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.


  1. Thanks for the interview, Michelle. I am already a fan of Kenn's, but your post has made me love him more. Like you, I can't wait to see this book in print - I have a little poem in there, too. The first time one of my poems has been published outside Australia.

    1. "Gran's visit" is such a sweet poem, Sally! Congrats on your U.S. debut. :)

  2. I too can't wait to see this book in print. It will be my first poetry publication into the USofA. Exciting!! :)
    Be curious & creative. Such a great mantra.

    1. Congratulations, Kat! OMTB is better off for its Aussie contributions. :)

  3. Wishing you well in the midst of Hurricane Matthew, Michelle. Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview.

  4. Thinking of you, Michelle, as Matthew roars over! Hope you have power. Thanks for this interview with Kenn, whom I met this past weekend at Poetry Camp! Lots of contributors to this anthology where also there... we missed you, Michelle! Congratulations on being included in this anthology. xo

    1. Thanks, Irene. As it turns out, Hermine caused us more problems last month than Matthew did... the coast got it much worse, I'm afraid.

  5. Kenn was an unknown to me prior to his being named the laureate, your post today, fills in the blanks.

    Stay safe my friend!

  6. Congratulations on your inclusion in the book, Michelle - I'm so proud to be part of it with you, Kenn, and so many other wonderful folks. Thanks for this's always cool to learn a little more about the people we work with and correspond with every day.

  7. Written poems in his sleep? That's impressive! Kenn's offered us a lovely challenge.
    Stay safe!

  8. This is one anthology I will be sure to order, know I will love each poem from everyone. Thanks for the great interview, Michelle. What a sweet challenge Kenn has given. Hope all goes well these few days for you and your community.

    1. We escaped the worst, Linda. Thanks for your well wishes.

  9. Thanks so much for highlighting ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME. I've been looking forward to reading it.
    I loved this interview. Kenn has spread poetry to so many kids and that makes me very happy. I followed his website for a long time before I blogged, too. His poems make me laugh!
    Congrats on having a poem in the anthology!

    1. Thank you, Penny. Kenn definitely has a knack for spreading sunshine, doesn't he?

  10. The book sounds fabulous for reading to tiny tykes. So exciting to see so many Poetry Friday friends listed.

  11. Oh! Such a great post, Michelle and Kenn! Nice to learn a bit more about our editor, Kenn, and so happy to be included in this wonderful anthology!

  12. Great interview. Loved all the sample poems from the new anthology too. Yay for teddy bear poems!!

  13. Oh wow, talk about life goals!! Kenn absolutely understands kids - they aren't born with impressions about poetry, so it's up to us to grab their hearts and show them just how incredible - and FUN - this art form can be!

  14. I just love the fact that Kenn included a poem from the 15-year-old he's gotten to know. What a good call that is (and a fine poem!!) Meeting Kenn was one of the highlights of my time at Western Washington University's recent Poetry Camp. He's just as nice as this interview indicates. A real sweetheart, and a great poetry advocate. And okay, I will try writing a poem to my mom!

  15. I love this interview, Michelle! My daughter is pregnant with my first grandchild, so I think this book of poems will be the first book I give her!

    1. A fine choice, Kristi! And congrats on your soon-to-be first grandchild... how exciting! Another anthology that would be a great choice is the chunky board book called "Lullabies and Kisses Sweet," compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

  16. Michelle and Kenn, thanks to you both. I enjoyed learning more of Kenn's story and he's in excellent hands with Michelle. This is one is to treasure.

    1. Thanks, David. "Lamb Said, Mew" and "Gesundheit" are both such fun poems! And such cute illustrations, too.

  17. Another great interview, Michelle! I remember finding Kenn's website, also before I stumbled on Poetry Friday. I loved his poetry lessons, and used them to write a couple of funny (well, they seemed funny to me at the time) poems. (Actually, now that I think of it, one of them won a humorous poem contest in a Byline contest when Byline was still publishing. So thanks Kenn!)

