Thursday, February 1, 2018

The NewlyRead Game with J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen + DMC Challenge

"Cupid" by Cole Henley

Ah, February . . .
     the month of cold snow and warm hearts!

The TLD cupid (bet you didn't even know we had one on staff) has loaded up his quiver and is taking aim at book lovers everywhere.

To that end, I'm excited to introduce a new series on Today's Little Ditty inspired by our book-loving cherub. It's called The NewlyRead Game.

The Newlywed Game, originally hosted by Bob Eubanks,
aired, on and off, from 1966 to 2013.
The NewlyRead Game is a takeoff of the TV game show “The Newlywed Game,” but instead of focusing on how well recently married couples know their spouses, the Today's Little Ditty version focuses on the collaborative writing partnership. My intent is not to start rumors about romantic relationships between co-authors, of course. I'm much more interested in exploring how writing a book together, like marriage, is a commitment—to one another and to the book project.

Find out all you ever wanted to know about
The Newlywed Game at the U.S. Game Shows Wiki.

As a bonus, maybe we can have a bit of fun finding out how well our co-authors know each other after the experience of writing a book together!

So let's get started, shall we?


J. Patrick Lewis  and  Jane Yolen

J. Patrick Lewis is the author of more than one hundred picture/poetry books for children, including two forthcoming books in 2018—Phrases of the Moon (Creative Editions) and The Poetry of US (National Geographic). He received the NCTE Excellence in Children's Poetry Award and served as the Poetry Foundation's third Children's Poet Laureate. Read his October 2014 Spotlight on Today's Little Ditty HERE and visit him at his website:

Jane Yolen is the award-winning author of over 365 books. They include poetry collections, story anthologies, picture books, board books, novels for middle grade and young adults, graphic novels, nonfiction, cookbooks, music books, adult books, and pedagogical books. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates for her body of work. Read her September 2016 Spotlight on Today's Little Ditty HERE and visit her at her website:


LAST LAUGHS: Prehistoric Epitaphs
J. Patrick Lewis, Jane Yolen, and Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Charlesbridge (October 2017)
ISBN: 978-1580897068
Find at, Barnes & Noble, or via

Poems framed as epitaphs for extinct prehistoric animals hit the proverbial (coffin) nail on the head in this darkly humorous collection from expert poets Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis.

A companion to the team's Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs (Charlesbridge, 2012), the macabre, ironic, and witty epitaphs included in Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs share how prehistoric creatures like the terror bird, the woolly mammoth, and the T-Rex met their demise.  The ever-entertaining J. Patrick Lewis and the inimitable Jane Yolen offer a collection organized by era, with posthumous poems paired with short secondary text providing additional, factual information about each creature.

Jeffrey Stewart Timmins's macabre illustrations are satisfyingly spine-tingling and wickedly humorous.

For easier reading/viewing, click on the following images to enlarge.

Text © J. Patrick Lewis, Illustration © Jeffrey Stewart Timmins

Text © Jane Yolen, Illustration © Jeffrey Stewart Timmins

The story of your collaboration . . .

Our guests answered this first round of questions together.

      ... getting to know your collaborative partner

When and how did you first meet, and how long was it before you decided to write a book together?

JPL: No idea when Jane and I first met but it was many years ago. Since then we have collaborated on five, or is it six, books?

JY: We met after we’d done several books together, at some conference or other, rode on a bus acting  like silly best friends, giggling and plotting two more books, neither of which ever sold! But we knew about one another through the poems long before we met, admired one another’s ouvre (a show-off word meaning body of work). I loved Pat’s stuff long before he became Poet Laureate of all children, or whatever it’s called!

      ... say, you want to write a book together?

Who proposed collaboration and how?

JPL: Nor can I recall which one of us asked the other to the dance, though if I did the asking, I was honored when Jane said yes.

JY: Ditto. I know we aren’t being any help here, but I’m older than dirt and he’s dirt.  Our memories work better forward than backwards. Besides, all writers are liars, especially poets. You’d better believe that!

