Margaret at Reflections on the Teche is hosting us today. She has added a beautiful and poignant line to the 2022 Progressive Poem today.
Today I am thrilled to have an interview with Helen Frost on her new book, Wait-And See with the phenomenal photographer Rick Lieder.
I was fortunate to work with Helen at a Highlights Foundation "Novel in Verse" retreat in 2013. She's a most excellent teacher and mentor.
JRM: This is the sixth book in which you have collaborated with Rick Lieder. Could you tell my blog readers a bit about the process: How did this collaboration begin? Do you work together from the start? Which comes first, the photos or the poetry?
HF: It began in 2006, when Rick Lieder’s wife, Kathe Koja, and I were doing a book event together, and Kathe said she thought I’d love her husband’s insect photography. She was right—the beautiful photographs made me look more closely at the world right outside my back door, and I started seeing more insects, and paying more attention to them. I wrote a poem about seeing and caring for the insect world, and Rick and I put the poem and images together in a book we started sending around to editors. It was a few years before Sarah Ketchersid, at Candlewick, loved the book as much as we did, and, in 2012, it was published to great reviews and soon found many enthusiastic readers. In the ten years since then, we have collaborated, together with Sarah and others at Candlewick, to produce five more books, with another under contract for 2024.
Neither poetry or photos comes first—we usually start talking about a new book when one of us has an idea, and then there is about a year of back-and-forth as we refine the idea until it is ready to send as a proposal to Sarah. The proposal is usually a poem and accompanied by about 50 possible images. After it is accepted, lots more work goes into creating the finished book. I keep working on the text, and Rick continues to take and select more images as the book comes into being.
JRM: How many drafts were there for Wait and See? What type of research did you do for the book? And did you write the back-matter as well?
HF: It’s impossible to say how many drafts there are, because I save my work hour by hour as I go. But I think I could estimate that there are between 20 and 50 versions. I sometimes change a line in the poem to “match” an image I love, and Rick sometimes finds a better image for a line we don’t want to let go.
Yes, I do a lot of research as I write the poems, and continue to learn more as I write the backmatter. I begin with books and online research, and correspond with experts as needed.
JRM: What was the most surprising thing you learned about the praying mantis?
HF: I was surprised to learn how many nymphs emerge from one ootheca (egg case). There can be as many as 400—which makes you think about all the dangers they face, and how amazing it is when one survives to adulthood, and you see it looking at you!
JRM: Not only does the book teach about praying mantis, How did you arrive at the title, Wait and See? It says so much more than the arrival of praying mantises and I can see how teachers would use this in the classroom.
HF: Yes, Wait—and See (the dash in the title suggests the waiting) does emphasize an important aspect of the book. Praying mantises are hard to find, and the book can help children learn where and how to look for them, but even more, it shows how important patience is in many ways. I’d love to think that teachers might read this book to children and then go outside and encourage the children to quietly look around and come back in to share what they’ve seen. It would be unlikely to be a praying mantis (though wouldn’t that be great?) but they’ll definitely see something. And maybe the book will help them learn the art and value of being still and attentive in many situations.
If you look at each of our books, there is a “big idea” like this behind each of them. They are often given as gifts (to children and adults) for special life events: birth of a first child or a new sibling (Hello, I’m Here! and Wake Up), engagement or marriage (Among a Thousand Fireflies), milestones such as first day of school or graduation (Step Gently Out and Sweep Up the Sun). And I know that Sweep Up the Sun has brought comfort to people grieving the loss of a loved one.
JRM: You have written several novels in verse. I noticed that you call them “novels in poems”. How did you arrive with this term (which I rather like)?
HF: I love poetry, and I love using different elements of poetry in my picture books and novels; the term “novels-in-poems” (though I’m not adamant about it) is a way of calling attention to that.
JRM: What are your current projects?
HF: Rick and I are collaborating on a new book, probably to come out in 2024, tentatively titled The Mighty Pollinators, about pollen and pollinators. The “big idea” behind this book is that small things like pollen and pollinators are essential. As we were discussing this, Rick pointed out, “Our readers are small, too, and they are important.”
JRM: Thank you, Helen, for giving me and other readers insight on this fabulous insect. I am looking forward to your next project as pollinators are one of my favorite studies.
Anne Irza-Leggat, Educational Marketing Manager at Candlewick, has generously offered a copy of last week's book, Out of This World by Sally Walker and this week's book Wait-and See by Helen Frost.
Leave a comment by April 27 on either blog post to be eligible to win. Winners will be announced next week.
Speaking of Winners...
Mary Lee Hahn, you have won the 3d drawing and optical illusions: how to draw optical illusions and 3d art step by step Guide for Kids, Teens and Students. New edition
and a set of Staedtler Mars Lumograph Art Drawing Pencils, 12 Pack Graphite Pencils in Metal Case .
Congratulations. Tabatha will be sending that out soon.
Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme has hosting duties this Poetry Friday. Matt has a terrific interview with Leslie Bulion.
Here I have an interview with Sally Walker. Thanks to Mary Lee, I got in touch with Anne Irza-Leggat at Candlewick Press. She connected me with two poets for this month that have new books coming out in April. In the fall, I will be interviewing two more poets when their books arrive in the world.
Meet Sally Walker. This picture tell me that she and I could be great friends as I love a good hug with a tree. from early readers to nature books STEM books, history and picture books, Sally has written so many. Earth Verse was her first book written in haiku.
Her latest, Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku, is as she says a "language spaceship" . Through haiku, readers will travel the universe. There's great back matter at the end of the book.
Sally was gracious to answer questions I had for her. I loved learning about the diamonds that a certain planet has (read the interview to find out).
JRM: How did you get the idea for Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku? What was your process for writing this book?
SW: The idea began with a haiku that I wrote about Saturn: Rings of rock and dust/circle around Saturn’s waist/cosmic Hula-Hoops. It made me smile, as I remembered summer days spent playing with a Hula-Hoop.
It became part of a manuscript with the working title Sci-ku. As I have done in many of my books, I wanted to create a book that would as a bridge to connect science with literature—one that combined facts and language play. Sci-ku’shaiku ranged from geology, to space, to physics, and to biology. I submitted the manuscript to Hilary Van Dusen, my editor at Candlewick. She liked the idea, but felt that the book would be more effective if all of the haiku immersed the reader in one particular scientific field. She was absolutely correct! I narrowed the focus to geology, my number one science love. The manuscript became Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up. The haiku about Saturn ended up on the cutting room floor. Sadly, because I really liked that one.
After completing Earth Verse, Hilary asked if I was working on anything else. I wasn’t, but suddenly the “cosmic Hula-Hoops” haiku popped back into my mind. My email reply to her suggested that I do a companion volume to Earth Verse that could be titled Out of This World: Star-studded Haiku. Of course I included the haiku about Saturn among those that I submitted in my formal proposal!
Part of my process for writing Out of This World was paying attention to the stars, planets, and the moon as they appear to move across the sky as Earth rotates. Early morning, just before dawn, is my favorite time to be outside. Even on the coldest days, I go for a walk and look at the moon and the stars. Another part of my process was to look at the stellar—ha, ha, that pun was too good to resist—photos on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) website, www.nasa.gov. It’s an awesome website where one can spend hours immersed in all kinds of space-related information. The photos are beyond belief!!
JRM: I think one of the best parts about writing is doing research for a topic. What kind of research did you do for Out of This World?
SW: Research is, hands down, my favorite part of being an author! An important part of writing this book, which later morphed into research, came from re-living experiences from my childhood. For example, I remember sitting in the backyard with my father on summer nights. He would point out different constellations—Orion and the Big Dipper are two vivid memories—and tell me stories about how they got their name. My family always watched lunar and solar eclipses. We always used the pinhole in cardboard way to view a solar eclipse safely.
One Christmas, when I was about 10 years old, my cousin received a telescope as a gift. He invited us to his house one night so we could see Saturn’s rings. That blew me away! Maybe that’s how Galileo felt when he first saw them.
In July 1969, half the people in our neighborhood crowded around the television in my family’s livingroom and watched the Eagle land on the moon. We all held our breath until it touched down and then cheered!! Reality TV at its absolute best!!!
I researched scientific papers, books, old newspapers, and NASA’s website about all of these topics for additional information, as well as important updates, to material that I remembered from childhood.
Interestingly, research that I’d done for other books gave me a lot of information for Out of This World. My research adventures for Boundaries, my book about the Mason-Dixon line, led to planetarium visits and lots of stargazing. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their famous line of latitude guided by the position of stars.
My husband, a volcanologist, was happy to talk with me about the Martian volcano Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in our solar system. In college, when I majored in geology, I learned that scientists theorize that an asteroid strike 65 million years ago likely led to the extinction of dinosaurs on Earth. It seemed natural for me to write a haiku about that.
JRM: What was the most surprising discovery you had in writing this book?
SW: Good question! One discovery that I knew absolutely NOTHING about was that it rains diamonds on the planet Uranus. That planet, one of our solar system’s four planets that have no solid land surface, has a slushy plasma ocean that surrounds the planet’s solid core. The pressure within the ocean forces carbon atoms to crystallize as diamonds. Because the diamonds are heavier than the surrounding “slush,” they rain downward, toward the core.
This discovery also led to a funny research story. When Matthew Trueman was creating the illustration for the haiku diamonds rain, unseen/in a slushy plasma sea/sunken treasure trove, he asked what color the sea was likely to be. I had NO idea. So, I did some research. I emailed Dr. Dirk Gericke and asked him. He is a professor at the Centre for Fusion, Space & Astrophysics, in the Department of Physics, at the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom. Dr. Gericke has written several papers on Uranus’s plasma sea. He helped me tweak the haiku so it was accurate, but he also consulted with his colleagues about the color of the plasma ocean. While no one can actually see it, their consensus (based on the chemical composition) is that the sea is bluish. I passed this information along to Matthew!
