As I once wrote at my site, I’m sorry for the field of economics but happy for children’s literature that once upon a time J. Patrick Lewis jumped careers.
That’s right. Lewis was an economics professor for 30 years before devoting himself to full-time writing.
Read more books by J. Patrick Lewis.
And that’s lucky for us. Lewis has earned wide acclaim for the vivid language and lyrical writing of his poetry, written in a wide-range of styles; his clever wordplay; his passion for visiting schools and working with children; and his work that consistently “respects the music of the written word.” (Those wise words are taken from his site.)
To say that Lewis had a very good 2011 would be an understatement. The Poetry Foundation chose him as this country’s Children’s Poet Laureate, and he was also given NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English) Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award.
I love any and all excuses to catch up with Lewis, so I invited him to chat with me. I wanted to check in on how his laureateship is going and what’s next for him.
You're right smack dab in the middle of your tenure as the Poetry Foundation's Children's Poet Laureate. You've been doing a lot of speaking no doubt. What's the most valuable thing you've learned thus far?
Any Children's Poet Laureate would be well advised to take out stock in the airlines! I love being there and hate getting there. But forgive me for kvetching.
As I've said repeatedly, the laureateship is the brass ring, the Ultima Thule, and I'm extremely gratified to have been so honored. Though the evidence seems convincing—the numbers don't lie—that children's poetry has seen more robust days, it is difficult to credit that when one is met at every venue with such overwhelming affection and rapt attention. Young children can't spell "laureate," much less know what it means, but somehow they imagine they are shaking hands with some sort of Pied Piper, as every children's poet who makes school visits can confirm.
A gentlemanly curtsy to the Poetry Foundation for creating the laureateship. I'm sure I speak for my predecessors, Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman, when I say that we have loved being Secret Agents for the Word at every whistle stop.
If I'm counting correctly, you've got six new children's book releases this year. I feel certain I'm missing something, given the many poems and stories that continually flow from your brain to your pen.
It's been a good year, Jules. Besides Take Two! with my dear friend Jane Yolen, our fat gift book for twins, I also published in January the third book in my early reader [second and third graders] series, Tugg & Teeny: What Friends Are For and What's Looking at You, Kid? [both from Sleeping Bear Press], a preK-1 book for emergent readers. Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems [Harcourt] is a collection of math riddle riffs on some well-known poems.
Jane and I have another title, Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, coming soon from Charlesbridge. And in the Fall, three big books: When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders [Chronicle], evoked beautifully by five illustrators; If I Were a Chocolate Mustache: Poems [Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press], a collection of 156 poems; and my first anthology, The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, which will highlight 200 poems with NGS photos.
Tell me more about collaborating with Jane Yolen on Take Two.
Since Jane is the grandmother of twins and I am a twin—lucky me!—we thought a tribute to them might be just the ticket.
So it began, and we didn't come up for air until we had written 40-plus poems. Candlewick very generously agreed to make a gift book out of it instead of a 32-pager. And we were blessed to hitch our wagons to the wonderful illustrator Sophie Blackall's star. Her cover alone is worth the price of admission.
What's next for you? Working on any titles now you can tell me about?
Next year I'm collaborating with Douglas Florian on Poemobiles: Imaginary Car Poems, a book of nonsense from Schwartz & Wade. Face Bug—with terrific insect face poems by my friend and insect photographer, Fred Siskind, with a large dollop of illustrations by Kelly Murphy—will be published by Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. Incidentally, I wanted to call it Face Book—the perfect title!—but was tackled by a defensive line of 300-pound lawyers. Also, World Rat Day: Poems about Holidays You Have Never Heard Of [Candlewick].
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.