Lee Wardlaw

Poetry Month 2012: Lee Wardlaw

[heading style=”1″]Poetry Month 2012: EPISODE 9[/heading]

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Done? Purr…fect. Now, curl your paws and lick your whiskers, because today’s poet brings us some furry verses guaranteed to make you blink slowly but knowingly!

Furry purrs to

Lee Wardlaw

The author of over two dozen books for children and teens in every genre there is, Lee has won a litter box full of awards and honors, including the 2012 Lee Bennet Hopkins Poetry Award for her most recent picture book, Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku.

Since Lee is sharing verses from this book, I’m making this post pull double duty as a Poetry Month feature and a selection for Perfect Picture Book Friday, hosted by Susanna Hill. As such, I need to include some stats:

[heading style=”1″]The Goods[/heading]

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, Eugene YelchinWritten by: Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by: Eugene Yelchin
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (2011)
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4+
Themes/Topics: Cats, cat behavior, animal shelters, friendship, new home, emotions

Synopsis: from Amy Shojai, cat behavior expert: “This lovely book…painlessly educates children to basic cat behaviors and emotions, teaches empathy, and celebrates the gift of saving a life. Each short verse details one aspect of a shelter cat’s journey from a cage to finally embracing his new life and family with trust and love.”

Why I Like Love This Book: A “tough” Siamese cat with a huge personality + funny verse + witty and wonderful illustrations + an endearing story = perfect picture book! Okay, here’s a sneak peek at one scene…just look at that poor kitty behind bars!

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, Eugene Yelchin

…and now, all the way from Cat-ifornia, here’s Lee with…

selections from

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

selections from Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

Nice place they got here
Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home!
Or so I’ve been told.

Gypsy on my left.
Pumpkin, my right. Together,
we are all alone.

Latch squeaks. Door swings wide.
Free! Free at last! Yet, one claw
snags, clings to what’s known.

Help! I’ve been catnapped,
dressed in frillies, forced to lap
tea with your sister!

Wait! Let me back in!

Your tummy, soft as
warm dough. I knead and knead, then
bake it with a nap.

 [heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Lee Wardlaw[/heading]

Lee Wardlaw and Koloa

What’s Up with Lee

Lee: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I wrote my first poem – a haiku – in third grade. (I suspect that every public elementary school in the 1960s was required by law to teach haiku as a way for children to learn syllabification.) I penned my first rhyming poem soon after; it was called “The Midnight Ride of Mouse Revere” (The cats are coming! The cats are coming!), and I’ve been hooked on poetry ever since!

As to who I am: I’m a girl (a woman, actually), even though my first name is Lee. (I get a lot of fan mail addressed to MISTER Lee Wardlaw!) I live in Santa Barbara, CA, with my husband (a surfer and winemaker); our teenage son, Patterson (a voracious reader who is annoyed that I write picture books and humorous contemporary novels instead of stuff like Harry Potter, The Maze Runner, or The Hunger Games); and our two former shelter cats. The latter are fond of leaving lizard and gopher parts on our back door mat for me to step on in my bare feet. My main job in life, other than writing books and embarrassing my son, is serving as the official door opener/closer for our cats, who when they are in, want out; and when they are out, want in.

One time a little black cat followed me home, and I only had to call it 1,256,721 times. Was it a similar experience that inspired you to write Won Ton? And why did you choose to write this kitty’s story in haiku/senryu? Are your other PBs in verse?
HA! That’s how my brother convinced a Siamese cat to come home with him when I was in fifth grade. The cat came complete with a powder blue, bejeweled collar. We named him Kiki. He was weird. He ate wool. When he polished off the pockets on my winter coat AND a portion of my mother’s new drapes, Mom took him to the Humane Society.

I don’t think my brother ever forgave her…

(That’s pawful!)

Three of my picture books are in rhyme (Peek-A-Book, Saturday Night Jamboree, and First Steps), but Won Ton is my first book told in a series of linked poems.

Won Ton is based on a true story. Eight years ago, Patterson’s best buddy, our cat Beau, died of cancer. We were all devasted – especially Patterson, because he and Beau had literally grown up together. After a few months of mourning, Patterson suggested we adopt a new cat, so we visited our local animal shelter to “interview” kittens. The selection process resembled something out of “The Story of the Three Bears”:

“That one is too shy, Mom. This one bites. Ewww! – that one is napping in his litter box! But this one…ohhh, this one is just right.”

We adopted “the one” – a cute striped Tabby with an orange tummy – and brought him home, where he skittered under a bed and hid for two days. Patterson lured him out at last by dangling a shell lei, so we ended up naming him (the cat, not my son) Papaya.

It was a slow process, but as the days and weeks passed, Papaya gradually adjusted to his new surroundings. Soon, he and Patterson became comrades-in-paws – snuggling together under blankets, reading together, playing “Chase the Ping-Pong Ball,” even lapping out of the same cereal bowl! – and I had a great idea for a new picture book.

