Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Musing: Halloween

Waiting – London Session, 2010 by Davide Gabino

My Halloween costume is Godot. I'm not showing up at the party, 
just texting the host every 10 minutes that I'm on my way.

– Wynne McLaughlin

Thursday, October 27, 2016

October DMC Wrap-Up + Giveaway

"First Mother's Day" by operabug

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of "overtime" when the angel appeared and said. "You're doing a lot of fiddling around on this one."

                    – Erma Bombeck, "When God Created Mothers" (read the rest at goodreads)

giant panda and baby
At the beginning of this month, Kenn Nesbitt challenged us to write poems for our mothers.

 Gentoo Mother and Baby
gentoo penguin love

"Write it for your mother and give it to her. It can be any kind of poem you like, as long as it’s especially for her."

orangutan mother and baby

cheetah and cub
At first there may have been some hesitation, confusion, even reluctance about the challenge. 

mother and baby beaver

But after a few days of "fiddling around," it was as if the dam burst. 

kissing maaaa-maaaa

I wasn't surprised by all the heartfelt tributes—I expected that. 

baby elephant with mother

What I didn't expect was how many of these poems would touch me so deeply.  Thank you for that.

Sending virtual hugs to all of you who shared your words, your lives, your memories, and who brought these multifaceted relationships to light.

Thanks especially to Kenn Nesbitt for "going there" and for the opportunity to post a bunch of cute animal photos, too!

Scroll through the poems below, or for best viewing, click HERE.

Made with Padlet

Inspired to write your own poem for Mom?

Post it on our October 2016 padlet by Monday, October 31st, and I will add it to the wrap-up presentation.

Participants in this month's challenge will be automatically entered to win an autographed copy of One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send you Off to Sleep, selected by Kenn Nesbitt with art by Christoph Niemann.

Alternatively, you may enter the giveaway by commenting below. Comments must be received no later than Tuesday, November 1st. If you contribute a poem and comment below, you will receive two entries in total.

The winner will be determined by and announced next Friday, November 4th, when we reveal our next Spotlight ON interview and ditty challenge.

Linda Baie says goodbye to October and hello to poets. Join her at TeacherDance for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

DMC: "What My Mother Taught Me" by Doraine Bennett


She taught me gin rummy and badminton,
to make Chef Boyardee Pizza
with a crust ten-cent thin.
She taught me to make my bed
before I was out of it,
to clean my room,
that homework came first.
She taught me to cook,
together we learned to sew.
She taught me to practice piano,
to listen, and not get caught talking.

She taught me justice, but without
mercy that makes it redemptive.
She taught me to be truthful, but
she meant her version,
and it was seldom spoken in love.
She taught me that getting your own way
hurts the ones close to you.
She taught me silence
is not golden when it shuts people out.
She taught me that touch is tender,
not tenuous.
She taught me that kindness is more
important than the appearance of kindness.
She taught me when bitterness takes root,
you can lose your best friend.
She taught me to be a mother.
Sometimes knowing
what not to do is the best lesson.

Today I sat beside her bed and read.
I held her withered hand in mine,
kissed her wrinkled brow
because I know what it means
to need those things.
She taught me that.

© 2012 Doraine Bennett. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration TOMORROW, Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DMC: "I Think I Remember You Danced" by Rebekah Hoeft


In Lake Placid
In a hotel room
Crowded with the
Pieces of your heart
For once gathered
All under one roof
You danced
On a table
For your delight
Bubbled up
And would not be contained
And since kidlings
And company took up
All sensible space
And your joyful jig
Needed space to call its own
The table
As stable and round
As any hotel table ever is
Was your stage
And laughter and applause
The only accompaniment you needed.

Of course
It was a long drive from Michigan
With a husband
Bickering twins
And a left out little brother
So maybe
You were just glad to be out of the car.

© 2016 Rebekah Hoeft. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration this Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DMC: "January 22, 2012 The Night After My Mother’s Funeral" by Buffy Silverman


We rifle through cabinets,
sorting piles of photographs and ancient souvenirs.
A flimsy box overflows with home movies,
mold wafts through the air.

My brother lifts a spool
and threads it through the dusty movie player,
assuming the role of boy-who-could-be-trusted-with-machines
once again.

The light flickers and our parents return,
younger than my memory spans,
at a beach house I cannot remember,
with carefree smiles I do not recognize.

My brother and sister race in and out of surf,
build castles,
bury toes,
strut their school-aged independence,
wandering farther and farther from the beach umbrella

where I shiver,
my four-year old self
wrapped in a warm towel
and my mother’s arms.

