Tag Archive for Jack Prelutsky

Celebrating Poetry for Children: A Conversation with Debut Author, Vikram Madan

“When I started, I had no idea

what the poem was going to be about.

I just followed the words home.

Sometimes that is the best journey

a writer can experience.”

Vikram Madan



I’m that guy at the party — do you remember parties? it was this thing in the olden times when people used to get together and — nevermind! — I’m the guy who tugs on your arm and says, “Have you read Vikram Madan’s new book? It’s fantastic,” and then I press it into your hands. Anyway, today we’re lucky to spend time with debut children’s poet, Vikram Madan. His clever, quirky, playful poetry includes aliens and garden gnomes, robots and dragons, instantly bringing to mind past masters Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. So put down the Swedish meatballs and let’s say hello . . .

Greetings, Vikram. Congratulations on your new book!

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be featured here!

I’m curious about the path that led you to this moment, a collection of playful poems for young readers. According to your bio, you spent many years working in the tech industry.

I grew up in New Delhi, India and was rhyming and doodling from an early age but never imagined myself as an artist or poet. Instead I followed the herd into engineering and ended up working in tech, with one brief detour as a newspaper editorial cartoonist. It was only after my kids were born that I encountered the work of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Jack Prelutsky and that inspired me to start writing poetry again, though it took me the next decade to figure out how not to do it.

Wait, how not to do it? What mistakes were you making?

I was writing rhyming poetry very instinctively, and it was largely raw –- forced rhymes, mismatched stresses and pauses, unbalanced and asymmetrical feet, lines that wouldn’t scan cleanly -– basically everything that makes an editor wince. Sometimes I could tell it was off, but not why. Only after discovering prosody did I develop the vocabulary to analyze what I was doing, and fix what I was doing wrong. For those interested in writing rhyming poetry, I highly recommend Timothy Steele’s All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing. By 2012 it was clear to me that I needed to ‘follow my heart,’ at which point I quit tech, enrolled in art school, and started writing humorous poetry, all of which has culminated in this book.

Bold move, Vikram. There’s a great tradition of poets and their day jobs. Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company; William Carlos Williams was a general practitioner; Frank O’Hara worked as a clerk and published a collection titled, “Lunch Poems.”

I think most poets have had to have day jobs. Poetry is a labor of love and feeds the soul, but rarely the stomach :). Right now my day job is ‘visual artist’ so I suppose I am a little more fortunate that I can scratch my creative itch in more ways than one.

With A Hatful of Dragons, you were published by Boyds Mills & Kane. But you self-published your first book, The Bubble Collector. People have differing perceptions of self-published work, but I think it was a courageous step. Big respect. Tell us about it.

Poetry is fairly hard to place with agents and publishers, and a common submission guidance is “Don’t tell us your work is just like Shel Silverstein’s,” which was a problem, because my work is like Shel Silverstein’s! After years of amassing rejection slips, I finally decided that if no one was going to publish my poetry, I would just publish it myself, which led to The Bubble Collector. Once the book was out, I discovered writing a book is the easy part. Getting a physical self-published book in front of readers is HARD. By ‘hitting the pavement’ a lot, I was able to get the book in front of enough people that it was invited into the WA State Book Awards, won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and garnered praise from booksellers, reviewers, and readers. The experience, though, gave me a healthy respect for traditional publishing!

Are there particular poets who influenced you? When it comes to funny poems for children, I guess Jack Prelutsky sort of owned that playing field for many years.

I didn’t believe I could write poetry professionally till I saw an exhibition of ‘raw’ Dr. Seuss manuscripts. I didn’t think of combining art with words till I encountered Shel Silverstein’s books. And Jack Prelutsky’s work opened my eyes to language, vocabulary, rhythm, and rhyme. Beyond those three, I particularly admire 19th century poets: Lewis Carroll, Guy Wetmore Carryl, W.S. Gilbert, John Godfrey Saxe, and Edgar Allan Poe.

It’s interesting that you illustrate your own poems. Who is the boss, the writer or the illustrator? Or does the inspiration flow back and forth? I’m fumbling to ask: Do you start with the words or an illustration?

It depends and is different for each poem. Sometimes I conceive the art and words together, sometimes the words are in the driver’s seat, and, occasionally, a visual image will trigger the poem. Usually as I am writing I do have a good sense of how the combination will look on the page.

I imagine that your process changes from poem to poem. I wonder if we could share a specific poem from the new book here, and then you could talk us through your creative process.

Yes, every poem has its own unique back-story. When I am writing poetry, the natural cadence and in-built rhythm of words, both in how I hear them and how they feel on my tongue, can sometimes organically steer the poem one way or another. An example of this is the first poem in my book, “The Panda and the Pangolin.” 

Looking back at my notes, I had been making lists of animals as potential subjects, and at one point I wrote:

Banded Pangolins

followed by:

A band of banded Pangolins

And following the sound of that sentence, I then wrote:

The panda and the pangolin

which seemed to offer more possibilities.

You are fooling around with language, alert to the inner dynamics, without necessarily an end in sight.

Yes. I asked myself, What if it was the other way around?

The pangolin and the panda?

I tried:

At the edge of my veranda

sat a pangolin and panda

But “The Pangolin and the Panda” didn’t have the same natural rhythm as “The Panda and the Pangolin,” so I went back to the original:

Said the panda to the pangolin

I like your little mandolin

Better. And it was developing a musical theme, similar to the “band of banded pangolins.” But I needed to drop the extra “Said” syllable:

The panda and the pangolin

between them have a mandolin

a clarinet, a violin

a drum made from some beaten tin

And the rest of the poem unfolded from that starting point. The first poem then directly seeded the next poem, which then seeded more humor in other parts of the book. Note that, when I started, I had no idea what the poem was going to be about. I just followed the words home. Sometimes that is the best journey a writer can experience.

Delightful! Thank you for sharing that, Vikram. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and your work.

Thank you for featuring me here. It’s an honor!

Hey now, don’t get carried away. Glad to have you, and good luck. 

Vikram Madan grew up in India where, despite spending his childhood rhyming and doodling, he ended up an engineer. After many years of working in the tech industry, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart back into writing, drawing, and painting. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes funny poems. His self-illustrated poetry collections include A Hatful of Dragons and the Moonbeam Award Winners The Bubble Collector and Lord of the Bubbles. He lives near Seattle, Washington, with his family, two guitars, and a few pet peeves. Visit him at vikrammadan.com.

10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition)




Blogs are dead, everybody knows it, the tweet spread the news long ago. Nobody reads blogs anymore. These days it’s all Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and short, short, short.

I get it, I do. We’re all feeling the time squeeze.

But because I’m childishly oppositional, I refuse to give up my blog. And I’m keeping my 8-Tracks, too. I started this blog back in 2008, so we’ve become attached. I like to have readers, but I’m not sure I really need them. It wouldn’t stop me from writing. There’s something about the open-ended blog format that offers room to spread out and say things, however long it takes. Whether anyone listens or not.

My pal, illustrator Matthew Cordell, used to blog with enthusiasm. One of his recurring features was his monthly-ish “Top Ten” lists, where Matt randomly listed some of his recent enthusiasms. It could be a song, a book, a movie, or a type of eraser (Matt was weird about erasers). It was always fun to read.

So I’m stealing it.

Here are ten things I’ve recently loved:




I visited Cleveland with my son, Gavin, to check out Case Western Reserve University. The following day, we headed over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was spectacular in every way. (Except for: The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really?) I’m a huge music fan, so it was perfect for me. I found the museum strangely moving in parts, my heart touched. I could see that rock music was big enough, and diverse enough, to offer a home to people from every walk of life.

CARRY ME HOME by Diane McWhorter


Amazing, fascinating, and at times brutal Pulitzer Prize-winning book that’s stayed with me long after the last page. It provides a dense, detailed account of the civil rights struggle centered in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King, the Klu Klux Klan, Fred Shuttlesworth, George Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Kennedy, Bull Conner, and more. One of those books that helps you understand America.



I’ve been ridiculously fortunate in my career, in that I’ve received a lot of fan mail across the past twenty years. But I have to admit, I especially like it when those letters include a drawing. There’s just something about children’s artwork that slays me, every time. This drawing is by Rida in Brooklyn.



This book has been on my list almost since the day it came out — the buzz was instantaneous, and huge — but on a tip from a friend, I waited for the audiobook to become available through my library. Here, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a powerful reading. It’s poignant to listen to an author reading his own words, particularly since this book is essentially a letter to his son.

“WINTER RABBIT,” a poem by Madeleine Comora

Scan     Scan 1

We’re not here to bash Jack Prelutsky. Because, after all, Jack Prelutsky is hilarious. But, but, but. There are times when I worry that too many people think children’s poetry begins and ends with Mr. Prelutsky. That a poem for kids always has to be bouncy and fast and slight and funny, i.e., Prelutsky-ish. Well, here’s a poem I came across while reading Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems, unerringly edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I admire the heartfelt, beautiful sorrow of Comora’s poem. “I thought of his last night alone/huddled in a wire home./I did not cry. I held him close,/smoothed his fur blown by the wind./For a winter’s moment, I stayed with him.” The illustration is  by Wolf Erlbruch. Click on the poem if your eyes, like mine, need larger type.



I’m so grateful that I live near a cool, little movie theater that makes room for small foreign films such as this, a mind-blowing look at life on the Amazon, spectacularly filmed in black-and-white. Click here for more details.



My wife Lisa and I don’t watch hours of TV together, but we do like to have a show we can share. We’ve been a loss for a few months, but recently discovered season one of “The Americans” on Amazon Prime. We’re hooked.


You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

We have tickets to see Bromberg this coming weekend. He’s an old favorite of mine, first saw him in 1980 on Long Island. I’ve just rediscovered “Sammy’s Song,” which I haven’t heard in decades. What a chilling coming-of-age story, brilliantly performed. Oh, about that harmonica part? That’s Dave’s pal, Bob Dylan, with an uncredited guest turn.



I just finished writing my first Jigsaw Jones book after a long time away. For many years, Scholastic had allowed the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly going out of print. It’s been a crushing thing for me to stand by helplessly and watch. But with the help of my agent, I got back the rights, and now Macmillan has plans to relaunch the series. I am thrilled. There are more than 10 million copies of those books out there in world, and it seems like every second-grade classroom in America has a ragged copy or three. Writing the new book, The Case from Outer Space, was such a pleasure. It felt like being home again.



For an author, it’s a special day, always, always. That book you’ve been toiling over for months, years, finally arrives in book form. Uncorrected, unfinished, but for the first time you can hold it in your hands — a book! — and think, “I did that!” Note: Arc = Advanced Reader’s Copy. The Courage Test, a middle grade novel, will be out for real in September.




I love documentaries of almost any nature, but I can’t recommend this one highly enough. A pure joy, with twinkling mischievous wit and surprising heart, too. If you like running at all — or not! — see this movie. About the toughest, wildest, and weirdest race in the world. Catch it on Netflix Instant!

Hiccups for Elephant: The Play

On a recent school visit to Middleburgh Elementary, I was handed the day’s schedule by librarian Jeni Friedland. Besides time for lunch, book signings, and the usual author presentations for grades PreK-5, the schedule read:

2:00: Surprise!

I imagined all sorts of things, but real life often far exceeds our imaginings. A first grade class, under the direction of Mrs. Pat Carvin, was all set to put on a play based on my slim picture book, Hiccups for Elephant (Scholastic). It was expanded to include parts for every student, plus all sorts of bonus features — nonfiction elements! dance! song! — thrown in. The cuteness came free with the meal and was overflowing.

I wish I had photos, because it really was a sight to behold. The whole performance was so well done. The acting! The drama! With the permission of Mrs. Carvin, I’ve included the adapted text here. If you’ve got the energy, feel free to use it with your young students.

Just one more comment: Plays offers wonderful ways for students to learn expressive reading. And yet it feels like the classroom play is slowly disappearing. Too many standardized tests? Too much required curriculum for teachers to cover in the classroom? Overworked? Underpaid? I don’t know. But I do know that a good play provides so many positive, creative opportunities for young children. They speak publicly, memorize lines and movements or narrate off to the side, sing and dance, create costumes and scenery, or simply be a part of something fun and wonderful.

I’ve commented before that books are a beginning, not an end. In the hands of a good teacher or parent, a book can lead to remarkable conversations and educational activities. This was exactly such a case, when a fairly simple text served as a springboard for so much active learning. I was honored, touched, and impressed.

So with special thanks to Pat Carvin, and to all the kids in her fabulous 1st grade class, let’s shut off our cell phones, turn down the house lights, and enjoy the show.

* Play adapted from the book, Hiccups for Elephant, by James Preller.
*  Poem in play, and monkey speeches, based on the poem, “Hiccup,” by Jack Prelutsky, from the book, It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles (Greenwillow).
* There are 20 parts, one for each student.


NARRATOR 1:  Welcome to our play.  It is called “Hiccups for Elephant” by James Preller.  Before we start, I would like to tell you a little about hiccups.  Do you know why we get hiccups and what causes them?

NARRATOR 2:  Here’s what we know.  A hiccup is an unintentional movement (a spasm) of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs.  The spasm is followed by quick closure of the vocal cord, which produces a distinctive sound.  Lots of things can cause hiccups.  A very full stomach can cause bouts of hiccups.  Eating too much food too quickly;  swallowing too much air; a sudden change in stomach temperature such as drinking a hot beverage; or emotional stress or excitement.  If you are able to stop the hiccup right away, great! But if you hiccup more than seven times you’d better settle in for the long haul.  Once a hiccup starts you typically hiccup 63 times or more.  The hiccup record, last time we checked, was 57 years.

NARRATOR 1:  Hope you will enjoy our play.  We had to change Mr. Preller’s story a little by adding a few extra characters and some common folk remedies people use to cure the hiccups.

NARRATOR 2: It was naptime.  All the animals were fast asleep except for Elephant.  He had the hiccups.


NARRATOR 2:  Chimp woke up.

CHIMP:  I can cure those hiccups.  Stand on your head and eat a banana.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.  KA-BOOM!  It only made him dizzy.


NARRATOR 2:  Lion woke up.

LION:  I can cure those hiccups.  Drink lots of water very, very fast.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.  He drank and drank and drank and drank.


NARRATOR 2:  Zebra woke up.

ZEBRA: I can cure those hiccups.  Hold your breath and count to 10 . . . BACKWARDS.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.

ELEPHANT:  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, …………HICCUP!

NARRATOR 2:  Parrot woke up.

PARROT:  I can cure those hiccups.  Put this sugar cube in your mouth and eat it!

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Hippo woke up.

HIPPO:  I can cure those hiccups.  Eat 1 teaspoon of peanut butter.  Yum Yum!

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Deer woke up.

DEER:  I can cure those hiccups.  Breathe in and out of this small paper bag.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Frog woke up.

FROG:  I can cure those hiccups.  Suck this nice SOUR slice of lemon.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2: Rabbit woke up.

RABBIT:  I can cure those hiccups.  Take a few quick swallows of this pineapple juice.

NARRATOR 2: Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Snake woke up.

SNAKESsssssss. I can cure those hiccups.  Let me SQUEEZE you around your stomach and diaphragm a couple of times.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant (RELUCTANTLY) gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Cheetah woke up.

CHEETAH:  I can cure your hiccups.  Try eating one teaspoon of delicious honey.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


I have hiccups,
I’ve had them all day.
They’re persistent (hiccup),
And won’t go away.
I’ve tried water, stood on my head,
Held my breath until (hiccup),
My face turned red.

MONKEY 1:  He’s tried every hiccup cure he could, but it hasn’t done any good.

MONKEY 2:  In fact, I think his hiccups are worse, and he may need a doctor or a nurse.

MONKEY 3:  He can feel those hiccups way down in his shoes.  I think he has the hiccup blues.

MONKEY 4:  I’m afraid his insides are going to pop.  Someone has got to get those hiccups to stop.

NARRATOR 2:  Mouse woke up.

MOUSE:  What’s all the noise?  I’m trying to sleep.

MONKEY 4:  Poor Elephant has the hiccups.

NARRATOR 2:  Mouse looked Elephant in the eye . . .


NARRATOR 2:  Everyone waited and waited…………. Silence.  There were no more hiccups.


MUSICAL INTERLUDE: The students sing the song “The Elephant,” words and music by Hap Palmer.

NARRATOR 2:  All the animals fell back to sleep.  Except for Elephant.

ELEPHANT:  La, La, La, La, La, AH_CHOO!  Oh No!!!!!!

NARRATOR 2:  The End!

Wild cheers, applause, but alas, no screams of “Author! Author!” All that remained was to congratulate the cast.