Thursday, February 4, 2016

Spotlight on David L. Harrison + DMC Challenge


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
The above is a quotation I took from David Harrison's blog at some point. I'm sorry I don't recall the exact date. It's on a sticky note on my desktop so that I can refer to it again and again. Which I do. Frequently.

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.

Charlesbridge (February 16, 2016)
ISBN: 978-1580896108
Find at, Barnes & Noble or via
Today I am pleased to offer a sneak peek at his latest collection of poetry for children: NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON'T: POEMS ABOUT CREATURES THAT HIDE (Charlesbridge). It's scheduled for release into the wild on February 16th.

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
I love the works of a lot of authors and poets, but one for sure is the creator of Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White. White knew how to tell a story, write an essay, make a point, create a scene, and write pitch perfect dialog, all in clear, elegant English. He fretted over his work, deliberated about how a thing ought to be said. He believed he owed his readers no less. He believed that all writers owed their readers no less. White once wrote that only two people are present during the process of reading: the author and the reader, and an author who writes down to his audience runs the risk of being passed by his reader on the way up. 

(Partly excerpted from “Q/A,” a 2013 article in Post Road Literary Magazine, published by Boston College.)

Favorite childhood memory:
David L. Harrison's nonfiction
account of cave detectives.
Chronicle Books (for Kindle)
February 2014

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.

Favorite quote:

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 jayro
Stripe-backed pennywinkle
Foddle doodle yellow bug
Rinktum bollywog skymbo.
This broke my mother and me up every time. Dad would grin and keep driving.

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.

Favorite pastime:

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
Was it Laura Elizabeth Richards or someone else who referred to her muse as her hurdy-gurdy? However I identify my muse, I can’t think of a time when she wasn’t engaged. I see possibilities all around me. Not everything I try works, of course, but I don’t ever tell my muse. I would never want to hurt her feelings! I’ve always been a juggler of tasks so sometimes I need to pull my thoughts away from one project to refocus on something else. It’s like shifting from one foot to the other when you pull up a pair of pants. Your feet are close together but each has its own center of gravity. The closest I ever come to panic is if I run out of something to work on. I probably push my luck with my editors with my need to ask or tell them something. They must think of me as Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.
Michelle! Knock! Knock!
Michelle! Knock! Knock!
Michelle! Knock! Knock!
I keep idea folders handy for those occasional moments when I need to jump into something new. So far so good.

"My patience finally paid off!!"
Despite your rigorous work schedule, fun and silliness is such an important part of who you are as a person and a writer. Whether it’s performing with the Byron Biggers Band or conversing with turtles, you seek out time to play. What are some other ways you actively nurture that sense of fun in your writing.

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
I want to brag on artist Giles Laroche who created the unique and beautiful paintings for this book. Giles is a meticulous researcher and his art adds greatly to the experience of NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T. Visit Giles on his website and see what I mean.

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:

Find me,
If you can,
My sssskin
Helpssss me
Among thesssse

Find me,
If you can,
On dappled
Lounging by
Thissss pile of

Find me,
If you can,
Atop thissss
A broken
A branch
Along thissss

Find me,
If you can,
For if you
I’ll be here
Tomorrow . . .

Mr. Copperhead

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

Sun settles,
shadows creep,
a piping voice
begins to peep.
Deep within
its tree retreat,
it climbs and clings
with sticky feet.

Bold singer
seldom seen,
it matches forest
gray or green.
It disappears
so hungry bird
cannot find
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!

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.

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. has determined that an autographed copy of THE WONDERFUL HABITS OF RABBITS by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez is going to...

 Congratulations, Margaret!

Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect.


  1. Michelle--What better gift on my birthday than an unexpected snow day and the chance to sit and leisurely lead your delightful interview with David Harrison! The problem, however, with reading your blog is that I always come away with yet another book (or two or three!) that I just have to have! Ah well, it's worth it! Thanks for another wonderful post!

    1. Happy birthday, Molly! February's a great month for a birthday (mine's next week). So glad you enjoyed your present. :)

    2. Hi Molly,
      Glad you like the interview. Thanks!

  2. Michelle, thank you for featuring me today. I'm honored and flattered. Hello to everyone who reads Michelle's blog today. I hope you enjoy what you find.

  3. Always fun to learn about our friend David...thanks to both of you for this post! And best wishes with the new books, David!

  4. Hi Matt, and thanks for the kind words.

  5. Loved reading more about David, Michelle, a lovely surprise for this month. I've done the Word of the Month for a long time, always a treat. Best wishes for all those new books, David. This newest one will be here on its birthday!

    1. Linda, thank you as always for your warm comments.

  6. Really enjoyed this interview and learning more about David. I love his sense of humor and energy. Congrats to him on the new books!

  7. I absolutely love David. His blog has been the source of inspiration for me and a chance to connect with others. He is so funny and personable. If I met him in person he would feel like an old friend. There would be no handshake. I'd have to have a hug!
    Congrats on all your success, David. I look forward to reading your new book!