     ... the big day—your book's publication!

How have you celebrated the occasion?

JPL: Speaking for myself, I celebrate in my own quiet way . . . with a glass of Chardonnay (or two).

JY: I do a happy dance when the package arrives, hug the book, smell it (nothing like new book smell) but don’t read it for fear of finding fault until at least six weeks later. By then I am on to a new book or a new publication date.

     ... your commitment to the collaborative process.

What was one of the most enjoyable aspects of your collaboration?
What about the most challenging?

JPL: The back and forth of it. Choosing the dinosaurs, deciding on the forms to use, accepting Jane’s advice on a line/word, and vice-versa.

JY: Trying to keep up with Pat’s pace was trying. Everything else a delight. The man is a monster.

What advice can you give to those with pre-collaboration jitters?

JPL: Get over yourself. Trust the process. And remember that if it isn’t fun, you should go bowling or prune your pachysandra.

JY: Or pack your prunes for a long trip to a spa. Really, if it’s brutal, the loneliness of a long-distance runner is preferable. I believe writing should be a joy. Though I do know some authors who swear they bleed on the page which to my mind is a very messy process. And to do it with someone else????? Euuuuuuew. A red tsunami. Pat and I actually laughed a lot during the writing of these books. Who laughed last—is anybody’s guess.

     ... what comes next?

Are there future writing collaborations in the works?

JPL: Shame on me. I was the one who turned down Jane’s offer to collaborate once again. Perhaps it was the particular project, but more likely the dread feeling of the gloaming coming on.

JY: Jewish motto: Good things don’t last. Enjoy them while you can. OK—Jewish because I am, not because it’s anyone else’s motto. Honestly, Pat and I are both so busy individually with projects that consume us, it’s amazing we managed to write two Last Laugh books, a book of twin poems, a book about Chagall’s life in rhymes, and we have been in many, many, many anthologies together. Whether we try another anthology depends on if we can find a subject matter we both want to work on. And of course there are two or three unsold ones we have hanging around (hint! hint!). Remember—we are both dynamite rewriters. No word so important it cannot be changed—another motto.

What is your definition of “happily ever after”?

JPL: Land office sales (in my dream state).

JY: The Big N in one year: Newbery, Nebula, National Book Award. I already have two Nebs (for short stories) and was a National Book Award nominee, not in the same year at all. The Newbery is still running away from me with great speed. 

How well do you know your co-author?

Our guests also responded privately to questions about each other. This is the first time they are reading each other's answers—let's see how well they did!

What is Jane's favorite time of day to write?

JPL: Around the clock
JY: As long as there is light

What is Pat's favorite time of day to write?

JY: All day long
JPL: 12:27

What is Jane's favorite activity to take a break from writing?

JPL: Winning awards
JY: Watching a cooking show

What is Pat's favorite activity to take a break from writing?

JY: Phoning editors
JPL: Reading

Which of you is more organized?

JY: Pat
JPL: Jane, indubitably

Which of you is more likely to take risks?

JPL: Indubitably, Jane
JY: Me

Which of you is more likely to get their way?

JPL: Jane
JY: Me
If Jane was a dinosaur (one from your book, please), what would she be?

JPL: Saber-toothed cat
JY: One with feathers. Minimi?

If Pat was a dinosaur, what would he be?

JY: T-Rex
JPL: T-Rex, of course

Hello...? Editor?                           (via GIPHY)

If Jane could time travel for a day, would she visit the past or the future?

JPL: The future
JY: The past

If Pat could time travel for a day, would he visit the past or the future?

JY: The future
JPL: The dinosaur past (with an invisibility cloak)

A few more secret questions, just for fun . . .

What trait do you most admire in Jane?

JPL: Indefatigability 

What trait do you most admire in Pat?

JY: His ability to find a perfect idea for a book of poems and then go ahead and write it. Damn the man!

What adjective would Jane use to describe you?

JPL: Irresistibly handsome, or maybe, bald.


