Punxsutawney Phyllis’s 10th Anniversary Birthday Bonanza!!!


It’s Groundhog Day!

And you know what that means, right?

First of all, it means we have an announcement to make!

And that is that Punxsutawney Phyllis, Sage of Sages, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinaire did set forth from her burrow on Blueberry Hill this Monday February 2, 2015 at 7:25 AM and declare, “Six more weeks of winter!”

Obviously with the howling winds and heavy, blowing snow there was no possibility of seeing her shadow, but Phyllis’s weather sense (possibly motivated by her desire to get right back in the burrow!) saw no signs of an early spring.  We are disappointed because we are tired of winter, but we are eating strawberries to make us think of warm summer days 🙂

Second, that means it’s my little Phyllis’s 10th Anniversary Birthday Bonanza!!!

illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2005

“We’re having a party!  We’re having a party!” [That’s Phyllis.  She’s a little excited.]  “We need CAKE!!!” [She’s a girl after my own heart :)]

I said, “How about cupcakes?”

Phyllis said, “Something BIGGER!”

So I said, “How about this?”

Phyllis said, “But there’s no ICING!”

So we settled on this:

and in case you are wondering, those little brown things are
groundhog graham crackers… which makes this a Groundhog Day Cake 🙂

“Now we need festive balloons!” said Phyllis.

“Here!” said I.

 “You’re kidding, of course,” said Phyllis.

“What?  It’s blue!  It’s pretty!”

“It’s only ONE!” said Phyllis.  “ONE is not festive!”

“Fine,” I said, ever accommodating.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that,” said Phyllis.  “Otherwise I might regurgitate my recently ingested natal day pancakes.  What do the words GROUNDHOG and BIRTHDAY mean to you?”

“You’re being just a tad demanding, Phyllis,” I said patiently.  “But I’ll humor you.  Will these do?”

“At last!” said Phyllis.  “And now, for the most important part…  my POEM!”

“Uh, yeah, about that… I’m not quite done yet.”


“I want it to be perfect,” I explained.  “After all, it’s for you.  It can’t be just any old thrown together thing!”

“That’s true,” agreed Phyllis.

“But I’ve got to finish it quick.  Everyone’s going to be here soon.”

“Also true,” said Phyllis.

“So it would be helpful,” I said pointedly, “if you would be quiet and let me concentrate.”

“Okay,” whispered Phyllis.

I tapped my pen against the table top.


I wrote across the top of the paper.

“Good start!” said Phyllis.

“Thank you.”

I tapped some more.

There once was a groundhog named Phyllis

“Stop,” said Phyllis.

“What do you mean, stop?”

“Nothing rhymes with Phyllis.  Believe me.  I know.  That’s a nonstarter.”

“How about There once was a groundhog named Phyllis/Who made so much noise that her poem will never get written?

“That doesn’t rhyme,” sniffed Phyllis.  But she stopped talking.

tap tap tap tap tap

In the hollow of old Punxsutawney
Lived Phyllis, whose fur was so . . .

“STOP!” said Phyllis.

“What now?”

“What is it with you and these impossible words?  NOTHING rhymes with Punxsutawney!  You’re supposed to be writing me a poem!  Poems are supposed to RHYME!”

“For your information, Miss Smarty Pants, I was going to say ‘whose fur was so tawny‘, but forget it.”

“Yeah, well, that’s pretty much cheating.  Punxsutawney and tawny – it’s practically rhyming the same word with itself.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be outside looking for your shadow or something?”

“It’s too early,” said Phyllis comfortably, helping herself to a strawberry.

I sighed.

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Oh, Phyllis, you forecasting marmot

“Er.  Ahem.  I don’t mean to interrupt, but seriously, marmot?  Where can you possibly go with that?”

“Harm it?!” I suggested.

“No…” said Phyllis, oblivious.  “I don’t think so.  And I don’t think you’re quite getting the sense of an ode.  You’re supposed to be praising me.  You have to set the mood.”

“I’ll set a mood all right.”

Phyllis ignored me and gazed out the window.  “Maybe something like:

Phyllis, your fur is so fine
Your eyes sparkle like finest wine…”

Hacksputtercough! I’m sorry.  I just had to gag a little there.”