© 2016 Buffy Silverman. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration this Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Monday, October 24, 2016

DMC: "Mother, Matriarchitect" by Michele Krueger


her body

was my first home,

my life was built there

bone by bone

curling small

I swayed inside,

in her embrace 

I never cried

slowly growing

limb by limb,

finger, fibula,

eyebrow, chin

she crafted me

from flesh and blood,

an artist's finest

sculpting mud

in fertile loam

a seed was sown,

my life was built there

bone by bone

in that moist womb

I safely moored

until the cutting

of the cord

© 2010 Michele Krueger. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration this Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Cover Reveal: The Best of TLD, 2014-2015

Tada!  Isn't it gorgeous?

Next month I look forward to celebrating the publication of this beauty, which contains 75 poems by 55 DMC poets. But today I'd like to focus on Michelle Kogan, who designed such a charming cottage garden cover.


Michelle Kogan is a painter, instructor, illustrator, and writer creating colorful figure, flora and fauna paintings, and children’s illustrations. The paintings often include urban settings and have a sensitivity to endangered species and the environment. She is an instructor at the Evanston Art Center, where she teaches figure drawing and painting, 2-D drawing classes, and plein air watercolor. She also offers plein air workshops at nature venues in the Chicago area, including the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Michelle is no stranger to the Ditty of the Month Club. She contributes regularly to DMC challenges with poetry, and sometimes with art, as well.  Her poem "Toady" will be included in The Best of Today's Little Ditty, 2014-2015. Michelle first came to Today's Little Ditty with the deeper wisdom challenge in January 2015. She wooed me with watercolor (an illustrated tanka) a couple of months after that. Inspired to visit her Etsy shop where she sells archival prints, paintings, greeting cards, journals and sketchbooks, I became irrevocably smitten.

I've asked Michelle if she wouldn't mind answering a few questions so that you, too, can get to know her and her artistry.

Tell us about your artistic background. Were you walking around with a sketchbook as a child?

I’ve always been creating art.  I grew up with art around me. My mother is an artist and has always encouraged my art pursuits. As a young child, I was curious about everything, and sometimes I would take things apart to figure out how they worked. I had so many ideas and questions, my mom often asked me where they all came from. By high school I packed in as much art as I could and was drawing constantly in all sizes of sketchbooks. I had a hankering to find out more about art and artists, and began visiting Chicago museums and galleries with friends and on my own. The question of what do I want to be never entered my mind—I knew from the time I was a teenager I had to be an artist. My passion became my career when I studied art in college. Beginning at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and finishing with my MFA in painting from Northern Illinois University.

What turns you on, artistically speaking?

Drawing–painting and playing with color takes me to another realm. I’ve always been keen on nature, critters, flora, and our human relationship with them. I was a big reader as a child, and a storyteller early on, too. When I recognized these core interests, critters, flora, concerns for our environment, and story, my art took on its own visual voice.

Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive, endangered species — © Michelle Kogan

You often combine painting with poetry. What, for you, is the relationship between the two? Which comes first—the art or the words? 

My art and poetry are inspired by each other, along with nature, and walks I take. If you went on a walk with me, we’d walk for a while and then something would catch my eye and I’d want to stop and sketch or write . . . and sometimes both. Way back, maybe ten years ago, I revisited writing children’s stories. Then I thought, why aren’t I writing poetry? I was always fond of it. I began with haiku, writing them constantly, but that wasn’t enough.  I sought more genres and blogs that featured poetry, and now I’m challenged with balancing the writing with art because I’m writing all the time.

Gourdian Finch and Gourds, endangered species

an autumn breath waits,
beneath airy earth tones, and
begs you to linger . . . 

© 2016 Michelle Kogan

Michelle Kogan, painting en plein air

As a teacher, what is the main thing you would like students to take away from your classes?

I want students to catch the art bug—to be so drawn and inspired by art and art-making that they can’t get enough of creating it and taking it in.

Tell us where we can see more of your work.

There are a handful of places you can view my art:  Studio b. gallery, in Three Oaks, MI, the book City Creatures, Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness, and online at my website, my blog, my Etsy Shop, and on Facebook and Instagram (mkogancreate).

Thanks so much, Michelle. It's an honor to have your art on the cover of The Best of Today's Little Ditty, 2014-2015.

Kenn Nesbitt's DMC challenge this month is to write poems for our mothers. This week's daily ditties included work by Keri Collins Lewis, B.J. Lee, Mindy Gars Dolandis, and yours truly. Make your mom proud and post yours on our October padlet, then come back next week for our end-of-month celebration!

