Thursday, February 6, 2020

Spotlight on Buffy Silverman + DMC Challenge


It's true, we just turned the page to February. But in my neck of the woods temps are back in the 70s, trees are beginning to flower, and look what else arrived this week—a new book to warm my heart.

Millbrook Press (Lerner Publishing Group), February 4, 2020
ISBN: 978-1541578135, available for a discounted price at Lerner Books.

I'm tickled blossom-pink to introduce my friend and critique partner Buffy Silverman for our first Spotlight ON interview of 2020! Buffy is the author of more than 90 nonfiction books for young readers, featuring topics from angel sharks to alligators, and Mars to monster trucks. Children's poetry fans might be more familiar with her nature-inspired poems that pop up regularly in anthologies, popular children's magazines, and, I'm pleased to say, here on Today's Little Ditty.

In her role as a TLD contributor, Buffy has taught readers much about how connecting with nature can make us better poets. She spends time outdoors every day, occasionally with a dragonfly perched on her nose, but more often accompanied by her dog and camera. There’s always something new to discover living near woods and a lake in rural Michigan, and taking photographs encourages her to slow down and watch closely—a skill that every good poet must cultivate. I'm delighted to include several of Buffy's outstanding photographs in today's post. (The hardest part was deciding which ones to share!)

One of the qualities I find most remarkable about Buffy's writing is her ability to transform those carefully observed small details into poetry, finding the perfect word in every instance, even when it's one she's had to invent herself. Buffy is adept at wordplay alchemy—something she has practiced from the age of 10 years old. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring is a superb example of what kind of enchantment can come of it.

Back cover: On a Snow Melting Day (Millbrook Press, 2020)
Described in a starred Kirkus review as “Crocus-poking, mud-luscious enjoyment,” Buffy describes On a Snow-Melting Day as "an extended poem about all the changes that occur as winter retreats and spring begins. It features chickadees sipping from icicles, spotted salamanders marching over melting snow, and insects warming themselves in skunk cabbage." (Read more from Buffy's interview with Raven Howell here.)

Vibrant photographs paired with playful rhyming verse will captivate young children, making this book an ideal read-aloud for home, preschool, or library story time. For grades 1-3, teachers will appreciate this book as a mentor text because of the expressive sensory language. They can also make use of the back matter (an informational author's note, glossary, and further reading) to extend and enhance interactive learning. The book is "perfect," according to the School Library Journal, "for answering nature-related questions or crafting lesson plans."

Why not try this simple idea for the classroom:

"Reading poetry to your students can be a gift," explains Buffy in an interview at Two Writing Teachers. "Let them enjoy listening to a poem each day, without asking for discussion or analysis. Then read the poem again and ask students to remember one or two favorite words. Write those words in a class word bank, and encourage your students to borrow them for their own writing."

And what should they write? How about "drip-droppy, slip-sloppy" poems in response to Buffy's DMC challenge this month! You'll find detailed instructions later on in this interview.

Let's begin, as always, with five favorites.

Buffy Silverman
Pale green, the color of fresh leaves in spring.

The scent of soil after a rainstorm. There’s a word for that smell—petrichor—which comes from the Greek words petra ( meaning stone) and ichor (a fluid flowing in the veins of the gods.)

The flute-like song of a wood thrush on an evening in May.

In fourth grade, Mrs. Rasanen had a reel-to-reel tape player and played a song for us that went, “Hey ho, what do you know, friction makes heat. Hey ho, what do you know, we’re making heat!” Combining music with science was pretty radical at the time (and that might be why I can still sing the tune while rubbing my hands together!) Fourth grade was also the year we took a class trip to Sturbridge Village.

Buffy, the 4th grade outlaw, with some of her classmates at Sturbridge Village

Mr. Kirkpatrick, eleventh grade English. I was often unengaged in classes in junior high and high school. But Mr. Kirpatrick told me that I was a good writer—and he took the time to show me how to make my writing stronger. His words and attention set me on a different path. Understanding how to revise what I wrote helped turn me into a successful student in college and a writer today.

As a child you were a tree climber, an insect finder, and a word collector, yet you didn’t begin thinking of yourself as a writer until graduate school. When did you realize you were a poet?

I’m not sure I think of myself as a poet. Let’s just say I’m someone who enjoys writing poetry. (The first definition in the dictionary of a poet is someone who writes poetry, so perhaps someday soon I will embrace the term.) I’ve always loved playing with language, and I think that led me to dabbling in poetry.

Your bibliography, especially for the nonfiction educational market, is quite impressive! What do you enjoy most about writing for that market?

For me there have been two great benefits to writing for the educational market. The first is having tight writing deadlines. I am a procrastinator, and deadlines force me to be organized and to keep writing. The second is learning about a wide range of subjects, including many that I had little knowledge of before diving head first into the research. I now understand why airplanes have flaps, big rigs have tails, and how to bring a hot air balloon down to earth!

Browse these and other topics on Buffy Silverman's bookshelf.

How does poetry fit into the big picture of your writing career?

While I’ve enjoyed having writing assignments and learning many, many interesting tidbits, I’m trying to shift the focus of my writing to more narrative and poetic approaches to nonfiction (and maybe even some fiction, too!) I am drawn to writing about the natural world, which I think is a subject that inspires poetry.

Buffy Silverman
Buffy Silverman
Buffy Silverman

What I love most about On a Snow-Melting Day is your fun, evocative language. Your description of the change of season is factual, yet never trite or dull. Can you tell us more about your process of writing the book?

On a Snow-Melting Day started as an idea for StoryStorm 2018, in response to a blog post that encouraged writers to pay attention to what’s around them. Here’s what I wrote in my notebook:

It was a drip droppy
                        slip sloppy
                        snow melting day

Then I made a few notes about mist rising in the air, boots sinking in the slush, puddles growing on the lake. My notes continued: Is there a story here? Or just a poem? 

Initially I thought the image in my head was more of a poem than a story idea, but about a month later I had a writing day with my critique group and decided to explore the idea more fully. I thought about what different animals might be doing on a series of snow-melting days and tried to paint a picture of the landscape getting closer and closer to spring. I pictured the woods, lake, and marshy areas that are outside my door.

Buffy Silverman
featured in On a Snow-Melting Day)
Buffy Silverman
featured in On a Snow-Melting Day)

I managed to finish a draft in one day (which is not usual for me. Peer pressure is wonderful! Go write with your friends!) Of course, I revised that draft many times.

The photographs complement your spare text so perfectly. Considering that this book is not traditionally illustrated, were you involved in the process of selecting the photos or was your expressive writing all the in-house designers needed?

Allison Juda, the Millbrook editor assigned to my manuscript, chose the photographs and masterfully designed the book with little input from me. I offered Allison several of my own photographs that I thought might work with my manuscript and was thrilled when she decided to include three of them. There was one part of my text that Allison didn’t understand and she wondered if I should change: Icicles drip. Chickadees sip.

From On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (Milbrook Press, 2020)

But she was fine about keeping that couplet once I sent her links to photos of chickadees sipping icicles. (Who knew they did this? Not me until I started searching for an animal that drinks from icicles.) I believe the chickadee-sipping photo used in the book was one that I had sent to Allison. I also suggested which flowers to include in the final spread (hepatica) to make sure we had one of the earliest blooming wildflowers.

Please share a favorite spread from On a Snow-Melting Day and tell us why it's a favorite.

How can I decide on only one?! If I must choose, I’ll go with this one: On a plink-plonking, marsh-mucking, duck-dabbling day.

From On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (Milbrook Press, 2020)

Those phrases are fun to say, I love pussy willows, and I have a nice memory of walking with my daughter at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary when I took the photo of the handsome pair of mallards.

Let’s imagine for the moment that On a Snow-Melting Day is part of a four-book series (which it should be!) describing each of the seasonal transitions in a similar fashion. What is one thing you might have observed for each of the other books in the series?