“It’s better than yours!”

“How do you know?  You won’t let me get past the first line!”

“Here’s what we’ll do,” said Phyllis.  “I’LL write a poem and YOU write a poem and then we’ll see whose is better.”

“You’re going to write an ode to yourself?”

“Who better?  I know me and love me well!”



tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

“Stop tapping your pen!”

“Stop talking!”


*     *     *     *     *     denotes passage of time     *     *     *     *     *

“I’ve got one,” said Phyllis.  She cleared her throat and read,

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I can write poems
Way better than you!

“Well in that case,” I shot back,

Two poems diverged in a snowy wood
And I,
I chose the better one…
Which was not yours!

“Hmm…” Phyllis said primly.  “I don’t think we’re there yet.  Ready, set, write another one!”

*     *     *     *     *     denotes passage of time     *     *     *     *     *

“How about this?” said Phyllis.
so much depends
a brown groundhog
seeking shadows
beside a green
pine tree
“Hey, that’s not bad!” I said.
“Let’s hear yours,” said Phyllis.
Phyllis is the thing without feathers (I began)
“What kind of thing is that to say?” demanded Phyllis.  “I’m a groundhog!  Of COURSE I don’t have FEATHERS!”
“You’re interrupting!” I grumped.  “Are you going to let me read it or not?”
“Fine.  Read. But I don’t think there’s much hope for this one.”  She snickered.
I glared, and started again:
Phyllis is the thing without feathers
That perches in the burrow
And searches the air with her nose
for signs of spring.
Phyllis patted my hand.  “It’s okay that you’re not very good at this.  You’re trying.  That’s what’s important.”  She stuffed a strawberry in my mouth.  “Let’s keep practicing.  Maybe you’ll get better.”
*     *     *     *     *     denotes passage of time     *     *     *     *     *

“Done!” I said.

“I was done first three times in a row,” said Phyllis.  “That means you have to read first.”

Really, it is hard to follow groundhog logic.  Actually, groundhog logic is probably an oxymoron.

I sighed.  “Okay.  But let me read the whole thing.  Don’t interrupt.”

“I would never do that,” said Phyllis sweetly.  She sat up on her haunches and prepared to listen attentively.

by Susanna

Beauty, wit, charm, grace
Fuzzy little marmot face
Unsurpassed intelligence
Never-equaled weather sense
Even though you’re not a boy
You’re Punxsutawney’s pride and joy
My furry friend, you know it’s true
There’s no one else on earth like you!

Phyllis jumped in my lap and gave me a hug.  “See?  I KNEW you could do it!  Now I’ll read mine.”

by Phyllis

Lavender’s blue dilly dilly lavender’s green
It’s really true dilly dilly I should be queen
Lavender’s green dilly dilly lavender’s blue
I’m a Punxsutawney dream-come-true.

“Ye-ah…,” I said.  “You should have quit while you were ahead.”

“Yeah, probably,” said Phyllis.  “But never mind.  Happy birthday to me!”

Happy Birthday, dear Phyllis,
Happy Birthday to you!!!

And now, Phyllis and I are looking forward with GREAT anticipation to reading YOUR poems for Phyllis, and hopefully seeing some videos too (no pressure, Erik) since we totally failed on that score!

If you wrote a poem for Phyllis, and/or have photographs, drawings, videos, or other fun feature accompaniments, please add your post-specific blog link to the list below, or post your poem etc in the comments, or Email it to me and I’ll post it for you so that we can all enjoy everyone’s creativity!

Maybe Phyllis and I will pick some top finishers, or maybe we’ll have a vote later in the week, but either way, some people will win a signed copy of PUNXSUTAWNEY PHYLLIS (if there’s anyone left on earth who doesn’t already have one or who wants another for someone), a signed copy of Pat Miller’s wonderful SUBSTITUTE GROUNDHOG along with audio CD!, and there will be some other non-groundhog-day-related picture books up for grabs too.

Happy Groundhog Day to everyone!  May spring come early in your hearts, even if the weather outside fails to comply! 🙂

Have a marvelous Monday! 🙂

And please don’t miss Julie’s amazing and clever poem in the comments! HERE
And Karen’s delightful poem HERE
And Sarah’s wonderful ode HERE
And Jilanne’s terrific limerick HERE

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Red Sings From Treetops

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Guess what?

Next week is the 100th Perfect Picture Book Week!

Can you believe it?

We should probably have a party.


Next Friday – only one week from right this very second – the day of the 100th Perfect Picture Book post – is when I leave for the SCBWI conference I’m teaching at.

Teaching GROWNUPS!  IN REAL LIFE not online!

(Can you say petrified? :))

I am finishing the pile of critiques.  I am trying to prepare my workshop in a way that will hopefully sound coherent and give the participants a fun and meaningful experience.  I’m also winding up my May online class and starting my June one.  My children are arriving home from college which necessitates driving to pick up, loading and unloading cars, masses of laundry, and packing things away for the summer.  Oh, and I’m babysitting for my granddaughters on Sunday and in charge of the barn chores until my friend gets back from her mini break.  All good things in every way, but I’m feeling a little like I just don’t have enough time in the day!

So I’m not sure if I’m going to manage to plan a party.

And you will also have to (please!) forgive me for recycling a Perfect Picture Book today!

I don’t feel bad too about it, though, because this book is one of my all-time favorites.  I use it as an example of beautiful language in my class, and if you haven’t had a chance to read it you’re truly missing out.  Get thee to the library right quick!

Red Sings From Treetops: A Year In Colors
Written By: Joyce Sidman
Illustrated By: Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Books For Children, April 2009, Fiction

Suitable For: ages 5 and up

Themes: Colors, Seasons, Poetry

Red sings from treetops:
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.

Red turns
the maples feathery,
sprouts in rhubarb spears;
Red squirms on the road after rain.”

(Don’t you just love that?  Can’t you just hear that cardinal singing and see the worms wiggling on the pavement?)

Brief Synopsis:  From the jacket: “Color comes alive in this whimsical, innovative book.”  That pretty much sums it up!

Links To ResourcesJunior Library Guild Activity GuidePoem StartersReaders Guide

Why I Like This Book:  I love the lyrical language of this book.  The author was so creative in her thinking – the way she describes the colors makes you see, feel, hear, touch, and taste Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  The art is exquisite and perfectly suited to the poetry.  How can you not love lines like,
Green waits
in the hearts of trees,
the earth

I hope you’ll get a chance to read this book, linger over the language, enjoy the images it evokes, maybe challenge yourself or your children to come up with your own descriptions!

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

I want to take this opportunity to let you all know that PPBF will be going on hiatus for the summer as usual.  I am open to popular opinion as to whether next Friday (June 6) or the following Friday (June 13) will be the last day.  As I said, I will not be here next Friday.  Princess Blue Kitty (my car for those of you who don’t know her) and I will be on the road to the aforementioned SCBWI conference.  But y’all can carry on and I’ll catch up after the weekend.  Assuming I survive 🙂  Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.  As for a party, I guess we could maybe have it a week late…???

PPBF bloggers please be sure to leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come see what delights you have in store for us this week!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!! 🙂

Rhyme Clinic With Linda Ashman!

Happy December, Everyone!

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings and beginnings of Hanukkah and weekends with your families!

I must say, the morning run the last couple days has been more of a morning roll…  I blame the pie 🙂

Today’s post is a long one, but I think you’ll find it very educational and worthwhile!  The incomparable Linda Ashman kindly offered to do a Rhyme Clinic, since rhyme can be very tricky indeed!  I think we’ll all be able to learn a thing or two.  And it’s kind of appropriate to be doing such a special post today because it is my 3rd Blogiversary!  (Well, technically that was yesterday – but we were all sleeping off pie, so let’s celebrate today… with some cake!… which I shall make coffee cake in deference to the hour and the fact that we should go light after the Thanksgiving weekend feasting :))

And while we’re at it, I think some confetti would be appropriate, don’t you?  It’s not every day you celebrate a blogiversary with someone as famous as Linda to guest post 🙂

Alrighty then!  Now that we are fortified with snack and covered in confetti, take it away, Linda!

*     *     *     *     *

Greetings, everyone!
I’ll begin with a confession: Although I’ve critiqued many rhyming manuscripts over the years, I’ve never done a Rhyme Clinic via blog post. So, a huge thank you to the intrepid Susanna for being game to try this.
And thank you to everyone who submitted manuscripts. I really enjoyed reading them, and am sorry I couldn’t use them all. I chose manuscripts which would allow me to answer frequently asked questions and address common issues that bedevil writers of rhyme. I’ll be sharing parts of them in just a minute—but, first, a quick intro. 
In The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, I go into some detail about meter, feet, and how to avoid “Crimes of Rhyme.” Given our limited space here, let me just mention three of the most commonly committed crimes:
1.  Letting rhyme trump story. Sometimes we focus so much on making rhymes that we lose sight of the story. The result? Confusing plot lines, poetic detours, and “random” rhymes that don’t move your story forward.
2.  Unnatural phrasing. It’s tempting to use rarely-heard words or twist sentences into awkward contortions in order to make a rhyme. If it’s not a phrase you’d actually say, it probably shouldn’t go in your story.
3.  “Off” Meter.  Writing rhythmic verse involves more than counting the syllables in each line. You need to pay attention to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are different names for these patterns—which I won’t go into here—but the main point is to be aware of the pattern and be (mostly) consistent in using it. You also want to pay attention to “feet” – the number of times the pattern is repeated in a line. Tracking this pattern line by line is called “scanning” your verse—something writers of rhyme should know how to do.
In discussing the meter of rhyming manuscripts, I’ll use ALL CAPS for stressed syllables, and lower case for unstressed. For example:
twas the NIGHT / before CHRIST / mas and ALL / through the HOUSE
has a “da da DUM da da DUM” (anapestic) pattern. This pattern is repeated four times in one line, for four feet. (By the way, putting stressed syllables in all caps doesn’t mean we shout those syllables when we read them—the emphasis should be discernible, but subtle.)
Okay, that’s it for the quick intro. Let’s read some rhyme, shall we?
Our first example is from Winnie Brews a Witchy Stew by Rosi Hollinbeck. Winnie’s mom isn’t feeling well, so Winnie decides to make stew—but a crucial ingredient is harder to come by than she realized.
Winnie’s mom is sick in bed.
With an awfully achy head
            Caused by her pointy hat.
Supper is near, it’s time to cook.
So Winnie scans her big cook book
            For things to fill her vat.
She finds a recipe for cake
That calls for boiled rattlesnake
            It doesn’t sound quite right.
Cold spider soup with extra mud
Needs a cup of green toad blood
            But has to cook all night.
So Winnie wracks her witchy brain.
She pages through the book again
            And finds the perfect thing.
She checks to see what is at hand.
Sure her stew will be quite grand.
            She just needs one bat wing.
She fills her vat with lizards’ feet
Adds chopped jumping spider meat
            Spiced up with dried swamp scum.
Nettles, stinkweed, fried toad warts,
Black squid ink – six or seven quarts,
            And pickled fish eyes –Yum!
Yum, indeed! Anyone hungry? Rosi does something interesting with her rhyme pattern: the first two lines rhyme with each other, then the third rhymes with the third line in the next stanza, and so on. Because she’s consistent about it, it works. Still, I can’t help thinking that third line lands rather heavily and interrupts the flow of the story. What do others think?
Rosi also does a nice job of keeping her meter (mostly) consistent, alternating one stressed and one unstressed syllable (DUM da / DUM da / DUM da / DUM)—or vice-verse—throughout. I stumbled—slightly—in just a couple of places. For example, in the second stanza, she breaks the prevailing pattern with “SUP per is NEAR” (DUM da da DUM). This is easily fixed by using a contraction: SUPper’s NEAR.
I stumbled slightly over the next line as well. Because of the rhyme pattern, I want to say: “so WINnie SCANS her BIG cook BOOK.” But that sounds unnatural because, in speaking, we say “COOK book”, not “cook BOOK.” I’d suggest changing it to something like “WINnie SCANS her GIant BOOK” (the context and illustrations will show that it’s a cook book).