Another great place to find poetry challenges is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Thanks to Tricia Stohr-Hunt for hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

DMC: "Baby Hats" by Mindy Gars Dolandis


Mom is four score and seven years worn
Seen her children’s children’s children born
Her body is agile, her eyes eagle sharp
She sits and knits daily, small gifts from the heart
Tiny, brimmed pink and blue hats to be worn
By a bevy of babies who’ve just been born
Second hand moves, arthritic hands stitch
Once a month she drops off her donations
Baby hats for the next generation

© 2016 Mindy Gars Dolandis. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

DMC: "Mother, Mine" by B. J. Lee


Mother, mine,
gone from me too soon. 
It’s hard to catch a glimpse of you
in my mind’s eye—
your face blurring, 
then disappearing with the years. 

My brothers tell me,
“You laugh just like Mom.”
Relatives whisper,
“Who does she dress like?”
and, “If she isn’t the spittin’ image…”
as they elbow each other 
in shadowed corners.

On the telephone I always get,
“You sound just like your mother.”
Do people honestly think
it doesn’t bother me to hear that?
The trouble is, they aren’t thinking.

When I sobbingly question my father
about his now sidelong glances,
he admits, “I find it difficult 
to look you full in the face.”  

I run for my room.

Everyone else, 
sees her in me.

Maybe it’s the only way
I have of truly seeing her.  

© 2010 B.J. Lee. All rights reserved.  

Note from B.J.:  This poem is a remembrance of the time period just after my mother's untimely passing when I was seventeen.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

DMC: "Silent Guidance" by Keri Collins Lewis


For all you didn’t say – thanks.

The stiletto heels I bought for too much money
and the blisters they left behind.

The dangerous-looking boy who turned out to be
less Mr. Right and more Mr. What Was I Thinking?

The nights my friends and I stayed up
far too late laughing far too loudly.

The strange diets.
The stranger mood swings.

College applications.
Job applications.

For all the times I know you wanted to say,
No. Wait. What are you thinking?
but didn’t – thanks.

Your loving silence helped me find my own way.

© 2016 Keri Collins Lewis. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Monday, October 17, 2016

DMC: "Mother's Heart" by M. H. Barnes


At the kitchen               table, the color
of sunshine and the       centerpiece of  my
childhood, Mother sat doodling our names in
a steno book, over and over, a puffy cloud of
squiggles on the page, tossed this way and
that.  You could read her possession of
us in every direction, and we were
safe on that page, cast in ink,
belonging to her forever.  
In an idle moment, I
think about my
mother and

© 2014 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I originally posted "Mother's Heart" on March 6, 2014. I also wrote poems for my mother for Mother's Day 2013 and Mother's Day 2014. I suspect for some of you, though, this challenge is not so easy. Relationships can be complicated and emotionally taxing. While writing poetry can be cathartic, sometimes what we write is just for ourselves. If you write a poem for your mother but decide not to share, let me know at TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll enter you in this month's drawing regardless. If I were to make one suggestion for those feeling overwhelmed by the scope of this challenge, it would be to focus on one memory, one vignette, be it doodling at the kitchen table or watering plants. Think small.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Carrie Clickard: Making Good Use of Made-Up Words

Hear that siren? 

That's because Carrie Clickard just pulled up for another visit to Today's Little Ditty.

Today's Rhyme Crime Investigation comes in response to a reader's request for rhyming poetry mentor texts that use made-up words or words with unusual spelling.

While Carrie's posts always leave me with a smile on my face, this one includes so much fun verse, I suggest you get ready for a full-scale smile muscle workout!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Runcible spoons and slithy toves –  
Making good use of made-up words

During our last Rhyme Crime Investigation, Scanning the Seuss Man, I touched on the subject of invented words. Seuss uses them widely to great effect. Not just Seuss—many of our beloved children's poets, past and present, have played with creating their own words with delightful results. So the question arises, how do poets know when made up words are the smart choice for a poem and when they’re only a crutch?

Now for those of you who have followed previous Rhyme Crime Investigations, you might already have a handle on some of the wrong reasons to use an invented word.  If the only reason you’re creating a word is because no other rhyme works for a particular couplet, you’re on thin ice. The word you create could be brilliant, but it’s more likely to be a noticeable “fake word” that will stand out to both editors and readers—and not in a good way.

Likewise, if you’re altering a word’s shape or pronunciation to fix your meter or to correct a problem with syllable stress, you’ll finish your poem faster but you won’t be fooling anybody.  It can be painfully obvious to see when writers have taken the easy route. You’re better off putting in the hard work of rewriting to eliminate those “weasel” words.

