Thursday, September 5, 2019

Reader Spotlight: Jane Whittingham + DMC Challenge


On her website, Jane Whittingham describes herself as "a Canadian picture book author, children’s librarian, book lover and cat lady." In Poetry Friday circles, she is fondly recognized as the "Raincity Librarian"—the title of her blog before she changed it over to "Jane Whittingham: Author and Librarian." She hasn't been making Poetry Friday rounds lately, but there's good reason for that. Fortunately for me, she helped me out with this interview before the stork arrived!

Courtesy Jane Whittingham
Jane considers herself pretty lucky to be a children's librarian—visiting and connecting with kids and families at local schools, neighborhood houses and community groups, delivering professional development events for early childhood educators, planning and facilitating fun programs kids programs like writing and book clubs and craft afternoons, and delivering baby story times. She actually gets paid to read and surround herself with amazing children's books! Besides that, she's passionate about early literacy, diverse and inclusive children's books, and travel, which allows her to explore and experience different cultures.

As far as her writing goes, Jane enjoys penning stories about imaginative beings, whether they are children or animals. She has three picture books published by Pajama Press over the last couple years: Wild One, A Good Day for Ducks, and Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up.

A few months ago she claimed her superpower was being the "queen of procrastination," but with three books and a new baby? Somehow I doubt it. When asked about a book that everyone should read, she said that she couldn't recommend just one: "as a librarian it's my job to get to know my patrons' needs and preferences, and then help them find just the right books for them to read." Okay, we'll give her a pass on the book recommendation... for now. In the meantime, I highly recommend you read this interview with Jane Whittingham!

Jane's five favorites:

Favorite color:
Blue—the color of the ocean and the wide open sky.

Favorite word:
Desafortunadamente—Spanish for "unfortunately". I remember learning this word in high school Spanish class and immediately falling in love with the way it rolls off the tongue so elegantly. Spanish is such a beautiful language!

Favorite movie:
It's so hard to choose, but I'd have to say it's a tie between Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I just love me some classic Steven Spielberg!

Favorite food:
SUSHI. There's such an incredible variety of flavors and textures, and I appreciate the emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients served with great care and deceptive simplicity.

Favorite vacation spot:
Japan—my partner and I have traveled this island nation from tip to tip on three separate occasions, and we're already planning our next visit!

Traveling in Japan, courtesy Jane Whittingham

What is poetry?
Poetry is whatever you choose to make of it.

Why do you write?
I write because I enjoy the mental stimulation, the way poetry challenges my creative brain. I don't write because I feel some innate need in my soul, I simply write because I enjoy it, because it's fun and helps me express myself and connect with others. Growing up I used to think I couldn't ever be a "real" writer because I didn't "suffer" enough—poetry always seemed to be about angst and "depth" and drug-addled English poets wasting away from consumption. I like to write silly little ditties about birds and the weather and tea, how could I ever be a poet?! But as I've grown older and hopefully a bit wiser I've come to realize that poetry, and any other kind of writing, for that matter, really is about what you make of it, and there's no such thing as a "real" writer or a "real" poet. We are all poets and storytellers!

Describe three of your writing habits.
I like to brainstorm my ideas on paper—there's something particularly inspiring I find about being able to scribble my thoughts down on paper, crossing things out, drawing arrows linking different ideas, and creating a messy but beautiful first draft.

I write when and where I want to—I don't have a writing schedule, and simply fit writing in when I can around my busy life.

I like to write with a hot cup of tea close at hand. :)

Neighborhood "goings-on" (Jane Whittingham)

When you're feeling stuck, what gets your creativity flowing?
Whenever I'm feeling burnt out, frustrated, or in a rut, I can always count on a walk in the fresh air to help clear my mind and refresh my spirit. I am most inspired by nature—walking around my neighborhood, listening and watching and observing all the goings-on around me. And walking has always been one of my favorite stress-relievers. It works just as well at breaking through a creative block as it does soothing an irritated soul.

