Children’s Poem “Nobody’s Pet” by Deborah Ruddell

Today we add the 100th video to the No Water River library! 


And doing the honors for us is the lovely and ever-delightful poet …

Deborah Ruddell!

WHOO! I feel like I should send her a lifetime’s supply of Turtle Wax or a new dinette set! I am thrilled to see the video library grow and grow. I hope this is just the first hundred of many hundreds of videos. Now on to the show!


I first discovered Deborah for myself through her second book, A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk, which I bought solely based on the title. I always judge books by their covers, and if that title was any indication of the poetry within, I knew I was going to love it. My Spidey-sense was right again, and I oohed and aahed over Deborah’s wonderful whimsy. I soon learned that she was a master of that subtle but delightful twist that gives a poem the necessary but sometimes elusive satisfying ending. My absolute favorite ending is in this little gem right here (click images to enlarge and read)


Ooh, that sliver of cricket I didn’t expect but that is so perfect for our raccoon friend!

Oh wait, I forgot I have another favorite in this book. I mean, how can you not love the righteous indignation of this turkey?


Raw sienna! Ha! Deborah’s attention to these specific details is just another element that makes her work such a joy to read, and again there’s that unexpected ending.

Of course after reading A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk, I had to get Deborah’s first book, Today at the Bluebird Café. And of course it’s filled with just as many delights. Being a jumpy scaredy-cat myself (don’t ever take me to a horror movie), I was particularly attracted to this moody piece


I was also happy to see that both these books were illustrated by Joan Rankin. I love it when an author and an illustrator become “a thing!” And Rankin’s work is just beautiful, the perfect whimsical complement to Deborah’s sweet style. Look at the colors and the Sunday-best hats on these birdies! Gah!


And just a couple months ago, Deborah’s third poetry collection came out, also illustrated by Joan. The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes is a collection about food, and once again Deborah delivers the delicious goods. I love the inventiveness of this poem:


What a neat way to look at a slice of watermelon! And the book is full of this kind of stuff, along with the fanciful turns of phrase I’ve come to expect, like “that nubbin of fish” in the poem “A Smoothie Supreme.” A nubbin! I could not begin to do a better job of telling you about this book than our foodie friend Jama Rattigan, who outdid herself with this post on The Popcorn Astronauts. You must go read it, along with Jama’s fabulous interview with Deborah.

But before you do, give a listen to Deborah’s poem, our 100th poetry video! Given that A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk was my first Ruddell-poetry love, I asked Deborah to choose one of those poems to share. So here she is with the true story of “Nobody’s Pet: A Word to the Wise from a Red Fox.”






Deborah, who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I was a kid who loved words, inspired, I think, by a father who loved words. Dad recited poems at the dinner table and while we jumped rope after dinner. Reading poetry to my own children made me remember those days, and I started to imagine how wonderful it would be if I could ever write for kids. It was a wild idea that I set aside for many years while I did other things. In 1998 when my kids were out of college, I decided to concentrate on writing — with a secret goal to publish my own collection of poetry. It felt like taking a leap off a cliff, since I honestly had no idea what I was doing. How to start? Where to work? So many questions! Even though I was floundering for a few years, it was exhilarating because I was learning something every day. I sold my first poetry collection, Today at the Bluebird Café, in 2003, and I have been writing ever since.

Do you remember, and would you share, the first poem you ever wrote?
I wrote a poem for a high school English class. It was about racism, using a piano keyboard metaphor. And was it ever terrible! Something about “how lucky” it is that the black and white keys can work together, and ending (mystifyingly) with the words, “how unlucky.” (For the record: I did not plagiarize Paul McCartney’s “Ebony and Ivory,” which came out much later on. I came up with the idea all on my own, and the memory is painful!)

I was thrilled to read in Jama’s interview with you that you are a slow and tortured poet. (Sorry! But…me too! Misery loves company and all that.) So I assume that you are also easily distracted by shiny objects, like I am. What, then, do you do to avoid writing at all costs? What is your strangest writing habit?
I LOVE shiny objects! I notice that I can call almost anything “research” when I’m trying to avoid writing. That alleviates my guilt feelings. Working on my recent collection of food poems provided an opportunity for lots of guilt-free (and tasty) research. Other strategies: reading, gardening, walking, thrift store browsing, library browsing, calling my sister … let me count the ways.

Strange writing habit: I have to work alone in a quiet room where I am free to act out what I’m working on. That could mean anything from strutting like a turkey to staring like an owl.

I also read elsewhere that the marvelous Karla Kuskin had a big influence on your development as a poet. What “poetry lessons” did you learn from her and others who inspired you?
I love Karla Kuskin’s gentle rhymes, her naturalness, and her wry humor. There is a sweetness and simplicity in her work that knocks me out. She made it look so easy! Maybe I can do that, too, I thought!

Is there anything you know now that you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out writing for children? 
My first thought is that I wish someone had told me to take a breath and stop trying so hard to publish my work immediately. On the other hand, I think those early rejections forced me to start over. I began reading more deeply and looking at my own writing more critically. That was a lesson I had to learn on my own.

Have you ever written something you absolutely hate?
Almost daily.

If you could go on a space adventure with any children’s poet (living or otherwise), who would it be and why, and what would the two of you do on your gravity-less escapade?
Even though a space adventure sounds terrifying to me, I would do it if I could go with Myra Cohn Livingston. I never met her, but I feel as if I know her through her work. One of my favorites is “My Star”:

My star comes out
When I’m in bed.
There is a place to put my head
where I can watch it twinkle
in one small windowpane of sky.

I would love sailing around space with Myra as my guide to the universe.

Grab the nearest book, open it to page 22, and look for the second word in the first sentence. Now, write a rhyming couplet (haiku, silly sentence, whatever) that includes that word. (Please include the name of the book!)
The word is we, from E.B. White: Writings From The New Yorker, 1927-1976, edited by Rebecca M. Dale.

There once was a man named White (E.B.),
famed for his fine editorial we.


Something hardly anyone knows about you: When I was 16, I went to my very first rock concert. The tickets were $5, and I wore a suit (that’s right: a SUIT) with tiny multi-colored flowers on it. The band was a little quartet called THE BEATLES, and I’m almost certain that Paul sang “Yesterday” directly to me. Or it sure seemed that way.

Quirkiest idiosyncrasy that annoys spouse/other people: IF I had any quirks, my husband says he would probably find them endearing. 😉

Article of clothing you refuse to wear: Anything with real fur.

Greatest fear/phobia: Getting lost! Terrible sense of direction.

Your hidden talent: Through a rigorous practice schedule, I am getting pretty good at iPad Boggle.

Thanks for stopping by, Deborah, and for adding “Nobody’s Pet: A Word to the Wise from a Red Fox” to No Water River’s video poetry library!


More Stuff about Deborah

Extension Activities

  • Writing
    • Deborah’s poems “Nobody’s Pet” and “A Wild Turkey Comments on His Portrait” are written from the point of view of the animals themselves. Choose an animal and write your own poem in that animal’s voice. Brainstorm ideas for the poem by thinking about what might make the animal happy, sad, or angry; what the animal thinks of humans or another animal; and so on.
  • Creating
    • Choose a favorite character from one of Deborah’s books and create a paper bag puppet for it. Have the puppet recite the poem. Don’t forget the funny voice! Here are some pictures of paper bag puppets for inspiration.
  • Eating
    • Make one of these 30 popcorn recipes and chow down while perusing The Popcorn Astronauts!
Apple Pie Popcorn. Photo by Sweet as a Cookie.
Apple Pie Popcorn. Photo by Sweet as a Cookie.

Ooh, and the very same Jama Rattigan has today’s Poetry Friday roundup at Jama’s Alphabet Soup!

See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems © Deborah Ruddell. All illustrations © Joan Rankin. All rights reserved.
Post content © Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.