So, you might be wondering, is it best to avoid  using nonsense words altogether? Not at all. The world of poetry would be poorer without them. Some of my own best reading moments were stumbling over gems like the “runcible” spoon in Lear’s "The Owl and the Pussycat" and the marvelous made-up vocabulary of Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky."  But what makes the difference between these poems and the quick fix failures, is that the poets used invented language intentionally, with thought and logic, to make their work stronger or funnier.

So how exactly do they do that?

ONE: The Grand Conceit

Let’s start with what I’m calling The Grand Conceit, the big idea, where an author creates words as part of the core concept of a poem or book. In this case new words are not simply whimsical vocabulary tacked on for a laugh. The invented words form the backbone of the entire work. Take Jack Prelutsky's Scranimals (Greenwillow Books, 2002). The title itself is a clue to where Jack’s going: Scrambled + Animals = Scranimals. The book is a romp through a world filled with chimerical plant-animal hybrids. Prelutsky scrambles not just their names, but the creatures themselves. From Porcupineapples to Toucanemones, you'll be hard pressed to pick a favorite. There’s the elegant Rhinocerose: 
Oh, beautiful RHINOCEROSE,
So captivating, head to toes,
So aromatic, toes to head,
Enchantress of the flower bed …
– Excerpt from "Oh beautiful RHINOCEROSE" © 2002 by Jack Prelutsky
and the lowly but adorable Potatoad: "On a bump beside a road/Sits a lowly POTATOAD..."  or maybe the Pandaffodil or … maybe you should pick up a copy and see for yourself.

In On Beyond Zebra, again we find that the author’s invented words are the stars of the story. Dr. Seuss creates not just new words but new letters: “My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”  This idea, the grand conceit of a whole new alphabet brings us "FLOOB" the first letter of  Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs, and the letter "YUZZ" is used for Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz.

Both cases show us invented vocabulary as a uniquely surprising and effective way of stimulating young readers’ imaginations and tickling their funny bones.  But is a big concept the only good way to include made-up words? Definitely not. Let’s look at a few smaller but still savvy ways to use invented vocabulary.

TWO: The Pithy Punchline

The best humorous poems often end with a pitch-perfect, witty last line. There’s something about the timing and rhythm of those last few words that catches us off guard and anchors the poem in our memory. Those endings can be a great place to use an invented word, where the word is an afterthought but the key to the laughter. Take this short poem by J. Patrick Lewis:

Cries a sheep to a ship on the Amazon
(A clipper sheep ship that her lamb is on)
"Remember, dear Willy,
the nights will be chilly,
so keep your white woolly pajamazon!"
            © 1999 by J. Patrick Lewis, from The Bookworm’s Feast
            Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

Lewis could have used the standard English words "pajamas on" and still had a perfectly acceptable ending line. So he clearly didn’t make up a word to solve a rhyme problem. Instead, by playing off the opening line’s “Amazon” with a created portmanteau word, Lewis elevates the poem from cute to brilliant.

In another witty word tweak, Lewis gives us a whirlwind of fun with his “Her-i-cane.”
There was a curly her-i-cane,
Her name was Lorelei,
And all she ever wanted was
       To fly, fly, fly.

She wasn't like the other girls,
For Lori never grew
Into a proper her-i-cane
       That flew, flew, flew.
– Excerpt from "Her-i-cane" © 1999 by J. Patrick Lewis, The Bookworm’s Feast
The magic of this made-up word has nothing to do with rhyming at all. It's personification done in a charming, memorable way.  Again, Lewis could have used the ordinary word hurricane and the poem would have “worked.” But by tweaking the vocabulary just a little left of normal, Lewis gave the poem a whole new level of whimsy and fun.

THREE: Who are you calling funny looking?  
Playing with the way words look.

Sometimes the funny isn’t about how a word sounds, but how it looks.  Doubling up on the A’s makes Douglas Florian’s "The Aardvarks" a giggle-producing kid favorite:

Aardvarks aare odd.
Aardvarks aare staark.
Aardvarks look better
By faar in the daark.
            © 2000 by Douglas Florian, from mammalabilia  
            Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

In "The Lynx," another charming poem in his mammalabilia collection (Harcourt, 2000), Florian gets the laughs by spelling “stynx” to match lynx. Again, Florian had no need to make up a word so the poem would rhyme, instead he added to each poem’s surprise and wit by respelling words that worked in the first place – the same way Lewis played with Amazon and pajamazon.

FOUR: Do do do it again! 
Words that get funnier every time you say them.

