Welcome to the Wonder House, from Two Wonderful Poets and One Wonderful Artist!

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell

Happy Poetry Friday! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.)

It’s such a treat to see Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard’s new collection, Welcome to the Wonder House. Rebecca was one of the first children’s poets that lit a fire in me for writing poetry. (I discovered her in a Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology, of course, and then sought out her own collections. Soon, my little home-made “anthologies” were full of her poems.)

Although I came to Georgia’s work years later, her thoughtful poetry and her passion for spreading poetry and wonder to students made me a big fan. Educators, if you don’t have her Heart Maps and A Place for Wonder, get them now! How I wish I’d had them when I was in the classroom.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re both generous and lovely humans, too! 

So, what’s this new book like? It feels like it was written just for me! Welcome to the Wonder House celebrates science and mystery and wonder—three of the things I consciously look for in the world.

Each spread is a different “room.” There are rooms of curiosity, creatures, time, quiet, and more. The poems themselves are full of questions and imaginings and reassurances that we are not alone in this wonder-filled world. Above all, I feel a sense of connection when I read these poems. Connection to the river, the pencil, the past, the young girl with a rock in her pocket, the strangers on this planet who are all wonderers, and to Rebecca and Georgia themselves.

Here’s one of my favorite spreads. Doesn’t it make you swoon? Me too!

From WELCOME TO THE WONDER HOUSE (Wordsong, 2023). Text by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. Art by Deborah Freedman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

You’ll love this collection for both its groundedness and also for its moments of surrealism. Throughout it all, gorgeous imagery and fabulous details will capture you. If you’re already a wonderer, this collection will feel like a true home, a place where you belong. For readers who aren’t already wonderers, this collection will ignite the imagination and flip the “wonder switch.” In fact, in their “Note About Wonder” in the back matter, Rebecca and Georgia give brief directions, rooted in action. Grab a notebook. Look out a window. Sit on a step. Look. Listen. What simple but profound suggestions for busy readers who need to make more time for wondering.

The luminous art of Deborah Freedman is dizzyingly beautiful and a perfect complement to the poems. Wowza. I would hang this on my walls any day! Here’s another particular favorite.

From WELCOME TO THE WONDER HOUSE (Wordsong, 2023). Text by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. Art by Deborah Freedman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Rebecca and Georgia stopped by to answer a few questions, despite both being away from home on various travels. I so appreciate their time. Blog tours are hard. Here’s what they had to say.

Laura to Rebecca: One of my favorite aspects of your poetry has always been how ageless they are, in terms of audience. You have the magical ability to write poems that I think would be equally appealing to children and adults. Do you think about that? Any thoughts on how you achieve that quality? [I’m thinking it’s some mix of simple but specific vocabulary mixed with deep-felt emotion and wonder, but I might be totally wrong on that!]

Rebecca’s reply: I’m honored, Laura, that you feel that way.  And your own thought-out reasoning on the possible process is one reason why you are such a good poet yourself. I don’t think about age when I am writing a poem, although I’m always aware when crafting any poem if it is written strictly for children when it comes to content. I think many, many children’s poems (mine and others) are sophisticated enough to be categorized as a poem for adults, or at least enjoyed by adults. You are right that I am deeply infused with a mix of emotion and wonder when I write a poem, whether it is about a rainstorm, a bicycle, or my grandfather. I have a hobby of collecting words I love in notebooks, and the use of words, how they sound and how they look, in addition to their meaning, are extremely important to me. If I can use a simple word to portray what I want to say, I would rather do that than to use a bigger word just to try and “impress the line” (and the listener). Having said that, I also find joy in using unfamiliar words especially in a children’s poem, if it is a word that is delicious to say or offers something extra to a curious reader.

Laura to Rebecca: In the Room of Quiet, I adore the final line: “We can almost hear the glaze of sky.” You use unexpected words so gorgeously, Do you have a specific process you could share for finding/choosing those unexpected words?

Rebecca’s reply: To be honest it comes to me fairly naturally, yet often with patience, observation, and closing my eyes and letting my head go empty. (And some days that’s not hard.) In addition, I look closely at things and compare one thing to another.  When I wrote the poem in Room of Quiet, I went outside very (very) early on a snowy winter morning and just looked up at the sky as I walked around my backyard. It was so sleek, so smooth, that it seemed like a glaze of pale blue paint above me. (I talk to myself a lot, too.)

Comes naturally to her? Well, I’m not jealous at all! Plus, I can understand Rebecca making the comparison to a glaze of paint–although that’s still a very fresh way to describe the sky. But then to hear the sky? That’s the most unexpected part for me. And I’m guessing it just came so naturally to her that she didn’t even realize how bewitching and surprising it was. That word “hear” brings the sky intimately close, somehow, making me feel one with the snowy landscape and sky.

Laura to Georgia: I love how you compare lightning to “an electric scar.” And bubbles to “wobbling gifts of air.” When you’re writing a poem and using metaphor, how do you start? Do you brainstorm many things that lightning, for instance, reminds you of?

Georgia’s reply: Most of my metaphors come from my daily observations and experiences. The “electric scar” metaphor came quickly as I’ve often watched lightning and thought of this image and comparison. But I had never used it in a poem before. Metaphors are intuitive and I believe that the more we make these associations in our daily lives the more metaphors flow in our writing.

One of the joys of writing a poem is that initial drafting stage where I’m playing with words and images. Often at the beginning, some metaphors might feel ordinary and expected, but if I keep writing and digging deeper, they can transform into something surprising.

I love how clear it is that Georgia’s drawing from a very deep well of regular practice and wonder. And the same for Rebecca with her notebooks of words. Sitting down to write a poem “from scratch” really doesn’t happen, I think. Instead, you dip down into the well of the words, images, and associations that you’ve noticed or created or gathered in the past. You maybe start with some of those and then leapfrog forward into new ones, too.

Laura to Georgia: You have the gift of writing very brief poems with major impact. I’m wondering if you write expansively first, and then whittle from there? Or does all that whittling happen in your head, before you actually put poem to page?

Georgia’s reply: Laura, I really like the word “whittling” that you use to talk about revision. It’s exactly how I work on my poems. First, I write a rough draft where I try to paint an image connected to a feeling. Then, a single line or word will stand out. I’ll carve away the other words and make the picture more accurate. But I have to be careful not to remove too much, or the poem will lose its life and the original spark that inspired it. The trick is finding the right balance between keeping the poem alive and cutting out what’s not needed. It’s also about trusting the reader to figure things out and letting the images in the poem do most of the talking.

I love that insight into Georgia’s process. I’ve been thinking about the anchors (grounded, accessible parts) and clouds (mysterious, surprising, possibly illogical parts) metaphor a lot lately. I first heard it from Taylor Mali, though he learned it from someone else (and I can’t recall who he credited–sorry!).

  • Poems must have clouds and anchors
  • Too many clouds and people won’t understand
  • Too many anchors and people won’t care

The poems in this collection feel like the just-right proportion of anchors and clouds.

Thanks so much, Georgia and Rebecca. As a huge fan of the poetry of both of you, I love this book and getting to learn from you. I’ll cherish this book, coming back to it whenever I need a reminder to escape busyness and embrace wonder. And thank you, Wordsong. The digital review copy was indeed beautiful, but hugging this jewel close on printed paper is what really released the wonder of it for me.

(Also, readers, both poets answered a couple of bonus questions, too, so I’ll pop those answers into my post next week!)

Want to learn more? Check out:

Two more things:

  • Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten is on sale this month for the Kindle edition for $2.49. Check it out!
  • For the Sealey Challenge this week, I was really noticing wonder in other poetry collections. Here’s what I read and shared.
    • Something New Begins, by Lilian Moore. It’s a favorite I hadn’t read in a while. The way she describes the natural world in such fresh, concrete ways inspires me–and I love her spooky poems, too. An OOP treasure!
    • Not sharing the title, but an indie-published collection for grown-ups written by a friend of my parents. They had her sign it to me, as it was right after my 1st poetry picture book. Not my cup of tea, but I still learned some things while reading it. And I’ve finally (13 yrs later) finished it!
    • Do Rabbits Have Christmas? I love how many wintery, chilly, fresh words Aileen Fisher uses.
    • A selection of poems from Good Poems for Hard Times, ed by Garrison Keillor. Reading many poets, the anchors & clouds thing stood out. I want enough clouds—surp. words, images—to feel like poetry not prose, & enough anchors—accessibility—to elicit an emotional reaction, not confusion.
    • Welcome to the Wonder House — well, you know how I feel about this one! :>D
    • The Truth About Trees, by Charles Ghigna. Sections I & II are my favorites. This coll. is full of themes of time–things ephemeral or very long lasting–& connection–to each other & to the natural world.

