|LEE BENNETT HOPKINS|
It's not easy shining a spotlight on someone like Lee Bennett Hopkins. It's like pointing a flashlight at the sun.
Many of you who are reading this know exactly what I'm talking about. For those who don't, let me introduce you to this talented and generous soul.
Lee Bennett Hopkins is the most influential and passionate advocate of children's poetry today. No one knows as much about the tradition of children's poetry, nor does as much to promote and preserve the craft through his numerous books, his caring mentorship of new children's poets, his invaluable recollections preserved in the Spotlight on NCTE poets video series, his educational outreach, and the establishment of three prestigious children's poetry awards:
The Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award– presented annually to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of children's poetry published in the previous calendar year.
The Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA Promising Poet Award– presented every three years to a promising new poet of children’s poetry.
The SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award– presented every three years to recognize and encourage the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults.Lee's drive and dedication to excellence – "Poetry with a capital P" as he calls it – is a force to be reckoned with. In addition to holding the Guinness world record for "most prolific anthologist," Lee is an illustrious poet in his own right. He has earned several notable awards, including the 2016 Regina Medal award. Established in 1959 and sponsored by the Catholic Library Association, "The Regina Medal is awarded annually to a living exemplar of the words of the English poet, Walter de la Mare 'only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young,' for continued, distinguished contribution to children’s literature without regard to the nature of the contribution." (www.cathla.org)
From humble and disadvantaged beginnings, Lee's hard work and determination has served him well throughout his life and career, carrying him to his preeminent standing today– a beloved national treasure.
|JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES|
WordSong (September, 2015)
Find at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,
or via Indiebound.org
September means back to school, of course, but did you know it's also Library Card Sign-up Month? Just think how many girls and boys are beginning life-long love affairs with books thanks to this piece of plastic small enough to fit in your pocket. And what better way to celebrate the significance of libraries than with this gorgeous collection?
The magic begins with these opening lines from "Breakfast Between the shelves" by Rebecca Kai Dotlich:
Morning pours spoons of sun
through tall windows, rests along
a reading chair, a copper rail;
hovers over crumbs, small supper scraps
left by those who opened books
last night, to live in story.
Not only is this a warm welcome (love those "spoons of sun"), but as a reader, I feel assured of an extraordinary experience.
Everything about this anthology IS extraordinary, from the star-studded poet line-up (including Nikki Grimes, X.J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, Alice Schertle, and Jane Yolen, among others) to the imagination and soft, dreamy quality of Jane Manning's exquisite gouache and pencil illustrations.
JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES captures the joy of reading. It thrills in the excitement of walking through library doors– "the sweet kingdom of story" as Nikki Grimes describes it, the enchanting lure of stacks upon stacks of books, and the superpowers of owning a library card. It celebrates the generous spirit of librarians, the "quiet weight of words" per Deborah Ruddell, and helps us to feel warm, snuggly, and peaceful with our favorite books... like this one.
Lee Bennett Hopkins has outdone himself again.
I hope you'll enjoy learning a little more about Lee, starting with five favorites.
Favorite color: Purple
Favorite smell: Fresh air
Favorite sound: Laughter
Favorite vacation spot: Aboard a cruise ship in a luxurious suite.
Favorite quote: “Hold fast to dreams…” ~Langston Hughes
As a child growing up in less than ideal circumstances, your focus was on survival rather than reading. And yet, at the age of twelve, you knew you wanted to be a writer. You hadn’t been exposed to children’s poetry at that point, so what kind of writer did you envision yourself becoming?
I truly never envisioned becoming a writer. The only thing I wanted to do was to become a teacher. And I did. Writing came by accident; a lovely accident.
How did your childhood shape you as a future poet and teacher?
From the time I was in the 8th grade I wanted to become someone like my 8th-grade teacher, Ethel Kite McLaughlin at South 8th Street School in Newark, NJ, a woman who saw something in me I did not know existed. She changed my being, teaching me there was more to life than living within a confused, dysfunctional family, to reach out, explore, learn – become independent. Become myself. I pay tribute to her in a poem appearing in my book, BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press).
I knew the only way out of a life living in Newark-projects was to somehow get an education. I worked hard and long to complete college.
|© 2015 by Jane Manning|
Just read it. Find those poets and poems you love. JUST read it. READ it and think and dream and learn from it.
Although you no longer teach on a regular basis, you continue to champion children’s poetry at every opportunity. Besides the three poetry awards you’ve founded, you consider it your personal responsibility to mentor newer poets and promote their work in your anthologies. What drives you to do that?
Back to my childhood years: I had a wondrous maternal grandmother, Lena Thomas, a working-class woman who believed in giving back– giving back to make a difference in lives. As for mentoring new voices? Why not? It is my small way to give back…to discover fresh talent, to help people find a way to share their work. When I find that rare individual I’ll bend backwards to help them along. I am known to be a tough critic. Several I’ve tried to work with give up. I am very opinionated, not always the best trait, but after a life immersed in poetry and knowing the best of poets writing for children personally, I have a sense of what is great and what is merely mediocre. I have brought a host of new voices to the poetic world. People whose work has soared.
The amount of research, time, and effort that goes into compiling and producing one of your anthologies is astounding. In your 2013 interview with Renée LaTulippe, you explained that you might read several thousand poems to determine which ones to use. Add to that the time it takes to commission, edit, obtain permissions, illustrate, and publish these works, and we’re talking YEARS to fruition. What gives you the biggest joy in putting together a new anthology, despite its many challenges?