But how best to tell the story of a boy, his cat, and their growing friendship?

At first, I tried traditional prose – too humdrum. Then I tried rhyme. Too cutesy and too young: I wanted this book to appeal to all ages.

Then, one day, I thought of haiku. Cats are haiku: they are both deceptively simple; they both live in the moment; and they both speak volumes in a few meows. (Haiku aren’t furry, but hey, you can’t have everything.)

If Papaya could talk human, I KNEW he would tell his tale in this elegant, unembellished form of poetry. And the rest is history…

Among the more than two dozen children’s books you’ve written are nine picture books. I can’t imagine they’re all about spunky kitties (though that would be fine by me!). Can you tell us a bit about the subjects that make you purr with inspiration, and how you first scratched your way to publication?
The first picture book I ever sold was Tales of Grandpa Cat, illustrated by the late New York cartoonist Ronald Searle. Grandpa Cat was not (surprise!) inspired by a cat, but by my maternal grandfather, who was the Best. Storyteller. Ever. I’ve done one dog story, too (much to the chagrin of our dog-disdaining felines): Bow-Wow Birthday, which was inspired by a party I attended for a canine who was turning 100 (in dog years!). The catalyst (no pun intended) for the majority of my picture books, though, is my son. Watching him learn to walk inspired First Steps; his habit of making mealtime a full-body experience (complete with oatmeal on his head) became The Chair Where Bear Sits; and our bedtime routine turned into Peek-a-Book.

I taught elementary school for three years and preschool for two, so I started out writing what I call VBPB’s: Very Bad Picture Books. (They mostly featured walking, talking inanimate objects.) I mean, everything you could do wrong when writing a picture book, I did with gusto! So I decided to try my hand at writing for older readers. My family’s home and our neighborhood had been completely destroyed in a wildfire, so I wrote a young adult novel called Corey’s Fire, about a 14-year-old girl who experiences a similar tragedy. It took me three years to sell that book, but it was eventually plucked from the slush pile! My first sale. Wow. Heady stuff! That was 25+ years ago…

Lee's work shoes
Lee's work shoes

What is your favorite part about being a children’s writer, other than receiving a warm bowl of milk and a scritch behind the ears (as if those weren’t reward enough!)? 

1. Going to work in my kitty slippers.
2. Getting fan mail.
3. Meeting my fans at school visits.
4. Creating characters who I think would be fun to meet in real life.
5. Working at home so that I can take a nap every day with my cats!


Do you have formal training in writing poetry/PBs?
No formal training, although I’ve taken a couple of small writing workshops and classes from children’s poets, such as Ann Whitford Paul and Ellen Kelley. And I read, read, read a lot of poetry.

What’s your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
Read, write, repeat. Read, write, repeat.

What’s your best advice for poets/writers who want to get their poetry (or rhyming/verse PB) published (other than “don’t bother”)?
See my answer, above! (Also, please don’t try to be another Dr. Seuss. Find your own voice and style!)

Can you recommend a particular book of children’s poetry, or a particular poet, that you think children should read? Why that book or poet?
Well, just about anything by Lee Bennett Hopkins, of course! I also love the work of Kristine O’Connell George…and Valerie Worth…and Thalia Chaltas (her YA novel Because I Am Furniture is powerful and poignant) and Joan Bransfield Graham (her shape poems are fun!) and…I could go on and on. A great resource that I highly recommend is Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry by Myra Cohn Livingston.

Can we come visit you and peruse your wares? (Online, of course, not at your house! Then again, if we slink around and purr softly, you might not even notice us. Hmm…party at Lee’s! BYOC – Bring Your Own Catnip.)
Yes, please stop by! I guarantee cat fur on your sweater!

I have stuff on my site for teachers and librarians and children…oh, my! The site will be revamped this summer, with info for parents, too. I have teacher’s guides available for almost all of my books; I even have a recipe for my famous Kitty Litter Cake! Kids should click on the Just for Kids icon on my home page; there, they’ll find ongoing contests, recommended books, and other resources for young writers; info about me, my life, and my books (suitable for book reports!); and 101 Ways to Bug an Author (a.k.a. ME!).

Here’s the info:

Author website: LeeWardlaw.com
Facebook author page: Lee Wardlaw

Thanks for stopping by, Lee, and for adding furry tufts of Won Ton to No Water River’s growing video poetry library!
Thank you for inviting me!

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

[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku[/heading]

Books by Lee Wardlaw
Some of Lee's many books!

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

Children’s Poet Laureate
stops in on Monday to send us off in style!

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: Kitty-Cat Central, first stop on the Tabby Town Line, Santa Barbara, Catifornia!

See more poems in my poetry video library. 

Selections from Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku copyright © 2011 Lee Wardlaw. Published by Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved.