Hug a tree. Wait for me.
That seems like pretty good advice for just about any occasion. But it’s especially good when you’re lost, as today’s guest
teaches us in a most poetic way.
You might know Margarita as the Newbery Honor-winning poet behind novels in verse like these with lots of fancy stickers…
…and we’ll get to those books in September, since Margarita is coming back to share The Lightning Dreamer, which will be the first verse novel featured on No Water River.
But today Margarita is sharing something completely different. Did you know that when she’s not versifyin’, Margarita helps train rescue dogs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains? Well, she does, and she wrote a picture book about it called When You Wander: A Search-and-Rescue Dog Story. Just look at this dog, so lovingly illustrated by Mary Morgan!
Besides being cute, these rescue dogs are dedicated workers. They have to study really hard.
I would like to go to sniffing school, too. I have a very good nose. Smelling is my best sense. But I would not like to smell your shoes, so my career as a sniffer-outer would be short-lived and not very illustrious.
Anyway, Margarita’s story is written in verse with a delicate sprinkling of rhymes, and is told in the voice of the rescue dog. Here he is practicing his sniffing with his trainer.
I love Margarita’s language, as gentle and warm as a nuzzling pup.
Throughout the story, the dog shows us how he performs his important work. One little sniff of a sock or shoe can reveal a multitude of clues and help the dog save someone who has lost his way.
My favorite spread is near the end when the dog tells the lost boy what to do while he waits for rescue. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead of giving us an excerpt, Margarita reads the whole picture book to us and an attentive audience of her own. Gather your favorite fuzzy friend and settle in. (And turn up your volume, too.)
INTERVIEW with MARGARITA ENGLE
What’s up with Margarita
Margarita: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a poetic fool?
I am the Cuban-American author of historical verse novels about the island. I live in central California, where I enjoy helping my husband with his volunteer work as a wilderness search and rescue dog handler. I have been poetic since childhood, and I grow more foolish every day.
Can you share the first poem you ever wrote?
My first written words were:
Turtle came to see me.
It’s a poem I still haven’t finished. I was probably around four or five. The words were written on a crayon drawing of a rumba dancer holding a magical turtle while standing in front of a windblown tree, beside a shack, a horse, a parrot, and a swan.
I’ve heard rumors that you’ve been hiding under bushes in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Could you explain this behavior and how it might have inspired When You Wander?
I often serve as a volunteer “victim” for my husband’s dogs, and other search and rescue dogs in his SAR training group. Since search and rescue is basically a life-or-death hide and seek game, from the dogs’ point of view, I hide in the forest, and they practice finding me. (They don’t know I wasn’t really lost.)
I decided to write When You Wander after a surprising incident. Three little girls walked up to the training group, burst into tears, and said, “We don’t know where we are.” They didn’t talk to any of the adults in the group, even though many were wearing sheriff’s auxiliary uniforms. Instead, they spoke directly to Chance, my husband’s Yellow Labrador Retriever, who was wearing his orange SEARCH DOG vest. That incident helped me realize that children can often communicate with dogs more easily than with adults. As it turned out, the girls had wandered away from a church camp, walking in wider and wider circles. Their grandparents didn’t even know they were missing, because each adult thought someone else was watching them.
You are the Newbery-Honor winning author of numerous verse novels. Does When You Wander mark a departure for you in terms of genre? How was the process different for you between writing a picture book and a verse novel? Do you have a preference?
I love both forms! The main way in which it was different is the suspense. I work alone on my verse novels, but for a finished picture book, I was part of a team. I had to wait two years before seeing the illustrator’s magic!
When You Wander is written in verse, though not strict rhyming verse. Given that so many picture books rhyme, is rhyme an option you considered?
There is a little bit of rhyme in When You Wander, but I love the subtlety of occasional rhymes, internal rhymes, and almost-rhymes. Getting lost is a serious subject. I didn’t want to make it TOO scary, but I didn’t want it to seem completely cheerful either. The sweetness of the illustrations offer enough cuteness and comfort. Rhyme might have made it too cute.
We know you as an accomplished writer and poet, but surely you did not spring from your publisher’s forehead fully formed. So what was your journey to publication like? When did it all begin, and with which book? Do you still get rejection letters?
For decades, I mostly wrote for adults, and much of it was scientific. While struggling to write a traditional prose novel about Juan Francisco Manzano, I injured my wrists on a rain forest zipline in Costa Rica, and could only hold small books that didn’t weigh much, so I read Karen Hesse’s Witness, and my life changed. The result was The Poet Slave of Cuba. I fell in love with the verse novel form, and I have never returned to prose. It’s like an evolutionary pathway, or Robert Frost’s Road Less Traveled. There’s no going back.
