Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spotlight on Diana Murray + DMC Challenge

                                                        Photo: Jesse Rinka

When Diana Murray was eight years old, she wrote and illustrated her first book. Then... she buried it under a tree. Not because it wasn't good enough. Not because she hoped it would grow. No, Diana imagined that archeologists from the future would discover it one day and put is on display in a Jetsons-style museum!

Fast forward to the present and Diana Murray is having an unusually busy year for a debut author. With three books out this summer—CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, June 2016), GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, July 2016), and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, August 2016); three more slated for 2017; and another three to be released sometime after that, when Diana Murray makes a splash, she makes a SPLASH!

Little, Brown, June 2016
Equally impressive are her awards, starred reviews, and her extensive list of poems that have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five, Hello, Spider, and Ladybug. My first introduction to Diana came through our participation in the Poets' Garage, a critique group for children's poets. Diana's valuable insights as a critique partner are not surprising given her success in children's publishing. She's a hard worker who's both playful and strategic in her approach. She knows what she's doing, she knows how to shake things up, and apparently, she knows how to make things happen!

Katherine Tegan Books/HarperCollins
July 2016

Whether Diana's working on a picture book, early reader, or poem, you can count on many wonderful qualities to her writing—imagination, humor, surprise, wordplay—all wrapped up in a lively story with fun characters and flawless rhyme.

She also happens to be one of the warmest and friendliest authors I know, and an amazing mom to "two very messy children and a goldfish named Pickle." Find out more by visiting Diana's website,

Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, August 23, 2016
ISBN: 978-1596438903
Find at, Barnes & Noble, or via
Diana's third book, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, is the one we'll be focusing on today. It pulls into port on August 23rd.

It's not easy being the only fiber arts aficionado on a pirate ship called the "Rusty Heap." Yet Ned wields a pair of #10 straight needles with joy and self-confidence despite the objections of his more rugged and less mannered companions. That is, until the captain stomps his wooden leg, shakes his hook, and lays down pirate law.

Fortunately, one of the hidden talents of knitters is the ability to problem solve under pressure. And that's exactly what Ned must do when a sea monster threatens to make a midnight munch of the lot of them!

Lovable Ned is not only brave in deed, he bravely breaks stereotypes. Diana Murray's rollicking rhyme is a delight to read aloud and Leslie Lammle's illustrations are colorful, fun, and nonthreatening to daring, young buccaneers. Snuggle up with your favorite young readers to share this adventure at bedtime, story time, or anytime.

Be ye ready fer an interview, mateys? 
Ye best be, or thar's a plank you'll be walkin'! Yarrrrh!

Thanks for joining us today, Diana! 
We'll start off as always, with five favorites.

Favorite food:
Hard to choose. Spicy tuna and shrimp tempura rolls, mango salad with scallops, chicken tikka, ramen noodles with shitake mushrooms, cheesy french fries, and just about anything crispy, salty, garlic-y, and/or covered in sriracha.

Favorite color: Black

Favorite music:
Back in high school, it was heavy metal! But now I listen to a lot of jazz, bossa nova, and music that’s good to dance to. (Although I typically run to it, rather than dance.)

Favorite teacher in school:
Mr. Zavatsky was my high school creative writing teacher. He’s the one who first got me into writing poetry. He also taught me about “free writing” which I enjoyed so much. That’s when you write down anything and everything that comes to mind, without any editing, for a solid few minutes. What emerges is nonsensical but so interesting.

Favorite pastime: Writing, of course!

As someone who enjoys success with both picture books and children’s poetry, I’m curious how you self-identify. Do you consider yourself a picture book writer who also writes poetry or a children’s poet who also writes rhyming picture books?

Diana at the NJ SCBWI conference, June 2016
Great question. That’s a tough one. I think I’m probably more of a picture book (and early reader) writer who also writes poetry.

