Poetry Friday: Spotlight on NCTE Poets – David McCord, with Lee Bennett Hopkins

Spotlight on NCTE Poets - David McCord

“A handful of sand…

is an anthology of the universe.

NCTE Medal - designed by Karla Kuskin

Hello, again! Welcome to the first episode of SPOTLIGHT ON NCTE POETS! I’m glad to be back from hiatus and kicking off the year with a new series that I’ve cooked up with the help of Lee Bennett Hopkins. The SPOTLIGHT series is just that: brief and personal looks at all the recipients of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, starting with the very first recipient in 1977, when the award was established:

David McCord

David McCord

This series isn’t about pertinent facts or analyzing the poets and their work so much as it is about preserving Lee’s personal recollections, insights, and memories of each of these (so far) seventeen amazing people, and, as Lee says in the video, appreciating the poets and their work by “reading it and loving it from the heart.”


David McCord wrote and edited over fifty books of poetry for children, and I’d like to start the “reading and loving” with this gorgeous piece of work from his book Every Time I Climb a Tree.


This is my rock,
And here I run
To steal the secret of the sun;

This is my rock,
And here come I
Before the night has swept the sky;

This is my rock,
This is the place
I meet the evening face to face.

And the title poem of that same book (click to enlarge).


“Life is the garment we continually alter, but which never seems to fit.”

Listening to Lee’s stories and recollections about these poets has been an honor and a delight, and I hope you think so too. Without further ado, here is the first in our new video series.


Here is some of that marvelous wordplay Lee was talking about (click to enlarge).


In His Own Words: David McCord on


“Poetry is so many things besides the shiver down the spine. It is a new day lying on a new doorstep. It is what will stir the weariest mind to write. It is the inevitable said so casually that the reader or listener thinks he said it himself. It is the fall of syllables that run as easily as water flowing over a dam. It is fireflies in May, apples in October, the wood fire burning when one looks up from an open book. It is the best dream from which one ever waked too soon. It is Peer Gynt and Moby Dick in a single line. It is the best translation of words that do not exist. It is hot coffee dripping from an icicle. It is the accident involving sudden life. It is the calculus of the imagination. It is the finishing touch to what one could not finish. It is a hundred things as unexplainable as all our foolish explanations.”


“We have to learn that just to live is to acknowledge a kinship with poetry. There are many words for poetry, but the one important word for it is rhythm. The wind in the grass and the leaves of the trees and the flame that rises and falls — or the waves on the shore, a bird’s call, a thunder shower, or anything you care about in nature is full of rhythm. Even an earthquake, for that matter. That’s all part of poetry.”

Writing for Children

”Whatever may be said about this small but graceful art, three things should be remembered: good poems for children are never trivial; they are never written without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work; they must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child.” (In The New York Times, 1964)


From an interview in the NCTE publication Perspectives (a highly recommended read!): 

Should poetry for children have any special characteristics?
Yes, I think it should have one: It must be written, first of all, just for yourself. There’s always a question of how much didacticism you can put into a poem for children. You never write down to children. You can never look at children individually or in a group and say, “I know what you’re thinking because I was your age once.” You were their age once; but you haven’t the faintest idea of how you then thought or the way you phrased what you thought. So you must write for yourself and, if you don’t please yourself as a writer, you won’t please children or grownups or anybody. Perhaps the first thing any artist has to learn is to please himself within the framework of whatever medium he’s working in. So poems for children should be simple and should please the poet as he writes them. The teacher part of it should stay out of the way as much as possible. You are talking to children about something a child is familiar with, but also (perhaps) an aspect of it which the child has overlooked; or at least one which the child has viewed in a way quite different from the poet.


And now I can’t resist ending with the beautiful poem “Books Fall Open,” with a poster designed by Mary Englebreit.


More about David McCord



Dates: b. 1897 in New York City; raised in Oregon; d. 1997 in Boston
Education: Harvard: Bachelor of Arts (1921); Master’s in Chemistry (1922)
Occupation: Poet, essayist; Executive Director of the Harvard College Fund
Recognition: Guggenheim Fellow (1954); NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children (1977); 22 honorary doctorates
Known for: Wordplay; inventing a five-line form called “symmetics”; capturing the child’s world 



(links go to NCTE articles and interviews about each winner)
(Criteria for award)

2013 – Joyce Sidman
2011 – J. Patrick Lewis
2009 – Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006 – Nikki Grimes
2003 – Mary Ann Hoberman
2000 – X.J. Kennedy
1997 – Eloise Greenfield
1994 – Barbara Juster Esbensen
1991 – Valerie Worth
1988 – Arnold Adoff
1985 – Lilian Moore
1982 – John Ciardi
1981 – Eve Merriam
1980 – Myra Cohn Livingston
1979 – Karla Kuskin
1978 – Aileen Fisher
1977 – David McCord


NCTE Medal - designed by Karla Kuskin
NCTE Medal – designed by Karla Kuskin

“One of my teachers told me: ‘Never let a day go by without looking at three beautiful things.’ I try to do that and find it isn’t difficult. The sky, in all its weathers is, for me, the first of these three things.”  -David McCord



Laura Shovan is waiting for you over at Author Amok. Get over there lickety pickety lickety split!