What adjective would Pat use to describe you?

JY: Persistent. Or perhaps feral. Or perhaps anarchic in the small.

What book title best describes your relationship with Pat?

JY: The Bobbsey Twins, The House of Mirth, or Where Angles Fear to Tread.

What book title best describes your relationship with Jane?

JPL: Last Laughs

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

Write an epitaph poem, of course! — a short poem to appear on your chosen subject's tombstone. You can round out our collection of prehistoric poems or write about something entirely different, just try to make it clever or funny in some way. Here are two more examples of epitaph poems to spur your imagination.


Knives can harm you, heaven forbid!
Axes may disarm you, kid.
Guillotines are painful, but. . .
There’s nothing like a paper cut.

                    © J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved.


They were in a great big hurry.
Now there’s no one left to bury.

                    © Jane Yolen, all rights reserved.

Oh boy! This is going to be fun! 

By the way, if you would like more guidance on how to write a funny epitaph poem, have a look at Kenn Nesbitt's instructions

Now I know you're all dying to get started . . .  
(oh come on, you knew that was coming!)

but before you go, please help me thank J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen for being such good sports today! I couldn't ask for two more fun-loving contestants and collaborators to introduce our NewlyRead series.

Thanks, also, to Charlesbridge for providing me with a copy of Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs, which I will send to one lucky DMC participant! (Winner to be selected randomly at the end of the month.)


Post your epitaph poem on our February 2018 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—February 23rd 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 let me know about it, so I can share your post! 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.

Donna JT Smith is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Mainely Write.


  1. Oh my gosh, I chuckled the whole way through that. Thank you, JPL and Jane, for this delightful romp through your poetic collaborative process. [T-Rexes & Supernovas got nothin' on either one of you, by they way...] Michelle, you rock.

  2. Bigger than T-Rex and sporting spiky scales, here's a Special thanks from me and Spinosaurus for this fun-fact-filled blog post JPL, Jane, and our wonderful moderator Michelle. Thanks to for the ditty challenge–looking forward to it!

  3. What a hoot! Such fun to get to know these poets - and what better way to do it, then teaming them up for an interview. The DittyChallenge sounds like it will be a blast - from the past! Looking forward to giving it a go. Thanks, Michelle, Jane and JPL.

  4. Jane and JPL are such luminaries -- this post was a welcome, warm beam of light! And what a fun DMC challenge! Thanks for this treat, Michelle.

  5. Lots of fun to read your "NewlyRead" beginning, Michelle and to hear from Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis about all their writing shenanigans. Thanks for your creativity, fun challenge!

  6. Thanks, Jane and Patrick. What a fun way to do an interview! Thanks to you Michelle for dreaming this up and making it happen. An epitaph you say...

  7. Had a blast reading through this! What a novel idea for an interview series, Michelle. Loved learning all these new tidbits about Jane and Pat.

  8. So much fun. In another's hands this might be too many brilliant voices for one little interview, but of course the three of you pulled it off perfectly.

  9. Wow! What a delightful way to kick off the weekend--kicking back and enjoying this delightful interview. I love the idea, the execution (ha!) and hearing from Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis. Wonderful!

  10. "I’m older than dirt and he’s dirt."
    I can't even tell you how much I loved everything about this, from the scintillating interview to the small-armed T-Rex gifs. Brava, Michelle! And thank you to JPL and Jane for sharing their secrets! <3

    1. I'm with Renee, ditto! Love the questions, the answers, the gifs, the gestalt. I might be brave enough for an epitaph. Time will tell.

    2. For Renee Who's Just a Clod

      Dirty is as dirty does.
      A little clod is what he was.
      And later on, a bit of sand
      was what he called his writing brand.

      ©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

  11. This interview had me in stitches! JY and JPL are hilarious! Plus, my mom was a game show junkie and the Newlywed Game was one she watched often and that brought back lots of fond memories for me. I might just be inspired to pen a funny epitaph. :D

    1. Mz Robeson's Complaint

      She laughs so hard,
      Her tummy twitches.
      till she's zigzagged
      with comic stitches.

