tracie vaughn zimmer’s poetic pachyderms

#14 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2011.

Take off your berets and put on your party hats!

It’s Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s birthday! 

Len brought me these elephants from Kenya.

What is it about April? So many cool poets have birthdays this month. Yesterday was April Halprin Wayland’s birthday, and Kelly Fineman’s was on the First. They all just happen to be in very good company: Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Gary Soto, Seamus Heaney, Lee Bennett Hopkins. And while we’re celebrating notable events, let’s tip our hats to Tracie for the recent release of Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems (Clarion, 2011), which is absolutely gorgeous!

Like Tracie, I love elephants. Her poems examine their enormous size, affectionate parenting, loyalty to one another, complex relationship with humans, anatomy, voracious appetite, place in art and history, and are paired with fascinating sidebars. The poems vary in form (free verse, cinquain, sonnet, haiku, letter poems) as well as sentiment, and will definitely make you appreciate elephants in a whole new way.

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soup of the day: steady hands by tracie vaughn zimmer!


Hey, Everyone!!

How about a big hand for Schneider Family Book Award winning author and poet, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, on the official release today of Steady Hands: Poems About Work (Clarion, 2009)!!

(Clarion, 2009), ages 6-14, 48 pp.

This fascinating collection of short free verse poems, inspired by Walt Whitman’s, I Hear America Singing, illuminates the activities of various people at work — from a teacher, librarian, mail carrier, surgeon, artist, and welder, to a baker, tow-truck driver, and cafeteria cook. Framed by the poems, "Morning," and "Night," these concise snapshots sometimes offer surprising reasons why a job was chosen, like the lawyer who opted for a less stressful career "in the company of dogs," or, for a teacher, a side of her job not always recognized:

But not everyone knows
the teacher’s secret torments:
a lesson that knotted understanding
a bright kid who refuses to be inspired
flames of words thrown in frustration —

Vivid sensual details, like the "flap/roll/flap" of the baker kneading dough, or the "ballet of hands" performed by a clerk as she sorts, scans, and bags groceries, speak to the rhythms of the everyday work world of both adults and young people, and will give readers an uncommon appreciation for different types of careers, and what occupies some of the people who have chosen them. In an interview on her website, Zimmer shares that she wanted to "pay homage to the hard work of people of I know." The welder, for example, is her father; the retail clerk, her sister; and the ballet teacher, her mom.

Sean Addy and Megan Halsey have created a stunning array of mixed media collages to complement the poems, consisting of textured backgrounds, found objects, ephemera, photographs, people cut-outs, and drawings, that can only be described as hip, intriguing, and offbeat. Included are some of Zimmer’s own possessions — lace from her wedding dress, her granny’s buttons, and antique keys from her grandparents’ house.


Steady Hands has already received many well-deserved accolades, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which cites the "inventive, complicated collages, and well-crafted poems." Kirkus liked the "crisp images and dynamic phrases," and Booklist says, "The hands on details blend dreams and realism in the upbeat, contemporary poems that will find a place across the curriculum."

So, are you ready to help me congratulate Tracie?

Just pick up whatever spoon you have at hand and dip deeply into this communal bowl — then work up a long, steady slurp! When your belly’s full, mosey on over to your nearest indie or favorite online bookseller to purchase your very own copy of Steady Hands: Poems About Work. You’ll definitely want one for National Poetry Month in April!

Today’s Special: Career Classic (guaranteed to improve productivity
and brighten the work load).

To read two sample poems from the book, click here and here.

For more about the book, including a great book club discussion guide and interview, visit Tracie’s website. Of course, you can always keep up with Tracie’s latest news via her Live Journal blog.


*Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2009 Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrations copyright © 2009 Megan Halsey and Sean Addy, published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

soup of the day: the floating circus by tracie vaughn zimmer


Ladies and Gentlemen!! The steamboat’s a comin’!

Riding at the top of the paddlewheel is none other than uber-talented author and poet
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, because today her middle grade novel, The Floating Circus (Bloomsbury, 2008), is officially out!

       THE FLOATING CIRCUS by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
        (Bloomsbury, 2008), ages 9-12, 208 pp.

Tracie takes us to 1850’s Pittsburgh. Twelve-year-old orphan, Owen, decides to run away in order to give his brother, Zach, a better chance of being adopted. Owen finds himself aboard a circus boat called the River Palace, and before he knows what hit him, he’s helping a free black man named Solomon take care of all the animals. In time, Owen learns that the seemingly rag tag group of misfits he works with are really just loners like himself.  Loyalty and mettle are put to the test due to a devastating storm, a brush with yellow-fever, and the threat of slave catchers.

The Floating Circus was inspired by the real-life Spalding and Rogers Floating Palace. It’s fascinating to imagine a specially constructed steamboat with 2000 seats aboard. This novel, appropriate for ages 9-12, promises excitement, adventure, and a unique glimpse into circus history.

Today, especially in Tracie’s honor, we’re serving soup in Owen’s wool cap. After you’ve sipped and slurped your congratulations, run to the nearest brick and mortar store, or click through to your favorite online bookseller. After all, summer is the perfect time for a circus. Loads of good luck floating your way today, Tracie!

                 Served with complimentary steam, hay bales extra. 

To see a trailer for The Floating Circus, click here.

Check out Tracie’s website and blog.

See Becky’s Book Reviews for a recent review of The Floating Circus.