Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spotlight on Amy Ludwig VanDerwater + DMC Challenge

                                                                                                Photo: Melissa Deakin

I have always liked little things, and great poems are little things that can make us more of who we are. One great line of poetry can help a person make a big decision or do a kind deed. Poetry truly matters.
                                                                      – Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

(Taken from an interview by Irene Latham on the Nerdy Book Club website.)

I love this quotation because it truly encapsulates what Amy Ludwig VanDerwater stands for... 
                                                       as a poet, 
                                                              as a teacher, 
                                                                      as a person. 

The interview took place in March of 2013, just days before her long-awaited debut collection of children's poetry FOREST HAS A SONG (Clarion, 2013) hit the shelves. Since then, I've joined the ranks of those eagerly anticipating her next several books for children — EVERY DAY BIRDS (Orchard/Scholastic, 2016), READ! READ! READ! (WordSong, 2017), DREAMING OF YOU (Boyds Mills Press, 2018), and WITH MY HANDS (Clarion, date TBA). Fortunately, the wait for something new has been made easier by the fact that Amy is frequently anthologized. I shared her poem "Book Pillows" from Lee Bennett Hopkins' anthology JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES (WordSong, 2015) last September. She is also co-author of the second grade poetry book in the UNITS OF STUDY (Heinemann, 2013) and author of a forthcoming professional book about poetry.

Some of you might recognize Amy's name in association with her blog, The Poem Farm. Poetry enthusiasts, students, librarians, and teachers flock to the Poem Farm because of the care, thought, and heart she puts into each of the poems and lessons she posts. Amy herself has taught writing to teachers and students for eighteen years, making The Poem Farm a comfortable fit for many classrooms. In that same generous spirit, she also welcomes notebook keepers of all types to share their creative process at her other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks. For more information about Amy, or to schedule a school visit or teacher workshop, visit her website.

Please join me in welcoming Amy Ludwig VanDerwater 
to the Today's Little Ditty spotlight.

Living out in the country, it's not surprising that Amy is inspired by nature. The driving force behind both FOREST HAS A SONG and EVERY DAY BIRDS—her latest book with illustrator Dylan Metrano—has been to share that sense of wonder with others. (Find out more about the beginnings of EVERY DAY BIRDS here.)

Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic
(February 23, 2016)  ISBN: 978-0545699808
On shelves now.  Order your copy HERE.

Last year's babies, almost ready to fly.
Waiting for eggs
(Looks like our holiday wreath
will be up for a while!)
My every day experience with birds is focused primarily on the little cuties that nest in whatever wreath happens to be hanging on our front door. Sure, it's an inconvenience, but you can't beat the free concerts or the experience of watching nature take its course. We also share the neighborhood with cardinals, crows, turkey vultures, occasional hawks and woodpeckers, and lots of other birds I don't know the names of.

Where my knowledge is lacking, Amy's is not. EVERY DAY BIRDS hopes to share the joy of birdwatching with even the youngest, 2-5 year old ornithologists. (Although, truth be told, this not-so-young beginner learned a thing or two, as well!) Amy has chosen her subjects carefully to ensure that these are birds children are likely to recognize in their daily lives, making this Junior Library Guild Selection an ideal choice for home, classrooms, or library storytime.

Opening the book, we are welcomed with
Every day we watch for birds
weaving through our sky.
We listen to their calls and songs.
We like to see them fly.

made captivating by the talent of papercutting artist Dylan Metrano:

Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano.
Used with permission from Scholastic Press. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Continuing on in that rhyming format, twenty common North American birds are introduced, one per page, along with a signature characteristic for each. The accompanying cut-paper illustrations are striking, bringing the birds to bold, beautiful life in a truly compelling fashion. (Be sure to check out Dylan Metrano's process of creating the art for EVERY DAY BIRDS.) The whole poem is repeated at the back, followed by a closing section with additional facts about each bird family to continue the learning.

Described as "beginning birding at its best..." by Kirkus Reviews and "a great way to expose children to the wonders of nature, many of which are in their own backyards" by School Library Journal, EVERY DAY BIRDS should be in the hands of every child who is curious about the world around them. (And what child isn't?)

At this point, I imagine you're pretty curious to know more about Amy, so let's get started with the interview.
Had I known when I sent her interview questions that "choosing favorites" was among the few things she doesn't like, I might not have started this interview with the usual five favorites. Fortunately, Amy was kind enough to oblige nonetheless.

I personify most everything, so I don’t have many favorites because I fear hurting the feelings of unchosen foods, colors, and animals.  But here are a few things I love:

One who still lives in my heart is Mr. Fron from sixth grade. He lived in his own way and through his example I came to understand that different can be wonderful.  I wrote an essay about him HERE.

Popcorn, cooked in oil on my stovetop with real butter and salt. Or raspberries.  Or red licorice.

Maybe rain.  Maybe the silence of snow.

The VanDerwater family home away from home.
                                                        Photo: Mark VanDerwater
My husband’s family’s little cabin in the Adirondacks, tucked in the woods on a creek with a pink granite bed.  Grandpa and Grandma VanDerwater built this humble building with materials they found, and I love to remember them as I watch our children and their cousins ride inner tubes down the creek.

“Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore...” 
– from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Kindness.”

What drives you to create books for children and what aspects of your career do you enjoy the most?

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
I think that I write for children because I write for myself, and I still feel so much like a child.  Puff the Magic Dragon is really alive for me.  I am seven.

I also love the surprises that come through writing, trusting and finding that an idea will always come out to play if only I am patient enough to coax it onto the page.  Too, it is an honor when a child tells me that s/he cared about something I wrote.  Connections.  I love connections.

You live in an old farmhouse on 24 acres of land. While this sounds idyllic on one hand, on the other, I know it must involve a tremendous amount of upkeep. You also lead the busy life of a mom caring for three active teenagers. How do you fit writing into your daily routine at Heart Rock Farm?
"Our porch in summer.  You can see Pickles the cat sleeping
on the table.  We have cats everywhere!" – Amy LV
(click photo to enlarge)

I am a pretty casual housekeeper, a random cook, and a spotty gardener.  We all eat dinner together nightly, but as I put my family and friends first and my writing second, dinner may involve a strange assortment of foods.  While daily life is not always lovely or conventional, I am at peace with making choices around what I most value: people and words.

Keeping notebooks is a passion of yours. You’ve said that you often use them to “write your way into a poem.” Can you elaborate on that process?

"Keeping notebooks has taught me
that our whole world is one big nest
of ideas." –Amy LV on No Water River
Quite often, I have no idea what to write.  So I just write about whatever comes to mind, skipping around the page and my life, sniffing for a scent that might take me off on a chase.  If I write long enough, something shows up.  It is all about trust and surprise.

What about EVERY DAY BIRDS makes you happiest?

My husband Mark is very knowledgeable about birds, so much more so than I am.  Since we have been married, he has fed the birds in our yard, and he has taught our children and me about various birds and their habits.  Learning about birds has added a magical layer to my own life, and I most hope that EVERY DAY BIRDS will pass this enchantment on to other children and parents too.

Feathered friends at Heart Rock Farm.
"Learning about birds has added a magical layer to my own life..."  
– Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Dylan Metrano’s cut paper illustrations are magnificent. They bring birds to exquisite life on the pages; I’m thrilled to have had my words paired with Dylan’s talent.

Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.
Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano.
Used with permission from Scholastic Press. (Click to enlarge.)

Which of the birds described in EVERY DAY BIRDS is your favorite?

I just love chickadees.  I have a chickadee poem in FOREST HAS A SONG, and I laugh to say that I want a chickadee in every book I ever write.  They are small and hearty, brave and friendly, and I want to hug them.

Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.
Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano.
Used with permission from Scholastic Press. (Click to enlarge.)

The Worldwide Association of Rhymesters and Bird-Labeling Enthusiasts (WARBLE) is considering a new classification of bird called the VanDerwater. Please describe her signature characteristics.

You are funny!  This bird has a happy song and a messy nest.

Can you give us a hint about what's coming up next for you?

In Fall of 2017, Wordsong will publish my poetry collection READ! READ! READ!, to be illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke.  Next up is a picture book with Boyds Mills Press titled DREAMING OF YOU, a poetry collection with Clarion titled WITH MY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT MAKING THINGS, and another picture book still in the works.  I also have a book for teachers on the way, and contract details are being finalized on that now.  I feel very lucky.
"Ada wrote a poem in honor of birds."
– Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

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

There is a lot of goodness in this world.  Let’s be part of it.


Finally, what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge?

Small as a Chickadee: 
Write a poem about something small, an animal or object you see every day and do not usually give much thought.

Read Amy's poem about a chickadee at The Poem Farm.      Photo: Amy LV

A chickaDEELIGHTFUL ditty challenge! 
                  I cannot wait to see what small treasures land in my inbox.

Many thanks to Amy for today's interview, and also for generously providing a personalized copy of EVERY DAY BIRDS to one lucky DMC participant, chosen randomly at the end of the month.


Throughout the month send your poems about small things 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 March 25, 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.

Thanks again to those who participated in last month's challenge brought to us by David L. Harrison. It warmed my heart to be surrounded by so much dittylove! has determined that the winner of a copy of NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON'T: Poems About Creatures That Hide by David L. Harrison, with illustrations by Giles Laroche is:

MINDY GARS DOLANDIS —Congratulations, Mindy!

If you missed my review of FRESH DELICIOUS: Poems from the Farmers' Market earlier this week, you can find it HERE.
Get your inspiration recharged at the Poetry Friday roundup.  It's hosted this week by Linda Baie at TeacherDance.


  1. Thank you for introducing us to Amy and to this beautiful book. Now I'm off to put my mind to a small thing or two :)

  2. Michelle, So much gratitude to you for this post. I feel very lucky to spend time at your place and thank you for your kind words and fun spirit that threads through your whole blog. I look forward to reading the poems too! xo, a.

  3. Oh, that Amy. Not fair that I'm technically older than she is, but she is wiser. "It is all about trust and surprise." I immediately bought EVERY DAY BIRDS (please feel free to pass along my random entry to another) and it's truly special - Dylan Metrano's vibrant illustrations along with Amy's deceptively simple introductions to each bird are a perfect pairing. TWEET!

  4. I can't wait for all of these upcoming books.

  5. Lovely post, featuring one of my favorite poets and bloggers! I need to get a copy of "Every Day Birds" for sure.

  6. I have Every Day Birds, and have shared it with the grand-girls, who already love it. The poems are lovely, just right for the young ones, and those cut-paper illustrations are awesome, too. Love hearing more "goodness" from Amy, and her challenge, too. I just changed my blog header & added a quote "It's the little things", so I am in the right place this month. Thanks Michelle for a wonderful interview again.

  7. Every Day Birds is the perfect book for a bird nerd like me! what could be a better mix than birds & poetry??? Kids are going to love it! My 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Lefebrve introduced us to birds, and we did an annual bird count--it was so much fun & that's when my love of birds began--and it never ended!

    Thanks for sharing this, Michelle, and congratulations to you, Amy :)

  8. I love that Amy's challenge will help us notice the small things. Every Day Birds is going on my to read list. Thanks for the great interview, Michelle and Amy!

  9. Amy is one of my favorite people on earth. My students love her too. Generous and such a talent. Thanks for featuring her today.

  10. LOVE Amy and I just adore this beautiful book!

  11. My 87 year-old dad puts out his bird feeders every day. He knows all about his every day birds and I learn tidbits every time I visit. I know I'll love this book because Amy's writing is magical. Thanks for a wonderful interview, Michelle.

  12. Amy thank you for a challenge that will help me see things I might otherwise miss. Everyday Birds has got to be beautiful. I will look for it on Amazon IF I don't win it here. I'z feeling the luck. :-) Will tweet this, Michelle.

  13. Hooray for Amy, her new book, and this lovely interview...I loved that she said this:" I am a pretty casual housekeeper, a random cook, and a spotty gardener." BUT she writes! My hero!

  14. What a wonderful interview! I am swooning over Amy's poetry, photos, and wisdom and Dylan Metrano's gorgeous illustrations. My students are already in love with Every Day Birds. Thank you, Michelle & Amy, for sharing all this goodness with the world!

  15. I love how Amy describes her choices, putting family and friends first then writing second. I do the same thing. I love the way her goodness shines through her choices and her words. Congrats, Amy!

  16. What a wonderful interview. Loved all the pics, too, especially of little Amy. :) Every Day Birds is lovely and perfect for young birders. I will think of Amy whenever I see a chickadee!

  17. Thanks for sharing this interview with Amy! The book looks beautiful - in text and illustration - but I have to say my biggest surprise is how many books Amy has on the way! Wow, best wishes for continued success, Amy!

  18. It is a rare book that has substance and can be read to preschoolers. Every Day Birds looks like it fits the bill (no pun intended).

  19. Another fun interview with an inspiring person. Our Amy is someone who seems to have her priorities straight as in: "While daily life is not always lovely or conventional, I am at peace with making choices around what I most value: people and words."

    I have put her book and Irene Latham's on my wishlist as books to buy for my grandkids. It's pretty special to 'know' the author, even if it's only virtually.

  20. Forest Has a Song is one of my favorite books. I love every word of it. Really looking forward to Every Day Birds. Thanks for this post.

  21. I love getting to know more about one of my favorite people in the world (from another favorite!!)!!

  22. Wonderful to learn more about Amy! Thank you Michelle and Amy!

  23. Thanks for this great interview, Michelle. I too am a great Amy VanDerwater fan. Can I use my little bird poem for the contest? Find it here--

    The poem is about a Hawaiian bird. I'm having fun learning about my new flora and fauna.

  24. Amy, your books and poems and posts inspire me. Forest Has a Song is a particular favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing and thanks for a great interview Michelle.

  25. Another amazing interview, Michelle!...All the more so because Amy participates in PF; I am even more admiring of her gifts and the many ways she generously shares them. Likewise, with every post of yours that I read, the more appreciative I am of the special blessing you are to me and all of us who love poetry. God bless you! Thank you & Amy for another interesting DOM challenge!

  26. Hooray for Amy's new book and this delightful challenge!

  27. Oh, Michelle, I LOVE your interviews! This one with Amy was put together with so much care. And the personal and professional pics of Amy. L O V E! VANDERWATER and BARNES POWER!!!!!!

  28. Love your advice to children, Amy--it speaks to all of us!

  29. Wonderful job, Michelle on your interview with Amy. The new ditty challenge sounds like fun. I will see if I can squeeze it in among the other projects.

  30. Michelle, the day has come for my ditty challenge post to come to fruition. You can access my blog post, I Believe, at I also send you a tweet. Thank you to you and Amy for the opportunity to recall my one word and the small object that I pass by routinely but have not stopped to really reflect on its meaning in my entranceway.

  31. I finally found the chance to read this post, which I've been anticipating doing ever since it popped up in my Inbox. I knew I wanted to have time to sit and savor, so it had to wait. Now, with a day off, I'm sitting and savoring and please know, it was worth the wait! My favorite line from the interview: "So I just write about whatever comes to mind, skipping around the page and my life, sniffing for a scent that might take me off on a chase. " Thanks so much for sharing--I'll be examining the small things in my world and hoping to set off on a rewarding chase. I'll also be purchasing Every Day Birds soon!

  32. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this great interview, Amy. And thanks for the inspirational writing prompt. I'm a bird lover, and Every Day Birds is right up my alley.

  33. Amy sounds like someone we would all be comfortable with. I know when I'm writing, I forget meals till my husband reminds me.Good job I only got serious after our children grew up (then I was teaching). I love it that she believes 'people and words' come first.
    I will try to write as I watch the birds here. We have a real array in winter and now sparrows , blackbirds and woodpeckers come but I still spot a cardinal some evenings. It's supposed to snow again in 2 days so I'll keep the feeder stocked.
    Thanks for the lovely interview.