Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spotlight on Tamera Will Wissinger + DMC Challenge


Happy Independence Day

In celebration of our nation's birthday, Today's Little Ditty is throwing a bang-up fandango with some truly all-American, knee-slappin', boot-scootin' entertainers.  Who needs fireworks when you've got a wild west cowboy jug band?!!

I'm happy to welcome bandleader and author Tamera Will Wissinger to the spotlight.  A graduate of Hamline University's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Tamera lives with her husband in south Florida, where she writes poetry and stories for children.  Visit her website and her online journal, The Writer's Whimsy, for all the latest goings on.

Tamera's debut novel, GONE FISHING: A NOVEL IN VERSE (HMH Books for Young Readers), is well-loved in these parts, having released in March of last year to a fanfare of praise.  It is an ALSC 2014 Notable Children's Book, a Children's Book Committee 2014 Best Children's Book of the Year, and an International Reading Association 2014 Teachers' Choice Book.

Now she's back with her first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, a counting concept book from Sky Pony Press.

Sky Pony Press, June 3, 2014
ISBN: 978-1628735956
(Click here for purchasing information.)
Based on the popular nursery rhyme, "This Old Man," this book is the perfect read-aloud (or sing-aloud). It's sure to delight many a young cowpoke at storytime or bedtime with its silly wordplay and a wagonload of rhyming and counting fun.  Matt Loveridge's illustrations are equally fresh and lively and will tickle the funny bones of children and adults alike.

So grab your instrument, get your twang on, and let's find out more about Tamera and this fun, new picture book.

Let's start off with some favorite things.  Please tell us a few of yours:

FOOD: Does fudge count as food? [Heck, yeah!] I’m going to say penuche fudge. I don’t eat it often, but when I do, that brown sugar/butter combo is heavenly.
COLOR: When I was very young I would have said red. In my teens, purple was my favorite. I still love those colors, but my favorite right now is a pastel blue-green. I’m not sure of a color name, maybe sea glass? It’s so fresh and welcoming.
SMELL: Oh, there are so many smells that I love - outdoor there are magnolias, pine trees, waves, barbeque, and indoor there is baking bread, clean towels, but I’m going to go with the smell of the onions and celery as they begin to cook in butter for the stuffing on Thanksgiving morning. (I’m seeing a trend here; maybe butter is my favorite food and I’m just not admitting it!)
SOUND: Laughter.
QUOTE: Again, there are many. This line from THE WAKING by Theodore Roethke is currently capturing my attention:
“I learn by going where I have to go.”  

What inspired you to write for children? 

Some of my best early childhood memories are of books and listening to stories and poetry being read. Having a story read to me made me feel special, and that feeling grew when I learned to read to myself. I fell in love with the stories themselves, and also the way the words sounded and worked together. Those early stories helped me develop an ear for rhythm and rhyme, and are my earliest inspiration. Being connected to those memories allows me to write for the spirit of the child that I used to be.

What do you enjoy most about being a children’s author?

It’s such a privilege and a responsibility to write stories that might appeal to children and that’s a great source of joy to me. I also love connecting with readers, fellow writers, and the children’s literature community. 

Give us a peek inside your “writing zone” – when, where, and how do you do your best work?

My favorite time and place to write are mornings in my office. I’m most creative very first thing while I’m waking up, or after breakfast, so I try to take advantage of that window of time when I can.

When I sit in one place for too long I can become fidgety, so one habit I’ve adopted in recent years is to sometimes write while I’m standing up. Maybe that’s quirky, but to me it’s just another tool that helps me get my work done. Here’s a peek inside my office at my standup desk setup – it adjusts up and down. (Yes, I cleaned for my company!) It isn’t fancy, but it allows me to have an option to keep working even if I need to stretch my legs.

Where did the idea to write THIS OLD BAND come from? 