What is the best advice you've ever gotten?
When I first started out as a librarian and was feeling nervous about delivering a program, a now-retired library supervisor of mine always used to say "did any babies die?" It might sound pretty dramatic, but what she meant of course was to step back and look at a situation from a bigger perspective. So, if I submit a poem to a journal and it gets rejected, if I read a poem to an audience and they don't get it, really, what's the worst that can happen? Nobody is going to die, so stop worrying so much and just go for it!

What is the best advice you can give?
Go for it! Honestly, I spent so much of my youth worrying about what others would think of my work, too afraid to share my writing with anyone for fear that they wouldn't like it, wouldn't "get" it, would make fun of it or think it too silly or superficial to be "real". To which I now say BAH HUMBUG. Write what makes you happy, and to heck with what other people think. That's what's so great about the internet, and about communities like this one—you can connect with so many amazing fellow creatives who are happy to welcome you into the poetry fold, whatever you choose to write about, and who will say nice things even after you've written your tenth poem about cats or tea or the rain. ;-)

Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
My most recent picture book, Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up, was released in March of this year, and I'm really proud of how beautifully the book turned out. The idea of writing about quails was inspired by my late and deeply, deeply missed father, who loved watching the little quail families that hurried and scurried through his backyard, so I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to share this story, and share a little piece of him with the world.

What have you chosen as this month's ditty challenge?

Write an all-about-me acrostic poem.

The challenge is a simple one—use the letters in your name as the starting point to create a little ditty all about you! I love doing this one at the beginning of a new series of workshops because it's a great icebreaker, allowing kids to share as much about themselves with their peers as they feel comfortable. I've also had kids express delight at the idea of writing a poem about themselves—"a poem about me?" 

Like I once did, many kids feel that poems have to be about serious things and are delighted to discover that they themselves are worth writing about, too!

As an example,

Jane is a girl who loves
Apples and sushi, but
Never, not ever
Eats gross Brussels sprouts!

Haha! What do you think, readers?

Seems to me like we've got a tasty little ditty challenge to start off the school year!

You'll find the padlet embedded below. Add your all-about-me acrostic poem at any point during the month or scroll through to check out what others are contributing.


By posting on the padlet, you are also granting me permission to feature your poem on Today's Little Ditty.  I'm not sure how often I'll be featuring poems from reader challenges, but I want to keep my options open. :)

If you have not participated in a challenge before, please send me an email at TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com so that I can contact you, if necessary.

In the lower right corner of the padlet you'll see a pink dot with a plus sign. Click on it to open a text box. I find it works best to type your title on the title line and paste the rest of your poem where it says "Write something...". Single click outside the text box when finished. This board is moderated to prevent spam. Once your poem is approved, it will appear publicly.

Remember to include your name as author of any work that you post!

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.

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.

If you prefer to open this padlet in a new tab, click HERE.

Made with Padlet

Please join me in thanking Jane for being with us today! I love her effervescence, her silly sense of humor, her go-getter attitude, and especially this spot-on advice: "Write what makes you happy, and to heck with what other people think."

If you would like to be featured in a future reader spotlight, I invite you to complete this form.

You'll find last week's wrap-up celebration of poems inspired by song lyrics HERE. Feel free to continue adding to the poetry playlist it if you'd like.

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong are welcoming the new school year with a sweet poem about gratitude, information about the upcoming IBBY conference, and this week's Poetry Friday roundup. You'll find it all at Poetry for Children.


  1. How wonderful to see Jane here! I've read her blog for a long time and always love the books that may be new to me because they're from Canada. Thanks for a fun challenge, Jane. I suspect it might be harder than you've shown us. Best wishes for that baby time, too.

  2. A delight to hear from Jane! I'm glad she addresses the feeling of not being a "real" writer (and also of keeping reactions to our writing in perspective). Both are very important points, ones that can keep people from being creatively fulfilled. I look forward to reading personalized acrostics!

  3. I've been missing Jane! But, all is forgiven -- given her latest creative project. Many congratulations! I wish you sleep and energy as needed. It was so nice to see Jane and hear her talk about what poetry is to her. I love her carefree approach...but I wouldn't doubt her ability to get the details right. She's got some beautiful books to share with her new little family do we all. Thanks for the spectacular interview, Michelle. I really do love seeing what's new here each month.

