Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Today we have, not one, not two, not even four, but FIVE times the fun! We have the pleasure of chatting with Kristen Wixted (Writer/poet/anthology editor), Peter Reynolds (Illustrator/writer/poet/kind human), Jodie Apeseche (Artist/writer/poet/Anthology cover art), Matt Forrest Esenwine (Writer/poet), and Audrey Day-Williams (Writer/poet) about their new book FRIENDS & ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN, which just come out in November 2020!
Kaitlyn: Hi everyone, thanks so much for being here to share about this wonderful book of poetry today!
Kristen: Hi Kaitlyn, happy to talk about this book! I love how it came out.
Peter: Honored to be here with you all!
Jodie: Thanks for hosting Friends and Anemones and our crew, Kaitlyn!
Matt: Hey Kaitlyn, thanks so much for inviting us!
Audrey: Hi Kaitlyn, thanks for having us on your blog!
Kaitlyn: This is going to be such a thrill chatting with so many talented people! For the first question, I’m going to start with Kristen since she’s one of the editors. Kristen, what prompted you all to create this book?
Kristen: I had always wanted to edit a poetry anthology, because I read so many of them when I was a child and then also when my children were little, and loved them so much. As a board member of The Writers’ Loft, I was tasked with building community, and I thought–we have writers, we have artists–group project! Poetry anthology for kids. So the director of the Loft, Heather Kelly, and I edited the first anthology in 2018: An Assortment of Animals. It was a hit locally with young readers, bookstores, and libraries. When we chose to do a follow-up, the ocean seemed like the perfect subject, since we’re all New England writers and artists. We all feel some connection to the ocean here. We decided to partner with Rozalia Project, an ocean-clean up non-profit, and the book became more than just fun poems and art for kids, it became a clever way to deliver a very important message–keep our oceans clean and safe for all the life within it.
Kaitlyn: I LOVE that you automatically thought “group project,” Kristen! And I love how this beautiful book turned into something even more beautiful. Why do you think this book is so important to share with our little ones?
Peter: My favorite ways for kids to learn is to choose a big idea and plunge deeply into it. In public education, we tend to have to cover a lot of ground – only skimming the surface of the big idea. In this book, we take that deep dive and explore the ocean in so many creative ways!
Matt: Wow, where to begin? I think it’s an important book to share because it introduces poetry (and a variety of poetic styles and forms) through a subject (ocean life) that has a wide interest; from boats to sharks, from lighthouses to manatees, from pollution to squids! It’s an extensive book, too, with 70 pages of beautiful artwork featuring myriad illustration styles to go along with the poetry. There’s also a nonfiction element to it, as many of the poems inform the reader about their subjects. And then there’s the fact that sales of the book help benefit The Rozalia Project. So there are multiple reasons why I’d encourage someone to pick this up!
Audrey: The ocean and poetry are both places of wonderment. I mean, whales exist. Are you kidding me? These aquatic mammals that gracefully glide through the water and then launch their building-sized bodies into the air, are real?! And don’t get me started on sea otters, #swoon. I feel the same sense of awe when I read a poem and can’t fathom (yes I did) how the author managed to assemble those words in such an order to evoke that emotion or sense of astonishment.
I hope kids read/hear these poems and feel a connection to the ocean and its inhabitants—even our aquatic cellular friends ;-)—and are enchanted by the art. Maybe they’ll be less likely let a balloon go after a birthday party because they’ll think of the sea turtle who may mistake it for a jelly; or perhaps they’ll feel empowered to pick up that plastic bag they see lying on the seashore?
Jodie: To piggyback on everyone’s awesome answers, if we tease out some future poets, artists, scientists and/or environmental guardians-that would be a bonus!
Kaitlyn: I love everyone’s passion for education and wonder. You’re all so inspiring! Speaking of inspiring, Peter and Matt, you have both written so many wonderful picture books, can you compare and contrast what it’s like working on a picture book versus a book of poetry?