There’s so much wonder in the world as the seasons change. Here are a few favorite sights: frogs staking out their territories and serenading their sweethearts as spring turns to summer; praying mantises laying their foamy egg cases on tall grasses when summer turns to fall; huge flocks of sandhill cranes gathering to dance and raise a ruckus as fall turns to winter. Whether or not those critters would fit neatly into a rhyme scheme is another question! 

Buffy Silverman in her childhood happy place
If you had all the world's children in one room, what would you tell them?

Go outside (every day if you can!) Look, listen, feel, and smell nature. Let yourself fall in love with our world.

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

I had great fun combining and inventing words when writing On a Snow-Melting Day. I think TLD readers would enjoy this too. Here’s a recipe to follow, or strike out on your own.


Five or more nouns (choose plants/animals/weather-related nouns, or anything else you observe outside.)

Five or more verbs that are actions your nouns might take and/or sounds that your nouns might make.


1.    Take a walk or look out a window to gather the ingredients listed above.  

2.    Combine each noun-verb pair to create an adjective. (These are some that I used in Snow-Melting Day: hawk-squawking, marsh-mucking, paw-sinking, duck-dabbling.)

3.    Play with your combinations to create different adjectives (paw-dabbling? duck-squawking? marsh-sinking?)

4.    Write a poem that celebrates the place you observed, using at least two of your noun-verb combinations or other invented words.

Grab your notebook and trail mix, my friends—
we're going word-wandering!

Buffy's woods-walking companion Dakota is expert at sniffing out new words!

But before setting off, please help me thank Buffy—and Dakota—for being here today (though I've been told Dakota is only in it for the kibble). Buffy, on the other hand, is looking forward to reading your poems and is offering a personalized copy of On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring to one lucky DMC participant! 

(Winner to be selected randomly at the end of the month.)


Post your poem with invented words on our February 2020 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. I don't typically give authors advance notice, so 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." All of the poems will be included in a wrap-up celebration on the last Friday of the month—February 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 if necessary.

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 to Laura Purdie Salas for hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup. She is writing poems in a variety of unusual places this year and today shares a poem written at the orchestra.


  1. I love by Buffy's book so so so much. great interview, and I especially loved learning that she learned about chickadees drinking icicles after she went researching for a bird that drinks from icicles. I love it when the rhyme comes naturally, and then we have to find the fact that fits that rhyme and makes it sound like it is what we intended all along. Buffy did a beautiful job of this. Don't enter me, as I already have a lovely copy, but three cheers for Buffy!

  2. Beautiful interview! I didn't know some of Buffy's photos ended up in the book, and that just tickles me with delight -- wonderful wonderful! The chickadee sipping an icicle truly is a wonder and something fresh and surprising to many readers (like me!). Congratulations to Buffy, and so many thanks to you, Michelle! xo

  3. Love this interview and Buffy's book! It was good to hear how her 11th grade English teacher encouraged her writing. The right teacher can make a world of difference. Buffy's playful language in this book is too cool (and I've been a big fan of her photos for awhile now). Looking forward to featuring it at AS in a couple of weeks. :)

  4. I have had the joy of seeing Buffy's book early & sharing it, then finally got my own copy this week! It is a gem & I love hearing that it could wind its way into a "foursome"! Congratulations, Buffy, for making this wonderful book. I wrote about looking out windows today, too. We're having a very snowy day so I'll be looking a lot! And maybe venture out later. Thanks for the great interview, Michelle, & the challenge, Buffy!

  5. I love every bit of this post and every wonderful phrase of Buffy's beautiful book. I think parents, and teachers, and kids will love it too. This sounds like a very fun challenge. I am in! Hmmm...maybe I'll start right now.

  6. Thank you Michelle for another smashing interview! Thank you Buffy for sharing your marvelous book in this interview. And this challenge sounds like fun! I will be paying attention on my hike tomorrow (if my husband doesn't bow out for the rain and/or snow) or on another day if the weather shuts us down.

  7. I adore this post. Thank you Michelle and thank you Buffy, as well as huge congratulations! The whole thing is puddle- wonderful! I love this challenge too and am already tossing around some ideas.

  8. What a cute photo of Buffy and friend! Her book looks fantastic. (I, too, love the sipping chickadee.) Her affinity for the natural world shines through, beautifully linking the reader to the subject.