Because most of my poems are mini rhyming stories, anyway. On the one hand, rhyming picture book texts are really just long poems that happen to have a narrative. But on the other hand, there are other picture book- specific characteristics you have to pay attention to, and those apply to prose texts, as well. For example, leaving room for illustrations, thinking about page turns, pacing so that the climax is on the right page, etc.

What comes first for you in your writing process? A unique concept or unusual storyline? A quirky character or relationship? A clever turn of phrase? Where do you typically start?

All of the above! It varies for each project. But often times, I try to combine conflicting ideas.

What was the inspiration for NED THE KNITTING PIRATE?

Watch Anthony Bourdain No Reservations on Travel Channel.
It was back in 2009 and there was an agent who was interested in GRIMELDA and wanted to see other work from me. But I didn’t have that much back then so I really wanted to start something new. I was very actively looking for inspiration. One day, I was watching Anthony Bourdain with my husband. If you haven’t seen it, that’s a food and travel show with a kind of tough-guy host from New York City. He traveled to Sweden where he met some extreme snowboarders who were descendants of vikings. And they were also avid knitters! It was an interesting juxtaposition. Then they gave one of their hats to the show’s host. He was visibly uncomfortable. I was immediately inspired and began to brainstorm. I wavered between vikings and pirates for a while, but ultimately went with pirates because it seemed to match better. Plus, that gave me the opportunity to write sea shanties! That let me vary the meter and rhyme scheme, and I particularly enjoy writing songs. I didn’t end up working with that agent in the end, but signed with my current agent in 2012.

On your website, you mention that your experience in graphic design has helped you become a more visual writer. Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?

While writing, I always imagine what the illustration might be for each page. The artist might go in a totally different direction, but I always have the visual in mind. It helps because that way it’s easier to ensure that the illustrations will have enough variety.

Text from NED THE KNITTING PIRATE © 2016 Diana Murray, illustration © 2016 by Leslie Lammle. (Click to enlarge.)

       And just as Ned had feared, it was the briny ocean beast,
       who loved to snack on pirate ships—his favorite floating feast.
       His tentacles were thick with slime, his eyes a ghastly yellow,
       and cannonballs bounced off his sides as if his skin was Jell-O.

Would you share a favorite selection from NED THE KNITTING PIRATE? 

Let’s see. I like:

   The pirates turned and stared at Ned. The ship was deadly quiet.
   “Yarrrrh!” said Ned, “I likes to knit. Ye might, too if ye try it.”

I like this part because Ned seems so unphased by the obvious disdain of the other pirates when he announces that he loves knitting. Especially, the captain. But Ned just sticks to his guns. I hope that I could be so stalwart in the face of derision.

As far as artwork, I LOVE the spread where they’re walking off into the sunset. And the surprise in the middle of the book. Can’t share that one, though. Also, in general, I love how Leslie’s illustrations look so classic.

Text from NED THE KNITTING PIRATE © 2016 Diana Murray, illustration © 2016 by Leslie Lammle. (Click to enlarge.)

"A scurvy pirate doesn't knit, nor wear a fuzzy hat."

Ned’s special skill is knitting, what (other than writing) is one of your special skills?

I’m not sure it’s a “special” skill, but I love doodling and sketching just for fun. I also like doing crafts with my kids.

Selections from Diana Murray's doodle and crafting portfolios.

What’s coming up next for you?

Well, next year my Grimelda sequel will be coming out. It’s called GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW. Heather Ross does such an amazing job with the illustrations! And it was fun to go deeper into Grimelda’s world. Another picture book I have coming out in 2017 is GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE illustrated by Bats Langley who is my talented agent sibling. I’ve already got a monster hat for events! SUMMER COLORS is a title coming from Little, Brown. It is similar in tone to CITY SHAPES but set in a rural area. I haven’t technically announced that one yet. Can’t wait to see the illustrations! DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS is coming from Imprint/Macmillan and will be illustrated by Yuyi Chen. I adore what she did with the characters. ONE SNOWY DAY is coming from Sourcebooks. It was inspired by my kids watching Youtube videos of dogs playing in the snow. Who doesn’t love a puppy in the snow? Finally, I have my first early reader coming out. That’s PIZZA! PIZZA! coming out with Random House’s Step-Into-Reading line. I find leveled readers to be super fun to work on and am really excited about that one.

