Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spotlight on Bob Raczka + DMC Challenge


BOB RACZKA

Author of the popular art appreciation series, Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures, Chicagoan Bob Raczka studied art in college. He has worked as an advertising writer for more than 25 years. A few years ago he discovered poetry, and now Bob is a children’s poet as well. His first poetry effort, Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys, was awarded the Claudia Lewis Award by Bank Street College. His second poetry book, Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word, was named both an ALA and an NCTE Notable. Bob’s most recent titles include Joy in Mudville, a sequel to "Casey at the Bat," and a holiday haiku collection called Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North PoleFor more information about Bob, his books, or to visit his brand spankin' new blog, visit www.bobraczka.com.


It's my pleasure to welcome you to Today's Little Ditty, Bob!
Let's talk a little more about that newest haiku collection, shall we?

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole
Carolrhoda Books, September 2014
ISBN: 978-1467718059
Find at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,
or at your local independent bookstore.

   I LOVE this book. 

Do not take that statement lightly. As holiday-themed books go, I am generally not a big fan. They sort of roll together into one big much-of-a-muchness pile for me.  But not this one– oh no.  This one is fresh, fun, delightful, and will take its rightful place alongside The Night Before Christmas as a Barnes family storybook tradition.

One aspect that I particularly like about this book of 25 short poems is that it can be read with children like an Advent calendar, one poem each day leading up to Christmas. It lends itself beautifully to the magic and anticipation of the season.



Santa Clauses opens with a typewritten note:
Santa is a man of many talents. He's a 
toymaker, a reindeer trainer, a sleigh
pilot, and a world traveler. But did you
know he is also a poet?

From there, we are invited to peek at Santa's haiku diary, where, from December 1st to December 25th, he records his personal reflections of the season. Any expectations of a larger than life Santa Claus swiftly melt away.  Instead we find a gentle and caring man with his family by his side: a loving wife, some pet reindeer, hardworking elves; holiday preparations and household chores to tend to; and a frozen world that keeps him awestruck.

If you're looking for an unbridled frenzy of activity with consumeristic undertones, look elsewhere.  True to the haiku form, Bob's poetry (in Santa's voice) is calm, soothing, and insightful. Its focus is on the heart and wonder of the season.  Chuck Groenink's charming illustrations in muted colors have a folk art feel, adding to the sense of comfort that warms the reader like a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

And speaking of hot cocoa, this would be a good time to go grab some and curl up on the sofa with a blanket and furry friend if you have one.  Let's find out a bit more about Bob Raczka and Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole. As always, we'll start off with five favorites:


Our dog, Rufus
Favorite part of the holiday season:
I love walking my dog Rufus late at night, when it’s snowing, no one else is out, and I can actually hear the sound of snowflakes falling on the leftover leaves in the trees.
Favorite children’s book:
I’ll name two. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, which inspired me to start writing children’s books in the first place, and The Raft by Jim LaMarche, which makes me feel like a boy again.
Favorite sound:
I often wake up in the middle of the night, and if I’m lucky, I’ll hear the “who, who-who-whooo” of a horned owl who lives in my neighborhood. If I’m really lucky, I’ll hear a pair—one calling and the other answering.
View from our cabin in Maine
Favorite vacation spot:
The Thompson Cottages in New Harbor, Maine. Our family rents a cabin right on the ocean, where we clamber on the rocks during the day and listen to the waves and the bell buoys at night. We also use binoculars to watch the osprey family that lives in a nest at the top of a pine on a small island across the channel.
Favorite quote:
The poet Mary Oliver wrote this, and I love it:
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Bob at 12 years old
What inspires you to write for children and what do you enjoy most about being a children's author?
Of course, other children’s books inspire me. When I see one that I like, it gets my creative juices flowing. I’m also motivated by the challenge of creating a book, or a type of book, that no one has ever done before. I don’t really write for children as much as I write for myself—though it’s probably a 12 year-old version of myself. I love playing with words, and I love the fact that I can write about whatever I want.   

Can you give us a peek inside your "writing zone" – when, where, and how do you do your best work? 
I don’t have what you would call a “routine”. I do most of my writing on a laptop. Sometimes I write in a favorite “glider” rocking chair in my bedroom. Sometimes I write on the train on my way to work (I have a writing job in advertising). Sometimes I write at the library. When I’m writing a poetry book, I read a lot of poems in the same form that I’m writing. Then I sit down whenever I have free time. Sometimes, I’m able to write three or four poems in one sitting. But most of the time, I’ll only come up with one or two. And sometimes, I won’t come up with any. I guess the only routine that I have is to rewrite until it feels right.

Besides writing children's poetry and picture books, you are a passionate proponent of art appreciation for children. Does your eye for the visual arts inform your writing? If so, how?
I’ve always liked making art, looking at art, and being creative. I’ve never understood why everybody doesn’t feel this way. I think many people are intimidated by art—just like many people are intimidated by poetry. So with both my art books and my poetry books, my goal is to make the subjects fun and accessible. Let’s face it, when you look at a piece of art or read a poem that you don’t understand, it’s much harder to enjoy it. I want to share the enjoyment that I get from art and poetry.

Besides accurate syllable counts, what challenges did you face in writing Santa Clauses
One challenge was to make it feel different from Guyku, my other book of haiku poetry. It was fun imagining myself as Santa, thinking about what he does to pass the time in such a remote place. When I realized that he was a nature lover, and that he had to do the same holiday chores I do (like untangling Christmas lights and keeping his sidewalk clear), the book was easier to write. To be honest, writing the book was less challenging than finding a publisher.

Would you be willing to share a favorite selection or two?

SANTA CLAUSES, text © Bob Raczka, illustration © Chuck Groenink
SANTA CLAUSES, text © Bob Raczka, illustration © Chuck Groenink (click on image to enlarge)


If you could have any job in Santa's workshop, what would it be? 
Definitely not a wrapping elf. I get tired of wrapping after about the third present! I used to love making model rockets and model planes when I was a boy, so maybe I’d be a good fit in the “Flying Toys” department.

What’s coming up next for you? 
My next book is called Presidential Misadventures: Poems that Poke Fun at the Man in Charge. It’s a collection of clerihews (funny four-line poems) about our presidents, and will be published in January of 2015. My next book after that is a collection of concrete poems titled Wet Cement, in which I introduce the idea of one-word concrete poems. (I guess I’m sort of a minimalist!) That will appear in 2016.

If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them? 
I would tell them to “follow your bliss”. In other words, find the thing that you enjoy doing more than anything else, and figure out a way to do it for the rest of your life. Life is too short to do what other people want you to do.

Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.
I know Halloween is over, but I think it would be really cool to see if your blog readers could write a haiku from the point of view of their favorite Halloween monster. For example, what kind of a haiku would Dracula write? Or the Mummy? There’s Frankenstein, witches, ghosts, bats, spiders, zombies—the possibilities are endless!
Here are three tips:
  • A haiku has 3 lines, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second, and 5 syllables in the third.
  • A haiku is always written in the present tense.
  • Try to include a funny twist or comparison.

Ooh, this sounds fiendishly fun!  I can think of several readers who will eat this challenge up... you know, crunchy on the outside, chewy center? Yeah, like that. 

By the way, I checked with Bob, and for those of you who are experienced modern haiku poets, feel free to forgo the 5/7/5 requirement.

Throughout the month, send your monster-inspired haiku 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 contributions may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will be collected in a wrap-up post on Friday, November 28, 2014 – the day after Thanksgiving.  I expect by then I will be giving thanks that I survived. Really. How creeped out can one get over 17 syllables? (I'm afraid to find out!)

Seriously though, thank you, Bob, for hanging out with us this month, sparking our creativity, AND for generously offering a personalized copy of Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole to one lucky participant!

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Thanks also to everyone who participated in last month's ditty challenge, brought to us by J. Patrick Lewis.  The turnout and the zenos were spectacular!

Random.org has determined that the winner of EVERYTHING IS A POEM: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis with illustrations by Maria Cristina Pritelli is: 

CATHERINE JOHNSON – congratulations Catherine!

Please join another one of my favorite haiku poets, Diane Mayr, for today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Random Noodling.




42 comments:

  1. Thanks for the syllabic modification on the challenge--you know me well! Our children's librarian brought Santa Clauses to my desk today! What a coincidence! I'm looking forward to reading it once she's done with it.

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    1. How could I not think about you with this challenge, Diane? I expect this book will likely be a favorite in the library over the next couple months.

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  2. Hi, Michelle and Bob. That quote from Mary Oliver sums up the job of a poet (or of any human being). Santa's red nose haiku is adorable -- a whole scene in that little poem.

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    1. And each page is like that, Laura! It's quite the feast for the eyes, especially for anyone with a sense of whimsy.

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  3. Wonderful interview, loved the sample haiku. Can't wait to see the book!

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    1. And I didn't even mention the references to eggnog, hot chocolate, and baking cookies! I guarantee you will love this book, Jama... you'll ooh and ahh over the artwork too.

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  4. I wish you could hear me Michelle. I'm oohing and aahing and have asked Santa Claus for Santa Clauses!

    Dearest Santa Claus,
    Just one tiny request, please,
    your clauses, for me.

    The pages you shared are so wonderful! The art is just perfect! Thanks for introducing me to this book, Michelle. And thanks, Bob, for creating it :-)

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    1. I can hear you Penny, loud and clear, and I think Santa can too! :) You've been nice this year, haven't you?

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  5. Wonderful interview. I look forward to getting my hands on that book.

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    1. Thanks, Dori. You won't be disappointed with the book, I promise.

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  6. What a wonderful new concept for a Christmas book! I absolutely would love to win this autographed copy. And I'm ready to write this month's ditty! Thanks, Michelle, for this opportunity each month. This is definitely one of my favorite activities in which to participate!

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    1. I think you were born ready, Kristi! Bring it on!

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  7. Love everything about this book - the concept, the wry poems, the sense of humor. Now I can't wait for the one about Presidents! Thanks for this wonderful interview, Michelle.

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    1. Doesn't that book about Presidents sound great? It's nice that we won't have to wait very long!

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  8. Great idea for a book! Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I'll have to work on a couple of these...and glad to know we're not bound by the 5-7-5!

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    1. Yay! I know you're going to come up with something terrific, Matt!

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  9. MIchelle, Wowza - a sleigh full of gifts from Today's Little Ditty, to pay attention to here.
    First of all, a new poet for me, a confession I can barely whisper with redface & turned away head, that the terriffic Bob Raczka is not on my shelves & I will change that omission. His titles sound punny & perfect for reading with BookPALS. Second of all, I'm saving, for gifting, the Instructions for Living quote of Mary Oiver. Thirdly of all, your post is writerly & spritely, Appreciations, Happy November!

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    1. Aw thanks, Jan! I'm glad you were able to take so much from this interview. :) Thanks also for the smile that came from hearing my writing called "writerly & spritely."

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  10. What wise advice. I can't wait to read the Santa book. I fancy writing a book of haikus. Thank you so much for Everything is a Poem Michelle! I am delighted to win it.

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    1. You heard the man, Catherine, "follow your bliss"! Actually, I'm guessing that's been your mantra for some time now. ;)

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  11. My students love the haiku form, so I am sure they will jump at the challenge this month. I need to add Bob to my list of children's poets. I do love reading your interviews each month. The question about sound resonated with me as I listen to owls each night. I love that sound.

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    1. Yippee! Always delighted to hear more from your student writers, Margaret! I am a bit envious that you and Bob both get to fall asleep to owls, though.

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  12. Thank you, Michelle, for yet another fabulous interview and ditty challenge! I've already put Bob's book on hold at the library. I can't wait to haiku my favorite ghoul. =)

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    1. What a good ghoul you'll be just for joining in this month, Bridget. ;)

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  13. I used to have the Mary Oliver quote on my blog, now replaced, but do love it. I have this beautiful book ready for Christmas gift for the granddaughters! It's wonderful! Thanks for the challenge-love the idea. Halloween keeps on!

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    1. Always one step ahead of the game, Linda. Lucky granddaughters!

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  14. Bliss in a nutshell or should I say in a post! I am enthralled by your invitations Michelle. As I attempted zenos, I shall try my hand at monster haikus with a recent photo I took. Love the fact that you introduce new challenges and new authors to me. Bob's work is fascinating and would certainly add to my holiday book collection.

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    1. A recent photo? Of monsters? What lurks in your basement???
      I'm afraid, Carol. I'm very afraid.

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  15. Since I love both Guyku and Lemonade, I can't wait to check out Santa Clauses. I enjoyed your interview with Bob.

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    1. I loved Guyku and Lemonade too, Ramona. I think it's pretty safe to say you'll love this one as well!

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  16. Love that haiku/image of Santa reading to the reindeer. It sounds as though Bob found just the right approach to the subject. I like the idea of using the book as an Advent calendar.

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    1. Isn't that spread wonderful? There's a few others I'd love to show you as well, but you'll just have to get your hands on this book, Tabatha!

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  17. Thanks so much for sharing this, Michelle! I've ordered a copy to use in a December school poetry workshop. The kids are going to love it! I'm also going to share a poem a day with my boys--what a great idea! Wonderful interview, as well! = )

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  18. I LOVE thinking of Santa as a poet! Thank you, Michelle & Bob.

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    1. I think we should invite him to participate in Poetry Friday, don't you think?

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  19. I JUST read this book today, and I concur -- it's a keeper! It's been fun to see what Bob will come up with next. I can't wait for the one-word concrete poems!

    I'll get busy on some monstrous haiku for the challenge!

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    1. I'm excited about the one-word concrete poems too, Mary Lee. Check out Bob's blog, he's been sharing some wonderful one-word "wordsmithery" as well.

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  20. Loved this interview and the peek into the poet's life - very fresh and creative, just like Bob's ideas for his poems!

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    1. I've become quite convinced that there simply are no bounds to Bob's originality and creativity.

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  21. So great to get to know Bob R a bit better here - thanks to you both! I'm a big fan of LEMONADE and can't wait to see WET CEMENT. And, like Irene, I love the idea of Santa as poet....

    Monster haiku, eh? (stretches out arms, cracks knuckles...)

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  22. This book looks wonderful. I love the concept, and the illustrations are gorgeous. A keeper!

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