I love doing anthologies. I guess I should, having done close to 120 of them for every age level. Working on a collection is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. Again, I am able to include new voices along with established poets’ works. A great joy for me is when I can use a verse by Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, et. al., followed by a poem by someone never published before. What joy this brings me. It is thrilling.
And, yes, it does indeed take years from concept to holding a bound book in your hand.
JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES includes a wonderful poem you penned yourself called “Storyteller.” You dedicate it to Augusta Baker, a librarian and storyteller renowned for her contributions to children’s literature. Would you tell us a little more about your connection with her? Was she the one who inspired this anthology as a whole?
Augusta was a dear friend of mine who I met while working at Bank Street College of Education in Harlem, NY, in the late l960’s. She was a librarian, storyteller and the first African American woman to hold an administrative position with the New York Public Library. She did not inspire JUMPING… but while working on the collection I knew I had to pay tribute to her. Just knew it! Whenever we were together, whether dining at the famed Algonquin Hotel in New York City or having a bowl of soup in her home in Columbia, SC, I FORCED her – to read Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” to me. No one read it like she did.
I still get goose bumps ‘hearing’ her in my mind, in my heart. I was privileged to have her write the Introduction to a collection I did in l974, ON OUR WAY: POEMS OF PRIDE AND LOVE (Knopf), a book of poems extolling African American youth. The book was illustrated with photography by David Parks, Gordon Parks, the famed photographer’s son. Beginning in 1987, an A(ugusta) Baker’s Dozen conference is held each year at the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, SC where Augusta lived after retirement. I had the privilege of being the colloquium speaker at the 7th annual conference with Anita Lobel. Another good friend of hers, Maurice Sendak, did the art for the conference logo. She knew everyone! How wondrous it was she was in my life and will be ‘happily ever after’! The poem “Storyteller” in JUMPING… flowed from me…to her.
|From JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES, text © Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustration © Jane Manning (click to enlarge)|
(For Augusta Baker)
by Lee Bennett Hopkins
As she speaks
leap from pages–
frog and toad–
yellow brick road.
Worlds of paper
in a room
filled with magic
And as her voice
I believe in
I believe in
happily ever after.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater also wrote a beautiful poem for JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES called “Book Pillows.”
|From JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES, text © Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustration © Jane Manning (click to enlarge)|
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
With my head on a book
I dream of a place
where a pig loves a spider.
I dream of a face
high in a tower
with ropes of hair falling.
When books become pillows
stories come calling–
Wild things on a rumpus!
Fat evil kings!
Boy wizards, girl witches!
Horses with wings!
Stars shine on shelves
as I rest my full head
each a dream
I once read.
What favorite book (or books) might we find under your pillow?
I do not have a book under my pillow but I do have a host of them in my dreams.
Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up next for you?
AMAZING PLACES, a companion book to AMAZING FACES (both Lee and Low) has also recently been launched. The book contains new poems written by Nikki Grimes, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Linda Sue Park, and Kristine O’Connell George. The collection highlights famous sites such as Niagara Falls, the Liberty Bell, but also includes little-known wonders such as a longhouse at the Oneida Nation Museum located near Green Bay, WI.
A very different anthology to appear in the future…too soon to discuss…is one I am working on with my brilliant editor and dear friend, Rebecca M. Davis at Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. Rebecca and I have done countless books together over the years.
|A wee Lee Bennett Hopkins|
Children – be yourselves.
Child - BE yourself.
There is only one child like you in this world.
This child is YOU.
Make a difference in our world.
Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.
Write a ME poem. Sit back, close your eyes, recall one simple moment in your childhood – a thrilling moment, a sad moment, a moment that changed you in some way. A poem giving forth of yourself as in BEEN TO YESTERDAYS:
from “TO” –
"…a Christmas wish
a butter dish…
a teddy bear
an empty chair…
the love I have inside
Thank you for listening. Onto tomorrows!
Thank YOU, Lee...
for sharing yourself with us today and for the love you've poured into children's poetry each and every day for the last several decades!Lee has also graciously offered an autographed copy of JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES to one lucky participant! A random drawing will be held at the end of the month.
I expect a fulsome harvest of poems in response to Lee's challenge, so let's get things underway....
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
Throughout the month, send your ME poem to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right.
TEACHERS AND PARENTS: It's a new school year, and I would love students to get involved. Ditty of the Month Club challenges are wonderful opportunities to learn about working children's poets and authors while having fun with poetry prompts, like this month's ME poem.
Please help me spread the word!
For children under 13 who would like to participate, please read my COPPA compliance statement located below the contact form.
BLOGGER FRIENDS: Thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that! Please also remember to send me a copy of your poem or a direct link to your post. That way I know I have your permission to post your poem on Today's Little Ditty.
Some poems may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will appear in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, September 25, 2015.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Last month's dragon-inspired couplet challenge, brought to us by Penny Parker Klostermann, was a huge success and resulted in a whopper of a cumulative poem. Many thanks to Penny and to all those who participated and/or cheered us on.
Random.org has determined that the winner of an personalized copy of THE DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann, with illustrations by Ben Mantle is:
ROSI HOLLINBECK – Congratulations, Rosi!
. Today she is gathering all the Poetry Friday goodness at TeacherDance.