Most of my picture book ideas have been rejected! I currently have several PBs “in the pipeline,” but I have many more in a huge rejection pile. My first PB, Summer Birds: the Butterflies of Maria Merian, rested in a drawer for a quarter of a century before finding a publisher. Manuscripts seem to have minds of their own. Some of them are shy.
Do you have formal training in poetry and/or did you have a mentor? How did this shape your writing?
Tomás Rivera was my mentor. I took his graduate creative writing seminar at U.C. Riverside, where I was a botany Ph.D. candidate, and he was not only the first Latino Chancellor of a University of California campus, but also the author of Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra/And The Earth Did Not Swallow Him, a pioneering bilingual coming of age story. He had worked his way up from a childhood of migrant farm labor. He taught me to never worry about getting published, but just write from the heart. To this day, I still feel wonderful when I communicate with groups of writers who talk about writing, and I feel horrible when they talk about “marketing.” It feels like an ancient treasure is being ignored, while its trendy modern packaging is admired. (Did I mention that I never finished that Ph.D., but became a full-time writer instead?)
What advice would you give to budding poets/PB writers?
Scribble from the heart. Practice. Don’t expect quick results. Musicians rehearse. Athletes train. Writers scribble. If over your lifetime, you manage to publish ten percent of what you scribble, that’s a pretty good success rate!
Is there anything you know now that you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
I have learned everything the hard way, through trial and error, so now I have several solemn agreements with myself. These agreements help me maintain the peace of mind I need for scribbling poetry in a writer’s real world, the solitary environment of the blank page. One agreement is to try to be content with any level of success, rather than always wishing for more. Another is to try to go where I’m invited, but always reserve time for scribbling, rather than constantly soliciting speaking opportunities. The most important is to read poetry every day.
If you could get lost in the woods with any children’s poet (living or otherwise), who would it be and why, and what would the two of you do while waiting for the rescue dogs?
For a dead poet, I would choose Federico García Lorca, so that I could ask him how he managed to find the strength to make Caracola (Conch Shell) both joyful and wistful, while suffering such terrible persecution during the Spanish Civil War.
For a living poet, Janet Wong, please. I would enjoy listening to her read every poem in her exquisite collection, Night Garden, especially the last poem, in which she speaks of a place where puppies never grow old.
Quick: a rhyming couplet (or haiku or free verse or whatever!) using the word “rescue.”
Okay, here’s a spontaneous dog walking tanka, with an almost-rhyme:
from too much time
I follow the dogs
while their noses explore
Can we come visit you and peruse your wares?
Blog: No, just occasional guest blogs
Facebook author page: Just a regular FB page, so that we can be friends, not mutual followers.
Twitter: Never, I’m far too electronically challenged! I can’t even figure out how to use my dumb phone, much less a smart one.
Pinterest: Sorry, I have not yet time-traveled to a century where I could understand what this means.
Other: Really, there’s more?
Thanks for stopping by, Margarita, and for adding When You Wander to No Water River’s growing video poetry library!
Thank you! It was a privilege, and such delightful fun!
Extension Activities for When You Wander
- Margarita’s book When You Wander is a poem written in the voice of a dog. Write a “day in the life” poem from the point of view an animal. Think about all the things the animal might do during its day. Some questions you might ask yourself are: What is the animal’s “job”? How does it get food? How does it socialize? What is it good at? What are its dominant features or characteristics? Write in free verse!
- Follow When You Wander with Margarita’s chapter book Mountain Dog (coming August 2013).
- Follow When You Wander with Margarita’s chapter book Mountain Dog (coming August 2013).
- Give your dog a treat by making one of these nine recipes for canine cookies.
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Video Location: The mountains of California.See more poems in my poetry video library.
“When You Wander: A Search-and-Rescue Dog Story” © Margarita Engle. All illustrations © Mary Morgan. All rights reserved.
What a beautiful post – I would hug a tree to wait for Margarita and any dog she chooses! Thank you for this sweet and informative celebration of these special dogs and this beloved author. I am enchanted by the visiting turtle…. xo, a.
I know! I want to know more about the turtle!
I loved this post! So much wisdom here for writers (and everyone else). Thanks, Renee, and congratulations on your beautiful new book, Margarita!
Margarita’s interview is one of my favorites. So many pearls of wisdom, indeed!
I would love to smell like cinnamon cookies and books!
What a LOVELY story and interview.
I don’t wear perfume, Cathy, but I always thought that if I did, it would have to be vanilla scented. Because who wouldn’t want to go around smelling like cake?