    Michelle, Thanks for another wonderful interview. And thanks for sharing poems from David's book! They're wonderful. No wonder it received a starred review from Kirkus!

  8. Thank you for another fabulous interview and another fabulous challenge. I will have the word ditty bouncing around in my head.

    1. Bouncing is one of the things ditties do best, Liz. ;)

    2. Looking forward to reading your ditty, Liz.

  9. Thanks a million for picking me! I told my students that WE had won. This is another great interview. I love using one word to jump start an idea. Ditty is a fun word. Can't wait to see what everyone does with it.

    1. I can't take credit for picking you, Margaret, since it was a random drawing, but that doesn't mean I'm not thrilled with the outcome! Congrats to your whole class. :)

  10. I will have to look for Davis new book it was such a treat getting here about his life in writing so inspiring

  11. David Harrison is a gem, no two ways about it. Thank you for shining the spotlight on him, Michelle. I'm looking to my muse to help me come up with a ditty worthy of sharing. =)

    1. I'd trust your muse with my ditty life, Bridget. ;)

    2. If I know you, Bridget, it will be a good ditty.

  12. While I'm a relatively new fan of David's, I like to think I'm a steadfast fan. We have so many common interests and loves, I wish he were my next door neighbor just so I can catch some of his genius as the wind blows a bit of it over to my house. :)

  13. Thanks so much for this terrific interview, Michelle! Can't wait to get ahold of Now You See Them, Now You Don't. Somehow I don't think it will be quite as simple to get a handle on a ditty poem!

    1. Ditties don't have very high expectations, Catherine. They're happy with whatever they get. :)

    2. Thank you, Catherine. Much appreciated.

  14. I am so looking forward to reading this book! It's the perfect combo poetry, nature and cool creatures. Thanks for sharing,Michelle, and for introducing me to David's work. I'm looking forward to reading his other books now too!

  15. Thanks everyone for your nice comments today. I've loved them all!

  16. Way back when I was a children's librarian, I quite often pulled David's Boy with a Drum off the shelf for story hour. We had a large format edition, not the little Golden Book, so it was perfect!

    There once was a boy
    With a little toy drum--

    As you can imagine, after the reading we paraded around with our make-believe drums. Many thanks for all the great books he has written for us over the years!

    1. Love it! I can see you now, Diane, rum-a-tum-tumming.

    2. Diane, you made my day! Thank you for bringing back my first book with the image of those kids parading around the room!

  17. Gosh, what a wonderful interview. I have recently signed up for David's blog and it is a real gift each day in my email. Ditty? That's a hard one. I will see what I can do. Thanks for this post.

    1. I'm delighted that have started following my blog, Rosi. Thank you again.

  18. Marvelous blog post, Michelle. I enjoyed every word.....starting with the fabulous quote introducing David at the beginning. The poetry is stunning and the love for it warm and sturdy and encouraging for us poets. So! Ditty and Leaves. Off to ruminate.....I have such a good time with TLD. Keep up the good work. It IS time for the blogging you do. But, I am a very appreciative reader. I learn every time I stop by.

    1. Linda, I look forward to both poems. Thanks for your kind words!

  19. Thanks to Harrison who sent me here. I will be a regular visitor! And sent you three "ditty" challenge poems.


  20. David Harrison is amazing! His "What's Coming Next" leaves me breathless.

    And ditties about DITTY -- all kinds of fun!

    1. Hi Mary Lee,
      What a great day this has been. Thank you so much for reading the interview and leaving such a sweet comment.

  21. Thanks for all the kindnesses everyone!

  22. What a great interview! Thanks, Michelle and David.

  23. David, thanks for sharing parts of your writing journey. I've been following you on your blog for a while. Love your sibilant play with Mr. Copperhead ssssnake! Looking forward to this book. Thanks Michelle for this in-depth blog review with David L. Harrison.

    1. Michelle, I'm glad you liked the interview. Thanks for letting me know.

  24. Hellooo, David! Terrific interview here, as I knew it would be from you two. NOW YOU SEE THEM... looks fantastic; I just ordered a copy for myself. Thanks, Michelle, for sharing David this week, Ditty-fied challenge and all!

    1. Hi Robyn,
      I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. And I hope you will be pleased with my new book. Thanks for ordering it.

  25. What a rich rich interview you have here, Michelle. Your site is such a valuable resource for all things poetic/literary.

    1. Hello Myra,
      I love Michelle's series and am glad to participate in it. Glad you enjoyed this one.

  26. Michelle, this was an outstanding interview. David was gracious, interesting, an afforded us a glimpse into his very extensive background and active life. I am mesmerized by the multiple day view of one word that David engaged in. Ditty it will be!

  27. Hi everyone,
    I've been off line for a week so I missed a lot of fun. Catching up now. Thanks for all the comments and ditty poems! Hope to see even more during this last week.

  28. My ditty's on my blog for Poetry Friday this week:
    Thanks again for these challenges, Michelle. They're so much fun!