Chatting with Author B.J. Lee about There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (+ a recipe and giveaway!)

Talk about Bayou Bliss!

Today we have the distinct honor of welcoming children’s author and poet B.J. Lee to Alphabet Soup to celebrate the official release of her debut picture book, There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, illustrated by David Opie (Pelican Publishing, 2019)!!

B.J.’s a former librarian whose poems have appeared in oodles of periodicals and anthologies, including Highlights for Children, Spider Magazine, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, One Minute Till Bedtime, The Best of Today’s Little Ditty, Dear Tomato, and the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry.

Yes, this girl’s been busy scribbling away in her Florida hideaway, and her first picture book is rollicking good fun. She’s taken the classic “There Was An Old Lady” cumulative nursery rhyme and given it a Floridian spin — a cool way to introduce kids to some of the critters who hang out in her part of the country.

Seems B.J.’s Gator swallows a moth — who knows why — and it makes him cough. Only one thing to do: swallow a crab to grab the moth. But the crab “skittered and scuttled and gave him a jab.” What to do? Swallow an eel to nab that crab!

As you can imagine, this was just beginning of Gator’s problems. He keeps swallowing more creatures, bigger and bigger each time (have you seen the stomach on that guy?) until he actually gulps an entire lagoon! Hoo Boy!

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to this guzzling gator and all those bewildered animals in his belly. Kids will love turning the pages to see what animal’s next (ray! pelican! panther! manatee! shark!). Of course this story is a riot to read aloud with its catchy rhymes, repetition, bouncy rhythm and amphibious alliteration (cough, cough). And David Opie has amplified the hilarity with his emotive, dynamic illustrations.

Just had to ask B.J. all about her publishing journey, tinkering with the text, and yes, she’s sharing a recipe (did someone say PIE?)!



B.J. signing her publishing contract with Pelican!

Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book! Tell us about the exciting day when you learned your manuscript had been accepted for publication.

Thank you so much Jama! I’m happy to join you on Alphabet Soup to celebrate THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH!

The acceptance of this book had me on tenterhooks. Once I had finished this manuscript, it dawned on me that it would be best suited for regional publication. So I set my sights on Pelican Publishing, and stuck with them. I subbed it on March 3, 2016 and for over a year had brief email correspondence with the editor that showed me she was very interested. However, no acceptance came.

Then, on April 13, 2017, after thirteen months and ten days, I opened an email and was trying to scream, “Gator! Gator!” – but nothing was coming out of my mouth except croaks. My husband, Mal, came rushing in because he thought there was something wrong with me! Well, there was! My book had been accepted!

Why did you want to write about gators? Any especially memorable personal encounters with them since moving to Florida?

It wasn’t so much that I set out to write about gators…. One day in a local lake we saw a juvenile gator riding waves. His image stuck in my mind. He was so cute! And I realized how larger-than-life gators are. That’s when my Gator character was born.

Why did you decide to write a spin on this particular nursery rhyme? Was it a childhood favorite?

As a poet, I’ve always liked cumulative rhyme, including the “There was an old…” stories, as well as “The house that Jack built.” I thought this particular cumulative rhyme would serve my Gator character. I had two other “There was an old…” works in progress, but when I got the Gator idea, the others went on the back burner.

Can you discuss some of the specific challenges of writing a cumulative story in rhyme? Did you do many revisions? Do you have any advice for those wanting to adapt a classic nursery rhyme?

It is quite challenging to write a story in cumulative rhyme because it has to be coherent. Each new rhyme is dependent upon the last, and vice versa. In this case, each animal had to be somewhat bigger than the one before so the swallowing sequence would make sense. In general I find picture books to be mind-bendingly difficult to write, and Gator was no exception.

I did a ton of revisions as with all my books.

The advice I would have for anyone trying to write this type of book is: look for the hierarchy and have things be logical.

Which of Gator’s ‘swallowees’ is your favorite? Were there any other creatures you considered including in the story that didn’t make the cut? If so, why did you ultimately decide to leave them out?

I have to say that Pelican is my favorite swallowee because I love the internal rhyme: “No gator’s belly can handle a pelican.”