Peter: A book like this is actually, in my mind, a picture book told in a page or two. I’d say any of the poems in this anthology could be expanded into a full picture book. I found this to be a delightful format and I think I’ll be doing more of it now!
Matt: I find picture books harder to write, actually. One needs to maintain a consistent voice and narrative through 32 or 40 pages, paying attention to pacing, page turns, character development, possible illustrations, etc. With poetry, I can focus on one poem at a time, writing it in whatever style/form/voice I want, and once the poem is complete, I can move on to another. When writing a collection of poetry, I of course need to ensure my poems are consistent in quality, however, one poem might be a 1st-person sonnet while another might be free verse written in 3rd-person. By contrast, a picture book requires a lot more focus over a longer stretch. That said, many of my picture books are written in a poetic sort of voice which makes it easier for me!
Kaitlyn: What fantastic insight, and I totally agree, you can all create picture books from your beautiful poems that make up this book! Jodie, I can’t get over how adorable your poem and art for The Resourceful Otter is! Can you tell me what the art is called when you’re getting objects like tissue paper involved and how you decided to use that for this piece?
Jodie: Long ago in my watercolor career, I figured out that mistakes can often be covered up by the clever placement of collage elements. A collage, or mixed media art, can be made by gluing down photographs, fabric, paper, shells…practically any found object on paper, canvas, or even old board games. I keep a drawer full of postcards, buttons, keys, pieces of old machines, feathers, coins, stamps, bark, beads-you name it and it’s probably in that drawer. You never know what you might need.
In the sea otter painting, I wanted to add texture via the kelp which is made from common crepe paper streamers. I cut the green streamers into strips and dragged them through a plate awash in green and blue watercolors. A little air drying later, and voila–kelp! (And you can find shells from my collection on the cover art!)
Kaitlyn: That is fascinating! I’m already picturing doing this with my daughter, and I love the added scavenger hunt, too. I’m excited to find those shells! Audrey, one of your poems in this anthology, The Snail & the Coffee Cup, is such a cool mash-up, can you share a bit about it and what inspired it?
Audrey: Thanks, Kaitlyn. The last time I visited my family in Southern California, we went to El Matador—my favorite Malibu beach. My daughter and I tried to body surf, but the water was full of broken trash (umm…no thank you, broken yogurt container bits in my hair). We turned it into an impromptu beach clean-up. Voila, both my poems are about ocean pollution—though hopefully in a whimsical way. I’ve been a scuba diver since I was 15 and one of the remarkable things about ocean creatures is how they adapt. I’ve seen many human-made objects turned into houses by sea creatures, none more so than cups because they make great hiding places. So When Kristen and Heather put the call out for poems I knew I wanted my poems to tackle pollution without hitting anyone over the head, and frankly, there are not enough anthropomorphised coffee cups in children’s literature ;-). So I wrote this poem about an object and creature on an impromptu adventure because one made a home out of something that doesn’t belong. They’re both a little sarcastic and resigned to their new fate. I have this vision of them floating around the ocean like those two curmudgeonly balcony Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, heckling whatever they come across: Cup: You know, offshore drilling isn’t half bad. Snail: I know, it’s all bad! Bwahahahaha! Whoa, that’s a long answer for a very short poem.
Also I am smitten with Priscilla Alpaugh’s art. She illustrated my two poems in the Loft’s first poetry anthology, An Assortment of Animals.
Kaitlyn: OMG, you TOTALLY have those Muppet character-type voices oozing from the characters in your poem; that is literally the perfect description, and I am still laughin at your joke hahaha! Kristen, I love the movement in your poem, The Bottom of the Ocean, in the words you chose and the way it was placed in the book, can you share a bit about your piece and how it received the layout in the book?
