|DAVID L. HARRISON|
As a writer I must remain true to myself, to what I stand for, and how I express myself. But I must also understand that my judge and jury may be nine years old. That’s voting age when you cast your ballot by closing the book and reaching for one that’s more interesting.
– David L. Harrison
|School visit with his "judge and jury" in Paterson, New Jersey|
With 90 original titles and poems in more than 185 anthologies, plus magazines and professional books for teachers and students (600+ published poems!!!), I think it's fair to say David Harrison knows his audience.
David's award-winning work has been translated into twelve languages, sandblasted into a library sidewalk, painted on a bookmobile, and presented on television, radio, podcast, and video stream. He is poet laureate of Drury University and has even had an elementary school named after him! David also gives keynote talks, college commencement addresses, and has been featured at hundreds of conferences, workshops, literature festivals, and schools across America. (For more information, visit his website.)
Pretty amazing, huh? Yet what I find most endearing about David Harrison is not his lengthy list of achievements, but his warm and welcoming personality. There are few poets that make you feel "at home" like David Harrison does on his blog. With more than 2,300 followers, David makes each one feel like an invited guest if not an honorary family member. It's that same generous spirit at play in his work that has a long-lasting effect on children. Of course his plentiful talent and commendable work ethic may also have something to do with his success.
|NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DONT: |
POEMS ABOUT CREATURES THAT HIDE
Charlesbridge (February 16, 2016)
Find at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or via Indiebound.org
David and illustrator Giles Laroche hit just the right tone in this collection of 19 poems about animals who use camouflage to either hunt or hide from predators. The poems are threatening without being scary, and depict a variety of stealthy tricksters sorted into five groups—sea life, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, insects and spiders, and birds.
True to his kid-friendly style, David sneaks in a smidgen of humor and a healthy dose of wonder, while Giles Laroche's intricate cut-paper illustrations vividly bring these clever creatures to life. As you might expect, there's also a useful reference section at the back of the book with a paragraph for each animal, describing them in further detail.
What's that you say?
You'd like a few more details about the author?
Please help me welcome David L. Harrison
to the Today's Little Ditty spotlight.
As always, we'll begin our interview with five favorites.
Favorite children’s author:
|E.B. White and his dog Minnie|
White Literary LLC
(Partly excerpted from “Q/A,” a 2013 article in Post Road Literary Magazine, published by Boston College.)
|David L. Harrison's nonfiction|
account of cave detectives.
Chronicle Books (for Kindle)
When I was twelve, a friend and I climbed down a rope into a cave. While exploring and gathering fossils, we discovered a skull protruding slightly from the thick, red clay. My friend pronounced it a human skull and was convinced we’d uncovered a murder. We argued all the way home about what it was and who should keep it. His father, a hunter, said it was a bear skull that must have been down there a long time. I out-argued and took the skull home to add to the others in my collection. Fifty years later, a paleontologist identified the skull as an extinct species of black bear. I still have the skull although it’s currently on loan to a natural history museum.
My favorite quotes really aren’t great words of wisdom by famous people, but they’re the ones I love most. My dad wasn’t a singer or much of a talker. Mom took care of those departments. On driving trips sometimes she and I would sing all the songs we could think of to pass the time. When least expected, my father would suddenly burst out with a string of nonsense words that seemed to be his total repertoire. I’ve never seen the words in print but I’ll sound them out for you.
Sayro jayroThis broke my mother and me up every time. Dad would grin and keep driving.
Foddle doodle yellow bug
Rinktum bollywog skymbo.
The other quote comes from my wife’s father, whose family once owned a grocery store which included a lunch counter. One time a little boy ordered a hamburger. When the waiter asked him, “How do you like your hamburger?” He answered, “Boy I like ‘em!” Sandy’s dad must have told that story one hundred times over the years, grinning every time. His wife would tell him that everyone was tired of that old story. He never stopped telling it though. Some things are just too funny to be held back.
Sandy and I like to travel, up to a point. We’re always going to see more movies or watch more TV but never improve. I don’t know if you would call it a pastime, but I’ve been an observer all my life. I think most creative people would say the same thing. Artists fill their sketchbooks with tidbits and body parts they want to remember for their work. Writers fill journals and feed their imagination with scraps of conversations or how a bug rested on a leaf or the smell of rain on a camping trip. The other morning I stopped my car in a street to take pictures of a committee of black buzzards in a field, in case I ever need to describe such a scene. I’m forever posting shots of what I see around the lake behind our house. Can’t help it. Don’t want to.
|"Greetings from Goose Lake" Photo: David L. Harrison|
But my favorite way to spend time is in the company of a great storyteller. My tastes are eclectic. I love Carl Sagan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, but no more than I enjoy a good tale by Annie Proulx or Kurt Vonnegut or Barbara Kingsolver or John Grisham or Joan Didion. I love the poetry of Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, T. S. Eliot, and numerous others. There is a lot of poetry out there that I don’t care for but poetry is, after all, a matter of personal taste and sensibility. I love good children’s literature, too, and have many favorites, but if I’m relaxing with a vodka and tonic in one hand, I rarely have a picture book in the other (☺).
Favorite vacation spot:
In 1969 my wife was thumbing through a National Geographic and paused at a picture article about Caneel Bay Resort on St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “By the time we can afford to go there,” she sighed, “we’ll be too old to enjoy it.” Our household income was less than $20,000. We had two small children, a mortgage, and payments on Sandy’s car. Our savings were slim. “Let’s go now,” gulped the gallant romantic. “Then we can remember the trip for as long as we live.” We took the trip and had the time of our lives. We’ve returned many times, and taken our kids, but that first trip was the best. It might not have been the most prudent decision in 1969, but it was one of the best we ever made.
|(click to enlarge)|
It took many years and a few careers before arriving at your current status as an illustrious children’s poet and teaching author. Though you had an interest in poetry early on, you didn’t start writing poetry until you were in your 50s. By that time you were already a seasoned writer in other genres, but children's poetry was it. You were hooked. Do you ever wish you had taken a more direct route to get where you are today?
Sure, at times. But when I think of all I learned and the good people I met during my “day jobs,” I’m not as certain. I spent nearly ten years writing for adult audiences before settling down to write for young people. If I’d worked on my game for children’s books earlier instead of magazine stories for grownups, I might have begun writing poetry sooner. I’m not sure though. I read poetry, read about poetry, and thought about writing poetry for twenty-five years before I finally made the leap. Honestly, I’m too grateful for the way my life has turned out to question the route very seriously. I’m notorious for not liking games. Dear ones are not above referring to me, right to my face, as an “old poop.” Jimmy Fallon’s incessant need to play games with his guests drives me wild. But Robert Frost described poetry as a word game, and I’m fine with that. All writing is a word game and I never tire of playing it.
With multiple writing projects going at any given time, you keep yourself incredibly busy! You also maintain a daily blog, correspond heavily via email, prepare for workshops, speaking engagements and presentations, work with literacy groups, and travel extensively. From my own experience, I know how easy it is to let blogging take over my personal writing time… and that’s just one distraction! But I‘m not going to ask you how you manage it all. We’ll just call you a master time-juggler and leave it at that. What I would like to know is how you find your creative mindset in the midst of so much activity. Is your creative muse always “on call” so that you can tap into it at a moment’s notice, or do you have a specific routine or some other way to trigger the creative flow?
|Read this 1902 classic|
online at Open Library
Michelle! Knock! Knock!I keep idea folders handy for those occasional moments when I need to jump into something new. So far so good.
Michelle! Knock! Knock!
Michelle! Knock! Knock!
|"My patience finally paid off!!"|
An only child, I was somewhat shy and sometimes felt like an outsider. I was good in academics, sports, art, and music so I had plenty of outlets for my energy, but early on I discovered that I also had a silly side. Sometimes my mother and I would get the giggles and couldn’t quit. We couldn’t look at each other. Anything could set us off. I learned to imitate characters from radio shows and especially loved standing in front of the class giving my rendition of the spooky moderator of Inner Sanctum as well as the creaking vault door. Later I played in a 5-piece German band. We dressed in funny clothes and acted like fools, but we were serious about our music and played to some large audiences. As a writer I frequently find myself putting my humor to work through stories and poetry. A silly Gary Larson cartoon on my desk inspired WHEN COWS COME HOME (Boyds Mills Press, 1994), a picture book about cows doing outlandish things. A serious problem with racoons in our attic turned into A PERFECT HOME FOR A FAMILY (Holiday House, 2013), a humorous picture book.
I tend to seize the moment, which may result in goo foffing with turtles, donning a witch hat to recite a takeoff on Macbeth, or pulling my old trombone from the closet and enlisting my wife to make a slapstick video for Renée LaTulippe over at No Water River.
Nature has always been a huge influence on your work and your latest collection of poetry is no exception. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T?
Writing nonfiction poems challenges the poet to present factual information in ways that engage the reader while striving for the standards of excellence that define the genre. This collection provides a variety of meters, rhyme schemes, and formats that include a list poem, couplets, stanzas with traditional rhyme patterns, and several variations on familiar approaches. For the copperhead hiding among fall leaves, I use plenty of sibilants in his speech as he addresses the vole he’s eyeing for dinner. But what I liked most about writing this book was getting to use my own background as a naturalist and biologist. When Kirkus gave it a starred review and described the poems as being “graceful and often humorous, giving good introductions to the reasons behind each animal's protective coloration,” I gave myself a fist pump.
|Illustrator Giles Laroche|
Would you share a favorite selection from NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T?
Gladly. Since I mentioned the snake poem, I’ll go with it. In the book, the poem is laid out across two pages to match the snake’s length.
|NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DONT, text © David L Harrison, illustrations © Giles Laroche (click to enlarge)|
Dear Mr. Vole:
If you can,
If you can,
Thissss pile of
If you can,
If you can,
For if you
I’ll be here
Tomorrow . . .
I like "Dear Mr. Vole" because it gives me a chance to present the predator as though he’s actually thinking and talking about his plan, whispering to himself about his intention to considerably shorten the life of the clueless vole he’s watching. The poem also ends abruptly, which startles the reader and makes it clear just how much shorter the snake has in mind. I structured this one in the form of a note addressed to the intended victim and signed by the hunter. It’s an unusual format.
Of all the masters of disguise featured in this book, which do you identify with most?
Oh my! I need to consider this carefully! Am I the praying mantis that wishes it were a dinosaur? The fawn hiding in plain sight? The moth masquerading as a bumblebee? I think I identify most with the gray tree frog.
|From NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DONT, text © David L. Harrison, illustrations © Giles Laroche|
a piping voice
begins to peep.
its tree retreat,
it climbs and clings
with sticky feet.
it matches forest
gray or green.
so hungry bird
what it just heard.
A writer sings his song for the world to hear, but he works alone and is rarely spotted. To be discovered he must come out of hiding, drop his camouflage, and leave his usual haunts, that or be lucky enough to be interviewed by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes! Yep, I’ll go with the tree frog.
Can you give us a hint about what's coming up next for you?
I’m under contract for another book of poetry with Charlesbridge and two with Boyds Mills Press. I co-wrote a book with Tim Rasinski (Professor of Literacy Education, Kent State University) for teachers of grades 4, 5, and 6, which was released by Shell Education last month. Another book for teachers is under way with Mary Jo Fresch (Professor Emeritus, Early and Middle Childhood Education, Ohio State University).
Also in the works: a picture book in collaboration with Cheryl Harness; a picture book co-written with Jane Yolen; a book of poetry co-written with Yolen; a verse story co-written with Sandy Asher; a book for the classroom on teaching writing co-written with Lauren Edmondson (Dean of the School of Education and Child Development, Drury University); a YA novel located in the Amazon rain forest; plus a dozen other projects in various stages.
|"I’m six, ready to walk to my first day of |
school. Wrote my first poems that year."
– David L. Harrison
If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?
Be good to one another, take care of our planet, and read. Read for fun. Read to find out. Read to share.
Finally, what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge?
Every month since October 2009, I’ve posted a word on my blog and challenged poets to compose a poem inspired by it. All words are brimming with stories. The word for December was “know.” I wrote and shared a different poem for six consecutive days to model the point. [#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6] One advantage of beginning this way is that we focus on the word and enjoy studying its multiple shades of meaning instead of starting out to write a limerick or haiku or other fixed form.
When we take time to consider a word, we eventually line up with one of its stories. The process leads us naturally to how we want to tell the story. I never suggest whether the telling should be in verse or free verse. I’m always entertained by how many poems come spinning out of the same word, and they arrive in all sorts of packaging.
So here’s my ditty of the month challenge.
Ready? The word is . . . Ditty.
What does ditty mean to you? I don’t know how it will speak to me. Yet. But the search will be worth it and I’m eager to learn what it will eventually mean to you.
Michelle, thank you for inviting me to be your guest. Your questions made me think and I enjoyed the process of responding to them. To everyone who will drop by to read this and/or share a ditty-inspired poem, thank you in advance.
Most sincerely, David.
Oh David, I'm touched.
What a gift to me for Valentine's month— "ditty" inspired ditties!
TO ALL MY DMC FRIENDS:
I totally get that people have different personal responses to the word "ditty," not all of which are as glowing as my own impression of the word. Despite my mention of Valentines, I am not looking for TLD fan mail this month. Please be honest in your interpretation of the word.
I'm a big girl. I can take it.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
Throughout the month, send your poems inspired by the word "ditty" 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 a wrap-up celebration on February 26th, 2016.
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.
Many thanks to David Harrison for sharing himself so generously with us today, and to the good folks at Charlesbridge for donating a copy of NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON'T to one lucky participant. A random drawing will be held at the end of the month.
But wait, there's more!
You can earn an additional entry to win NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON'T by participating in the Word of the Month challenge on David's blog. The word for February is LEAVES. Variations of leaf, leaving or leafing are acceptable. Submit your poems HERE for adult poets or HERE for student poets.
While I will attempt to keep tabs on David's challenge, I recommend that you drop me a line via email or my contact form to let me know if you contribute a poem there.
And one more piece of business before I go—
Last month's extravaganza of NOTHING was nothing if not incredible! Thanks once again to everyone who submitted a poem in answer to Douglas Florian's challenge. Random.org has determined that an autographed copy of THE WONDERFUL HABITS OF RABBITS by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez is going to...
The Miss Rumphius Effect.