Poetry Month 2012: Laura Purdie Salas

[heading style=”1″]Poetry Month 2012: EPISODE 3[/heading]

While the first week of Poetry Month brought us careering hamsters and naked sheep, today’s offering takes us into the world of books — and not just any old books, either. These are living, breathing, talking books, and they’ve got stuff to tell us!

So let’s get right to it!

Please welcome

An accomplished poet, teacher, and mentor, Laura has authored over 100 books for children, the latest of which is A Leaf Can Be . . . . In this nonfiction book, Laura uses spare and winsome verse to show us all the roles a leaf can play, like “shade spiller” and “mouth filler,” all accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations of Violeta Dabija.

A Leaf Can Be
Text copyright © 2012 Laura Purdie Salas, illustrations © Violeta Dabija, Millbrook Picture Books. All rights reserved.

Then there’s BookSpeak!: Poems About Books, another beautiful picture book full of whimsical (and wacky) poems in which characters, book jackets, spines, and more tell us what’s on their minds.

Also a really good sport, Laura thought nothing of standing in the snow (without a coat!) to bring us today’s poem. And considering it’s about a book’s worst fear, it seems fitting that a light snow began to fall as she was reading. Let’s hope the book was wearing a jacket, at least!

…and now, direct from snowy Minnesota, here’s Laura with a poem from BookSpeak!


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I swallow up dragons and
cannons and

I don’t fear old mansions
with slow, creaking

I quite like the dark—
murky midnight’s no

The one thing I fear
is the feeling of—


When puddles attack me or
raindrops are

they leave me quite soggy—
they turn me all

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 [heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Laura Purdie Salas[/heading]

What’s Up with Laura

Laura: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I am a jack-of-all-word-trades who loves to write for kids. I live in the frozen north, a.k.a. Minnesota, though it has not been very frozen this winter. I was born and grew up in Florida, and I did not come to Minnesota for warm winters. Anyway, I have been a fool all my life, but the rhyming part only started up about ten years ago. I’ve been writing for kids for about eighteen years, and before that, I edited and wrote for grown-ups.

The book in your poem really doesn’t like the water! Did the idea come to you after a too-long bath when your fingers and toes were all pruney?
You’re close! “Hydrophobiac” was born of the many books I ruined (particularly library books that subsequently became my books since I had to pay for them) by reading them in the tub. And occasionally by taking walks and reading when it was sprinkling. Barely misting, I tell you! I love to write poems that come from my real-life experiences, and when I asked myself what a book might be afraid of, the first answer that popped into my head, sadly, was “Me.” I decided to put all the blame on water in the poem, however.  :>)

Your book BookSpeak! contains poems about books (waterlogged and not), while your new book, A Leaf Can Be…, has a focus on nature. Still other books focus on pets, transportation, space, weather…for heaven’s sake, how many poetry books have you written, anyway?! Do you find writing many poems on the same theme challenging or liberating?
I have twelve poetry collections (plus two how-to-write poetry books) out: BookSpeak!, Stampede!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, and a set of ten collections for Capstone Press. Plus A Leaf Can Be…, which is rhyming nonfiction and which many people consider to be a single poem. I adore writing a bunch of poems on the same theme/topic. It’s so fun to brainstorm all the possible angles. It’s hard to decide on just one poem for a topic, so collections are completely necessary!

The Capstone collections were an assignment that I accepted, and the publisher picked the ten topics. (I do a lot of writing, mostly nonfiction books, for educational publishers, which are assigned books.) Some I adored, like space, pets, and weather. Others I really struggled with, like food, the rain forest — and don’t even get me started on school.

I wrote BookSpeak! and Stampede! and then sold them to a publisher. BookSpeak! was a joy to write: poems and books — how could I go wrong? And I loved Stampede! too. That one was inspired by my daughter, who had two teeth pulled and stuck straws in the gaps. She looked like a walrus, and I started writing kid-animal poems.

What is your favorite part about being a children’s writer, other than masquerading as a warped and wrinkled tome?
Hehe. OK, my very favorite part is just the time I get to actually write, which is not very often. But I like other parts, too. Doing school visits and young authors conferences are great, because my own daughters are now 16 and 19. So I need fresh meat inspiration! Lisa Bullard and I run Mentors for Rent, an hourly mentoring service for children’s writers, and it’s incredibly satisfying to work with other kids’/YA writers that way. And I love going to conferences and connecting with other writers, editors, educators, and readers, usually in some setting involving yummy food. And, I’m not gonna lie, the occasional honor is lovely! BookSpeak! has gotten some nice recognition, and since most of my books disappear without making a ripple, it is a wonderful feeling when one gets a bit of love.

Do you have formal training in writing poetry?
Nope. I was a Creative Writing major, and I think I took one poetry class, but I don’t really remember it…

What is your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
Write fast! Read poetry books! Don’t judge yourself!

What’s your best advice for poets who want to get their poetry published (other than don’t bother)? 
Hehe. You read my mind. Kidding! But publishing poetry is incredibly tough. Polish your work — I hope that goes without saying. Get feedback on your work. Come up with original concepts. A collection of, say, animal poems is almost impossible to sell. Become part of the online community. That’s led to some really nice relationships, which in turn have sometimes had the bonus of leading to some publishing opportunities (not of books, but of being in anthologies, magazines, etc.). Study the market and submit professionally. Be patient. Do not hold breath. (Sigh. Sorry. I don’t mean to be negative. Publishing your poetry is a fantastic goal. But know that you’re in for a long haul.)

If you could recommend that children read one book of children’s poetry, or one children’s poet in particular, which or whom would it be?
Now you’re just torturing me. I’m going with a deceased poet, because I know too many fabulous very-much-alive poets and can’t choose just one. So I’m going to recommend Swing Around the Sun: Poems by Barbara Juster Esbensen. It’s a gorgeous, amazing picture book of seasonal poetry with stunning art. And a talk by Barbara at a writing conference is what first inspired me to think about writing poetry for kids, so this picture book holds a dear place in my heart.

Finally, Laura, can we come visit you and peruse your wares? (Online, of course, not at your house! Unless you’re planning a big water fight, in which case…how many buckets should we bring?)
Yes, please do come. Feel free to bring a squirt gun — I’ll only get out the plastic tub books, I promise!

I have all sorts of goodies at my site: teaching guides, book trailers, excerpts, info about school visits, and so on. I’d love for you to come visit. I also have a section of articles for aspiring poets. Or wander around and check out my workbook on writing nonfiction books for the children’s educational market if you’re not so much on the poetic side of things.  :>)

At my blog, I share poems, tales of my writing life, and occasionally poetry activities for teachers. I’d like to beef up that aspect of my blog, in fact. Every Thursday, I have 15 Words or Less Poem day, where people drop by and write a quick poem based on a picture I post. Fast, easy, no revision, no pressure. Just a fun start to the day. Everybody’s welcome! (And it’s a great way to exercise Laura’s advice to kids: Write fast! Don’t judge yourself!)

Here are all the places you can find me:

Author website: LauraSalas.com
Poetry blog: Laura Salas: Writing the World for Kids
Facebook author page: LauraPSalas
Mentors for Rent site: MentorsForRent.com

Laura, it has been a great pleasure getting to know you and your work. Thank you so much for braving the cold and adding “Hydrophobiac” to the video library here at No Water River. I appreciate your taking the time to be a part of it. 

Thanks for having me, Renée! And thanks for forcing me to jump into the waters of video readings. What a great resource you’re building here!

[heading style=”1″]More Stuff About Laura[/heading]

[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “Hydrophobiac”[/heading]

  • Laura has put together an excellent BookSpeak! Reading Guide, with all sorts of discussion questions and activities for 2nd to 5th grade. For “Hydrophobiac,” she asks what other things a book might be afraid of.
  • Have students write a poem in the voice of an inanimate object, showing what that object is afraid of.
  • Show students some fascinating videos about how books are made. BrainPickings.org provides four bookmaking videos that show the process in medieval times, 1947, 1961, and today.
  • ThinkQuest offers step-by-step instructions for making all sorts of books, including peek-a-boo, double hinge, pull tab, and pop-up books.
  • Kid’s Science Experiments has a quick and easy paper plunge experiment showing how it’s possible to put paper in water without getting the paper wet
  • Kids will be amazed at this quick video showing them how to make a paper flower bloom in water.
Laura Purdie Salas Book Covers
Just a tiny tiny tiny fraction of Laura's many books!