  4. A delightful interview. I love getting to know Jane, the Raincity Librarian, better. We have a lot in common. I eat sushi at least once a week. And her advice is spot on to what I needed to hear today. Thanks!

  5. How nice to learn a bit more about Jane, and the challenge sounds like fun! As someone who constantly battles nerves and anxiety over public speaking, I found her advice on that topic particularly helpful. Thank you!

  6. It is so nice to learn a little about Jane. Congrats on the new baby too! The ditty challenge will be fun and feels appropriate for beginning of school year activities :)

  7. Nice to meet you, Jane. This sounds like a great beginning of the school year challenge! And those books look fun too.

  8. Great advice from your librarian mentor, Jane--no babies lost! I love your interview and getting to know you better, however, I must put in a good word for Brussels sprouts! Love 'em roasted!

  9. Great interview, Michelle, and it was so much fun getting to know you, Jane. Thanks for the insight into Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up. I'm putting it on my TBR.

  10. I enjoyed hearing about your writing, books, and life Jane–especially your "Go for it" attitude and your trips to Japan. I'd love to read your latest book "Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up," I've a fondness for quails. And, I'm looking forward to your challenge. Thanks for sharing Jane with us Michelle!

  11. Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful blog, Michelle, and another big thank you to everyone for your lovely comments! ♥️♥️♥️

  12. Wonderful to read all about Jane!! And a new baby in the family? Doubly good. As Linda B mentioned, I enjoy Jane's blog because I learn about books I wouldn't necessarily hear about here in the US.

  13. Hi, Michelle, and thanks for introducing me to someone new. I wasn't familiar with Jane, but I am now and really appreciate her Canadian perspective. What a great resource-- her blog and your intro!

  14. Oh, I've missed Jane as well, and it was such fun to read this interview and get a bit of insight into the Raincity Librarian! I especially appreciated her advice to just "Go for it!" and her warm, relaxed relationship with her writing--enjoying it and fitting it in where it fits. Clearly this approach works for her! Congratulations on all of your recent creative endeavors, Jane, and to you and Michelle for a great interview!

  15. I've been a fan of Jane's blog so it was wonderful to learn more about her! I'm putting all three of her books on my TBR list!

  16. Oohhhh, I'm looking forward to reading all the poems from this challenge! What a great way for all of us to learn a little more about each other. Thank you, Michelle, for putting together these delightful interviews. And thank you, Jane, for sharing your wit and wisdom with us. I've missed your posts on Fridays, but am glad your absence is for happy reasons. Congratulations!

  17. Thank you for a great interview, Michelle, and to Jane for so much wise advice. Getting past the mess of a first draft is often a challenge for me, so I'll try to think of them as beautiful! Congratulations on your books and your new baby!

  18. Hey, hey, we love going up Canada way!
    A warm wave to Vancouver to the wonderful Poetry Friday Rain City Librarian who I now know so much better with this post - her lovely name, her photo & her parent-on-the-precipice News! Happiness Abounds. Groovy to discove Jane's favorites, her lovely tribute to her Dad (I hold the memory of my fabulous Father close by every day) & what I feel may be a 1st. Her picture book, Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up! Has anyone else ever come across a p.b. with a quail as main character. (The classic non-p.b. That Quail, Robert doesn't count.) A fluff of the feathers to our Jane.

  19. Thank you, both for this interview. I love Jane's care free attitude towards writing. It makes it all fell so enjoyable and casual.

  20. It's nice to get to know Jane and learn of her newest, most creative project. Congratulations! My husband and I volunteer in Japan and recognize the beautiful bridge to Nikko! I'll try the acrostic poem is I can think of words that begin with y!

  21. I learned a lot and a lot about you, Jane. Thanks, as always, Michelle, for posts such as this, that both honor and teach writers and bring new energy, fun and often insight. I feel that I gain much from your blog even when I cannot fully engage. Jane, your advice hits home and I love your explanation of your writing habits. Thank you both.
    Janet Clare F.

  22. While writing about oneself becomes a vulnerable task, it is good to have a positive look on me. The poems that I have read are wonderful with such poetic voice. Thank you Michelle for always offering such interesting challenges and congratulations Jane on being a new Mommy.