A Boat of Stars: an interview with Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior

Last week, I went to a very special launch celebrating a very special book: the beautiful multi-author, multi-illustrator poetry collection for children, A Boat of Stars, edited by renowned literary agent Margaret Connolly, 2017 winner of the Pixie O’Harris Award, and award-winning writer Natalie Jane Prior, author of many popular books for children. Published by ABC Books/Harper Collins, it’s a real joyful treasury of brand-new original poems for kids, by an amazing range of Australian authors and illustrators. I am delighted to say that yours truly is not only one of them–I am also lucky enough to have no less than seven poems in the book, illustrated by such wonderful illustrators as Julie Vivas, Lisa Stewart, Sara Acton and Cheryl Orsini. It was such fun celebrating this very special book with the editors and a great many fellow contributors! So today I’m very happy to bring readers an interview with Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior, about how the book came to be!
First of all, congratulations on an absolutely gorgeous book, Margaret and Natalie! How did the idea for it first come about?

Natalie had written two ‘picture book texts’, Owl and Mouse, which we realised were poems, and the book evolved out of a conversation about what we could do with them. We both love poetry, and fretted that there was no obvious way of getting them published. We knew that there were very few new books of children’s poetry being published, and suddenly realised that there was a gap in the market. By the next morning we were working on a proposal for what eventually became A Boat of Stars.

How did you go about gathering poems initially? And how did you make selections? What were you looking for in each poem?

We were looking for poems that modern Australian children would enjoy, and that reflected their experience of the world. We wanted poems that they would find engaging and amusing, and enjoy returning to, again and again. The book needed to be Australian in its outlook, so poems about Australian animals, and with indigenous content, were essential. When we’d selected about two thirds of the poems we looked critically at what we had, and where there were gaps, and also asked a couple of experienced teachers to identify topics they thought would be useful in the classroom.

You worked closely together as editors. How did the process work for both of you? What were the challenges and discoveries?
We’ve worked together creatively for many years, so it was a natural progression for us to start working as an editorial team.
Did you send particular poems to particular illustrators, or did they choose poems to illustrate, or was it achieved in a different way?

The format of the book allowed for sixty poems, each with an accompanying illustration, and we assigned illustrators to poems, trying to match style and sensibility. We were thrilled when Stephen Michael King agreed to illustrate the cover. We wanted the book to have a cohesive look, and using a core team of five illustrators helped achieve this, with variety from illustrators who worked on one or two poems.

I believe you also worked closely with ABC Books on concept, layout, design etc. It must have been a big job–and it certainly is a superb production! Tell us about how it all worked.

It was a massive job, but one we both enjoyed. We were very involved in the layout and design, including spending a very intensive day in an ABC office mapping out the poem order, and illustrator/poem choices. Chren Byng, our publisher, was wonderful, as was the whole ABC Books team. Chren trusted us to do what we felt was best for the book, but was there to guide and assist whenever needed. She shared our passion and vision, and understood the book right from the start. It was the happiest editorial and publishing experience.

What do you hope young readers and their families will get from A Boat of Stars? And why do you think poetry is important for children?

We hope that the anthology will give children a happy early experience of poetry, and enrich their understanding of words, and rhyme, and rhythm. Poetry, like music, is primal. It’s language operating simultaneously at both its most fundamental, and sophisticated level. Reading poetry teaches children to look sideways, to see the world and themselves from different angles. Modern children are growing up in a troubled world, and this is a skill they are going to need. It’s a weapon in their arsenal for life.

 If you had one line to describe A Boat of Stars–other than the lovely one on the cover, ‘New poems to inspire and enchant’– what would it be?
Australian children need more poetry.

Margaret and Natalie signing copies of the book at the launch at The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft

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Thrilled to be included in A Boat of Stars!

Delighted to announce that I’m one of the authors included in a gorgeous new poetry anthology for children, A Boat of Stars, edited by Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior, which is coming out with Harper Collins in February 2018. At left is the gorgeous cover, with illustration by Stephen Michael King. I am thrilled that no less than seven of my poems were accepted for the anthology! And I am doubly thrilled that my poems will be illustrated by some of Australia’s most fantastic illustrators. Very exciting indeed! You can read more about the book on the Harper Collins website. 

A poem to celebrate an exceptional wattle season..

A poem I wrote a couple of years ago for everyone who loves that amazing yellow beauty…and this year, I’m republishing it to celebrate a truly exceptional year in the wattle stakes!

Wattle blooming

Sudden bursts of gold,

Sweeping colour bold,

By rivers, by roads, in country and town,

In farms and gardens, the wattle’s the crown.

 

Of the end of the winter, beginning of spring,

The blooming of wattle will sing and sing

Of birds in their nests and the warm days to hand,

For the wattle is blooming across the land.