[heading style=”1″]Coming Up Next![/heading]

will be stopping in to brighten up our Friday the 13th!

Here’s the whole schedule:

April 2 ~ Kenn Nesbitt 
April 6 ~ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater 
April 9 ~ Laura Purdie Salas
April 13 ~ Deborah Diesen
April 16 ~ Greg Pincus
April 18 ~ Charles Waters
April 20 ~ Irene Latham
April 23 ~ Julie Larios
April 27 ~ Lee Wardlaw
April 30 ~ J. Patrick Lewis


Video Location: Snowbank in Minnesota, where we can only assume no books were harmed during the making of this film.

See more poems in my poetry video library. 

“Hydrophobiac” copyright © Laura Purdie Salas, from BookSpeak! Poems about Books (Clarion, 2011). All rights reserved

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  1. I was comforted to know that we may assume all books remained undamaged during filming!

    I enjoyed hearing Hydrophobiac, but I so, so so want to read “A Leaf Can Be”! It has been receiving such a good buzz around the interwebs.

    “Write fast! Read poetry books! Don’t judge yourself!” What great advice. i think too much revision early on is a killer!

    1. Thanks, Joanna! I have to really consciously turn off that critic in my head for early drafts, and the only way I’ve found so far that works for me is to outrun it. Write so fast it can’t keep up:>)

      I hope you get to see LEAF soon. Maybe your library can request it?

  2. Okay I just popped back and so pleased to see you still doing video clips Renee… Loved the poem Laura. Can’t believe how cold it looks, when I have just had a lovely summer Easter weekend…lol.

    1. Thanks, patientdreamer. And I did record this back in March. In fact, we had a bit of snow and I knew it was going to melt that afternoon, so I raced right out to record this while there was still snow on the ground. Easter was windy, sunny, and a bit chilly–but definitely not snowy!

  3. Laura has so many things to offer about poetry, a gift treasure! Thanks for sharing more of your wonderful book, Laura, & Renee, for bringing that interview to us too. I love to read in the tub, & haven’t dropped many, but a few books have sadly splashed, & as quickly replaced! Fun to hear the book’s point of view.

    1. Thanks, Linda, for all the kind words!

      I usually don’t actually drop the books, but, you know, I turn the pages with damp hands (even though I do use the handtowel I put on the tub ledge) and I run the tub so hot that the whole room is steamy…so the books end up all wrinkly…

      The only time I’ve ever been really bothered by it was when I didn’t buy a signed book at a signing because I was pretty broke and I had the book just checked out of the library. Then I did water damage and had to buy it, of course. Felt bad that if I was going to pay for the book, I hadn’t just done it by supporting the author at the signing event!

      Lesson learned:>) I rarely read in the tub anymore…sigh.

  4. I like the poem! And the video of Ms. Salas saying her poem! Poor book. He’s not afraid of things we’re afraid of, but he is afraid of something we’re not afraid of. Love the Q & As! 🙂
    Can’t wait ’till Friday!

    1. Thanks, Erik! I’m so glad you liked it! I did a school visit yesterday, and the kids were great at doing sound effects when we read this poem together–they boomed for the cannon and creaked for the door and splashed for the water, etc.

  5. Laura’s reading of Hydrophobiac added that little something special to my day. I just love the videos! Getting to hear the authors read their poems brings them to life. I look forward to checking out her books. A Leaf Can Be . . . may just find a home on my personal shelves. I love the sound of it.

  6. Laura is a force of nature in the children’s poetry world. A dynamo is who never fails to entertains, she’s also a caring, sharing person. Quite a combination that Salas!

