As an award-winning children’s author with more than 50 natural-history books to her credit, April Pulley Sayre is known for her ability to blend scientific accuracy with an inviting use of language that gets young readers out of their seats and into the natural world. Here, Sayre discusses her book, Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant, in which she invites children to dance to, shout out and taste the deliciousness of language while getting to know their veggies.
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What do you like best about watching kids enjoy Rah, Rah, Radishes!?
It’s the pure energy of exuberant language. You can see it on kids’ faces when they read the book and soon after, try the language out loud. They trace the vegetable shapes, and almost reach out to experience them physically, as well. I’m curious to see what kitchen, classroom, garden, grocery store and dinner table talk and experimentation spins out of this book, later on.
When I speak at schools, I talk about what I call “delicious words,” words that feel good to say out loud. Kids immediately know what I mean. This is the joy of learning language. They latch onto “delicious words” and become much more active in their word choice. They seek out and celebrate words and phrases. Sometimes the musicality of the words comes first, even before meaning.
Like your other chant books, Rah, Rah, Radishes! begs to be read aloud. Do you read aloud when composing?
I do read aloud, at times, when I am writing these books. Especially when I am questioning rhythms late in the writing/editing process. Just yesterday, my husband walked in, stood and left, rather amused, because I was emphatically testing some fruit phrases for the sequel, Go, Go, Grapes.
There’s a delicate balance between making the rhythms regular enough to be chantable, yet still a bit loose and tongue-tangling, which gives them the rollicking feeling and goofy sense of surprise. Because Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant was not published for several years, I also was able to try out stanzas on audiences during school visits.
Was it hard to select which veggies to use? Which veggies nearly made the cut? Why?
I think the hardest to sacrifice, for space purposes, was my pickle stanza: “Don’t slumber, cucumber. It’s pickle time. Avocado, artichoke, hard to rhyme.” This included photos of dill-pickle making, a process I learned from my grandmother. I’ve been told that if I can’t survive as a children’s-book author, I should make pickles as a career instead. I’m hoping that was a comment on the quality of my pickles, not my books!
Do you have a favorite veggie or a favorite chant stanza? (I’m drawn to “Oh boy, Bok Choy!” Just so much fun to say.)
I agree that the bok choy stanza is probably the winner—it really cracks people up. I also love the “Thank you farmers. Thank you bees.” I came up with that stanza during the push-and-pull of the editing process. That deeply satisfying stanza made up for a couple of clever bits that I had to give up to make the book.
We called your book a “crunch fest.” It’s full of cheering verbs; I counted at least 24 exclamation points. Are you an enthusiastic person? In general? About vegetables?
I am a passionate person and a lifelong gardener and vegetable fan. I once wrote a fan letter to a local organic farmer in praise of her red peppers. Well, apparently, farmers don’t get too many fan letters! She was so excited. She still stops me to tell me that she’s been thinking of me and what she’s planted for me, and what she can’t wait for me to try. Just noticing what is right in the world, in specific terms, can be a great force for good. That’s one thing language can do.
You’ve written so many books—how do you keep the creating/writing process fresh?
Like all writers, I am a fried potato and cannot imagine ever writing another word. That usually means I need to get out, talk to friends or sit quietly in nature and let the chipmunks or bluejays crack me up with their antics. Switching to new writing structures and topics helps keeps me fresh. Grumbling and mumbling about writing while my husband patiently listens and does not comment also helps!
Does this book capture your life philosophy in some way?
OK, this question makes me a little teary. I guess I didn’t realize it until you asked, but this book does reflect deeper strands in my life. Food. Family. Soil. My real life and writing life both involve a lot of composting, seeing what volunteers, sprouts and grows. Vegetables, as plants, are one of our many connections to the Earth. Celebrating them deeply, yet still being goofy and joyful about it, seems natural to me.