Tag Archive for Haiku in Children’s Books

Look Who’s Illustrating My Next Book

Yeah, this artist, the great Mary GrandPre. Maybe you don’t know her name, but I’m pretty sure you know her work.

So. How does that happen? How does it work in publishing, the writer-illustrator connection? I get asked that a lot.

Though there are exceptions and variations, my book with Mary followed a well-established pattern. Back in 2016, I submitted a manuscript to my editor which was accepted for publication. Just words on a page. In this case, interconnected haiku.

Looking back on a my original submission to Liz Szabla, my editor, dated 4/22/16, I laid out my basic vision:

 

 

This collection of haiku celebrates the first day of school and a vision of community. It provides a loose, flowing narrative that carries readers through the multi-faceted moments in a school day as it touches a diverse variety of characters while they move from the bus stop to the morning pledge, to recess and lunch and the final bell.

The poems offer the illustrator opportunities to show a rich variety of children –- wild and brave, silly and earnest, friendly and a little frightened. Through the artwork, illustrations should highlight recurring characters and allow readers to see happy interactions and first steps toward friendship. We are witnesses to the beginning of a new, diverse, and open-hearted community.

There’s flexibility here. The final number of poems depends entirely on layout and editorial’s vision for the book. There are 39 included here (which strikes me as slightly high, compared to other haiku collections of this nature), whereas it could be decided to go with as few as, say, 23 poems –- allowing room for effective double-page spreads for a single haiku. 

Later in 2016, or possibly early in 2017, I was informed that Mary GrandPre had agreed to illustrate the book. I did not immediately recognize the name. The look of the book would be up to Mary, the art director and designers at Feiwel & Friends, as overseen by Liz. Often, that’s the beginning and end of a writer’s communication with the illustrator. My manuscript did not come with notes to the illustrator, as many do, beyond what I shared above.

To my delight, I did receive a lovely, complimentary email from Mary, asking for my thoughts about possibly cutting some haiku. There was a conflict where the weather described was inconsistent. We went back and forth — Mary was gracious and lovely — and I was very happy to eliminate some, because that was always my intention. I had individual haikus that highlighted the statue of liberty, a student in a wheelchair, and a teacher in a hijab. We realized that since those images would be reflected in the book visually, we were able to cut those haiku in order to make room for others.

For example, I believe everyone hoped there might be at least one spread where there was just one haiku. It turned out to be one that centered on the school library. I wrote:

 

LIBRARY

The library door

Opens: Hear the whoosh and thrum

Of the school’s heart beat.

 

Note on the haiku, which followed the traditional 5-7-5 syllable/line count: a haiku does not usually come with a title. But for this book, because it was intended for very young readers, I cheated a little and gave each one a title in the original manuscript. Somewhere along the line I fretted about that, it was a little impure, and asked Liz if maybe we should eliminate the titles. Liz replied that she liked them, believed they worked, and that they also added a visual element to the pages. I said, as I recall, “Okay!”

At a certain point in the process, it’s the only answer available. 

All Welcome Here will be published on June 16, 2020. I’m so eager to hold it in my hands — I’ll probably receive a printed copy in early May, best guess — but I’m more excited to visit schools and, perhaps, even develop some haiku workshops for students of all ages.

So, yeah, Mary GrandPre. How cool is that? How lucky am I?

Can’t wait.

 

DIGGING UP THE LOST WORDS: Inspired by Haiku & Candice Ransom

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I’m blogging today to share an insightful article by children’s author Candice Ransom. I found myself nodding all the way through it, making connections to my own recent experience with haiku and, for lack of a better word, my effort, simply, to attend to things, to see the thing-specific, while desiring to learn the elusive words.

Ms. Ransom began her article, titled “Poetry from Stones” in Bookology magazine, this way: 

Outside my window right now: bare trees, gray sky, a brown bird. No, let’s try again. Outside my window, the leafless sweetgum shows a condo of squirrels’ nests, a dark blue rim on the horizon indicates wind moving in, and a white-crowned sparrow scritches under the feeders. Better. Even in winter, especially in winter, we need to wake up our lazy brains, reach for names that might be hibernating.

In November, I taught writing workshops at a school in a largely rural county. I was shocked to discover most students couldn’t name objects in their bedrooms, much less the surrounding countryside. Without specific details, writing is lifeless. More important, if children can’t call up words, can’t distinguish between things, they will remain locked in wintry indifference. Some blame falls on us.

Oxford Junior DictionaryA recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary swapped nature words for modern terms. Out went acorn, wren, dandelion, nectar, and otter. In went blog, bullet-point, attachment, chatroom, and voicemail. Updating dictionaries isn’t new. And maybe cygnet isn’t as relevant as database, but it’s certainly more musical.  If we treat language like paper towels, it’s no wonder many kids can’t name common backyard birds.