This post was worth waiting for. Thank you Renée and Margarita. This book would warm my animal-lovers heart, I am sure…. what sweet verse, and I love how this post is peppered with good advice, from tree-hugging, to homemade dog biscuits to write-on!
PS I was already an Engle fan!
I knew you’d like this one, Joanna!
And here I thought she HAD sprung from her publisher’s forehead fully formed.
Love your interview! So nice to get to learn about Margarita and the way she approaches her writing and life. I look forward to finding out what happens to the turtle!
What a lovely book- clearly written from the heart- and the illustration of the child hugging the tree is irresistible! Thanks to you both!
Beautiful book with a very important topic! I like how you used sparse words, and the illustrations are gorgeous! Congratulations, Margaret! Thanks for sharing, Renee!
This is one of my favorite NWR interviews too! I love the gentle wisdom and humility of this poet. Margarita is a master of the verse novel, and it was such a treat to learn more about her and her new book. Beautiful job of introducing her and thanks for sharing those wonderful interior spreads. 🙂
Isn’t the interview lovely? Margarita is such a generous person/writer, and it comes through in every word.
What a beautiful post. I’ve read books on rescue dogs, but they were non-fiction. I loved the gentle flow of words as Margarita shared her book. A child would love her new book. Such a treat. And, I enjoyed the interview — especially the advice given to her from a mentor: He taught me “to never worry about getting published, but just write from the heart.” Great advice!
My boys have enjoyed WHEN YOU WANDER several times already, and ask lots of questions about it.
I can’t wait to read all of these. What a wonderful interview.
Another wonderful post! Thank you!
Wonderful post! I want to go and find every one of her books and read, read, read.
That’s what I’m doing too, Doraine. 🙂
I love meeting new-tome authors on your site. Sitting next to my dog, I listened to Margarita read her lovely book. I will definitely check out her other books, too.
I love the message of this book! It is so important.
What an insightful, delightful, generous post! Thanks, Renée, and I’ll definitely point folks back here when Margarita graces my blog soon.
Beyond the fantastic book, I was taken by 1.) the story of the frightened child who trusted a dog in a vest over official looking grown-ups, and 2.) the reactions of Chance and Maggie – their facial expressions and body language – during the video. (Teddy bailed early.) So, if someone is reading this comment and didn’t pay attention to the dogs during Margarita’s wonderful reading, go back and enjoy! I think Maggie was on the verge of reading the text out loud herself. ;0)
Maggie is adorable! I loved watching the dogs, too. 🙂
(P.S. And I’ll link back to YOUR post when Margarita comes back in September!)
Thanks for another great interview!
I know, I’m very late, but wanted to thank you anyway, Renee, for a good interview and for helping to share this wonderful picture book. Since we go on so many outdoor trips with our students, we emphasize that if they feel they are ‘lost’, they should stay put and hug a tree-great advice, and so important!
Such an interesting interview and lovely book! Thanks, Renee and Margarita.
delightful post. fascinated with the rescue dogs. and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land
This book is such a great gift for a family with young children. I bought one copy already but need to buy a second one for another family!
And YES: if I were lost in the woods, Margarita, you would be my first choice of a friend to have near–because I know we would soon be found by Chance and Maggie!
What a wonderful book and a completely inspiring interview. Thank you Renee and Margarita. I absolutely loved this post. Thank you for linking in to the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
Stopping by from the blog hop to say hello! Great post, and although I don’t have a dog, I love how you had dog biscuit recipes along with your review and interview. The cover of this book really draws you in and it is interesting that the author trains rescue dogs :0)
There is nothing I like more than a good rescue dog story (and therapy dogs too) and this one sounds wonderful.
Thanks so much for sharing this with us and for the excellent, informative interview with Margarita Engle. I have so much respect for these dogs and their trainers.
This sounds like such a great book. Thanks! I stopped by from the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
Gorgeous illustrations and beautiful lines. I love how the author explains how she was inspired to write ‘When you wander’ after seeing three lost girls talking to the rescue dog.
Wow! that is such a good book. I would love to read this and all the others listed here as well. Thanks for sharing this on the blog hop! I love the rhyme and illustrations. The words are easy to read for younger kids like DD.
That is one adorable book – the illustrations are so good! Renee, you ask the best questions in your author interviews! lol If I was playing the role of the one being rescued, I’m sure I’d bring along a good book! 🙂 Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop!
What a great inspiring post. Dogs have so much distinctive talents. It’s lovely to see them from the dogs point of view.
Maybe you’ve already written a post about it, but how do can one start a poem. It’s totally not in my ally and I would love to try it once. Got some tips?