Thursday, June 6, 2019

Spotlight on Karen Boss + DMC Challenge


Karen Boss is an editor at Charlesbridge where she works on fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle-grade nonfiction, and novels. She holds an MA in Children’s Literature from Simmons College and regularly acts as a mentor for their Writing for Children MFA program. She often teaches workshops and short-term courses about picture books. Karen also has an MA in higher education administration and worked at colleges and in the nonprofit sector for 15 years. In her free time, Karen saves her pennies so she can travel to a new country each year, and she often plans “Auntie Karen adventures” for her four nieces (Sonia, 11; Sage, 8; Olive, 4; and Morgan, 18 mos).

Here is a small sampling of poetry books published by Charlesbridge over the last few years—

Browse their full selection of titles at the Charlesbridge website.

plus two more that were edited by Karen and featured at Today's Little Ditty:

Although David Harrison, J. Patrick Lewis, and Jane Yolen are well-established children's poets, one way that Charlesbridge stands apart from many other children's publishers is because of their dedication to also seek out new voices, new visions, and new directions in children’s literature. According to the 2016 Children's Writer's and Illlustrator's Market, 10-20% of Charlesbridge titles are by first-time authors, most of them unagented. In a 2018 article on the Charlesbridge blog, Karen elaborates on that commitment:
We believe it’s important to find new talent with stories to share and to get those books into the market and into kids’ hands. As publishing has changed over the years, access to editors and publishers has narrowed. At the same time, the number of people who want to write for kids has grown exponentially, and new authors and illustrators have often found it challenging to break in. Over time, Charlesbridge editors have remained dedicated to helping launch author careers, and our design team often focuses on offering opportunities to illustrators new to children’s books.

I have only heard wonderful things from authors and illustrators who have worked with Charlesbridge. In my own brief dealings with Karen, I have found her to be warm, friendly, and extraordinarily efficient—traits of an ideal editor to be sure.

What first brought Karen's talents to my attention, however, was this beauty, scheduled to hit bookstore shelves next month:

Available July 2, 2019 (ISBN: 978-1580898324)
Preorder at, Barnes & Noble, or via

A charming anthology of poems expertly collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and delightfully illustrated by Chris Hsu, it also happens to include my poem "Bellies, Bones, and Paws" about being a veterinarian.

Lee Bennett Hopkins introduces I Am Someone Else: Poems About Pretending with these affirming words:
There is nothing better than being yourself. You are unique and special in every way.
He then goes on to suggest that, even though you're perfect as you are, once in a while you might like to have fun imagining what it's like to be someone else. The 15 poems in this collection are divided into three sections to help guide young readers in their imaginings: "Wish! Be a Storybook Character," "Support! Be a Person Who Helps," and "Invent! Be a Person Who's a Maker." Readers are encouraged to try on what they might like to be—a dancer? a police officer? a video game designer?—as well as personas that are more fanciful, like holding court as a queen, becoming a "wild child" wizard, or discovering the deep as a mermaid explorer.

I feel so fortunate to be sharing pages in this collection with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Janet Clare Fagal, Douglas Florian, Joan Bransfield Graham, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Michele Krueger, J. Patrick Lewis, Lois Lowry, Prince Redcloud, Heidi Bee Roemer, Darren Sardelli, Lawrence Schimel, and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, many of whom have also been featured on TLD. (Click on the links to bring you to their interviews and poems.)

As it turns out, 2019 is a banner year for children's poetry at Charlesbridge, with three more poetry books in print or forthcoming.

Available September 17, 2019 (ISBN: 978-1580898751)
Preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or
Another 2019 title that Karen edited is Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections by Michelle Shaub, illustrated by Carmen Saldaña, scheduled for release this September.

The clever poems in this book tell the story of an elementary student's quest to find the perfect collection to share for classroom show-and-tell. (How is she supposed to share her collection if she doesn't actually collect anything?)

It's a great choice for teachers to read aloud. Watch the cute trailer HERE.