  7. I sympathize with Laura – my books are afraid of water, too – along with being afraid of dogs (our much-loved but crazy cocker spaniel chewed up a few) and road trips (“Oh, no! I must have left that book on the log at the beach!”) and black holes (“I’ve looked everywhere – turned the house upside down – looked under sofa cushions, looked under the beds, looked in the basement, looked in the car and under the car seats and in the car trunk — and I still can’t find it – where could it be????”)

    Great poem and video, Laura! (Brrrrr – that snow!) Thanks again, Renee.

    1. Julie, thanks! And love the idea of books being lost in/afraid of black holes. I have had several over the years that have seemingly been sucked into nothingness…so frustrating. Oh, and now I’m picturing books at some kind of support group where they discuss their fears. Or in a post-traumatic stress therapy session. Oh man, I’ve got to go write…

  8. I love learning from Laura…and this interview is no exception. What great advice for young readers, and today’s poem is fantastic. Laura, I admit to being a bathtub reader…many of my books are all wobbly-looking. Could it be they fear me? 🙂 I am now thinking, “Yes.” Thank you to both of you for this post, one I’ll definitely share with teachers! a.

  9. I am blown away by what you are doing for National Poetry Month! The videos, the interviews and the resources!! Ethan and Arthur are going to love experimenting with those blooming paper flowers. Ethan is enjoying the videos, he’s a visual learner and this has been a great way for him to experience poetry. Thank you, Renee!

  10. I too have had books that have experienced near-drownings in the bathtub. I’ve rescued them, dried them out and still enjoyed them wrinkles and all! 😉

    A Leaf Can Be and Bookspeak look delicious–rich in both words and art. I am looking forward to reading them both.

  11. The books at my house are afraid of my coffee cups! I have spilled more cups of coffee myself than my kids have accidentally spilled after I have left them out. Luckily, I have never spilled them on a library book — just my own. Probably the worst incident was when I spilled a cup over a stack of photobooks that my wife had customized and had printed for my kids. Yikes!

    Loved the poem — loved hearing Laura share, but felt sorry for her standing in the snow!

    1. Hi Eric–Oh NO on the personalized photobooks. At least when I ruin a library book, it’s impersonal and they just take the fee. No baleful looks or heavy sighs:>)

      It wasn’t really too cold. It was in the 40s, I think, and I was rushing to record the poem before the snow melted that afternoon!

      It’s fun hearing what everyone’s books are afraid of!

  12. What a great interview, Renee and Laura! Thanks for sharing! A Leaf Can Be looks absolutely beautiful!!! I love the idea of non-fiction and poetry together and the art is gorgeous! Another book present for my granddaughter… ? 🙂

  13. Wonderful interview, I can so relate to the damaged picture books, having a three year old and a puppy about the place. Yikes!

    I love poetry collections too, but unfortunately the one that is ready is zoo animals lol. I’d better get doing some on other subjects as a back up.

    Love that poem btw!

  14. Love, LOVE this post and Laurie Purdie Salas. I find it so inspiring (and a bit of a relief) that she confesses to having no formal poetry training. I want to write more poetry too but sometimes feel intimidated. Nice to know it’s possible!

    Thanks again Renee for a great series!

  15. Great reading and video. I don’t think I’d be able to read in the snow without my teeth chattering, and you did such a beautiful job, Laura. At my house, books most fear my toddler twins. My older children are always having to rescue their books from them. (Although being eaten by a baby is also a form of wetness.)

  16. I confess that I, too, have had to leave books out in the sun to dry. Great interview and poem, Laura & Renee! Laura, I student-taught eons ago in Minneapolis and remember having recess at -30 degrees! Congrats on all your books!

  17. I have several books that have suffered near-death experiences thanks to small children and water so the books in my library are pretty hydrophobic.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful poem. My oldest has really gotten into writing poetry this month; I think he’ll really enjoy reading this poem when he gets home today. He wrote a poem earlier this month from the point of view of a paracord bracelet.

  18. Write fast! Read poetry books! Don’t judge yourself!

    As we all know, so much harder to do than it sounds! We are still enjoying “Bookspeak” in our classroom, and Laura has, not surprisingly, inspired some fabulous poetry in my classroom already!

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