  9. Terrific interview. I can't wait to see your book Buffy. Nature and poetry are a perfect match.

  10. What a great interview! I also enjoyed learning that Buffy's English teacher had such a positive influence on her as a writer. Her creative wordplay is so delightful and the entire book is fabulous! I can't wait to dip into this challenge!

  11. As always, a fantastic post, Michelle! Buffy, this book speaks to my nature-loving, poetry-pulsing heart! I love your challenge and can’t wait to give it a try and share with my middle school teachers.

  12. I love this interview and the prompt.
    On a Snow-melting Day looks lovely.

  13. Loved the interview! And LOVED learning a new word: petrichor! I can't wait to use it in daily conversation, just for the fun of it. Looking forward to dipping into this new book.

  14. Thank you for this inspiring interview, Buffy & Michelle! I adore On a Snowmelting Day, and can't wait to get started on Buffy's challenge!

  15. Thanks so much for having me on Today's Little Ditty, Michelle. And thanks to everyone for sharing my snow-melting glee!

  16. Well, darn! My comment evaporated into the internet ether. It was glowing too. If another shows up, then you'll have two glowing comments. I'll copy this one just in case it happens again. I loved this interview and can picture the two of you having a blast as critique partners with your word-play alchemy. I can't wait to get started on this challenge! I've been having so much fun with science lately.

  17. From Jan Godown Annino:

    Dear Michelle,

    Happy First Blog of 2020!.

    It is so generous of you & Buffy to pull us up from our chairs and out into The World.
    Who knows what eye-catching wordplay will be in our haul?

    The new book is one that is going to spark walks and wordplay all over the land. Yay, Buffy!

    And the kid-among-branches image - precious.

    So much goodness to get-goin' with!


  18. What a great post! Thank you!

  19. Beautiful book, Buffy - I love the phrases you've come up with as well as those amazing photos. Congratulations! And thanks for sharing this, Michelle!

  20. I am looking forward to reading this book. Happy publication day, Buffy!

  21. Congrats on your new book Buffy, it feels like it's full of nature-spilling poems–I'm looking forward to reading it! Thanks for sharing more of Buffy with us Michelle!

  22. I think Buffy and I would make a great co-teaching team in my Kindergarten classroom. I'd spend all day every day outdoors exploring with them if I could, and then I'd come inside and we'd all write about it. There I've said it! Thank you so much for this. And I'm gearing up to tackle the DMC challenge!

  23. "GO OUTSIDE." Thanks, Michelle and Buffy, for this interview, for this book (which I hope to win and which I hope to need after it finally snows here if ever), and for a mouth-tickling challenge.

  24. What a creative, fun challenge. I've been meaning to get back into Ditty challenges - and this looks like my in. :) I was fascinated by the title for this book - hadn't considered the melt side of snow. The snippets I've seen have definitely w(h)et my interest!

  25. I'm ready and set to go out and write. I love Buffy's new book and look forward to reading it to students and offering them this challenge, too. Buffy's love of nature and word play inspire me. Thanks for the interview.

  26. I can't wait to read Buffy's new book. It looks fantastic. I liked the comment about how photography can get one to slow down and think about what one is looking at. I love the entire post. Thanks for this. I'm looking forward to trying my hand at inventing words.

  27. This is a great interview, Michelle! Buffy, what a spring joy-giving book! I can't wait to share it with my kiddo. :)

  28. Great interview! Buffy, I love your poetry and photos, and I'll be grabbing hold of your book first chance I get! I also had a field trip to OSV in 4th grade, so I'm curious...did you live near Sturbridge? I grew up in a suburb of Hartford, CT, and now live in WMass, not too far from OSV, which we visit often.

    1. We were practically neighbors, Carol. (I grew up in Longmeadow, and my cousins lived in West Hartford. Have lived in the midwest for almost 30 years, but my younger kid now lives in western Mass!)

    2. Ha! I'm in East Longmeadow now. I hope our paths cross one day.

  29. A spirit-uplifting interview. I needed that. Thank you, Buffy.