Charlesbridge (Feb 2019), ISBN: 978-1580897983
Find at, Barnes & Noble, or via
Some of you are already familiar with Laura Purdie Salas's Snowman - Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations, illustrated by Micha Archer, and released last February.

It's an unconventional collection (edited by Alyssa Mito Pusey) that celebrates the onset of spring with "equation poems." Merging math, science, and poetry to reveal the natural world in fresh and surprising ways, this book is also a great resource for the classroom.

Find downloadable activity sheets and share student equation poems at Laura's website.

Available November 5, 2019
(ISBN: 978-1580899376)
Preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.
Finally, The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President by Eileen R. Meyer, illustrated by Dave Szalay (also edited by Alyssa Mito Pusey) is scheduled for release in November of this year.

With poems that are as informational as they are entertaining, this collection delves into the superlative nature of Honest Abe. Tallest, wisest, most studious... famous for his extremes, fun rhyming poems describe 18 of these superlative traits. Did you know, for instance, that "Honest Abe" was his least favorite nickname?

You'll find some superlative back matter as well, making this... you guessed it, another terrific choice for the classroom!

So what makes Karen Boss and Charlesbridge so successful at what they do? Let's find out. We'll start, as always, with five favorite things.

Cheeky monkey Nerak Karen Boss
Favorite childhood memory:
When we were kids, we created a whole world in the woods behind my house. We raked out “roads,” built home bases, and rode our bikes in there for hours. There were maps, battles, and secret backwards codenames. I was Nerak.

Favorite grade in school:
Seventh. Moving up to the junior high was so scary and so exciting all at once.

Favorite food:
A ribeye steak cooked medium rare. 

Favorite sound:
Any of (or preferably all of them at once) my nieces laughing.

Favorite vacation spot:
A tiny little island in Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, Maine. There are no restaurants save an ice cream shop, no stores save one tiny one for basic provisions; there’s nothing to do but watch the tide come in (and go out).

You did not start out in children’s publishing. Can you tell us more about your transition from working in colleges and the nonprofit sector to working at Charlesbridge? What was it that attracted you to editing books for children?

I never left children’s books behind. I read them and kept up with them into adulthood. I took a children’s literature class in Los Angeles twenty years ago just for fun. (Not writing books, studying them.) The older I got, the more I wanted to work with children’s books. Eventually, it felt like it was time to decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life, so I went back to Simmons. I was afraid to say out loud that I wanted to be an editor, though, because I wasn’t willing to leave Boston again after being away for ten years. But I got very lucky, and Charlesbridge was hiring. And my boss, editorial director and associate publisher Yolanda Scott, took a chance on an older assistant who was reinventing herself and hired me. And now I’ll be here forever, if I have my way.

Charlesbridge still has that small, family-run publisher feel—it accepts unsolicited manuscripts and truly values working with debut authors and illustrators—yet it’s grown significantly over the last 30 years, and especially over the last few. How has that impacted you?

For me, the smallness of Charlesbridge was a huge draw. Working collaboratively in a small team has been one of the hallmarks of my entire professional life, and I’m so glad to have been able to maintain it. Growing quickly and making more books is always a juggling act. I still assist Yolanda on her projects because we’ve not grown staff yet. But mostly, Charlesbridge’s size and status as an independent publisher means that I have a million opportunities and a lot of support behind me to take risks, make excellent books, and help new authors break into the field.

In your bio you mention that you try to visit a new country each year. Do you think your travels inform the choices you make as an editor in any way?

Karen kayaking on a fjord in Chile (2018)

My travels inform everything I do. Almost twenty years ago, I quit my job, packed a bag, and bought a one-way ticket to Beijing with the intention of traveling for a year. I traveled for six months and then ended up living in Thailand teaching scuba diving for 20 more months. That was a complete accident, and was one that has changed my life. I look at the world and at the United States differently than many other Americans I meet. My perspective on safety, poverty, language, culture, and more has been challenged and strengthened. Travel is humbling, and I believe that editors need to stay humble. We need to know how to solve problems, talk to new people, be resourceful, and think deeply, and all of those skills are ones I use as a traveler.

There aren’t a whole lot of editors in children’s publishing who are comfortable with poetry. What kind of role has poetry played in your life? Were you exposed to poetry as a child, or did you grow up to appreciate it over time?

If someone had told me five years ago that I would edit as much poetry as I have, I would’ve thought they were mistaken. I don’t know how it happened. I like poetry as much as the next person, but have never engaged with it all much as an adult. I don’t write creatively very much anymore, but I did as a kid and poetry was my first love. I can still recite the first lines of a poem I wrote when I was eleven: 
Looking out the window
I can see the light.
It’s a new day
almost, but not quite. 
(I know! It’s not good!) I love that poems can come together in a collection to tell a story (like Finding Treasure does) or illuminate a specific topic (like I Am Someone Else does). And I love the idea that kids can dip in and out of poetry collections. 

How is working on a collected anthology of poems, like I Am Someone Else, different from working on a book of poems by just one author?

Actually, not that different. Because anthologies generally have an editor or collector attached, that person (or people, in the case of another anthology I’m working on now) is the one with whom I work. And then they go back to the poets to discuss any suggested changes. So as the in-house editor, I still work with only one person.

Using your 2019 titles as examples, can you give us an idea of the qualities you look for in a project? What specifically excites you about these books?

Charlesbridge books are, we like to say, books that make you think. And all four of these fall into that category.  

I love how I Am Someone Else questions who gets to be what. A boy mermaid? Sure! A black girl pilot? Of course. Society pigeonholes kids pretty early on, and this book helps them understand that that’s not fair.

From I AM SOMEONE ELSE, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Hsu (Charlesbridge, 2019).  Click to enlarge.

Finding Treasure explores family and friends and looks at what happens when a kid doesn’t share a passion that seemingly everyone else has.

From FINDING TREASURE by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Carmen Saldaña (Charlesbridge, 2019).  Click to enlarge.

Snowman - Cold = Puddle (edited by Alyssa Mito Pusey) is a brilliant comingling of poetry and math. Kids see connections that adults have often forgotten how to make, and this book invites everyone to stop for a moment and consider.

From SNOWMAN - COLD = PUDDLE by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Micha Archer (Charlesbridge, 2019).  Click to enlarge.

And finally, The Superlative A. Lincoln (also edited by Alyssa) combines poems and significant learning about a topic—one of the best combos there is.

From THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN by Eileen R. Meyer, illustrated by Dave Szalay (Charlesbridge, 2019).  Click to enlarge.

Whet our appetites. What can we look forward to in 2020 from Charlesbridge?

I can’t wait for Dream Big, Little Scientists to hit the shelves (Michelle Schaub/Alice Potter). This bedtime poem flows through a book filled with kids who love science. Each kid’s bedroom reflects the science they love from geology to physics to botany to anthropology. It’s a real dream. (Ha!)

And the team who created Hey Ho, to Mars We’ll Go (Susan Lendroth/Bob Kolar) is back with Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones (edited by Alyssa). Rhyming text set to a well-known song’s tune is a real hit with kids.

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

Whoa. What a question. I’d tell them that there’s room for everyone, and everyone is valuable. I’d say that governments and politicians don’t know everything, and a lot of times, they mess stuff up. I’d say that love is stronger than hate. And I’d tell them that they are all magical in their own way, and they deserve everything good.

Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.

I like the idea of building off the question above, and I also like the idea of putting good vibes for kids into the world. So the ditty challenge is to write a poem in second person, speaking directly to a kid or kids about something that you think is important for them to know.


Okay poets, you heard the nice lady. We're going to send some good vibes for kids into the world!

Now here are my two cents:

1¢: Remember that you're speaking directly to a child or children. The second person point of view means that you should use the word "you" in your poem—it's great for pulling the reader into the action. If your poem is not in second person, I will be asking you to revise it.

2¢: The risk in telling kids "something that you think is important for them to know" is that your poem could take on a didactic tone. Try not to let that happen. Offer advice if you wish, but please don't preach. We all know that kids don't take kindly to being lectured to... even in a poem. [wink]

John Morgan

I'm looking forward to reading what you've got for me this month. I expect quite a few touching poems, but see the potential for some funny ones, as well. Bring it on!

But first, please help me thank Karen Boss for visiting today—for sharing herself and her insights with all of us and for giving us a taste of these delicious poetry books from Charlesbridge!

Not only that, Karen has generously offered to send one (very real) copy of I AM SOMEONE ELSE: POEMS ABOUT PRETENDING to a DMC participant selected randomly at the end of the month! 


Post your poem that speaks to a kid or kids about something you think is important for them to know on our June 2019 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—June 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 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.

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

Thanks once again to everyone who participated in last month's DMC challenge from Elizabeth Steinglass! If you missed our highly instructive wrap-up presentation, you'll find it HERE. has determined that the winner of a signed copy of Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer by Elizabeth Steinglass and illustrated by Edson Ikê will go to . . .

Congratulations, Donna!

This week Michelle Kogan is celebrating US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and responding to her work with a powerful poem of her own. Join Michelle HERE for the Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Well Michelle this post was a treasure unfolding, thanks so much for inviting Karen Boss! And thanks Karen for all the lovely books you shared and continue to put out into the world. Thanks also for sharing about your world travels–lots of food for thought lies there…

    1. Agree Michelle! I really loved this interview and so appreciated getting to know Karen Boss. Thank you Michelle!

  2. Congratulations on being included in the Lee's book, Michelle - I'm so happy to be a part of it with you! (Congrats also to Michelle Schaub, Laura, and all those who have new book coming out) Also, thanks for your interview with's always nice to learn a little more about the background of decision-makers like her. (I've sent so many mss to Charlsbridge over the years, it's my sincere hope that they'll pick up one of them!)

  3. It's terrific to read what Karen's journey has been & continues to be. Congratulations for your poem & to many others from PF, too, Michelle. I love all the books from Charlesbridge, am looking forward to this new 'I am Pretending', plus Michelle Schwab's new ones & the A. Lincoln one. Thanks for the interesting challenge, too, Karen.

  4. It's always nice to find the person behind the "editor" mask. Many thanks for the challenge, too!

  5. Another great interview with good info. It is comforting to see that poetry is finally being embraced as more and more poem filled books come on the market. The ones posted here look good, congrats to all authors. When I first started sending out books, Emily Mitchell, at Charlesbridge, was a fantastic editor who encouraged me and taught me so much. She never purchased my books, but she said my work showed promise and encouraged me to keep going. Like Matt, I still hope to sell to them someday.

  6. Karen looks like she is a boss with a little candy hidden in her desk. I love that she is an adventurous traveler. Her childhood poem is better than mine: Spring is my favorite time of year/ when the sky is blue and clear.
    Thanks for the interview and interesting challenge.

  7. Karen is such a fun person...we share a love of Zion (and Bryce) National Park! That is quite the interesting challenge she set out. I'll have to mull it over... Thanks for another terrific interview, Michelle!

  8. Thank you for helping us to get to know Karen a little better. She has always been very kind and encouraging with her responses to my pb manuscripts. I hope to work with her someday!

  9. It's fun to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Thanks so much for a great interview and for this month's challenge.

  10. Wow, great challenge. Thanks, Michelle and Karen. What a prize you have given us in this post, Karen. Thanks you for sharing. I will spend all weekend taking it in. I can't wait to get started on the challenge. I hear something urging me to write it.

  11. Thank you, Michelle and Karen, for this inspiring interview and challenge! Each of the books highlighted looks wonderful, but as a serial collector, I can't wait to add "Finding Treasure" to my trove of poetry books. I loved hearing about Karen's travels. Now I want to go kayaking on a fjord in Chile!

  12. How can it be Saturday already? I swear I just opened my eyes to Friday morning. Ah, well. This interview is fascinating. I so enjoy Karen's views on travel. And, I agree with her so much. I am a different person for the time I have spent in various places of our world. I love that she got to reinvent herself and is at home in her role and at Charlesbridge. Thank you, Michelle!
    And, I cannot wait to get my hands on this new book coming out. It' beautiful and so important. Kids pretend all the's vital to their learning and we need to tap into that more. Many congratulations on your part in the book. Now, off to play with this month's ditty prompt.

  13. Another great interview, Michelle! Thanks, Karen! I love the challenge (and the 2 cents)!

  14. Enjoyed this interview very much! How interesting to hear about Karen reinventing herself, both through her travels and through following her interest in children's literature. (Children's laughter is the best sound, isn't it?)

  15. Wow! I'm looking forward to even more books this year! Thank you, Michelle and Karen, for sharing all this goodness. Now I had good intentions of writing this month's challenge before the last day of the month, but I may have to think about this one all month!

  16. Excellent interview, Michelle. Congrats to everyone with books coming out this year. Love reading about Karen's experiences travelling and reinventing herself. This is going to a very fascinating challenge.

  17. Congrats, Michelle, on your poem being included in I Am Someone Else. I will be looking for that book. Thanks for a fun interview and an interesting challenge, Karen!

  18. I enjoyed briefly meeting Karen a couple of years ago at a Highlights Foundation workshop taught by David Harrison. (Rosi was there too! Hi, Rosi!) Nice to learn more about her in this interview! I really want to escape to that little island in Casco Bay now...

    Congrats again to everyone who has a piece in the new LBH collection! I'm looking forward to ordering it and diving in!

  19. Great post! I love this challenge. It's not as easy as it sounds! (and it doesn't sound so easy!)

  20. Michelle, I finally had time to read through this month's Ditty challenge and it is a worthy topic, thanks to Karen Boss. Karen's background and passions have propelled her into the role she is in now so the interview unfolded nicely. My wheels are spinning.

  21. Howdy Michelle & Ms. Karen

    This last-line surprise of Karen's kid--age AM ditty, in kids' workshop, earns a Star!

    SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN will be tucked under my frock coat - I'm a fan of the man & of Author Eileen, my Group Blog buddy.

    dear M. , your vet. poem will be a howling, mewling, roaring success - by & by I will enjoy my own copy of I AM PRETENDING. I will pretend to sip tea with all my poem-maker pals in it.

    I love this summer visit with our poetry community pals. Appreciations for the sharp focus on the Q/A, which could have covered a shelf of genres at Charlesbridge.
    Plus, it evokes our gal, her walking me across "her" bridge there by the river Charles.

    O.K. time to pack our lev currency for Bulgaria soon. We are in that group who return home with ears eyes hearts wider. The ice blue waters Chile image makes me suggest that K.B. write her memoir for those nieces, in poems, in years hence. What I would give, if my silent screen great-aunt who did the dangerous stunts, had left even memoir snippets for her niece, my Mom.... Adventurous people should leave behind for future gens. sparks about their wild days.

    by Jan Godown Annino

    Coconut macaroons
    chocolate pudding
    these tastes you know

    some afternoon when
    you visit
    a new pal's family

    especially if a great-aunt
    or grandfather
    cooks in the kitchen

    puckery cabbages
    spicy fruits in bottles
    salted cod

    even a rubbery
    cooked octopus

    (I wasn't
    the octopus!)

    may be served
    as part of
    the family meal

    As guest
    you should know
    you are never expected

    to eat a

    a polite sniff
    a teensy lick
    is enough

    to show your

    until you
    join The
    Peace Corps

    Now, that's
    going to be
    a different menu!


    1. Love your poem, Jan! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a lingering taste of your remarks and your poetry (and a little bit of rubber octopus) behind. xo

    2. :) so many groovy, tasty (non-rubbery kind) summer wishes for you &your Family, dear M.