JRM: What led you to write this book in haiku? How do you decide if you want to write in prose or haiku?
SW: It was always intended to be a combination of haiku and nonfiction prose. My favorite haiku are those that not only make me think or feel about something, but also make me want to discover something new about the “moment” that I encountered while reading a particular haiku. I hope that the haiku in Out of This World will make readers think and ask questions. The narrative section of the book, hopefully, provides answers to some of those questions.
Haiku is pretty much the only kind of poetry that I write. But I did not always enjoy it. I remember being taught about haiku in fourth grade. The teacher explained what it was: a short poem that did not rhyme, had only seventeen syllables, and revealed a profound, seasonal moment in nature. We didn’t talk about Japanese culture at all. Nor did we discuss how “less” can actually be “more.” She just read us a few haiku written by Basho and Issa. Sadly, I was too young to appreciate them—at least the ones she read to us. They made me feel “itchy” because I didn’t understand what they were about. When she asked us to write haiku, I felt like I was being asked to write something so profound that it was incomprehensible. Forcing the incomprehensible into a seventeen-syllable, non-rhyming poem made the assignment essentially impossible for me. Now, as an adult, I read a haiku like Basho’s The Old Pond (An old silent pond/a frog jumps into the pond--/Splash! Silence again.) and marvel at it. But the nine-year-old me wouldn’t have understood and appreciated all it encompasses. I would not have savored that exquisite last moment. I would have splashed into the pond and caught the frog.
Today’s young readers meet haiku through the mastery of poets such as Paul Janeczko, Janet Wong, and J. Patrick Lewis. Children easily relate to their poems. They meet the reader in a place or moment that she or he can understand. A park bench, a curbside puddle, a beloved pet. That is incredibly powerful and freeing. Modern haiku poets often step outside the traditional guidelines of including a seasonal reference. And they frequently inject humor.
Many of the haiku in Earth Verse and Out of This World explore moments in nature, but they are moments that exist for eons. I remember one of my geology professors telling us that in the timeline of life on Earth, humans have existed in the length of time that it takes to light a match and immediately blow it out. The formation of stars, land surfaces being eroded by glaciers and wind, an asteroid that wipes out millions of years of dinosaur existence are natural, cosmic “moments.” They exist on a timeline, the length of which we can scarcely comprehend. Why not write haiku about them?
Although some poets write haiku that don’t strictly adhere to the seventeen-syllable format, I choose to do so. I like the challenge of seeking the perfect combination of words to convey an idea or impression in exactly seventeen syllables. It’s a game with language that lets me play with words, something I love to do. It requires lots and lots and lots of mental revision to get the syllable count for each line correct. That’s cool too, because many of the haiku that I write finally reach their “Eureka!” word-choice completion while I am outside walking and appreciating nature!
JRM: What are your upcoming projects?
SW: My next book is UNDERGROUND FIRE: HOPE, SACRIFICE, AND COURAGE IN THE CHERRY MINE DISASTER. The 1909 Cherry Mine fire is one of the worst coal mine disasters in United States’ history. My home is only 50 miles from Cherry, Illinois, and the story is one that I have wanted to bring to young readers for some years. It’s especially timely, given that it’s a story of immigrants and fossil fuel, both of which figure prominently in the news today. The publication date is October 2022. I do have another haiku book in the pipeline, scheduled for publication in Spring 2023. At the moment the title is TREES: HAIKU FROM ROOTS TO LEAVES. It's a bit early to share much more about it, but I can say that the illustrations are wonderful! Both books are with Candlewick Press.
In another email, Sally and I shared an exchange about writing haiku for adults as well as the haiku structure.
She shared this haiku
words channeled into patterns.
Regarding haiku versus senryu Sally shared this little fact, I enjoy senryu a lot. In fact, I had to avoid producing them when I wrote Earth Verse and Out of This World.
Thank you so much, Sally!
All photos and poems in these blog posts are copyrighted to Jone Rush MacCulloch 2006- Present. Please do not copy, reprint or reproduce without written permission from me.
2022 Progressive Poem
1 April 1 Irene at Live Your Poem
2 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
3 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
4 Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading
5 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
6 Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
7 Kim Johnson at Common Threads
8 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
11 Janet Fagel at Reflections on the Teche
12 Jone at Jone Rush MacCulloch
13 Karin Fisher-Golton at Still in Awe
14 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
15 Carol Labuzzetta @ The Apples in my Orchard
16 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
17 Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken Town
18 Patricia at Reverie
19 Christie at Wondering and Wandering
20 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
21 Kevin at Dog Trax
22 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
23 Leigh Anne at A Day in the Life
24 Marcie Atkins
25 Marilyn Garcia
26 JoAnn Early Macken
27 Janice at Salt City Verse
28 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
29 Karen Eastlund at Karen’s Got a Blog
30 Michelle Kogan Painting, Illustration, & Writing