Young Diana Murray
Dreamer, Doodler, Storyteller

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

Taking inspiration from Ned’s story, I would say: 1) Find your passion 2) Follow your passion 3) Know that you will often face difficult obstacles, but if you keep trying, you can overcome them 4) Sometimes the people in charge are wrong 5) You can make a change in the world just by being true to yourself 6) Sometimes it’s a gift to be considered “different.”

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

Write a poem about an unlikely hero. 

© 2016 Leslie Lammle

Aye! I reckon Ned would approve!
'n here's somethin' else to brin' ye pleasure...

Diana has offered to provide one lucky participant with a personalized copy of NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. A winner will be chosen randomly at the end of the month! 

While you're at it, click HERE to enter to win one of two copies available on Goodreads!

Yo ho ho and jolly thanks, Diana!

Now all hands on ditty deck —
swash your rusty buckles, scally your wanderin' wags, 
and let's get 'er done, me hearties!


As mentioned last week, I've made some changes to how we'll be collecting DMC contributions. Instead of emailing your poem and waiting for me to post it, sometimes not until the end of the month, post your poem about an unlikely hero on our August 2016 padlet. Stop by any time during the month to post your work or to check out what others are contributing.

By posting on the padlet, you are granting me permission to post your poem on Today's Little Ditty.  Some poems will be featured as daily ditties, though authors may not be given advanced notice. Subscribe to the blog if you'd like to keep tabs. You can do that in the sidebar to the right where it says "Follow TLD by Email." As always, all of the poems will be included in a wrap-up celebration on the last Friday of the month—August 26th for our current challenge.

TEACHERS, it's great when students get involved! Ditty of the Month Club challenges are wonderful opportunities to learn about working poets and authors while having fun with poetry prompts. Thank you for spreading the word! For children under 13, please read my COPPA compliance statement in the sidebar to the right.

FIRST-TIMERS (those who have never contributed to a ditty challenge before), in addition to posting your work on the padlet, please send your name and email address to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com. That way I'll be able to contact you for possible inclusion in future Best of Today's Little Ditty anthologies.

BLOGGERS, thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that!  Please also remember to include your poem (or a direct link to your post) on the padlet in order to be included in the wrap-up celebration and end-of-month giveaway.

"Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate."
                                          – Pirates of the Caribbean

Join Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for "Summer's Elegy" and this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Arrren't we all excited to welcome such a kindred spirit to the Poetry Friday world (Spirits?! Did someone say spirits?). Congrats on all the books and grog! (Don't be a hog, give us some grog!) I may have to try a ditty. If I only I were witty. I hope my little visit, amid my civility disobedience days is not too disruptive and attitude-inous. Great post, Michelle!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Brenda! Yarrh! An extra round of grog for everyone!! (And by "grog" I mean "chocolate milk", of course.) :) Ye sound right witty to me.

  2. Nice to see you back Michelle. Lovely interview with Diana. City Shapes intrigues me....going to have to check that one out. And, I have a kni tting family member who is going to discover a Pirate very soon!

  3. Great interview, and so pleased for all of Diana's releases this year! And I agree, she's definitely one of the warmest and friendliest authors out there!

    1. Aw, thanks, Rebecca! Right back at ye, me hearty!

  4. Michelle! Thanks so much for having me, matey! And thanks for ye kind words, too. :)

  5. City Shapes is on hold at my library, so popular I have to wait! Thanks for the wonderful interview and a taste of more pirate tales from Diana. The book looks like one to show that stereotypes are something to ignore always if one loves something-great for children to learn! Welcome back, Michelle.

    1. Thanks, Linda! Ooh, "on hold"? Kinda exciting. :)

  6. Great post, Michelle. And congratulations on Diana's success!

  7. I agree, Michelle, Diana does make a SPLASH! I've read CITY SHAPES and GRIMELDA and they made a SPLASH! with me! I know I'll love NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, too! The title alone is a treasure.

