Thursday, April 5, 2018

The NewlyRead Game with Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine + DMC Challenge

Party Pieces

I love April.

Not only because it's National Poetry Month, but because it's Today's Little Ditty's birthday month! Can you guess how old my baby's turning? (HINT: it's a big one.)


1...  2...  3...  4...

Shai Barzilay

That's right! As many fingers as you can fit on one hand!

Sigh. My little blog's growing up.

To celebrate the occasion, we've got cake and. . .  DINOSAURS! 

And I don't mean the dead ones we had here last February.

HOORAY! It's a party at Today's Little Ditty!
Photo credit: debaird™

Nope. This time we've got real live


fun-loving dinosaurs! 

You can thank Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine for that. Their fun new dinosaur-themed picture book from POW! Kids is stomping into bookstores on April 17th, 2018.

I've invited Deborah and Matt to join me for one of my favorite party games.

It's another edition of . . .

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. 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!

Are you raring ROARING to get started?


Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine

Deborah Bruss struggled with reading when she was young but after reading thousands of pages aloud to her children, not only did her reading improve, she fell in love with children’s books. Deborah has lived in rural New England for most of her life, where she and her husband raised four children and their pets (from snapping turtles to horses). Deborah’s books include Book! Book! Book! (Scholastic, 2001), Big Box for Ben (Starbright, 2011), contributing author to America’s Notable Women Series (Apprentice Shop Books), and Good Morning, Snowplow! (Scholastic, Fall 2018).

Matt Forrest Esenwine’s children’s poetry can be found in numerous anthologies including J. Patrick Lewis’ The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), Kenn Nesbitt’s One Minute till Bedtime (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), and Lee Bennett Hopkins’ School People (Boyds Mills Press, 2018), as well as “Highlights for Kids” magazine. His debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), received critical praise nationally and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of 2017's Best Picture Books for Kids.


Deborah Bruss, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and Louie Chin
POW! Kids (April 17, 2018)
ISBN: 978-1576878415
Find at, Barnes & Noble, or via

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur is about a party that goes wildly awry when a pack of dinosaurs with very unique physical attributes attempt to help set up. Watch the book trailer HERE.

Written in masterfully-executed rhyme, the book presents a cavalcade of lesser-known dinosaurs and pairs their odd characteristics with little tasks that are hilariously impossible because of those features. “Don’t ask Deinocheirus to set the forks and spoons,” because his hands were enormous, “Therizinosaurus cannot blow up balloons,” because he had very long claws. In the end they find the one thing everyone can help do is to blow out the candles on the cake…but will it create yet another mess?

Louie Chin's colorful and exuberant illustrations are the icing on the cake when it comes to this playful read aloud. Look for Matt's forthcoming interview with Louie Chin on Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

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

Images from DON'T ASK A DINOSAUR are used with permission of POW! Kids, text © Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrations © Louie Chin. All rights reserved.

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?

MFE: We met at a local SCBWI writers’ critique group back in 2009. (I was the newbie to the group, and the only one writing poetry!) In 2012, Deborah showed me a few lines she was struggling with. I took them home and kept them beside my computer for at least a couple of months, looking over them each time I'd sit down yet never knowing what to do with them. Then one day, inspiration hit—I banged out a few lines, added a few more the next day, and by the end of the week I had our first complete rough draft! 20 revisions and 14 rejections we are.

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

Who proposed collaboration and how?

DB: Near the end of the last century, I wrote a story with a similar plot line but with familiar, contemporary animals. After a million revisions and rejections, it languished in a drawer. Then one day, I asked myself, “What theme never dies?” A: Dinosaurs! Q: “Who can help shape the story?” A: Matt! Our senses of humor had already clicked when we rewrote nursery rhymes (some not appropriate for picture books) and shared them by email.

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

What do you have planned to celebrate the occasion? Will you be inviting any dinosaurs?

MFE: We are kicking off the book with the official state book launch at Toadstool Books here in New Hampshire on Saturday, April 14 (yes, it's before the official publication date, but they'll have plenty of copies!). The official national launch will be at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, Tuesday, April 17 at 7pm. We have nine more signings/readings scheduled, and more are being added!

DB: Our celebrations at the signings wouldn’t be complete without a few characters in our book. Therefore, ATTENTION ALL DINOSAURS: please come to one of our book launches! (However, we ask that you sign a statement that absolves Matt and I responsibility for any property damage.)

     ... your commitment to the collaborative process.

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

We agree that the most enjoyable part was watching it come together—each time one of us added or revised something, the manuscript got noticeably better until we came to the point where we both said, "Yep, it's ready!"

What about the most challenging?

MFE: The most challenging part for me was getting the lines to not only flow, but to make sense grammatically. It's hard enough to write in rhyme, but including the names of the dinosaurs in the lines—as part of the meter—was super-tricky.