Many of the examples above deal with invented words used just once for a pithy, syncopated “ba-doom-ching” laugh.  But funny can come in bigger doses too. Consider J. Patrick Lewis’s "A Hippopotamusn’t" that gets sillier and sillier as the poem goes on:

A hippopotamusn't sit
  On lawn chairs, stools, and rockers.
A hippopotamusn't yawn
  Directly under tightrope walkers.
A hippopotamusn't roll
  In gutters used by bowlers.
A hippopotamusn't fail
  To floss his hippopotamolars.
– Excerpt from the title poem of A Hippopotamusn't © 1990 by J. Patrick Lewis
Every time the hippopotamusn’t is mentioned, something new and outrageous delights the young readers.  The same way each new line of "The Bear" by Douglas Florian brings another chuckle:

Come Septem-bear
I sleep, I slum-bear,
Till winter lum-bears
Into spring.
More than that's
 © 2000 by Douglas Florian, from mammalabilia  
 Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.
Both of these authors get their timing and the laughs, just right.  In each case the tweaked or invented words are intentionally planned, wisely used and never just to “make the rhyme work.”

FIVE: Ticklish tongue twisters
The delight of getting words wrong.

Sometimes an author purposefully misuses or misspells a word, and delight of readers of all ages.  We can all relate to the bungled words in Laura Richard’s tongue twisting "Eletelphony."
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
– Excerpt from "Eletelephony" by Laura E. Richards, read the rest HERE.

There are so many more excellent examples, I could keep adding from now till November. (Though I think Michelle might protest.)  What’s clear in each and every example is that the poet used invented words to elevate, entertain and strengthen their work, never in an attempt to fix a tricky couplet. They weren’t just throwing in the word “tweeple” to rhyme with people or matching purple with “burple.” Which, now that I come to think of it, could work if your poem was about drinking grape juice or swallowing grape bubble gum.  Maybe I need to write that poem. Or maybe you do. (grin)

Either way, on that note I will leave you with this bit of wit and inspiration about made up words from Kenn Nesbitt. See you next time on Rhyme Crime Investigations.

Today I Decided to Make Up a Word  

Today I decided to make up a word,
like flonk, or scrandana, or hankly, or smurred.
My word will be useful and sound really cool;
a word like chindango, or fraskle, or spewl.

My friends and my teachers will all be impressed
to learn that I’ve made up a word like extrest,
or crondic, or crambly, or squantion, or squank.
Whenever they use it, it’s me that they’ll thank.

They’ll call me a genius and give me a prize,
repeating my word, be it shimble, or glize,
or frustice, or frongry, or frastamazoo,
or pandaverandamalandamaloo.

You’ll see it on TV shows one of these days.
They’ll use it in movies. They’ll put it in plays.
They’ll shout it from rooftops! The headlines will read,
“This Kid Has Invented the Word that We Need!”

I’ll make up my word, and I’ll share it with you,
and you can tell people from here to Peru;
the old ones, the young ones, and those in between…
as soon as I figure out what it should mean.
             © 2009 by Kenn Nesbitt,  from My Hippo Has the Hiccups 
             Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.
             Listen to the poem read aloud at

Thanks, Carrie! 

Make sure to check out Carrie's previous Rhyme Crime posts on Today's Little Ditty:

Carrie L. Clickard is an internationally published author and poet.  Her first picture book, VICTRICIA MALICIA, debuted in 2012 from Flashlight Press. Forthcoming books include MAGIC FOR SALE (Holiday House, 2017), DUMPLING DREAMS (Simon and Schuster 2017) and THOMAS JEFFERSON & THE MAMMOTH HUNT (Simon and Schuster, 2018). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals including Spider, Muse, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Havok, Myriad Lands, Clubhouse, Spellbound, Penumbra, Haiku of the Dead, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Inchoate Echoes, and The Brisling Tide.  

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more information, then post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. While I haven't featured any reader contributions yet, I did post two lines from author John Irving this week. Stay tuned for more.

Irene Latham is welcoming poets and poetry lovers to Poetry Friday roundup with a fun assortment of scarecrows! If you were a scarecrow, what would you wish for? Find out what Irene's scarecrow has to say at Live Your Poem.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Line Tuesday: John Irving

"Holding mummy's hand" by Franck Michel

When Jack Burns needed to hold his mother's hand,
his fingers could see in the dark.

– John Irving 
from Until I Find You

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more information, then post your poem on our October 2016 padlet.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Spotlight on Kenn Nesbitt + DMC Challenge


Former Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt is the author of about twenty books for children.

A small selection of Kenn Nesbitt's books. Click HERE for more.