Yes, there were many other creatures throughout the revisions. This book was almost called There Was an Old Gator who Swallowed a Skeeter! But in the end I couldn’t make that happen. The moth worked much better because, with his rhyme, cough, I had an action that would work for the climax. In various versions I experimented with a weevil, tick, worm, lizard, frog, gecko, heron, armadillo, and bayou instead of lagoon because some of these seem to be better southern or Florida words (lizard/gizzard, gecko/echo, weevil/evil), but in the end, they just didn’t seem to go anywhere.

What do you like best about David Opie’s illustrations?

I think David Opie is a master storyteller. One of the things I was worried about in this book was that Gator would appear cruel or savage, but David captured the humor perfectly, and avoided any menacing quality.

How do you plan to promote your book?

I’m having a book launch at an event called the GatorFest on March 10, which Boyd Hill Nature Preserve dreamed up when they saw my book galleys. If anyone is in the Tampa Bay area on March 10, stop on by! Other than that I am doing a blog tour and school presentations.

Please check my website:

or my Twitter @bjlee_writer for details.

What are you working on next?

I’m writing picture books, poetry collections and a verse novel.

Can you please share a favorite family and/or regional recipe with us?

I’ll share my recipe for Alligator Pie. This is a new recipe that seems appropriate for my book. I’m having fun trying out gator recipes, looking for something I can use for my launch.


B.J. Lee's Alligator Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 box Pistachio Instant Pudding Mix (large size)
  • Milk (amount called for on box)
  • Heavy cream
  • Graham Cracker Crust
  • Chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and white chocolate chips for decoration (or similar items)


Pour milk and pudding mix into a large bowl. Whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream.

Pour mixture into a graham cracker crust (homemade or store bought). Chill or freeze, depending on what kind of pie you feel like.

When you are ready to serve, gather your decorations and remove pie from fridge/freezer. (If frozen, you will need to let it thaw a few minutes before the decorations will stick.) Slice and decorate with chocolate chip eyes, peanut butter nostrils, and white chocolate chip teeth.

Eat the alligator before he eats you!

~ recipe shared by B.J. Lee, author of There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (Pelican Publishing, 2019), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.




Mr Cornelius was so excited about B.J.’s first book that he made some Nutter Butter Gators to celebrate!

He simply melted some green Candy Melts in the microwave, dipped in the nutter butters, then added candy eyes and white jimmies for teeth. Needless to say, he was very proud of himself, not because he was able to make these, but because he didn’t get scared of the gators afterwards.

He thinks all munchkins who read this book should make some of these cookie gators! Thank you for writing this book, B.J. We are thrilled for you!




written by B.J. Lee
illustrated by David Opie
published by Pelican Publishing Co., February 1, 2019
Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.


For a chance to win a signed (by the author) copy of There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, February 13, 2019. You may also enter by sending an email with GATOR in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!


Terrifically talented Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Hitch a ride on the nearest gator to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. If you have to cough, for heaven’s sake don’t swallow any moths!



This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. This week Beth Fish is featuring a cool cookbook-comic book targeted for middle grade readers. Put on your bibs and aprons to enjoy her review and the rest of the tasty goodies being shared by others.


* Interior spreads in this post, text copyright © 2019 B.J. Lee, illustrations © 2019 David Opie, published by Pelican Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

* This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee. Thank you for your support!

** Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

69 thoughts on “Chatting with Author B.J. Lee about There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (+ a recipe and giveaway!)

  1. Congratulations, B.J.! Gator is a character to be savored now…and later. Just like Mr. Cornelius’ Nutter Butter Gator cookies. Yum. Thanks, Jama, for the introduction to B.J.’s book and the book give away! =)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awww, Jama, such a fabulous post! Thank you! It’s great to spend my book birthday here on Jama’s Alphabet Soup and Gator is thrilled beyond measure to see those nutter butter baby gators, let me tell you! And this is my very first book giveaway too. Very exciting! Thanks again for making this a special day for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congrats, B.J.! You’ve worked hard for this and I hope you savor every moment! The book looks darling! Gator pie, yum!! Nutter Butter Gators, Yum!! Thanks for making this delicious post so easy to swallow, Jama!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I did think “pistachio” when I saw that gator pie, so thanks for that, B.J., such fun to go along with your wonderful first book. Congratulations on the publication, and for centering on those gators. Our family spends some of our summers in Florida & I’ll need to bring your book along with us this year, to laugh with & to look to see if those gators really do “fill up” as you’ve written. The rhymes are wonderful & the illustrations, like in that gator’s tummy, are terrific. I’m looking forward to having the book in my hands! Thanks, Jama, those ‘nutter butter gators’ are just perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Linda! I appreciate your compliments and I’m sure the illustrator does as well. David Opie was amazing on this project! So wait, you actually come to Florida in the summer? 😀 I’m always looking to get out of here in the summer!