DB: The most challenging part for me was figuring out how to revive my original story so that it would grab the attention of an editor.

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

MFE: Go for it! Jane Yolen has said that collaborations are "twice the work and half the pay"—which is true!—but they are also really fun, because you constantly have someone critiquing what you're writing and you're both constantly improving what you're writing.

DB: I agree, except writing Don’t Ask a Dinosaur with Matt was twice the fun.

     ... what comes next?

What is your definition of “happily ever after” as far as this project goes? Are there future writing collaborations in the works?

Happily ever after? "Don't Ask a Dinosaur: The Motion Picture!" Starring Hugh Jackman as poetry-writing country boy Matt Forrest Esenwine, and Jennifer Lawrence as veteran children's author and political activist extraordinaire, Deborah Bruss! That would be followed by the DAAD video game, plush toys, bed sheets, and underwear. Heck, we’ve already collaborated on designing the bookmarks! As far as future collaborations, anything's possible—we chat at least once a month (if not more) and are always bouncing ideas of each be forewarned, America.

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!

Which of you is more self-disciplined?

DB: Neither. Matt is just more productive.

MFE: Ummm...I used to work in radio. I have no discipline.

Which of you is more likely to keep your cool in the face of a writing deadline?

DB: Me. (Which is more likely to make the deadline? Matt.)

MFE: I think we're both professional enough to keep cool, although I'm probably more likely to wrap it up sooner!

Which of you is more likely to keep your cool in the face of a dinosaur attack?

DB: Me.

MFE: Country Boys Can Survive.

What topic is most likely to generate heated discussion between the two of you?

MFE: Dinosaur species pronunciations.

DB: Who's cuter, my granddaughter or Matt's daughter.

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

MFE: Spending time with her granddaughter.

DB: Eating dark chocolate.

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

DB: Social media.

MFE: Doritos and Moxie. I don't watch much TV, but I'll find something to zone out with for awhile.

Paul Gorbould
Is Matt more of a cake person or ice cream person? (Bonus points for his favorite flavor.)

DB: Cake. Red Velvet.

MFE: I like both, but I'd pick cake first. My favorite is my own homemade vegan chocolate cake with mocha icing.

Is Deborah more of a cake person or ice cream person? 
(Bonus points for her favorite flavor.)

MFE: I'd say she's a cake person. You've seen them. You know the type. And she's just like that. No idea about her favorite flavor, but if you are what you eat, I doubt it's Angel Food cake.

DB: Ice cream. Dublin Mudslide. (Shame on Ben & Jerry's for discontinuing!)

What dinosaur would Deborah like to take home from the party as a pet? (One from your book, please.)

MFE: Probably the stuffed one!

DB: Iguanadon because it's the least scary and eats plants.

From Don't Ask a Dinosaur (POW! Kids, 2018)

What dinosaur would Matt like to take home from the party as a pet?

DB: Therizinosaurus because Matt is impressed with its long claws.

MFE: Therizinosaurus, no question. He's bizarre looking and intimidating with those giant claws, but was probably an herbivore and therefore harmless. But don't tell the intruders that.

From Don't Ask a Dinosaur (POW! Kids, 2018)

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

What trait do you most admire in Matt?

DB: His ability to network.

What trait do you most admire in Deborah?

MFE: Her ability to dissect every sentence in order to determine the best way to phrase something.

What adjective would Deborah use to describe you?

MFE: Busy!

What adjective would Matt use to describe you?

DB: Forgetful or unforgettable.

What book title best describes your collaboration with Matt?

DB: A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein

What title best describes your collaboration with Deborah?

MFE: "You've Got Mail"—we went through 20 revisions online before we nailed down the final manuscript!

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

Write a poem, any form will do, about something you would not expect (or want) a dinosaur to do. If dinosaurs don’t inspire you, then write a poem about any animal.

Uh-oh. Judging by what happens in Don't Ask a Dinosaur, I'm afraid this place is going to be a right mess by the end of this challenge. But it's all in good fun, so bring it on!

Please help me give Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine a super-sized roar of THANKS for being here today with their (mostly) well intentioned dinosaur friends in tow.

Thanks also to POW! Kids for providing a copy of Don't Ask a Dinosaur, which Deb and Matt will sign and send to one lucky DMC participant (chosen randomly) at the end of the month!

But wait, there's more!

As birthday party host, I've got some goodies for you as well.

Since Today's Little Ditty is turning five, I'm giving away FIVE sets of The Best of Today's Little Ditty, Volumes 1 and 2. 

Ideally, I'd like them to be used for poetry education.
  • Maybe you're a teacher who would like the set for your classroom? 
  • Maybe you know a teacher who would appreciate the set in his/her classroom? 
  • Maybe you're a caregiver who homeschools children? 
  • Maybe you're someone who shares your love of poetry by visiting classrooms or other learning communities?

It all counts! To win a two-volume set of The Best of Today's Little Ditty, contact me at any point during the month—via blog comment, email, Facebook, or Twitter. You do not need to participate in the DMC challenge to be considered for the BEST OF TLD giveaway. I will be compiling a list and drawing five names, again, at the end of the month.


Post your dinosaur (or other animal) poem on our April 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—April 27th 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.

Cupcake for the road?

Sylvia Chan

                     Don’t mind if I do!            Paul Albertella

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

Our March challenge to write a golden shovel resulted in a strong collection of passionate and thought-provoking poems! If you missed last week's wrap-up celebration, you can find it HERE. Thanks once again to everyone who contributed their work or cheered us on by leaving  comments. has determined that the winner of BETWEEN THE LINES by Nikki Grimes is . . .

MICHELLE KOGANCongratulations, Michelle! 

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup at The Poem Farm. She has a wonderful project going on for National Poetry Month called "1 Subject 30 Ways." Each day she writes a new poem about the constellation Orion, highlighting a different poetic technique. Feel free to follow her on that journey!
For more poetry projects taking place during the month, visit the kidlit events roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup.
Finally, if you're an educator, please help yourself to a free downloadable/printable copy of the teacher tips included my March 8, 2018 blog post. Terrific for National Poetry Month or any time you want to incorporate poetry into your curriculum. Click on the "Teacher Tips" graphic in the sidebar to the right.


  1. Thank you so much, Michelle, for this fun, enlightening post - even I learned something about Deb I didn't know! I now know who to rely on during a dino attack!

    And yes, Dublin Mudlside!! And Chubby Hubby...and Phish Food...and mmmmm....

    1. Thank you for the hilarious interview! I wish I were still a kid, but am going to buy the book anyway to share with the first kid I see. Congratulations Matt and Deb, dear friend!

  2. Matt and Deb's new book looks/sounds terrific and your interview made me excited for them both with a book coming out soon that every child will adore. Matt is right, no one tires of dinosaurs. Matt, our museum just hosted a 'new' exhibit of little-known dinos, and I think your Therizinosaurus was one. I'm not sure & it's gone now. Thanks much for the fun challenge; my book is ordered!

  3. What a fun blog post and dinosauriffic book, interview and responses. They were RIP-ROARingly Runderful! I love dinosaurs, and look forward to your book Matt and Deborah. Thanks Michelle the questions were terrific–smiling all the way through. And Great challenge from Matt and Deborah–better clear the decks for what may come… p.s. Thanks for the book "Between the Lines."

    1. Thanks, Michelle...we had a lot of fun answering Michelle's questions.

  4. Happy Anniversary! I enjoyed this interview and format (Newlywed Game) that you did it in. I'm looking forward to reading their book.

    1. Thank you, Kimberly, I appreciate your support! And thank you also, for contributing to the "Poetry..Cubed!" contest!

  5. Har har har har !!! I just love this new series of yours, and Matt and Deborah did not disappoint! So much fun, and I found it especially amusing how Deborah nailed which dino Matt would want to take home (impressed with its claws, haha). It just made me imagine the brainstorming scene when they were deciding on which dinos to include and why. Thanks for the great interview, Matt and Deborah, and congrats on this delightful book!

    1. Thanks, Renee - Therezinosaurus is definitely one of my favorites, because he was so odd. (And yes, I was the one who suggested adding him!) Interestingly, the dinosaur list was constantly changing over the year and a half we revised the ms, because some dinos felt too similar, some didn't work rhythmically, and in many cases we found new ones that were so unique we knew we had to include them.

  6. OK, folks - I just started us off with a simple little ditty for this month's challenge...I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with!

  7. Well, you know I'm always thinking about my kids - I figured they'd like a stuffed one. Although now that I think about it, microraptors were about the size of chickens, so if I had a half dozen or so, I'd have plenty of eggs!

  8. This book looks amazing! I think it will be a hit! I loved reading about the process, especially the rejections and revisions. Rejection is tough for me. It is always encouraging to hear about people overcoming it and ending up with success.

    1. Thanks, Jan - when people say to keep at it, you really do have to keep at it! I've got manuscripts that have seen more than 14 people, but I'm still sending them out.

  9. Happy, happy blog birthday! And what a fun celebration! Matt and Deborah brought the fun! The book looks great--I can't imagine working out that meter!

    Michelle, I'd love to be considered for the books. I volunteer at schools.

  10. Happy 5th Blog Birthday, Michelle! What a fantastic celebratory post. Loved hearing from Matt and Deborah and laughed many times at their answers. They make a great team and I hope they collaborate on more books!

  11. Such a fun romp of a book and the post does it justice. I like the claws, too. And the clauses. :-)

    1. Thank you, Brenda - and for being part of the tour, too!

  12. πŸŽ‚πŸŒΊπŸ¦πŸ₯‚πŸ‘πŸŒˆπŸ¦•πŸ¦–

    1. !hcum os ouY knahT...edoc ni gnitirw er'ew ecnis ,llew ,hO

    2. LOL! Nice one, Matt. :D

      (And thanks for the birthday enthusiasm, Pops! xo)

  13. Thanks for another writer-romance interview, Michelle (you might not want to start rumors, but your readers?) Congratulations Deborah and Matt on what looks like a roaring romp of a read!

  14. Oh, my goodness! Thank you Matt and Deb and Michelle. This was such a fun and entertaining interview. Matt, do you share your recipe for that chocolate cake? It sounds good! I'm just delighted to know that you two have a book coming out and that all your work independently and as a collaboration team has paid off. Many congratulations and I can't WAIT to see the movie ;) Sign me up for a plush toy.
    I already have an idea for a poem for this month's challenge.

    1. I appreciate that, Linda - thank you for all your support, for both DAAD & Flashlight Night! I'll get a copy of the recipe, and I'll also be sure to send you all the DAAD merchandise as soon as it comes out - including the DAAD t-shirts, DAAD party supplies, and the DAAD 2-in-1 shampoo & conditioner.

      (Actually, come to think of it, party supplies isn't a half-bad idea...)

  15. Great post Michelle! What a great monthly challenge.

  16. This is a terrific interview, Michelle! Matt and Deborah clearly had a lot of fun working on this book, which looks like a winner!

    1. You're right, Catherine - it was a lot of fun AND a lot of work! Thank you!

  17. Happy blog birthday, Michelle, and happy book birthday, Matt and Deb! "Country Boys Can Survive," he says :-)

  18. I'm going to pull myself together from hysterical fits of laughter to comment now. I just don't even know where to start -- the GIFs, the interview questions and answers, the photos. This is hard to beat. And Happy Birthday, TLD! You car now old enough so come to Kindergarten, so welcome to my classroom! I'm adding my Fairy Shrimp poem from Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's "1 Subject 30 Days" challenge to the Padlet! Cheers!

    1. Thanks for popping in, Christie, and for your nice thoughts! I haven't seen that shrimp poem, so now I need to go read it!.......

  19. Of course that should read "You are now old enough to come to Kindergarten..." Not enough coffee yet!

  20. What a fun book and fascinating interview! And, no surprise, this month's challenge looks like fun to write, too!

  21. What a fun post! And the book looks fabulous.

  22. Congratulations, Matt and Deborah! I am going to be all over this book as soon as I find it. The two of you are amazing.

    1. Thank you so much, David, that means a lot. I hope you enjoy it!

  23. Michelle, I have a dear friend whose a second grade teacher, in a 75% free lunch school. She would love to win a set of the TDL poetry books. Sandra Bohman. Great party gift!
    Can't wait for this book to hit the shelves! The small snippets are so fun.

    1. Wonderful, Maria! I've added Sandra to my list. :)

    2. The big snippets are even funner! ;) Thanks, Maria.

  24. I loved reading this, Michelle. The interaction between Deborah and Matt is a blast, and you really do come up with incredible ways of sharing. Thank you for all of it! xx

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Amy - glad you enjoyed our interview!

  25. So fun, you two, and thanks to Michelle for bringing the goodness as usual. This is a good moment to say the BOOK BOOK BOOK! is old favorite of mine and FLASHLIGHT NIGHT is a new favorite. Hope the dino book is a hit!

    1. Thanks so much, Heidi! Deb's hoping that with the success of DAAD and her upcoming book, "Good Morning, Snowplow," that "Book! Book! Book!" might see a new lease on life and go into reprint.

  26. Great interview!
    Loved it, read the challenge, wrote a poem. Went to post it. Saw Matt's. Laughed. Chuckled. Posted it. Came back here. I have your companion poem, Matt. Must be I met your dinosaur's uncoordinated twin. lol!

  27. I know a great nephew who will love this book. He loves dinosaurs. What a terrific interview. Lots of chuckles.

  28. Fun (and revealing) interview... These writers like what they do. Can't wait to get my hands on this book. Thanks Michelle, Matt, and Deborah!

  29. Better late than never, Michelle. I am sliding into this challenge. Stay tuned!

  30. I was very fortunate to be able to visit your page. Very nice article

  31. Whay Dino is
    Never In Trobble

    poem by Jessica Bigi

    don't you
    dear tap-dance
    on our roof
    skateboard-dad's sheave
    don't you Dino
    scribble on mom walls
    droll my mac & chees
    Don't dear Dino
    string yarn in our trees
    They think
    I've made you up
    from reading
    many books
    but you
    real it true
    don't you Dino
    do all things
    for you see they'll
    balm it all on me
    on me-on me