His poems have also appeared in numerous bestselling anthologies, including the popular Kids Pick the Funniest Poems series, with nearly two million copies in print. His work has been published in hundreds of school textbooks around the world, as well as national television programs, and numerous children's magazines. Kenn travels the country, visiting more than sixty schools each year, sharing his wacky brand of poetry with kids nationwide, and helping to create a new generation of poetry lovers.

"My entire raison d'être is to get kids excited about reading. I want them to
have as much fun with books as is humanly possible. I want to light up
every synapse in their brains, and get them to think in new and previously
impossible ways."     –Kenn Nesbitt,

His website is the most visited children's poetry website on the Internet. It's not only chockablock with original and classic poems for kids to read and rate, but you'll find poetry activities, games, and resources like poetry lessons, web links, and even a rhyming dictionary. You'll also find news about Kenn, his event calendar, and information about school visits.

I became a subscriber of long before I started blogging... before I was serious about children's poetry, even. I appreciated that Kenn was clever, funny, and had perfect meter, but most of all, I liked sharing his poems with my young children and hearing them laugh. Kenn's work even inspired me to try my own hand at "giggle poetry." (You can see a couple examples here and here.)

Several years have passed since then—my kids are now in high school and I haven't grown any younger either. I'm not writing as much of the funny stuff these days, but I still think Kenn is the bee's knees when it comes to introducing children to poetry. Read Kenn's article on to find out why poetry is important for children, and how to engage kids with poetry. Rule number one is to make it FUN, and that's where Kenn's madcap sense of humor comes into play. In his own words,
I realize, as a poet and an author that I am competing with Spongebob. So get 'em hooked first, and then show them what else poetry can be.

Today, I'm delighted to offer a sneak peek at a book that is the epitome of what children's poetry can be!

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Nov 1, 2016)
ISBN: 978-0316341219
Pre-order at, Barnes and Noble,
or via
You would never guess that ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME is the first anthology Kenn has compiled. The collection is masterfully assembled. Scanning the five-page table of contents, you'll find a veritable who's who of contemporary children's poetry. More than 130 poets contributed new poems to this anthology, including Jack Prelutsky, Mary Ann Hoberman, X.J. Kennedy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Nikki Grimes, and many, many more.

You'll also discover several familiar names from the Poetry Friday crowd; among them, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Laura Purdie Salas, Renée LaTulippe, Matt Forrest Esenwine, April Halprin Wayland, Heidi Mordhorst, and others... even a ditty-sized poem from li'l ol' me. I'm honored, humbled, and THRILLED to be sharing page space with such highly regarded company.

As you might imagine, the poems in this collection vary greatly in style and tone, assuring that every reader will find one, two, ten, or 110 poems that speak to them in a personal way. The boldly inked drawings of New York Times illustrator and award-winning artist Christoph Niemann are what pulls everything together with wit, whimsy, and vivacious spirit, making this anthology shine like the classic it's destined to become.

A starred Kirkus review describes ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME as  

     "A dreamy collection of bedtime poems and witty illustrations
      that's anything but sleepy." 

And so it is! But it might be worth clarifying that not all of the poems are about bedtime. They are, however, all poems you can read in one minute or less before bedtime—"60-second poems to send you off to sleep."

A focal point of Kenn's tenure as U.S. Children's Poet Laureate (2013-2015) was the idea that a child's love of poetry can take root and flourish with minimal daily exposure. Some of you may recall Kenn's website,, which he maintained during his two-year term. Not only did he share the work of popular children's poets, but he was also promoting a "Poetry Minute" in schools, where teachers take a minute out of each day to read a poem to their classes. According to Kenn, "it takes a week or two of reading poems to children before they have to have that daily poem." That is the theory behind ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME, as well. If parents share a single poem each night with their child, they will be nurturing a love of poetry to last a lifetime. The only thing that's debatable is whether children will be content with just one! These poems are like potato chips... you can't stop at just one.

My prediction is that it will take YOU less than a minute 
to fall in love with this anthology, dear readers. 
(All it took for me was a glimpse at that fabulous cover!) 

What's more, by the end of today's interview, you may find yourself with newfound affection for the hard-working, fun-loving, author, anthologist, and poetry advocate who made it all happen.

Please help me welcome Kenn Nesbitt to the TLD spotlight!

We'll begin our interview as we always do, with five favorites.

Favorite food:
Anything homemade with lots of vegetables. Soup comes to mind. I make a lot of soup.

Favorite color:
My favorite colors are puce, ochre, and vermilion because I love the way they sound...

Do you know which is which? Click the color names to find out.

though I think that green might be the prettiest color to look at.

Favorite pastime:
I love foreign films and arthouse cinema. I like them so much that I started a meetup group in my hometown. Every couple of weeks, we go to the movies and then go out afterward to discuss.

