“Poetry… is a sculpture of words…”
Welcome to the seventeenth episode of SPOTLIGHT ON NCTE POETS! The videos in this series with Lee Bennett Hopkins are brief and personal looks at all the recipients of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
This series isn’t about analyzing the poets and their work, but rather about preserving Lee’s personal recollections, insights, and memories of each of these amazing people. Through these short interviews, we hope to foster an appreciation of the poets and their work by “reading it and loving it from the heart,” as Lee says.
This installment brings us to a poet known for her keen and gentle observations of nature and all the lovely creatures that inhabit our world.
In 2013, Joyce Sidman became the seventeenth recipient of the NCTE award. As Joyce explains on her website, “From early on, I felt compelled to write. I think a lot of writers are like this. Writing helps us understand the world; we’d be lost without it. I got interested in writing for children after I had my two sons and read them wonderful books every day.”
And aren’t we glad she did! Joyce bounded onto the children’s poetry scene in 2000 with her first collection, Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads. And right off the bat, she seemed to have found her nonfiction nature niche… (Click on pics to enlarge and read).
…that has continued to delight and inform young readers for the past sixteen years (and counting)! As Lee notes in the video, Joyce’s career soared, and in the span of a decade she became one of our most prominent and beloved children’s poets.
To inject a personal note, Joyce is one of the first poets I read and studied when I began writing for children, and it is no exaggeration to say that the musicality and elegance of her work was and still is a major inspiration for me. Joyce has said that “Poetry is so vivid and sleek–like a race car. No extra words. I love using image and metaphor; it’s such a powerful way of explaining your thoughts and feelings.” And that love of language is so very evident in gems like this free verse poem in Eureka! Poems about Inventors — a poem that has stayed with me for years.
See what I mean? The lyricism, the repetition, the build of each stanza, the rhythm created by the form itself — gah! It’s not hard to see why this book is not only a Caldecott Honor Book, but also the winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.
There is so much to love in each new collection. Besides the lyrical lines, I have often been struck by how Joyce plays with form within and between collections. From the inventive concrete poetry in Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry (how sweet is that!)…
…to this riddle-song in Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow…
…to the apology poems in This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, modeled on the poem by William Carlos Williams…
…to the glorious free verse in Red Sings from Treetops: a year in colors, there is always a new form to tantalize the eye and a new tune to delight the ear.
Joyce’s musicality and innate ability to bring fresh perspectives to every subject permeates all of her collections, and Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors is no exception. Savor the gorgeous language in this poem,”The Lichen We.”
“As we are now, so we shall be / (if air is clear and water free).” Sigh.
As if that weren’t wonderful enough, Joyce wrote on, relentlessly besieging us with beauty. Her next collection, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night is both a Newbery Honor Book and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book, obviously because of poems like this:
And no one can deny that Joyce has been extremely fortunate when it comes to illustrators, and has been partnered more than once with the likes of Rick Allen, Beckie Prange (Caldecott Honor, Song of the Water Boatman), Beth Krommes, and Pamela Zagarenski (Caldecott Honor, Red Sings from Treetops). In Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, Beth Krommes gorgeously illustrates the simple but elegant lines…
…and in What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings, a departure from Joyce’s nature-inspired work, Pamela Zagarenski once again brings Joyce’s comforting words to colorful life.
Joyce’s latest offerings continue to stun with their exquisite language and music, as in “Dream of the Tundra Swan” in Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold, with its “yodel of flight” and “the sun’s pale wafer, / the crisp drink of clouds” …
…and in the newly released Before Morning, a child’s invocation for a snow day to spend with her family.
From “Let the air turn to feathers” to “let the sky fill with flurry and flight,” it’s clear that Joyce has brought us another song that will ensure that her poetry will be as enduring as the creatures she writes about, and that she’ll be making kids’ hearts sing for a long, long time.
Lucky for us, Joyce has more poetry coming soon, including the 2017 release of ROUND (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a child’s exploration of things in nature that are round. We can’t wait! In the meantime, Lee’s reflections on Joyce shed light on what inspires this poet and on the many gifts she has already given us!
LEE BENNETT HOPKINS on JOYCE SIDMAN
In Her Own Words: Joyce Sidman on
Poetry and Writing
“Poetry to me is a sculpture of words, carefully constructed to affect the reader’s mind, body, and soul.”
“The natural world, animals, color, the senses, dogs . . . all these things inspire me. I think underneath it is a quest to discover joy and beauty—even if it means wading through darkness and fear—and then write about it as exactly as I can.” (NCTE profile by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young)
“I firmly believe that everyone needs ‘pondering time.’ Time alone, without noise and distraction. This is when ideas come–when things sort themselves out, when you see visions and solutions. Not just for writing, but for life.” (from the author’s website)
“I’ve always been fascinated by words of power, the ones that make you shiver when you hear them. The ones that feel so right, so weighty, that the air seems to tremble around them. Words that can change the way you feel, understand. Words that give you courage. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a book of words like that to turn to in times of need?”
“Poets have to be watchers, seeing the tiny details of their surroundings so they can build poems with them. So I look everywhere: examining this, considering that.” (NCTE profile by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young)
Advice for Budding Poets
“Read lots of poetry! Experiment with different forms. Instead of writing for some nameless child, write for yourself. Write for the child you were and still are.” (NCTE profile by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young)
Teaching Poetry to Children
“Poetry is just another kind of magic—turning one thing into another. Kids only need a slight nudge to realize the power of metaphor and sensory detail. And so many things are waiting in their hearts to be expressed! Kids need to write poetry as well as read it in order to truly understand its power. Have fun, and choose the poems that you love best as your writing models. Your students will catch your excitement.” (NCTE profile by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young)
Here is Joyce’s creepy-crawly reading of her poem “The Ants” from her book Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors.
More about Joyce Sidman
Dates: b. 1956 in Connecticut
Education: Wesleyan University (BA German)
Occupation(s): Writer and poet; teacher
Recognition: 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, Newbery Honor, authored two Caldecott Honor books, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and many other book awards
First book published: Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads (Millbrook Press, 2000)
- NCTE profile by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young
- Joyce’s bio
- See a list of all of Joyce’s books. Click on the book covers to find reading guides and to learn more about the history and awards for each book.
- Peruse Joyce’s pep talk and links for writers.
- Invite Joyce for a Skype visit to your school!
- Many interviews of Joyce are accessible online. Here are a few I like:
WINNERS of the NCTE AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN POETRY FOR CHILDREN
(First links go to NCTE articles about each winner; second links go to NWR video posts)
(Criteria for award)
2015 – Marilyn Singer
2013 – Joyce Sidman
2011 – J. Patrick Lewis | See Pat’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
2009 – Lee Bennett Hopkins | See Lee’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
2006 – Nikki Grimes | See Nikki’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
2003 – Mary Ann Hoberman | See Mary Ann’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
2000 – X.J. Kennedy | See X.J.’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1997 – Eloise Greenfield | See Eloise’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1994 – Barbara Juster Esbensen | See Barbara’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1991 – Valerie Worth | See Valerie’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1988 – Arnold Adoff | See Arnold’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1985 – Lilian Moore | See Lilian’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1982 – John Ciardi | See John’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1981 – Eve Merriam | See Eve’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1980 – Myra Cohn Livingston | See Myra’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT on NWR
1979 – Karla Kuskin | See Karla’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1978 – Aileen Fisher | See Aileen’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1977 – David McCord | See David’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
NEXT IN THE SERIES: MARILYN SINGER
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All poems © Joyce Sidman. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved. Video and post content © Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.
See more poems in my poetry video library.