Kristen: Thanks! I was inspired to write this poem when my daughter Rebecca’s brand-new phone slipped out of her sweatshirt pocket and into Boston Harbor while she was jumping from a boat to the dock. I kept thinking, what is down there with it? So I did some research, and all the things listed in the poem are actually in the bottom of the ocean, (though not necessarily in Boston Harbor). The illustration was done by the talented Priscilla Alpaugh, who is fast and meticulous. If you look closely at the page you will find everything from the gold doubloons to the two steam trains in the dark water behind the glowing phone. The swirly text was designed by our wonderful collaborator/artist/book designer Bob Thibeault. Totally his idea. He is a master of many visual tricks!
Kaitlyn: Wow, wow, WOW! Kristen, I just love all of this! So much inspiration and talent all in one place! Peter, your poem, The Fish, is so inspiring in such few words, can you share where your inspiration came from and talk a bit about who it’s dedicated to?
Peter: I’ve always been interested in the big idea of individuality. Perhaps it is because I was born a twin – and “identical twin” as the technical label goes, but Paul and I are not carbon copies. We are our own “fish” swimming in the same pond, but in many different ways and directions. I dedicated my poem to Bill Norris, a dear friend of 22 years, who passed away during the beginning of the very challenging pandemic lockdown. He was definitely his “own fish.” He loved life and, as a teacher, he loved seeing his kids, and those around him, grow into the amazing human they were destined to be.
Kaitlyn: What a beautiful response, Peter. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so glad you found such a lovely way to honor Bill. And I just love the idea that being your own fish came from you being a twin! Now, Matt, you have three different poems in this anthology and all very different. Can you share your process in being able to write so many different ways?
Matt: I hope my answer doesn’t come across as too ‘academic,’ but I think it’s because I’ve been writing for so long, I’ve been exposed to a variety of poetic forms and go out of my way to learn new ones. For me, poetry has always been like a word puzzle, finding just the right word whether it’s to rhyme, or to fit the rhythm or meter, or to convey the exact meaning I’m looking for…and very often, all three, which is not easy! So when Kristen asked me to judge the poems and offered to include some of my poems, I decided I wanted to offer three very different poetic forms (haiku, cherita, and pantoum) that might not show up in the book, otherwise.
Kristen: Just going to chime in here with my editor hat on that having all the different poem types Matt used made the poem-scavenger-hunt in the back matter of the book so much more fun!
Matt: Thank you, Kristen! I love variety – I’m the kind of guy who always has to order the restaurant’s appetizer sampler, because I can never decide on just one, ha!
Kaitlyn: That’s such a cool way to look at it, Matt, and what an amazing way to share such different poetry with readers, especially like Kristen said with the cool scavenger hunt! For this question, we’re going to dive deeper into anthologies. Kristen, Audrey and Matt will share a bit about poetry anthologies, how they begin, how they get put together and published, etc.
Kristen: First of all, we could never have done this project without Audrey. She is always right there when I am working on an anthology to read or help edit a poem, organize all the marketing (this is a very big job and her marketing blurbs and sell-sheets are poetry about poetry), or just be a friend and listen to me vent. It is also important to note that Audrey came up with the very funny and clever title of the book!
To get started with a project like this, you need an idea, which I tend to have a lot of. Then you need a group of writers and in our case, artists, which we have at the Loft. We have a submission window of about a month. For this anthology we selected judges (Matt was one of them) because we had so many submissions. With their help, we selected the best poems and the most prescient topics, then we had critique groups to revise. It was pre-pandemic so they were in person, which was energizing. Revisions were due right before the poems were distributed to the artists. The artists got to choose which poems they would be interested in illustrating–and some of the artists also wrote a poem so they, in all but one case, illustrated their own. They are all incredibly kind people and look out for each other, so everyone got to illustrate what they love. The artists had two critique meetings over zoom during the early part of the pandemic. This book was trickier than it would have been because some of the artists really struggled with accessing their creativity in the spring of 2020. But they all worked through it and delivered final art to Bob, the book designer, by the summer. Book design takes a loooong time: organizing the order of the pages and setting the text on each page and a lot of other details. Heather and I worked with Bob daily during that process. Then proofs, and copy edits, and voilà! We use IngramSpark for printing and distribution.
Audrey: Thanks for making me blush, Kristen. It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of these anthologies and I love collaborating with you! I’m in awe of the artists and editors that pulled this together during the pandemic while I was day-drinking and re-learning how to multiply fractions. I think this book is a masterpiece. Thank you for including me.
Matt: Different poetry anthologies are created in different ways, and The Writers Loft had their own particular method of putting theirs together because they were working with their members and everything could be done in-house, so to speak. For someone like me, who writes poems that show up in a variety of anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (N.G. Childrens’ Books, 2015) or Night Wishes (Eerdmans, 2020), the process is often different. While some anthologies use open submissions, whereby potential contributors send in their poems and hope to be selected, many prefer a closed submission process – whereby the anthologist/editor reaches out to a select number of writers and asks them individually if they would contribute a poem about a particular subject.
For example, when the late Lee Bennett Hopkins was creating his book, Construction People (Wordsong, 2020), he emailed me and asked if I’d consider writing a poem about the construction project manager…which of course, I said “Yes” to! (And by the way, speaking about classic poetic forms, that poem happens to be a villanelle – which I thought would be a perfect shape for a skyscraper.)
Kaitlyn: I don’t know about you readers, but my mind is blown! (And I’m still giggling at Audrey’s humor again!) The best thing about these anthologies seems to be wonderful people reaching out and connecting! Who’s idea was the last page? The call to action for the child reader? It is so beautiful and also funny!
Kristen: Heather and I worked with Ashley Sullivan, the director of Rozalia Project, on the last page. Ashley often does workshops with children on how to be an Ocean Protector, and her boat is named American Promise. She ends her talks by asking the kids, “What’s your promise?” She encouraged us to use that idea to end the book. Heather and I wrote the part about the fish, and Peter allowed us to use his fish art on the page. At the beginning of our Zoom book launch with the Blue Bunny, Peter’s bookstore, Peter told everyone to draw a fish while listening to the speakers. At the end we all held up our fish drawings, which was super fun to see! All those different readers, all those different fish.
Peter: I think all good books inspire action. It could be a good laugh, or wanting to pick up a pen to write or draw. I love that we intentionally invited our audience to join us in the creativity process. If our book inspires our readers to create their own art, poetry and stories, while also inspiring future scientists and stewards of Planet Earth : mission accomplished!
Kaitlyn: Mission accomplished for sure! I love hearing about how this came about and how you are all so brilliant at inspiring action! Can you all share some advice for up-and-coming writers?
Peter: Start. Keep going. Never stop. Keep that journal handy for those brain sparks. Jot them down so you don’t forget. It is a bit different than the hard work of writing, but it is essential. Your journal can be a “scrapbook” of ideas. Revisit those crumbs, bits and baubles and see what idea grabs your attention. Take that and then run with it.
Matt: I would simply say to read, read, read as much as you can. Connect with other writers, discover what they’re writing, learn how they’re writing it. I see a lot of children’s poetry that is either bumpy in its rhythm, or the rhymes don’t really work, or words are being used as filler to make the meter work…and it’s never going to get published unless it’s properly written and polished. So take the time to learn the craft, and never assume you need to write what everyone else is!
Audrey: To add to what’s already been said, find a good block of writers and a critique group or two. I feel super lucky that I found The Writers’ Loft so early in my writing adventure. I had my first real picture book critique there (nerves of jello) in 2016 and have been attending classes and critique groups ever since. I also have a critique group of incredibly talented writers in Cambridge and I’m part of an online poetry critique group. Each group brings a different perspective which is essential. If someone asks for a critique, take them at their word and give a kind but honest critique. It’s a waste of both people’s time if you just placate them. Always include the illustrator when talking about picture books.
It’s essential to know your 3 BEs and ABCs of writing (that I definitely did not just make up):
Be Patient (with others AND yourself)
Jodie: It’s hard to add more substance than my friends have already expressed here but I’ll try. The writing (and illustrating) community is filled with passion and kindness. Be willing to put yourself out there and be an active member. Practice your craft continuously (luckily that includes loads of reading kid lit). And lastly, I have found that the final 5% of polishing your manuscript, can take about 95% of your time and that’s ok. That is where the magic happens.
Kaitlyn: Yes, yes, yes to all of this! Can you each share a bit about your next book(s) and/or projects you’re working on now?
Kristen: With the Writers’ Loft Press I’m managing another anthology with poetry from BIPOC teens and two Black editor-poets. Really excited about that project! They are revising now, and the book will publish in fall 2021.
In my other writerly world I’m waiting for final art on my debut picture book written with my nephew and writing partner Sam Donovan: MISS RITA, MYSTERY READER (FSG for Young Readers, spring 2022). Audrey came up with the title for that, too! I’m also working on a lower middle grade with Sam and waiting for revision notes on a solo middle grade that’s with my agent right now.
Peter: I have six books coming out in 2021 among them 1) A collaboration with Cat Stevens on PEACE TRAIN (Harper Collins) for the 50th anniversary of that song, 2) another collaboration with Susan Verde: I AM COURAGE (Abrams Kids), 3) a fable I wrote and illustrated about a family’s dining room table that begins to shrink the more they spend time on their devices and not each other. OUR TABLE (Orchard Books/Scholastic) and 4) Love You by Heart, a celebration of unconditional love (Orchard Books/Scholastic) I’m also working on the animated film versions of my book BE YOU (Orchard Books/Scholastic) for Scholastic/Weston Woods and Plant A Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal for Vooks.com.
Matt: My newest picture book, Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books), which I co-wrote with Charles Ghigna (aka Father Goose), just came out March 2 so I’ve been very busy promoting that with blog posts, social media marketing, and signed copies through my local indie bookstore. I also have another picture book due out this fall, I Am Today (POW! Kids Books), which I’m looking forward to, and a poetry anthology I’m extremely eager to tell everyone about – but can’t yet! (So hard keeping my mouth shut!)
Audrey: I’m really in the querying trenches right now, which I’ve been a bit lax about during the pandemic. But I’m always working on new picture book ideas or jotting poems. In non-picture book projects my brilliant artist/humorist friend Creedance Kenna and I created a printable, pun-filled, play-at-home trick-or-treat game, which we pulled together in less than a month before pandemic Halloween last year. It was a big success (on some surprising fronts, too). So we’re working on turning it into a real board game with a box and everything.
Jodie: I’m in the trenches with Audrey, querying. My mind is spinning with rewrites and sketches of friendless crocodiles, hen detectives, and a rabbit learning about relative size. I did manage to do an animal drawing a day in the first 100 days of lockdown along with weird animal facts for each. Maybe something for me to revisit.
Kaitlyn: You all are working on such wonderful things that I can’t wait to read/see, and good luck in those query trenches, Audrey and Jodie! Finally, if you could spend a day with your favorite author or illustrator, would you sit by a fireside and chat or go out on an adventure together?
Kristen: I have a lot of favorites, but I’d love to hike through a redwood forest with Laura Ruby and Jandy Nelson.
Peter: I’d love to have Christmas Eve dinner by the fire with Charles Dickens. I’d ask him if he still had an idea tucked away that no one has seen and while we sipped something tasty, I’d make a few illustrations of that book.
Jodie: I would love to go on an adventure with John Burningham, visit his creative places and get the bonus of being in the company of his wife Helen Oxenbury. A spot of tea would be included.
Matt: Could I do both? (ha!)
Audrey: I’d gather my favorite funny female-identifying authors for a wild weekend of misbehaving and talking funny books. You’re totally invited and so are Kristen and Jodie. But since I have to pick one, and I already broke the rules by not naming one person, I think Editor Ursula Nordstrom and I would have been best friends forever and I would love for her ghost to join me for a drink one night.
Kaitlyn: Hahaha, I want to be a fly on the wall for all of these, especially Dickens, and yes, Matt, you can definitely always do both! If you haven’t watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, definitely get on it! Thanks so much to all of you again for joining us and sharing such wonderful insight today!