And for lots more wonderful poetry, don’t miss the Poetry Friday Roundup with fabulous Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.


19 Responses

  1. Laura, wow, I love reading the answers from these two distinguished poets, and seeing some pages from this new book. Thank you for the information. I’m adding it to my TBR list. I love Heart Maps–it was a staple in my classroom, especially as my students and I did Genius Hour.

  2. Wonderful inspiration Laura, Georgia, and Rebecca. I like the metaphor of clouds and anchors and is something I will strive to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I just got my copy, Laura, and now it’s time to open it! Your post is so full of good poetry thoughts, I will have to bookmark it! I used Georgia’s Heart Maps often with students, a joy to tell them that, yes, poetry is in them, too! And, I had the pleasure of two Highlights workshops with Rebecca and Georgia, a time so full of goodness and inspiration. Thanks for taking time to give us readers so much to ponder today!

  4. What a gorgeous book (both the poetry and illustrations)! Thank you for sharing a peek into the poets’ process. It is always interesting to learn how poets create their metaphors.

  5. Thanks, Laura, for this book review, interview and your own insights. I must look for this one. Great job!!!

  6. Cannot wait to get this poetry book. Beautiful review. I feel as though Rebecca and Georgia are architects of wonder. Truest words: They are incredible human beings. Thank you, Laura!

  7. Great interview! This response of yours caught my eye: “Sitting down to write a poem “from scratch” really doesn’t happen, I think. Instead, you dip down into the well of the words, images, and associations that you’ve noticed or created or gathered in the past.” Makes me want to make sure my well stays full ♥️

  8. Laura, your review of Georgia and Rebecca’s new book is well-written with so many interesting bits and pieces. Georgia and Rebecca’s comments are full of inspiration. I am a fan of both of then but go way back with Georgia. Metaphors, anchors and clouds are on my mind and most likely I will return to your post for a reread or two. Thanks for the great write-up and I will have to add this book to my TBR.

  9. What a generous post…three amazing poets discuss poetry and a review with smashing artistic illustrations. My goodness, this is everything! I love the descriptions of metaphors and whittling and observation. Yes, I need this book in my classroom. Putting it on my wish list right now!

  10. Thanks for this interview. I’ve met both of these poets, but your delving into their specific process is inspiring to me. I related to this response from Rebecca: “I don’t think about age when I am writing a poem, although I’m always aware when crafting any poem if it is written strictly for children when it comes to content.” I was once in a poetry reading line up with adult poets. I expressed that mine were written for children and afterward a man told me, “Your poems were good!” I responded, “Children deserve good poems.” He was a little flustered by my response. Rebecca (and I’m sure you and Georgia, too, get it).

  11. This post with Rebecca, Georgia, and you (three of my favorite poets), was filled with wonder and inspiration. Thank you, Laura!

  12. I had a library copy and then promptly had to own it to use with my students AND to use as a mentor text! It’s just that good! (And BEAUTIFUL, too!!)

    Great review, Laura, and the discussion with the poets was such an extra bonus. Your reflection on process was so spot on: “Sitting down to write a poem “from scratch” really doesn’t happen, I think. Instead, you dip down into the well of the words, images, and associations that you’ve noticed or created or gathered in the past. You maybe start with some of those and then leapfrog forward into new ones, too.”

  13. I was fascinated with all the insights into process (especially idea generation and revision) and the idea of clouds and anchors. The pages you shared are just gorgeous. What a match between imagery and poetry! What a fabulous post! I loved reading every single word of it and will be purchasing “Welcome to the Wonder House” pronto!

  14. Such a rich post Laura, love the interview with Georgia and Rebecca! I connect with Georgia in her response to metaphors being intuitive and love your whittling down connection, along with that deep well we draw from, thanks for this overflowing well!

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