    I enjoyed the interview.

    Many congrats to Diana! She's amazing!

    1. Thank you, Penny! You're amazing and red hot. (A little dragon humor :) )

  8. This post and challenge are a treasure trove of goodness, Michelle! I can't wait to read all of Diana's books. And I will be contemplating various unlikely heroes to write about.

    1. Thanks, Bridget. I'm so curious to see what people come up with!!

  9. Congrats, Diana, from one salty poet dog to another! Seriously, I'm so happy for you and your wonderful rhyming stories. Love your inspiration story and the burying of your first picture book, as a child, is inspirational. Even then, you were a creative thinker! :)

  10. Welcome back, Michelle. And thanks, Diana, for a great interview. Congratulations on all your books coming out!

  11. Wonderful interview, Diana and Michelle. Loved learning how you came into NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. I know I'll be enjoying your books for years and years to come. Love the challenge. Several things come to mind. :-)

    1. Thanks, Robyn! Can't wait to see your creation!

  12. What a delight to meet Diana and to preview these great books. School has started back for me, so I am looking for ways to inspire my kids to write poems. I like to crochet, and I live near the bayou, so maybe we need a crocheting alligator?

    1. If you haven't seen it yet, there's a great book by Prelutsky called, "Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme". Some really fun poetry prompts in there. Perhaps they could write a poem about Ally the Crocheting Alligator? :)

  13. Diana, you should get in touch with the Talk Like a Pirate Day people. A little cross-promotion couldn't hurt! Or, if you contact public libraries now, you could possibly tie into any TLAPD celebrations that are planned for 9/19. For a number of years we celebrated the day at my library. I look forward to ordering your titles for our collection.

    1. Thanks, Diane! Yes, I will look into that. Good idea. I might do something together with Marcie Wessels, who also has a pirate book out. 'Tis one of my favorite days of the yarrrrh!

  14. Congrats on all these wonderful books, Diana!! I love City Shapes, and I'm looking forward to reading all of the others--you're so prolific! And thanks for sharing, Michelle :)

    1. Thanks, Maria! I'm looking forward to your upcoming titles, as well! Roaring Brook high five!

  15. What an impressive list of work! Holy smoke! I can't wait to read all of Diana's books. Thanks for this post. I think i will have a contribution this month.

  16. Thank you, Michelle, for introducing me to Diana and her work. I can't wait to get my hands on her books. I love that Anthony Bourdain inspired a book about a knitting pirate. Ideas really do come from anywhere and everywhere! I'm off to find my hero...

    1. Hi, Catherine! I know, isn't it funny how you can get ideas just by sitting around watching tv?

  17. Thank you for the introduction (Michelle) and the fabulous ditty topic (Diana)!

    1. Looking forward to seeing some more unlikely heroes!

  18. Nice interview, Michelle. Putting on my thinking cap.

  19. Thanks for sharing this chat, Michelle! So much to learn from these brilliant authors.

  20. Oh my gosh - I want to read each and every one of these! Love the peek into our hero Ned's life and times on the bobbing sea. Congratulations to Diana on all this success - overflowing the bow but representing years of work below deck, I'm quite sure. What fun!

    1. Many thanks, Robyn! Yep, it's been a loooong wait.

  21. Diana what a pleasure to met you and learn some about your life as a writer I cant what to read some of your books Thank you Michelle for sharing Diana's writing life with all of us such an inspiration to us writers Thank You

  22. Burying your picture book for future archaeologist to discover is a total crackup and so kid-like! That fact alone makes me want to read every word Diana has ever written.

    1. Ha! Thanks, Stephanie! :) I just love that age. Everything is so magical.

  23. Yay! So fun to see Diana over here and learn what inspired Ned! Michelle, padlet is a great idea. I'll be mulling this one over and see what I can come up with. Thanks to both of you!

  24. no words, my friend, except that your talent is OUTSTANDING!