, a collection of poems about fossils, extinct animals, the La Brea Tar Pits, and the coelacanth–a fish that was once thought to have gone extinct many millions of years ago. I revised some poems, eliminated others, and added a few new ones. I also added back matter with information about the subjects of the poems–including the megalodon, megatherium, Beelzebufo (devil frog), dodo bird, and coprolites (fossilized dung). I learned a lot while I was doing research for that collection. It has been rejected twice. I do hope it sees the light of day at some point in time. I love intertwining science with poetry.
In early December, I completed work on a picture book in verse about winter titled In Wintertime. It is composed of sixteen rhyming couplets. It is loosely modeled after Cynthia Rylant’s book When I was Young in the Mountains–a book that I used as a writing prompt for my students with great success.
Late last year, I also finished a collection of nighttime poems titled Moonlight and Starry Nights. I envision it being illustrated to show diverse children from a variety of places–the city, country, suburbs, different locales across this nation–experiencing night, observing the sky, snuggling with stuffed animals in bed, etc. No matter where we live, we all look up at the same night sky in the Northern Hemisphere.
This year, I’m hoping to return to work on a collection of humorous fairy tale poems–most of which I wrote more than twenty years ago.
One more thing: I wrote a follow-up to Things to Do…with poems about winter. My editor loves it–but said we’d have to see how my first book sells.
Could you please share a favorite recipe?
I LOVE smoked salmon! I have a “semi-recipe” for smoked salmon tartare with horseradish sauce that is always a big hit at parties/get-togethers.
Elaine's Smoked Salmon Tartare with Horseradish Sauce
For the Salmon Tartare:
- 4 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped (I buy sealed packages of salmon that I get at my fish store or the supermarket)
- a lemon
- a purple, red, or Vidalia onion, finely chopped
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh dill, snipped (optional)
- *I have no specific amounts for any of the ingredients except the salmon. I always go by taste testing.
For the Horseradish Sauce:
- Sour cream or creme fraiche
- horseradish (but not the kind that is too coarsely ground)
- *Here again, I have no specific amounts, I just go by taste.
For the Salmon Tartare:
Put the chopped salmon in a bowl. Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice, ground pepper, chopped onions, and capers. Mix well.
For the Horseradish Sauce:
Scoop a few large spoonfuls of sour cream into a bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of horseradish and mix well.
Spoon the tartare on top of a cracker or crute and then top it with some of the sauce.
Sometimes, I just slice up cracker-sized pieces of salmon and serve them with sliced onions, capers, lemon slices, and the sauce.
THINGS TO DO
written by Elaine Magliaro
illustrated by Catia Chien
published by Chronicle Books, February 2017
Poetry Picture Book for ages 3-5, 40 pp.
**Starred Review** from Publishers Weekly
❤️ Check out this fabulous podcast at All the Wonders with Elaine and Matthew Winner
❤️ Nice review by Julie Danielson at Kirkus
❤️ Lovely blog review by Linda Baie at TeacherDance
📕 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY!! 📘
The publisher has generously offered a copy of Things to Do for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST), Wednesday, March 1, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with “THINGS TO DO” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
As is our tradition here at Alphabet Soup for debut authors and cool illustrators, please join us now in slurping your thanks and good wishes to Elaine and Catia for a job well done. Put on a dapper bib, use your favorite soup spoon and dip dip dip, or dive right in if you’re a diehard poetry lover. Make a splash!
The shockingly clever coffee maven Karen Edmisten is hosting the Roundup today. Sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Do you have some good things to do this weekend? 🙂
*Interior spreads from Things to Do posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Elaine Magliaro, illustrations © 2017 Catia Chien, published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.