The original idea came after a trip to Jackson, Wyoming with my husband and friends a few years ago. I had traveled to the west and southwest several times before, but on this trip I began to pay more careful attention and take notes. Everything there is different from what I was used to with my Midwestern background – there are ranches instead of farms, and cowboys instead of farmers, the contrast of color and terrain between mountains, valleys, mesas, desert is a world apart from the rolling green farm fields in the area that I called home for most of my life. And there was amazing wildlife that I had heard of but had never seen before. After that trip I was driven to write something for children that featured that part of the country. Once I realized that the main characters wanted to perform and sing, I decided to write in the rhythmic pattern of the old folk song This Old Man and I was on my way.

What do you hope children will take away from your book? 

I hope the rhythm and rhymes in THIS OLD BAND are written in a way that will be fun for the children and adults who are reading the book. My goal was to write an engaging text that could stand up to repeated readings or singings. There are other elements in the book: the band members are counting down from ten to one and there are many west/southwest references in the text and delightful Matt Loveridge illustrations that I hope readers will also enjoy.

What about this book makes you the most proud?

I’m pleased with how the text in THIS OLD BAND came together. The rhythm and rhyme constraints that I imposed caused me to try many different word play combinations, adding and removing until I found the right balance and mix. I’m also so happy that Matt Loveridge was able to reference the text to develop illustrations for the setting, characters, and even a story line. I don’t take credit for his illustrations, but I’m definitely proud of the way the text and illustrations work together to create the book.

          And proud she should be!  Check out this wonderful opening spread...

This old band, ten through one,
Play their music in the sun. 

With a clang clang boodle bang, 
Play the sky a song. 
This old band plays all day long.

If you played an instrument in a cowboy jug band, what would it be and why?

I’d have to go for something in the percussion section…maybe I’d play, “dub dub on the tub,” since it resembles a drum. Either that, or I’d click with a stick, or knock with a block. Yes, definitely something that would allow me to drum or tap. Since fifth grade I’ve wanted to be a drummer, Michelle, and this is my big chance! Thank you!
Personally, I play a mean "ting ting with a string."  I hope readers will let us know in the comments what they would like to play!

So what’s coming up next for you?

Up next for me is THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLES A SKINK. It’s a cumulative story in the vein of the old lady who swallows a fly. In my story, the old lady is a fisherwoman at water’s edge and is gobbling all sorts of fishing bait and tackle. It’s arriving from Sky Pony Press in 2015.
Fun!  (If she's still hungry, I have a few skinks in my back yard that the old lady is welcome to.)

If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?

What an intriguing question…if I had the attention of all the world’s children I think I would convey the good advice that I learned by studying the wise lessons of legendary football coach Lou Holtz. Here is a small part of the essence of Lou’s teaching:
We will all face trouble in our lives, and each of us 
can choose how to react to that trouble.
No matter what the situation, try to:
Do what's right and avoid what's wrong.
Do your best.
Treat other people the way you want to be treated. 
(The Golden Rule.)
Maybe that’s idealistic, but I believe if everybody thought, spoke, and behaved this way we would all be a whole lot happier and more successful.

Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.

Since THIS OLD BAND is a tribute to a traditional folk song, I’m going to choose the parody or tribute poem as this month’s ditty. To begin, choose a well-known or classic poem or song that someone else wrote. Follow the rhyme and rhythm pattern of the poem that’s being honored, but change most of the words to your own. Keep only those words that are essential for a reader to be able to identify the original. I find nursery rhymes and folk songs are good places to start.
[For some examples, have a look at Kenn Nesbitt's online tutorial: "How to Write a Silly Song Parody."]
Although they are often funny, tribute poems don’t have to be humorous. My friend Claire Rudolph Murphy recently released a book called MY COUNTRY ‘TIS OF THEE, and she is inviting people to write different versions of that classic patriotic song. In honor of July 4, any readers could also write their own take on this classic. Here’s a link to Claire’s project: Regardless of the type of tribute poem you write, if you get stuck or off track, go back to the reference poem and see how the classic was done, then dive back into your version. Have fun! 