Kristen: Thank you for your observant questions, Kaitlyn!
Peter: I loved hanging out with you all!
Jodie: Kaitlyn, I don’t know how you juggle all the hats you wear but we truly thank you for your time. It’s been super fun to take the plunge with everyone.
Matt: Thanks again for inviting us, Kaitlyn, it was a lot of fun!
Audrey: Thank you Kaitlyn for your thoughtful questions. This has been really fun!
Book Description and Links to Buy
FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: Ocean Poems for Children, is a fun and informative collection of original poems and art by 70 New England authors and illustrators. Dive under the enchanting
cover—illustrated by esteemed local artist Jodie Apeseche—into a whimsical, watery world where you’ll rendezvous with petty penguins, little fish with big dreams, party-planning turtles, as well as anemones and crabs in the intertidal zone and elusive sharks and jellies that call the deep sea home.
This book is a valuable ecological and poetry resource for parents as well as librarians and teachers. The Writers’ Loft brings together authors and artists from all over New England to collaborate, because writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit!
You can view the book trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EutBycbTqg4
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Friends-Anemones-Ocean-Poems-Children/dp/0998317233 Check your local bookstore first!
Kristen collects words, keeps them in notebooks, and uses them to write the stories that flutter around in her head. When not reading or writing, she might be gardening, sampling ice cream at local establishments, or working at The Writers’ Loft, a writing community in Massachusetts where she is on the board of directors. She lives in Massachusetts in a hundred-year-old house (with secret hiding places) with her family, a fluffy dog, and a cat named Eliza Doolittle. Find her at KristenWixted.com and on twitter at @kpwix and on instagram Kristen Wixted.
Published in over 25 languages, Peter’s books The Dot, Ish, The Word Collector and Say Something!, among many others, inspire children and “grown up children” with his messages about authentic learning, creativity, bravery, empathy, and courageous self-expression. Peter also illustrated the best selling I am Yoga, I am Peace, I am Human, and The Water Princess with Susan Verde, as well as, the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald. Peter lives in the Boston area where he founded The Blue Bunny, a family-owned and operated children’s book, toy, & creativity store.
Jodie is an artist and author/illustrator who made her first book dummy in third grade and is still at it. Lucky for her she has found a creative and supportive environment as a member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA. Originally from New York, Jodie currently splits her time between Massachusetts (preferably walking on the beach) and Vermont (preferably hiking). If you visit her, expect to go scavenging for found objects that can be used in making art sing.
You can find more here…
Matt Forrest Esenwine had numerous poems published in various journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). Then his debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), received a Kirkus starred review and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017 – and he never slowed down! Matt has 10 other books to his credit and his children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like The Poetry of US (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2018) and I Am Someone Else (Charlesbridge, 2019), as well as “Highlights for Children” magazine. Connect with Matt and order his books at MattForrest.com.
Audrey Day-Williams lives in Cambridge, Mass. where she writes picture books, poetry and writes about herself in the third person.
She is an active member of SCBWI, The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. and Poets’ Garage. You can find her poems in Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children (Nov 2020), and in the poetry anthology, An Assortment of Animals.
Kaitlyn’s Review of Friends & Anemones
This stunning book will inspire kids and adults of all ages to keep oceans clean, write poetry, think, and be themselves. A great addition for a home or school library that aims to inspire in many ways. The art is as beautiful as the poems!
Do you want to win your own copy of FRIENDS & ANEMONES (US and Canada only please) or a beautiful mug with Jodie’s otter art? (US only please).
Here are all the ways to get into the giveaway (each one is an extra entry):
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you ordered a copy of Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children at your library
- If you’ve read the book, share that you’ve left a critique on Amazon or Goodreads
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Thank you all for reading and supporting these wonderful creators!
I hope you’re getting excited about Spring Fling Kidlit. I’ve been seeing the blooms and getting more excited each day!