When I was nine, my stepfather taught me the names of the trees in our woods, particularly the oaks. I learned to identify red, white, black, pin, post, and chestnut oaks by their bark, leaves, and acorns. Labeling trees, birds, and wildflowers didn’t give me a sense of ownership. Instead, I felt connected to the planet. I longed to know the names of rocks, but they kept quiet.

< snip >

I’m sorry, but I can’t resist quoting Ransom’s great piece at some length. She goes on to discuss a new book, recently discovered . . .

The Lost Words: a Spell BookSo imagine my delight when I found a new book for children, The Lost Words: A Spell Book. British nature-writer Robert MacFarlane paired with artist Jackie Morris to rescue 20 of the words snipped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words like newt and kingfisher are showcased as “spells,” rather than straight definitions. MacFarlane’s spells let the essence of the creature sink deep, while Morris’s watercolors create their own magic.

On their joint book tour throughout England, MacFarlane and Morris introduced children to words—and animals. On her blog Morris writes: “I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 six-year-olds when the booksellers stopped me. ‘Ask the children if they know what a wren is, first, Jackie.’ I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had never seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so perhaps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it.”

The Lost Words makes me want to take children by the hand and tell them the names of the trees and birds and clouds that illustrate our winter landscape. By giving kids specific names, they can then spin a thread from themselves to the planet.


Ah. Long, slow clap.

6792381Sometime in December, wary of time wasted on social media, the allure of Facebook, and my own (possibly connected) struggles as a writer, I decided to make a change. I felt empty, scattered, and discouraged. You know, the writer thing. I promised myself to begin each day by reading and writing haiku. It became my daily practice. Ten minutes, half an hour, even longer, however it worked for that day. Sometimes I’d go to my haiku before I made the morning coffee, and absolutely — this was a rule — before turning on my computer. On some miraculous mornings, I’d think of a haiku before my head left the pillow. 

UrP4fwuq1G3L+lCQHXVjJ4WD9n1O4!fHVzU32t1zotb2XltGqt5NH08Zg1lv!rMx0rUDeeqoUwC9Vrx87vEQ1D!qv90OwVUiNQfyiA+baMM=I’ve been reading Richard Wright’s marvelous late-period haiku poems, written at a time he was deathly ill, as if clinging to the world; rereading Basho’s A Haiku Journey; slowly leafing through various collections. I don’t read too many poems at a time; it’s not something to take at a headlong rush, another box to tick off. What I love about reading and writing haiku is that the practice forces me to slow down, to be present, to (try to) see the pear in the sunbeam, so to speak. People have asked what I’m going to “do” with the poems, and I explain that for me this has been
about the process, not the product. The poems are secondary. Possibly irrelevant. Most of them are “bad,” if you need to measure them that way. I try to avoid thinking about result. In this sense, for me, it’s like yoga. It’s something I am doing for myself, tuning to a different frequency. I’m not trying to “beat” your downward dog.
411ouV3CMiL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_Haiku traditionally places a primary focus on nature. Seeing the moment, hearing the rain. This relates, of course, to William Carlos Williams’ 20th century directive, “No ideas but in things.” Or earlier, Tolstoy’s “God is in the details.” The necessity for the writer to move away from abstraction, the world of ideas, to see the particular thing itself. At least, to begin there. To be present in a world of multi-tasking and lost words. This of course spills over into relationships, parenting, conversations in coffee shops. It is . . . a way.

41CT8T98W7L._SX255_BO1,204,203,200_During this time, even before I found Candice’s article, I’d been troubled with an old failing of mine. I’m not terribly good at knowing the names of things. My brain is fuzzy. I love nature and the great outdoors, but I’m not a trained naturalist. I need to do better. So as part of my haiku journey, living this new enthusiasm, I’ve been reading about trees and nature. Watching videos. Buying field guides. Studying up. Trying to dig up the lost words.

Because I believe the words connect us to seeing deeply, the words enrich our perception of reality. The words connect us to some vital spark in this world: to nature, to our planet, to each other. I often suspect that our temporary president has never once sat on a mountaintop and appreciated the wonder and awe of nature. Just listen to him speak. Look at his policies. Read about how he eats. This temporary man has never gazed at a sunset without wondering how he might monetize it. Turn a profit. I believe he’s empty in that regard, like any non-reader, full only of avarice and self — nature as a thing to be used. It shows in his incurious mind, his disregard for the care and well-being of our planet.

He doesn’t know the words.

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