 

Sophie Masson

 

Five Favourites 22: Meredith Costain

Today’s five favourites have been chosen by Meredith Costain.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, with illustrations by Ruth Gervis

I have read this book so many times over the years it is falling apart. It made me long for a life in a genteel inner-city London, one of the three little ‘Fossil sisters’ tenderly cared for by a guardian and a no-nonsense and very proper English nanny, and earning their keep on the stage. The scene where they vow to get their names in history books has stayed with me forever (and set me on the path to becoming a writer). I devoured the rest of her books one after the other.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I suspect I loved this book so much because I identified so strongly with Jo. She spent every spare moment she could reading, writing, crunching apples up a tree or acting out plays with her sisters. I also admired the family’s dogged insistence on making the best out of every situation: the scene where the four sisters are hand-hemming a bed sheet (hemming being something I hated doing myself) and imagining each seam was a new continent to be explored is wonderful.

When We Were Very Young by A A Milne, with illustrations by E H Shepard

We recited a lot of poetry in our house when I was growing up – and this book (along with Now We Are Six) contained some of my favourites: ‘Disobedience’, ‘The King’s Breakfast’, ‘Happiness’ and ‘At the Zoo’. All his writing had such wonderful, matter-of-fact rhythm that went marching through your head. The perfect companion to the perfect Winnie-the-Pooh.

A Book For Kids by C J Dennis

I went to a tiny two-roomed country primary school where our wonderful teacher shared his love of rhythm and rhyme (and the new kids on the block – The Beatles!) with us every day. He introduced us to the poetry of C J Dennis and I still know most of the poems off by heart, particularly ‘Hist!’, ‘The Ant Explorer’, and ‘Triantiwontigongolope’.

 

The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs by Darlene Geis, with illustrations by Kenyon Shannon

My brother and I fought for ownership over this book (I’m happy to say I won – it’s currently sitting on my ‘beloved books’ shelf). We spent hours poring over the words and images and had fun trying to pronounce their unpronounceable names (so different to the names of animals we had first-hand knowledge of: cow, dog, chook, rabbit, horse). The blend of hard facts and narrative and its conversational tone made it perfect for young readers desperate to find out more about these fabulous beasts from another world and time.

Finally, just want to add some ‘near misses’: I feel like I will have betrayed these lovely books if I don’t give them a mention as well!

Near misses: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, Ash Road and Hills End by Ivan Southall, What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge, Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner, Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff.

http://www.meredithcostain.com

My prize-winning poem, Paddock Life

I’m very pleased to report that a poem of mine for children, Paddock Life, has won third prize(poetry category) in well-known children’s poet Jackie Hosking’s annual Poetry and Stories in Verse Competition, the results of which have just been announced!

Congratulations to all the prize-winners and highly commendeds, and many thanks to Jackie for running the comp and always supporting poetry for children!

Below is my poem. Hope you enjoy.

paddock-life-pic

Paddock life

by Sophie Masson

Magpie

She has all the morning alive in her throat,

Silvering the air with a fresh stream of notes,

She’s dressed for a show in her black and her white,

And her song will remain even when she takes flight.

Spiders

The spiders spin their silk all over the place

Patiently weaving fine patterns of lace,

Turning grass clumps to cities and fences to art,

As they work and they wait and they prowl and they dart.

Kangaroo

Over the fence, look! There he goes,

That famous acrobat striking a pose!

Up on two legs, then down on four,

And with the tail, he adds one more.

Blue tongue lizard

From his home in a log the blue tongue clumps out

Like a mini dinosaur he stomps and stalks about,

His tongue flicking in

His tongue flicking out.

Cattle

Knee deep in grass, in the bright golden day,

The cattle are making their very slow way

Down to the dam where they’ll drink and they’ll chew

And they’ll stare and they’ll dream the whole day through.

 

 

One Minute till Bedtime blog tour

one-minute-till-bedtimeToday I’m taking part in an unusual kind of blog tour–highlighting a poem that was considered but not in the end accepted for the fabulous US-published children’s poetry anthology One Minute till Bedtime, chosen and compiled by prominent US poet Kenn Nesbitt. It’s the idea of well-known children’s poet and fellow Australian contributor to One Minute till Bedtime, Jackie Hosking–an unusual way of highlighting the poetic richness that’s out there!

The poem of mine that’s been chosen for the anthology is called Seagull Beach Party, and you can read it in the anthology–but this one, Windmills, though it wasn’t chosen, is still one I am pretty happy with! It was inspired by seeing heaps of the ‘white giants’ on a visit to Scotland.

Windmills

by Sophie Masson

The giants on the hill paddle in bright air,

Eddies of fine cloud flying everywhere.

A gust of wind excites them as they gather in the crop;

A sunny stillness quiets them, their arms go slow, then stop.

In humming rows they stand,

White giants across the land,

Waiting for a breeze to blow,

Waiting for a chance to show

They can thresh the wind without a care,

And harvest and mill the breath of air,

To turn into heat and light,

Far away and out of sight.

In humming rows they stand,

White giants across the land,

Looking across the seas,

Waiting for the breeze.

 

 

Interview with Kenn Nesbitt, poet and compiler of One Minute till Bedtime

kennwithbooksIn 2014 I and many other writers received a lovely and unexpected invitation from prominent American children’s poet Kenn Nesbitt, asking if we would be interested in submitting poems for an anthology he was compiling, One Minute Till Bedtime, which would also include such contributors as Jack Prelutsky, Jon Scieszka, Jane Yolen, and Lemony Snicket. Talk about great company! And I was so thrilled when Kenn accepted my poem, Seagull Beach Party.

Two years later, and this week sees the publication of One Minute Till Bedtime. Containing the work of many poets from the US, UK, Australia and Canada, selected by Kenn, and beautifully illustrated by Christoph Niemann, the book is published by Little, Brown and is available around the world, including Australia. To celebrate its publication, I spoke to Kenn about the project, his own career, and children’s poetry in general.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of One Minute till Bedtime, Kenn! It’s lovely to see it out there. How did you come up with the idea for this unique poetry anthology?

Many years ago, the poet Bruce Lansky pointed out to me that most children’s poems can be read in an average of about one minute. Since then, I have tried to encourage teachers to take one minute of their school day to share a poem with their students.

When I was named Children’s Poet Laureate, I decided to create a website called PoetryMinute.org to give teachers a resource where they could easily find one-minute poems to share with their students for every day of the school year.

While I was in the process of creating this site, I was approached by Susan Rich at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers about creating a book around this idea of one-minute poems. She and I decided that bedtime might be the perfect time for a book of short poems, and One Minute till Bedtime was born.one-minute-till-bedtime

The contributing poets come from around the world. How did you go about sourcing poems for the anthology? 

Over the years that I have been writing children’s poems, I have developed relationships with many poets throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. I called on many of these authors, and reached out to lots of other poets whose work I admire. Thank goodness for email and the Internet. A project like this would have been much more difficult 20 years ago!

With its wonderful poems, lively illustrations by Christoph Niemann, and attractive design, One Minute till Bedtime is a most appealing book for children and their parents. And obviously there’s a lot of work behind it. Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting together such a big project with the publisher, Little, Brown?

To begin, I wanted to create a collection that focused on the work of living, working children’s poets, rather than reprinting classic and public domain works. So I sent out a call for submissions to over 200 poets from around the world, looking for brand new poems that had never before appeared in print. I received submissions from roughly 170 different authors. I read them all, highlighting the ones that I thought might work. Once I knew which poems I wanted to include, I printed them all out and spread the papers around my dining room table, looking for natural pairings between poems and organizing them into sections.

Along the way, I tracked everything with spreadsheets, including submissions, selections, the order of the poems, and so on. While I was doing this, Little, Brown was on the hunt for just the right illustrator. Christoph Neimann was a truly inspired choice. His simple, yet incredibly clever illustrations compliment the poems perfectly.

Once the manuscript was completed, Little, Brown began working with Christoph on the illustrations and with me on the process of proofreading, editing, typesetting, and troubleshooting.

In the end, it all came together beautifully. I couldn’t be more proud of this book.

You are a popular and much-published poet. Can you tell us something about your own career, and how you started? What do you think has changed, if anything, over the time you’ve been published, in terms of attitudes to poetry for children?

I began writing poems as a hobby for my own amusement. I wrote for several years before I ever considered trying to get published. I also created a website, poetry4kids.com, in 1997 to share my work with readers online. I had my first poems published in 1998 in an anthology called Miles of Smiles. My first book, The Aliens Have Landed at Our School! was published in 2001. Since then, I have written many more books of children’s poetry, as well as a couple of picture books and a chapter book.

It seems that there are more poets writing for children today than ever before. At the same time, there are fewer individual poetry collections being published. Many children’s poets have instead turned their talents to writing picture books, novels in verse, etc. Large hardcover collections, such as those of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, are becoming rare as hens’ teeth. Recent books by Alan Katz and Calef Brown are notable exceptions.

It is my hope that One Minute till Bedtime will not only introduce a new generation of parents and children to the joy of poetry, and showcase the works of today’s best children’s poets, but will also show publishers that poetry is worth pursuing.

You are the US Children’s Poetry Laureate and a tireless advocate for poetry. Why do you think poetry is so important for children? And what more do you think could be done to enhance children’s access to poetry?

I was the Children’s Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. Although I’ve passed that torch to my successor, Jacqueline Woodson, I continue to promote poetry to children, parents, and teachers around the world.

I believe poetry is important for children because it is short, fun, and memorable. (Everyone remembers something by Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and probably several other poets of childhood.) This combination makes poetry an easy springboard to reading and writing. Introducing children to poetry can help make them lifelong lovers of the written word.

The best champions for poetry are the earliest ones; parents and teachers. I believe the best way to enhance children’s access to poetry is to encourage parents to read to their kids, and to ask teachers to share poetry in their classrooms. Once they do, they will find that kids can’t get enough.