      ©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

    2. That is going on my tombstone, dear Jane! And I don’t mean the frozen pizza. ;) xo

  12. "All writers are liars, especially poets" - I would say that's true, but since I write poetry you probably wouldn't believe me! Thanks for sharing this, Michelle, it was a lot of fun. I love the previous 'Epitaphs' books, so I'm looking forward to seeing this new one!

  13. First, welcome back! What a fun, fun, fun interview. I giggled. I get Jane's daily poems and she really is a bottomless pit of energy and ideas. She is just amazing and I get ideas from her, encouragement and laughs and tears.
    I accept the TLD challenge! Will also take some time at Ken Nesbitt's site because there's ALWAYS something to learn there.

  14. J. Patrick & Jane, together again but in a wacky way as never before.
    Appreciations to the Ditty Duo & the interrogator.

    Michelle you have made them squeal
    with great reader appeal.

    The challenge makes me want to spend some time in the cemetery . . .

  15. Last Move

    I paid my dues,
    No more to lose.
    This show will be
    A six-foot snooze.

    ©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

  16. What a clever format, Michelle! Thank you, everyone, for this fun-filled interview! Jane and Pat are marvels of energy, humor, and creativity. Can't wait to read everyone's epitaphs!

  17. What fun! I laughed and laughed through the interview and the glimpses into the book...and writing to this challenge is going to be fun!

  18. So.Much.Fun! Thank you, Pat and Jane and Michelle, of course!

  19. It's all been said in the comments above except to add my personal thanks!

  20. What a precious post, this one is. Veritable giants in children's literature romping about in your blog, how awesome is that!

    1. Pat & Me

      We romped,
      We stomped,

      Through bog
      and blog.

      You all supposed
      We de-composed.

      But six feet under,
      The poems still thunder.

      ©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

  21. A shining example of blog interview excellence, Michelle! JPL and JY are a hoot and an inspiration. Thanks for a behind the scenes peek into their 'relationship' - we readers are the better for it. =)

    1. Ode to A Would-be peeping Tom

      Bridget Magee's
      A Peek-a-boo.
      She'll write our bios
      Before we're through.

      She'll make reports
      on all the laughter.
      And sigh when we're both
      Ever After.

    2. Bridget is sighing
      now and Ever After
      for her shout out
      by the Master Crafter.

      Thanks for making my day, JY! =)

  22. I had no idea that these magnificent poets collaborated so much! And what a fun interview, as well - gifted poets and big personalities, these two.

  23. Oh my goodness! This has to be the most entertaining interview I've read in a lonnnnnnng time! I love the clever format, Michelle, and Jane and J Patrick had me at hello. Well, actually it was "no idea" and "we met," but you knew what I meant. ;) Thanks also for the delightfully fun epitaph challenge!

  24. This whole interview was great, Michelle. Round 2 especially cracked me up.

    I will forever have "Jane, indubitably" and "Indubitably, Jane" stuck in my head. A memoir, maybe? Unauthorized biography?!

    Looking forward to figuring out how to write a proper epitaph. I've written a saga but that can't be right--bravo to all you concise and witty ones who've managed it already!

  25. Well, this was more fun than a tar pit of decaying dinosaurs! And I was enjoying reading the comments and JY's epitaphs until I came across someone's comment about her MOTHER watching The Newlywed Show and then I felt really, really old because I freakin' loved that show. Then again, Tom Selleck was on The Newlywed Show and he's way older than me. Possibly even older than Dirt.

    1. Cathy's Warning

      "Be mindful, dino, where you sit,"
      said Cathy, pointing to the pit.
      But wooly, in a mammoth whine,
      Cried, "Come on in, the mud bath's fine."
      So T Rex jumped in with a splash,
      his bottom landing with a smash.
      Mud flew for miles and miles around.
      Then silence was the single sound
      As T and Wolly cooked away.
      Their bones remain there to this day.

      Jane Yolen