You’d like to receive my weekly posts in your inbox, you say? Well, just sign up in the sidebar then!

See more poems in my poetry video library.

All poems © David McCord. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved. 

Video and post content © Renee M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.

You may also like...


  1. What an exciting new series, Renee! And here I thought you were lounging on your beautiful waterfront all summer -*snicker.*
    McCord’s poems are stunning- such beautiful rhythms and sounds. I look forward to learning about the others! Thanks!

  2. “…good poems for children are never trivial; they are never written without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work; they must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child.” – D.M.

    I am so grateful to both of you for shining a spotlight on David McCord and on all of our NCTE award winners. It is a true gift for our community and for child and adult readers of the future. I am holding David’s definition of poetry close.

    Listening to Lee, I’m wondering what else we might all do to preserve the voices of poets reading their own poems.

    Thank you both!


    1. Ah, Amy, that’s a good question. My dream would be to do a coast-to-coast poetry video tour, hopping from state to state and poet to poet, gathering poems and poems and poems.

      Wouldn’t that be the best project ever? Sigh.

  3. Thank you Renee and Lee for introducing me to such a wonderful poet. I’ve always been a bit daunted by poetry and now I’ll have a place to learn about excellent children’s poets. What a beautiful definition of poetry.

  4. Such a wonderful post with so many rich teaching ideas, Renee. I’m bookmarking it for the school year. Love this line about the eessence of poetry:
    It is the inevitable said so casually that the reader or listener thinks he said it himself.
    So very true!

  5. “There is nothing dated about David’s work” – perfectly said by Lee. What a terrific start to this series, and so generous of both of you to share with us.

    I hope Lee’s reading of David’s definition of poetry, with the lovely script added by you,Renee, is broadcast in classrooms everywhere. Thank you both, and I look forward to even more gems to come!

  6. Thanks for initiating this series, Renee! I look forward to all of the poet profiles. I especially like McCord’s take on audience when writing:
    “Perhaps the first thing any artist has to learn is to please himself within the framework of whatever medium he’s working in.” So true!

  7. What a fabulous idea to do this series on NCTE poetry winners–looking forward to each and every entry! Thank you, Renee!!!

  8. Renee,
    Thanks so much for supplying great information and preserving children’s poetry history. Thank you for helping us dedicate ourselves to our craft. What a fantastic resource. thanks also to Lee Bennett Hopkins, this is marvellous.
    Will you be including the Opies? I’ve been on a quest to learn more about them.

  9. I am already loving this series! Completely inspiring. I absolutely adore David McCord’s definition of poetry and the extra dose of “special” that came from Lee reading it!
    What a fabulous post!

  10. Had to hold my heart in my hand as I read David McCord’s thoughts about poetry (shared it as well on my Facebook account). And I thought I knew about picture books for children! I haven’t read any of these classic works before. I am also a huge fan of Marc Simont so my eye was caught by “Every Time I climb a Tree” – but like Erik, I fell in love with “Books Fall Open.” Just gorgeous. Your blogposts are always works of art, Renee. Just beautiful.

  11. Renee – love David McCord, especially his Lickety poem! Great start to a wonderful series. I’m looking forward to your posts and Lee’s comments! What a great idea!

  12. This is a wonderful, Renee! David McCord’s poems, thoughts about poetry, and memories from Lee Bennett Hopkins. So much wisdom–“…It is the finishing touch to what one could not finish. It is a hundred things as unexplainable as all our foolish explanations.” Looking forward to the rest of the series. Thank you so much for sharing!

  13. Yay!! You’re back! I loved learning about David McCord and can’t wait for the other profiles. Would you believe I heard about Eve Miriam from my father-in-law a couple of years ago when he took a writing class in his assisted living home? I read the handouts he got of her poetry and loved them so I can’t wait to read what you write about her.

    I really should learn more about the poetry world given that 90% of what I’ve sold to the children’s market is poetry. 🙂 You are a perfect person to learn more from!

  14. Oh this made my day! To have the wealth of knowledge that Lee has and to archive that generous man’s thoughts is SO IMPORTANT! Thank you Renee for doing this. I can’t wait for his thoughts on the other 16 winners. Especially looking forward to the series on Esbensen, Worth and Ciardi. Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. What a huge and fabulous undertaking, Renee! It’s no wonder you’ve been so crazy busy… but all worthwhile, my dear. This first installment was so rich and satisfying! I’d like to stand in the middle of David McCord’s definition of poetry and just let it wash all over me. And I agree with Charles, your own spur-of-the-moment definition of poetry was pretty nifty as well! Thanks for offering such a great service to the whole children’s poetry community.

  16. What a wonderful start to what promises to be a priceless series!

    It was a treat to see and hear Lee talking with such enthusiasm, insight, and knowledge about the marvelous David McCord.

    Congratulations to all involved!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *