OK, usually my One Book I Love posts are just a cover and a brief excerpt of a book I love (no surprise there!). But today, I have a special treat. You get not only some excerpts of a wonderful book but also an interview with the author, the fabulously creative Heidi Bee Roemer. I had admired Heidi’s poetry for years in various Lee Bennett Hopkins anthologies, but I actually had no idea she had any books out. She has three, and my favorite one is her newest, Whose Nest Is This? (NorthWord Press, 2009), a rhyming nonfiction picture book.
Some of you regular readers know I have a thing about alligators/crocodiles. So here’s a verse that made me shudder!
She snatches up plants with her terrible teeth
and piles the foliage in a ten-foot wide heap.
Her eggs incubate in this super-sized thatch.
One day in late August, wee reptiles will hatch.
Whose nest is this?
An alligator’s nest
Now, here’s what Heidi shared with me.
|How did you get the idea for Whose Nest is This?
Call it serendipity! And a bit of gutsy brashness. Shortly after What Kinds of Seeds are These? was released by NorthWord Press, I asked my editor, Kristen McCurry if she had a “wish list,” or a new topic she’d like to have on her book list someday. Kristen said she’d love to have a book about nests. I grabbed that thought like a drowning man grabs a life vest. Kristen made no promises, but I figured it was worth a try. The next day—and many days after that—I was at the library researching nests. Six weeks later, I submitted my manuscript called, Whose Nest is This? And, another six weeks later, amazingly, Kristen bought it. Naturally, I was deliriously happy!
Do you call it a collection or a rhyming nonfiction book? It reminds me in form a bit of Hotel Deep,by Kurt Cyrus, which I love. Anyway, what (and when) was the genesis of this?
Whose Nest is This? (2009) is a fun nonfiction companion book to What Kinds of Seeds are These? (2006). Both follow a kid-friendly riddles-in-rhyme format. Of course, the verses in Nest focus on the nests of various birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, and insects, while the verses in Seeds describe various seeds and how they’re dispersed.
I know this is a hard question, but which verse/poem is your favorite?
Yes, it is terribly hard to single out one favorite stanza. It’s like asking a mother which child is her favorite. Perhaps the nest description that stands out to me is the one below because some readers may not think of insects as nest builders.
A papery place that’s fit for a queen,
It’s unlike most nests you have probably seen.
Each nursery chamber has six-sided walls.
One egg rests in each—there are hundreds in all.
What kind of nest is this?
A paper wasp’s nest or hive.
My favorite illustration? Honestly, all of Connie McLennan’s illustrations are fabulous. But one that really wows me is her colorful, vivid image of the Caribbean flamingo’s nest described as “a towering mud-mound that’s shaped like a cone.” You can’t ask for better!
Which poem did you struggle most with? And which flowed out most easily?
I wrestled and wrangled with the stanza describing the stickleback’s nest. You might say it was a sticky one! But eventually, with a little help from my editor, we resolved it. I absolutely love the results:
A hard-working papa, he won’t stop to rest.
With bits of green algae, he forms a fluffed nest.
To hold it together, what does he do?
His body produces a waterproof “glue.”
What’s your favorite warmup for writing poetry?
Reading is my I.V. cure for writer’s block. Before I begin writing, I ingest delicious words and pictures from children’s poetry books and magazines. They refresh and inspire me. At some point, I can’t read another word; I’m compelled to sit down and try to “capture the magic.”
You’ve been published in so many of Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthologies! And this is your third poetry/verse book, right? Any advice for unpublished poets who want to be where you are?
I’m happy to share a few tips for writing poetry! Here they are:
Have a clear idea of your message. Don’t let rhymes of convenience sidetrack you and muddle up the meaning of your poem.
Check facts. Never submit a poem that makes false statements, such as penguins live in the North Pole or that the sun revolves around Pluto.
Learn to revise. Rarely (never?) does a poem come out perfectly in the first draft. C. J. Cherryh says it best: "It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly."
Be succinct. New poets often write poems that are overly long, fat, and sluggish. Learn how to trim the flab. After writing your poem, go on a “Search and Destroy” mission to eliminate weedy words and phrases. Trim, tweak, twist, toy, cut, maneuver, manipulate, revise, and sometimes— start over. This is word-crafting at its best!
Read your poem aloud. Check it for clarity. Listen for alliteration, assonance, and a regular meter.
Set it aside. In baker’s terms, “Let the dough rise.” Then roll up your sleeves and review the poem again—word by word.
Use a dictionary. Check the thesaurus. Invest in a rhyming dictionary. Use these materials to help you select only the best words. Avoid trite, overused rhymes. Limit abstract words, as young readers may lose interest. Replace bland, colorless words with bright nouns and vivid verbs. Perk up your poem with kid-friendly language. Be concise and direct. Think pictures!
A good children’s poem contains a focused topic, kid-friendly vocabulary, fresh rhyme, sometimes meter, and—always—a dash of originality!
Thanks, Heidi! I’m so happy to see this book. It’s great for reading with any curious kid, and it would also be fantastic in the classroom.