I also tripped over the sixth stanza. The first line sounds unnatural (in speaking, we’d say “She checks to see what’s at hand” (which, unfortunately, doesn’t work with the rhyme pattern), not “She checks to see what is at hand). And the third line has the same problem as the cook book example. Because of the meter, I want to say “bat WING” but, in speech, we’d say “BAT wing.”
A few other lines were troublesome: “Adds chopped jumping spider meat” is a mouthful, and the rhythm is off for “BLACK squid INK – SIX or SEVen QUARTS”. The latter is an easy fix with something like “BLACK squid INK—a DOZen QUARTS.”
Overall, though, Rosi’s rhyme and rhythm are good. My bigger concern is with the story’s pacing. Although a witch’s house is a great setting, Winnie spends the first nine stanzas (of a 24-stanza story) in her kitchen trying to decide what to make, then mixing up various ingredients. When Winnie goes off to a cave in search of a bat wing (in the 10thstanza), things start to get more interesting. Rosi might consider condensing these early stanzas and making them more active and visual. Instead of staying in the kitchen, for example, Winnie might actively collect her ingredients—dig up snail shells, climb a tree for an owl feather, hunt through her dusty attic, etc.
1.  Try writing it in 4-line stanzas to see how it changes the rhythm and story.
2.  Scan the rhyme to make sure it’s consistent.
3.  Strive for natural phrasing.
4.  Condense the beginning stanzas, vary the scenery, and get to Winnie’s problem sooner.
Now let’s look at a different sort of manuscript. Anteater Saves Gas, Zebra Recycles Trash: A Green Alphabet is a concept book—an alphabestiary with an environmental twist (the author, Nancy, requested I use only her first name):
Anteater saves gas
riding her bike to class.
Bear buys his trash pail
at a garage sale.
Cheetah checks her meter,
then turns down the heater.
Donkey collects rain
pouring down his drain.
Elephant swings higher
in her recycled tire.
Fox lends to friends
his odds and ends.
Giraffe has great advice:
Use sheets of paper twice.
Hyena donates toys
to other girls and boys.
I like the active language (all those great verbs!), illustration potential, and the short, catchy rhymes. The main issue, rhyme-wise, is the meter. Many of the stanzas don’t have a discernible rhyme pattern, and there’s no predominant meter for the manuscript overall. Because this is a concept book—and we’re focused on each page as opposed to an ongoing story—Nancy may not need to use the same meter for all the stanzas. However, each stanza should be rhythmic and follow some sort of pattern.
Let’s start with what works. In the last two stanzas of our sample, Nancy uses a consistent iambic trimeter (three feet of “da DUM”):
gi RAFFE / has GREAT / ad VICE:
use SHEETS / of PA / per TWICE.
hy E / na DO / nates TOYS
to OTH / er GIRLS / and BOYS.
Excellent! Now let’s look at the first stanza:
ANT eat er saves GAS
RI ding her / BIKE to / CLASS.
The three unstressed syllables in the first line make it hard to know how to divide the line into feet. Part of the problem comes from using anteater (DUM da da) to lead things off. It might be easier to use a different animal—like aardvark, for example. If Nancy wanted to keep the three feet pattern of the giraffe and hyena stanzas, she might try something like this:
(and) SAVES a / LOT of / GAS.
The illustrations could show aardvark on a bike, so it wouldn’t need to be spelled out in the text.
I like Nancy’s “B” stanza:
BEAR buys his / TRASH pail
AT a gar / AGE sale.
Because Nancy uses the same pattern in each line (DUM da da / DUM da ), it has a nice rhythm to it.  It’s a different pattern than the others we’ve looked at, which—as I mentioned—may not matter so much in a concept book. But if Nancy wants to maintain a pattern of three feet per line, she might try something like this:
BADGer / BUYS his / TRASH pail
SHOPping / AT a / YARD sale.
I also tripped over the rhythm of the elephant (a rhythmically troublesome word like anteater) and fox stanzas. Here’s the latter:
FOX lends to / FRIENDS
his ODDS / and ENDS.
This feels abrupt to me (I keep wanting to say “his odds and his ends,” which sounds more rhythmic but doesn’t make sense). Again, if Nancy wants to aim for three feet per line, she could try something like:
FOX lends / TO his / FRIENDS
(a)SSORT ed / ODDS and / ENDS.
1. Try to find a rhyme pattern that you like and stick with it. Because it’s a concept book, it’s probably okay to have some variation in the rhyme pattern among the stanzas (what do others think about this?)—but each stanza should have a pattern.
2. The best stanzas (like giraffe) are natural-sounding. Most of your stanzas sound natural, but a few are awkward (for example, later in the text: Kangaroo’s magnet can feel / if a car is made of steel.)
3. In my book M is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children, I wrote an introductory stanza and a wrap-up stanza to make the collection feel more cohesive. You might consider doing something similar.
Since I’ve already used a lot of space here, I’m going to speed through a couple of examples from two other manuscripts. For each manuscript, I’ll pick out two stanzas—a strong one and a weaker one. 
Verse that works/Verse that needs work.
Our first example comes from Sylvester Johnson Ate a Slug by Pat Haapaniemi. I’ll start with the stanza that needs work because it’s the first one of the story:
Sylvester Johnson ate a slug,
all squiggly and alive.
He’s never done a thing like that
although he’s only five.
I like this stanza—the rhythm, the language, the evocative imagery (yuck!)—but was thrown by the last line. The “although” is confusing. Should he have eaten a slug by age five?  This feels like a “random rhyme”—the sort we use when we can’t find a better one. Sometimes you can get away with it, but I’d recommend changing this one—you don’t want your reader to be confused, especially so early in the story.
This stanza from Pat is much better:
His mother brushed and scrubbed his teeth
And made him gargle twice,
Then took him to professionals
To ask for their advice.
Here the rhyme sounds natural (I love when a multi-syllabic word like “professionals” works with your rhyme scheme), there’s good action, and it leads nicely into the next part of the story—the various experts’ theories on why Sylvester would do such a nasty thing.
For our second speedy example, I’ve pulled two stanzas from Midsummer Mischief by Joanna Marple. This time I’ll start with the stanza that (mostly) works:
On tippy toe paws, like cats on the prowl  
crept Bear and his friends – Mouse, Squirrel and Owl.
I really like the language in the first line of this stanza—it’s rhythmic, evocative, and I love the sound of “tippy toe paws.” I love it so much that it pained me to realize there’s a slight problem with it: owls don’t have paws. Perhaps Joanne can keep the “tippy toe” but get rid of the “paws.”
Here’s the one that needs work:
Fox sank in tears, “I’m a right soggy mess!”
Prankish adventures were his to confess.
The second line is one of those awkward contortions we sometimes do to make a rhyme. In speaking, we wouldn’t use such a phrase. We’d say “Fox confessed to his pranks” or the like. Again, if you wouldn’t say it, you probably shouldn’t include it in your story.
So does all this seem a bit obsessive—and perhaps a mite tedious?  Well, yes, it can be. But trying to find the perfect word—one that works rhythmically, sounds natural, AND moves your story forward—is what makes writing in rhyme so much fun (or not, depending on your perspective).
By the way, if my brief explanation of meter and feet left you more confused than enlightened, I highly recommend the following:
I fear I’ve made this post WAY too long, so I’ll wrap this up with a mantra for rhyme-writers: Be clear, be concise, be rhythmic, be natural.
Again, thanks for your submissions (and sorry I couldn’t include them all), and thank you, Susanna, for having me!
*     *     *     *     *
Thank YOU so much for joining us today, Linda, and for kindly offering your expertise!  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say it’s been a great learning experience.  And I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Linda’s Nuts & Bolts Guide is terrific!  I’ve read it and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to buy themselves ask for a holiday gift 🙂
See you here on Wednesday for Would You Read It.  And for anyone who might have missed them in the craziness of the past week, the Holiday Gift Guide for Writers is HERE and the guidelines for the Holiday Writing Contest (with great prizes including 2 of Linda’s picture books!) are HERE.
Have a marvelous Monday, everyone!  
From Linda’s website:
Linda Ashman’s more than two dozen picture books have earned numerous honors and starred reviews, and have been included on the “Best of the Year” lists of The New York TimesParentingChild, and Cookie magazines, Bank Street College of Education, the New York Public Library, and more. As a children’s poet, she’s been compared to Ogden Nash, Mary Ann Hoberman, Douglas Florian, and Jack Prelutsky. She’s taught a variety of workshops on writing for children, and is the author of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” handbook for picture book writers.

Oh Susanna – Will Agents Rep Poetry?

Happy Monday Everyone!

It feels like ages since we had an Oh Susanna day, and the next question in the queue seemed like a good one for the start of a new year.

Penny asked: I have noticed when researching agent blogs, that a lot of them don’t represent poetry. So what if you write poetry along with picture books/middle grade, etc.? Do you have to submit poetry on your own? Or will agents usually work with you to find a home for your poems, too?

This is the first time an Oh Susanna question has come in that I really had no experience with, but I think it’s something a lot of you might wonder about, so I wanted to address it.  Since I don’t have any direct, personal knowledge on the topic, I of course reached out to writer friends who might know the answer.  And being children’s writers they were of course all wonderful and helpful and wrote back immediately with the best information they could provide.

Laura Sassi whose poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in many publications including Highlights for ChildrenCricketLadybugSpider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr.FamilyFun, and Pack-O-Fun and whose debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK is forthcoming from Zonderkidz, a division of HarperCollins says:

According to my contract, when I had an agent, she represented all of my writing, but what she was interested in were my rhyming picture books, so that’s what I focussed on and sent her.  Not sure this answer helps in your question – except to point out that maybe part of the answer needs to be that it’s a very individual thing.  Depends probably on name recognition of poet etc.

Iza Trapani, author and illustrator of many wonderful rhyming stories for children, including ITSY BITSY SPIDER (Whispering Coyote Press, 1993) and THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN (Sky Pony Press 2012) as well as 2 poetry compilations – RUFUS AND FRIENDS RHYME TIME (Charlesbridge 2008) and RUFUS AND FRIENDS SCHOOL DAYS (Charlesbridge 2010) says:

My agent represents me on picture books, individual poems, poem collections, whatever I write. But that’s our agreement. I am sure some agents may be only interested in picture books, rhyming or not. Poetry continues to be a hard sell…

Laura Purdie Salas (not to be confused with Laura Sassi :)) who is the author of many books and poems for children including
A LEAF CAN BE… (Millbrook Press, 2012) (which was  Perfect Picture Book HERE)
BOOKSPEAK! (Clarion, 2011) NCTE Notable; 2012 Minnesota Book Award
STAMPEDE! (Clarion, 2009) Finalist, 2010 Minnesota Book Award says:

Good question. I've run into that same thing. What seems to be the
typical case is that if an agent represents you for picture books and
novels, she will also submit your poetry, but only for book
manuscripts for traditional publishers. Not individual poems for
anthologies, magazines, etc. Poetry, in general, makes so little money
that agents don't have a whole lot of interest in representing it,
even if they personally love it. They know that it's just not all that
salable (can you hear me sob as I type that?).

Just my 2 cents. Interested to hear if others have different

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater who is the author of FOREST HAS A SONG (Clarion 2013) and READING TIME (Wordsong, date TBA) and who you can visit at The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks in addition to her website linked to her name above has this to contribute:

I don’t know the bigger answer to this question, only my own experience.  I met my agent through the generous introduction and sharing of my work by my teacher, Lee Bennett Hopkins.  Elizabeth Harding (Curtis Brown Ltd.) does represent and submit my poetry, and while I have not yet sold a picture book…she is encouraging me to write one.  

From this, I’d imagine that if you’re already working with an agent, s/he would most likely work with you and your poems.  But poetry is such a tough sell these days, I wonder if agents hesitate to advertise that they might even read it.

I hope this helps?

Clearly this is a tough question to answer!  In general, it seems that if you write other children’s genres, at least some agents will probably help you sub traditional book length poetry mss.  But it sounds like poetry by itself would be a hard way to secure an agent.  Thanks ever so much to Laura, Laura, Iza, and Amy for sharing their knowledge and expertise, and if anyone in the reading audience has experience in this area, please share!  We are all very curious to find out!  Catherine? Anyone?  Not to put you on the spot or anything 🙂

I hope we’ll get some good information in the comments!  Thanks for a great question, Penny!

Have a wonderful day everyone! 🙂