  18. Congrats, Michelle. That is cool bananas that you have a poem in the anthology. And I love Kenn Nesbitt. Love the challenge. What fun. Thanks, Kenn. And as always, thank you, Michelle. xoxo

  19. Thanks for this article. Very inspiring! Now I'm off to be curious and creative. On purpose. Often.

  20. What a wonderful interview. I feel inspired! Thanks for this post.

  21. Oh my gosh--what a wonderful interview and post. Can't wait to read this entire anthology. I'm also getting to work on a poem for my mom...

  22. Michelle, as always.....SPECTACULAR post and interview. I still want to be you when I grow up. But, I see that we are in a very similar stage of life with kids in HS. Maybe we can grow up similarly and just stay in touch :)

    I have SOOOOOOO much response to this post
    -first, I will go back and delight in clicking ALL the links
    -subscribing to Ken's blog and following him on twitter
    -reading the interview.
    And, I just believe so much in the power of poetry for children of any age. I love that One Minute Til Bedtime draws children in with modern, living artists.
    One of the joys of being a school librarian is weeding the collection and setting aside an "old" poetry book. There are wonderful, rich poems of the past....but today's kids might not connect with them. Updating poetry is a loving type of pruning.
    I really look forward to getting my hands on One Minute til Bedtime! Thank you, Ken Nesbitt, and your work. Thank you for being accessible and involved with kids!

  23. First of all, thank you! I'm thrilled to have won a copy of The Alligator's Smile! And thank you for this interview. I love Kenn's four simple rules, and I know my nephew's will love One Minute Till Bedtime!

    1. You're welcome, Catherine— apparently the alligators took a liking to you. ;)

  24. Okay, this challenge is tugging at my heart. It feels like he sent it out just for me. Mom is in the hospital (again) and it is more of a reality than ever that my life will have to continue without her in it at some point...soon. The time to write this poem is now. It won't be easy, but it will be important. Thank you Kenn (and Michelle).

    1. So sorry your mom is back in the hospital, Mary Lee. Hugs...

    2. Thinking good thoughts for your mother, Mary Lee.

  25. Really great to get to know the guy who pulled us all together a little better (two meanings there!). I agree with Mary Lee--it's a good time for me to write another poem for MY mother too. Wait--maybe it's always a good time to write a poem for Mom...

  26. Wonderful, chock-full-of creativity interview, and curiosity filled replies, thanks Michelle and Ken!!!
    "One Minute till Bedtime" is on my list! I also loved Ken's two featured poems, "How to Fall Asleep, and "Have I Told You."

  27. Oh, my goodness....when I saw this challenge I wondered how on earth I could possibly do it. My mom passed away several years ago.
    BUT.....after some noodling and playing with rhyme I remembered a funny story from years ago when my cousin dove off the dock while wearing her glasses. I used that story as a basis of the poem I'm posting to the padlet: Julie's glasses. I'm not a whiz at rhyme & meter....but I'm happy with this draft so far. Instead of giving this poem to my mom, I'll send it to my cousin, Julie. It will surely give her a smile.

  28. Been trying to get over here to read this interview for a week! (Evacuation week.) Delighted to finally get to savor. It was such a treat meeting Kenn at POETRY CAMP in Bellingham, and this anthology is going to be an immediate favorite, I predict. Congrats on having a poem included, Michelle, and thanks to both of you for this fulsome post!

  29. Alligators pears of congrats to Catherine. The septercept was a fun challenge, thanks to Jane Yolen & Michelle.
    This is a full course visit with Kenn. Appreciations & anticipation for the lines & verses about mamere, Mama, Grandma, mommy & dear ol' Mom, to come. Lovely eye deer. Thank you Kenn N. & Michelle.

  30. I had to post two poems for you, Michelle, I couldn't decide whether to publish for my mom or stepmom. So I published one for each. I see I am not the only one to drag my feet and struggle to open up. Donna's poem made me see the beauty in honesty.

  31. I LOVE your interviews, Michelle! Honestly, you, Renee, Jama, and Sylvia, among others, do such a great service for children's poetry!

  32. Michelle, I just spent a delightful time reading through this interview, finalizing my tribute poem, and then reading through the October 2016 padlet poetry. This ditty challenge is one worthy of all the mothers in the world who work tirelessly to spread their love. Thank you.