    1. Thank you Buffy! Jama did a wonderful job on the interview! It’s a lot of fun to spend my book birthday here enjoying alligator pie and Nutter butter alligator cookies! 😀


  5. Great interview, BJ! I can hardly wait to hold your gator in my hands. Your story is precious and the illustrations are WONDERFUL! Love it! Congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Congrats, B.J.! So exciting! The book looks so cute, and I love the illustrations. And thanks, Jama, as always, for offering us such a terrific interview.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Jama and B.J., this was simply a delight to read. I’ve been excited for B.J.’s book since seeing her announcement on facebook. I love how playful the poem is and how much readers can see nature in a fun way. I won’t be in Tampa in March….oh, that I could be….but I’m with you in spirit. Many congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Linda for your kind words! You summed up my intentions for the book pretty well: Seeing nature in a fun way plus playfulness. That’s it! Thanks for being with me in spirit!❤️🐊


    1. Thank you Mary Lee!❤️ Yes those cookies are adorable. I would like to know what the teeth are made out of. I think coconut. My husband says almond slivers.


  8. Wonderful review! I saw alligators that had just their eyes and nose out of water, but I think they were after something bigger than a moth!

    best… mae at

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The book looks adorable- love the story and the illustrations- I find so many interesting finds for my grandkids on Jama’s reviews- I’m a snow bird in Florida who will be sending this one to the little ones!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. OMG this book, the rhyme, and the illustrations made me laugh out loud! What great fun. And both the pie and Mr. Cornelius’s surprise also brought a smile — I love the googly eyes! I’ll definitely keep this book in mind for my next “little one” gift.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Beth! I’m glad it made you laugh. I think the illustrator worked a bit of magic with my words! And thanks for keeping it in mind for gifts! ❤️🐊


  11. What a delightful and interesting interview. I look forward to reading the whole book. “What a wonderful bird is the pelican. It’s beak can hold more than it’s belly can!” My dad taught me that rhyme many decades ago. I wish he were alive to enjoy all the clever rhymes in this story. What fun!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Big congrats, B.J.! As a kid growing up in Florida, gators were the only critters I was truly afraid of. I figured they could get you in the water OR on land. Thanks to both of you for the sneak peeks… and kudos to Mr. C. for his baking savvy and his bravery. (And B.J.’s pie looks much easier to swallow than the meals of her main character…!)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What a delightful book BJ I’m looking forward to reading it! And a perfect fit with David Opie’s art too–I loved seeing what was stuffed into the gators belly, and want to know how it all turns out. Thanks Jama for sharing BJ’s book and Cornelius for those delicious looking gator nutter butters, yum!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Very cool looking pie – and so simple too. Clever BJ from book to baking. Congratulations! 🙂 (Incidentally, I’ve never heard of nutter butters before. I’d buy them for the name. :P)

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you for this wonderful post! This will be the perfect book for my little great nephew, and I know my sister (his grandma) will enjoy reading to him, she’s such a drama queen, she’ll give it due emphasis. And I love the gator cake and cookies. I’ve only had gator bits in S. Carolina. Sort of like chicken nuggets:)

    Liked by 2 people

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  17. Hi Claudia! I hope your great nephew enjoys it! 🐊🐊🐊 thank you! There’s a restaurant near here that has gator on the menu but I’ve never tried it… Later gator!😄


  18. I am so excited for B.J. and her gator book. I’m familiar with Pelican because I’m a Louisiana SCBWI member. I wonder if B.J. will be at our regional conference in New Orleans in March. This book looks like a great one to read to my new grandson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Margaret! Yes, hopefully this book will be a great hit in Louisiana as well! Gosh, I would love to come to the Louisiana SCBWI since, for one thing, i’ve never been to Louisiana. I’m not sure I have the funds though… It would be great to meet you at some point Margaret! 💚🐊


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