I'm sure we will have fun with this month's challenge!  It was a joy to have you here, Tamera.

Thank you for hosting me here at Today’s Little Ditty, Michelle. I had a great time!

I hope many of you will put on your best bib and tucker and join in the fun!  Throughout the month, send your poems to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right.  For children under 13 who would like to participate, please read my COPPA compliance statement located below the contact form.  Some poems may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will appear in the wrap-up post on Friday, July 25th.

And just in case you need a little extra incentive to cowboy up to the challenge, Tamera has graciously offered to donate a personalized copy of THIS OLD BAND as a giveaway!  All participants will be eligible for this random drawing at the end of the month.

Just a couple more exciting pieces of news to share 
before I mosey on into the sunset...

First, the winner of June's ditty challenge giveaway. Thank you, again, to everyone who expanded their horizons last month, and challenged themselves to think about and express poetry in a new way.  I enjoyed every one of the contributed Poem Movies and Poem Pictures immensely!

The winner selected by to receive a complimentary copy of THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR SCIENCE compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong is:

BRIDGET MAGEE  – Congratulations Bridget!

The other piece of news I wanted to share is that I've had three children's poems – "The Emperor's Greenhouse," "The Plight of the Honeybee," and "Compost Bin" – selected to be in DEAR TOMATO: AN INTERNATIONAL CROP OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE POEMS, edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and scheduled to release this October!  (Stay tuned for further details this fall on my Facebook page.)  I'm delighted to be in the company of a star-studded lineup of children's poets, several of whom I enjoy visiting each Poetry Friday.   

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.


  1. Congratulations, Michelle, on your coming poetry publications!!! I love learning more about Tamara, who is such a positive force, I just want to grab her into a big ol' cowgirl hug. As for my instrument, I've just decided to learn to play the fiddle, so maybe pluck pluck SLIDE. :)

    1. Welcome to the band, Irene! And thanks for the congrats too. :)

  2. You have the best challenges! Thanks for this wonderful interview with Tamera. I'd love to get a copy of her book for my older students to share with others and perhaps write their own (like your challenge). I had a student who wrote a song parody of Let it Go about her love of writing. I have the feeling that this sounds easier than it really is.

    1. And thank YOU for being such an enthusiastic participant, Margaret! I feel the same about Tamera's challenge. I'm a bit nervous about it, actually, but even if I don't come up with something wonderful, it will be fun giving it a go.

  3. I loved learning about Tamera's writing process - and her description of Wyoming. Thanks for sharing this with us today, Michelle - happy 4th.!

    1. Happy 4th to you, too, Tara! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. Here's the link to Kaylie's Gotta Write:
    (She is 13 years old and I have permission to publish this poem.)

  5. Fun interview, Michelle and Tamera. I'm looking forward to the "There Was an Old Lady Who" retelling -- that tale is due for a fun remake!

  6. Love every bit, Michelle and Tamera. I loved Gone Fishing and have used it in poetry lessons/story telling with younger students. Your challenge sounds intriguing, will have to find a favorite to use for my own. Thank you for that too. Happy Independence Day!

    1. Happy Independence Day, Linda! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  7. I LOVE "with a clang clang boodle bang." This book looks really fun to read aloud. I bet kids adore it.

    1. Isn't that fun? And the book is chock full of fun phrases like that.

  8. Very enjoyable, getting to know Tamera! My favorite line so far is "Play the sky a song," but I look forward to enjoying the whole book, and to participating in the challenge this month. Finally, Michelle, congrats on your Dear Tomato success!

    1. Thanks Heidi. You've got such a great imagination, I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

  9. Great interview. Congratulations on THIS OLD BAND, Tamera, and congrats to Michelle for not one, not two, but three poems in DEAR TOMATO! I'm going to try the challenge - it will be new territory for me. And for the band, I'm picking the harmonica, of course!