Favorite children's poet:
I am a huge fan of Dennis Lee, the author of Alligator Pie. His poems are pure magic.

Favorite teacher in school:
Mr. Pearson, my eighth-grade English teacher, because he introduced us to horror and science fiction stories, and because he showed us what genuinely good writing sounded like.

In 1994, you wrote your first children's poem simply for the fun of it. Your first collection of poetry was published in 1998. Fifteen years later, you are Children's Poet Laureate on a mission to inspire, motivate, and get kids excited about reading poetry and even writing their own. Was there a single trigger that flipped the switch from hobby to passion or was it a more gradual process?

It was a pretty quick transition. I had been writing funny kids’ poems now and then – just three or four poems a year – for about three years, when it occurred to me that I might be able to create an entire book if I set my mind to it. For the next six months, I gave myself a goal of writing two poems each week. Six months later I had more than 50 poems. I showed them to the poet Bruce Lansky at a conference that summer, and he liked them so much that he immediately started incorporating them into his anthologies. My first published poems appeared in his collection Miles of Smiles.

After that, I self-published a collection titled My Foot Fell Asleep. My first book from a traditional publisher was The Aliens Have Landed!, published in 2001 by Meadowbrook Press.

When my next book, When the Teacher Isn’t Looking, was published in 2004, I decided to see if I could earn a living as a full-time poet. It has worked out so far.

Prior to becoming a full-time children's poet, you were a computer programmer. Do the two careers appeal to different sides of your personality or is the creative approach more or less the same?

To me, computer programming and writing poetry feel quite the same. In both cases, I’m using language to solve a problem or achieve a goal. In programming, the goal is to make the computer behave the way you want it to, and the language is a computer programming language such as Java or PHP. The better you understand the language, and the tricks and tools of programming, the more elegant your programs can be.

In my poetry, the goal is to make kids laugh and have fun with reading. The language is English, and the tricks and tools are different, but the process is very similar.

Computer programmer Kenn with friend, Joe Fung, at Bill Gates's house.

In addition to a crazy-busy schedule of in-person and virtual classroom visits, you maintain a constant flow of new material, contests, surveys, and other activities on your website, topped off with an open invitation to contact you via email. Your level of accessibility to children is remarkable (and maybe slightly insane). Do you consider this degree of outreach and interactivity something that comes with the territory, or is the relationship with your readers symbiotic somehow?

Children's Poet Laureate Kenn at an assembly with scores of eager young fans.

In previous generations, authors were not very accessible to their audiences. Aside from writing a fan letter or going to a book signing, readers didn’t have much opportunity to interact with authors. The internet has changed that completely. Nowadays, contacting an author is as easy as sending a tweet.

I think this is a good thing, not just for readers, but for authors as well. It’s helpful to know what readers are interested in, and it’s motivating to see how they react to my work, regardless if they’re in Peoria or Pakistan.

Because of my background as a software developer, I could see early on that the Internet could provide a huge advantage in reaching potential readers and getting their feedback. This is why I’ve always put lots of poems on my website and invited readers to rate and comment on the poems.

Although your work has appeared in many anthologies, One Minute till Bedtime is the first time you've compiled your own, let alone one of this magnitude. What are you taking away from the experience? Has working on One Minute till Bedtime broadened your outlook or sense of self in any way?

A proud Kenn Nesbitt shows off his latest achievement.
One of the best things about One Minute till Bedtime, from my perspective, is that it lets me introduce readers to many of the hundreds of amazing poets who are writing for children today. Every poem in this collection is brand new, written by a living, working artist. Instead of reprinting classics and “best-loved” poems, this book is a true 21st-century anthology that represents the best of what is being written for children right now.

Moreover, though all of my past poetry collections, and my website as well, have focused on humorous poetry, I appreciate good children’s poems of all varieties. I think One Minute till Bedtime will give readers some idea of the breadth of modern children’s poetry.

One of my favorite things about creating this collection was the opportunity it gave me to work with and get to know so many talented authors.

There are SO many wonderful poems in this collection! Please share one or two that are particularly meaningful to you in some way and tell us why.

I have many, many favorites, but one that is particularly important to me is “Sleepy” by Santino Panzica. Santino is 15 years old, and this is his first poem to be published in an anthology. I first discovered him while judging the annual TIME for Kids poetry contest, where I selected him as the Grand Prize winner when he was just 10. The following year he sent me a self-published book of his work entitled The Man-Eating Lemon and Other Poems, and it was so incredible that I didn’t hesitate to ask him to submit something for One Minute till Bedtime.

From ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)
All rights reserved, used with permission of the publisher.


I’m ever so sleepy.
I can’t stay awake!
The drowsiness might be
Too heavy to take.

My eyelids are falling.
I’m feeling too weak
To open them anywhere
Close to their peak.

I cannot avoid it.
I’m falling asleep.
I’ve started unconsciously
Counting my sheep.

My brain has begun
To shut down in my head.
But please, Mother, don’t make
Me crawl into bed!

 — Santino Panzica

© 2016 Christoph Niemann, from ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME

One of my favorite poems is your "How to Fall Asleep." It shows a side of you that's new to me. I've always known you had a wicked funny imagination, but this poem is more lyrical. I love the sense of mindfulness and the way the poem lovingly carries the listener into sleep.

"How to Fall Asleep" © 2016 Kenn Nesbitt, from ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME.

I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this. Though I’m known for writing funny kids’ poems, I really enjoy writing poems that are heartwarming. My book Kiss, Kiss Good Night is an example of this. My personal favorite poem of mine in the book is “Have I Told You?” which is a sweet ode to the friendship between a child and their teddy bear.

From ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)
All rights reserved, used with permission of the publisher.

Have I Told You?

Ted, have I told you
you're cushy and cozy?
You're comfy to cuddle
and hold when I'm dozy.

I love how you nuzzle,
so fuzzy and snug.
There's no one I'd rather
have here for a hug.

So read me a page
and I'll read one to you.
We'll sing till we're sleepy
and then, when we're through,

we'll tuck in our covers,
we'll shut off the light,
and drift off to dreamland
together tonight.

 — Kenn Nesbitt

You mentioned in an interview with J. Patrick Lewis that sometimes you write in the middle of the night after waking from a peculiar dream. Would you share one of your more memorable dreams, either as an adult or from when you were young?

Naaah, he's not sleepwalking...
Kenn Nesbitt reads MORE BEARS! at a school visit.
My picture book MORE BEARS! (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010) came to me as a dream. I was literally dreaming the first few pages of the story when I woke with a start, jumped out of bed, and went straight to my computer to write as fast as I could.

I have also written entire poems in my sleep. More than once, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, typed the poem from my dream into my phone, and then gone back to sleep. More often, ideas for poems come to me as my mind begins to wander while I’m falling asleep. This usually means waking up and writing for the next hour or two. I don’t get as much sleep as I would have liked, but it’s worth it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember specifically which poems this has happened with.

What's coming up next for you?

My focus this summer has been on writing new poems, revamping my website, and getting ready for the release of One Minute till Bedtime. I also plan to publish another collection of funny poetry for kids next year.

If you had all the world's children in one room, what would you tell them?
With his brothers, Ross and Danny, and friend, Jimmy.
(Kenn is the one plotting to take over the world, one poem at a time.)

Be curious and creative. On purpose. Often.

I think the biggest reason for my success in life is because I am curious about everything and I try to be creative as often as possible. On the curiosity side, I always look up any new word or subject I encounter.

Kids might not realize it, but you learn by being creative as well; every time you write a poem or make a video or practice your guitar, you learn something you didn’t know before and it expands your perspective on life.

And, although this is not something I think all the world’s children would find interesting, I have four simple rules for a happy and successful life. They are: 

                                1) Read a little every day, 
                                2) Write a little every day, 
                                3) Exercise a little every day, and 
                                4) Eat more vegetables.

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

Write a poem for your mother. Write it for your mother and give it to her. It can be any kind of poem you like, as long as it’s especially for her. 

In my opinion, a poem is the best gift you can ever give someone. It doesn’t cost you anything but a little thought and time, and yet it will be treasured forever.

Selfie with Mom  – Kenn Nesbitt

Oh my. I expect this will be a fulsome, heart-tugging month of poetry. Stock up on tissues!

Thank you for the gift of this interview, Kenn, and for  
spreading fun and giggles, a love of reading, and the heart
of children's poetry to kids around the world. 

Ready, writers? 

Kenn has offered an autographed copy of 
ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME to one lucky DMC participant—
how's that for motivation?!


Post a poem for your mother on our October 2016 padlet. Stop by any time during the month to add your work or to check out what others are contributing.

By posting on the padlet, you are granting me permission to share 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—October 28th 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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks once again for last month's tremendous turnout of septercets in response to Jane Yolen's DMC challenge! has determined that a signed copy of THE ALLIGATOR'S SMILE (Millbrook Press, 2016) will go to . . .

CATHERINE FLYNNcongratulations, Catherine!

Violet Nesdoly is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup. I hope to see you there, but Hurricane Matthew may have other ideas.