    1. Thanks so much, Monica. :) The harmonica has your name on it! Looking forward to jamming under the stars tonight.

  10. "My goal was to write an engaging text that could stand up to repeated readings or singings." -- Standing up to repeated readings is key! It sounds like you achieved your goal. Enjoyed the interview and visiting Claire's site, Michelle. I will try to join in this month's challenge :-)

  11. Great news on your poems, Michelle! Congrats! Thanks for this engaging and informative post.

  12. Congratulations, Michelle, on having those poems accepted! And thanks to both you and Tamera for the interesting interview. (Wouldn't it be lovely if we all lived by those three principles Lou Holtz mentions?) I'm going to give the ditty challenge a shot this month...sounds like fun. And my instrument in the band? Well a button accordion would be thrilling, but I think I'll go with the hum-fuzzy bee-buzzy wax-paper comb.

    1. Hum-fuzzy bee buzzy! If your musical talent is only half as good as your description of the comb, we'll still be sitting pretty! Looking forward to your contribution this month, Julie.

  13. Great interview. I want to also add my congratulations on the Dear Tomato acceptances!

  14. Thanks for hosting this great interview, I always love getting to know authors better. Seeing this interview made me want to go back and read GONE FISHING, which I had read lots about, but never actually read myself. And congrats on getting some of your poems published-- woo-hoo!

  15. Great post. This is one of my favorite challenges so far! I emailed in my entry, which is a parody of Mary Had a Little Lamb. Thanks for the fun inspiration!

    1. I love your enthusiasm, Kristi! Thanks so much for being our first contributor this month. :)

  16. Hi there Michelle, congratulations on having your poetry published. How awesome is that! :) Great Q and A here, I would be sure to be on the lookout for this book - the cover is gorgeous. I'm also intrigued with Gone Fishing as I have a special affinity with novels-in-verse. Hopefully we have copies of those in our public libraries here. :)

    1. Tamera is certainly making a splash here... I hope her books find their way to you soon!

  17. Congratulations, Michelle! And thank you so much for the great interview--Tamera's THIS OLD BAND sounds precious! I will ponder the ditty challenge for this month. It sounds like fun!

    1. Hey Becky, I do hope you'll be able to join in this month! It will be more fun with you. :)

  18. Thank you, Michelle! I'm excited to receive my book - I'm glad my girls inspired me to write my poem and now we'll have another poetry book in the house to share. =)
    Fabulous interview with Tamera. Could not be more proud of her writing accomplishments and her latest book THIS OLD BAND. Such fun text and the illustrations are fantastic!
    Thanks for another creative ditty challenge. I hope I have enough time to complete it before the end of the month. Such fun visiting your blog, Michelle. = )

    1. No fancy video production could have made your video any more special, Bridget. It's so nice that you and your daughters are able to enjoy poetry together, and I'm delighted that my blog has played a small part in helping that to continue!

  19. Hello, Michelle and Poets! First: Congratulations, Michelle, on your wonderful news of having THREE poems accepted for the Dear Tomato anthology! I'm so happy for you and the other poets whose poetry will arrive this fall.

    And thank you for all of these good wishes for me and my books. I'm looking forward to reading the poetry that comes from this month's challenge.

    Happy trails!


    1. I'm excited to read what comes in this month too, Tamera! Thanks for the super fun challenge.

  20. Great interview, Michelle and Tamara. I LOVE the parody concept of This Old Band.
    I saw your post on FB, Michelle and entered your parody challenge this afternoon. Looking forward to seeing everyone's entry. :)


  21. Great interview! I missed Tamara's newest and can't wait to get my hands on it! I will DEFINITELY want her There Was An Old Lady for my collection! Fun challenge for this month!

  22. I'm making my way through my saved emails and came across this post. I really love this series. I just read THIS OLD BAND!!! It's all kinds of fun!!! I can't wait to read THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLES A SKINK! I'm especially fond of stories in the vein of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly *wink*!
    Thanks for a fun interview!