“I think of language
as a vast treasury…“
Welcome to the thirteenth 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 beloved poet, anthologist, and educator who has been giving us the gift of her poetry for almost sixty years.
Mary Ann Hoberman
In 2003, Mary Ann Hoberman became the thirteenth recipient of the NCTE award. She is also the first in our series to have served as the United States Children’s Poet Laureate, from 2008 to 2011. Here’s a charming video of Mary Ann speaking about winning that honor.
My research into the NCTE poets is always an eye-opening experience, both for the historical nature of it and for the invaluable lessons I learn about writing along the way. As I looked at book after book by Mary Ann Hoberman, the same thoughts kept popping into my mind: 1) Why didn’t I think of that? and 2) I wish I had written that.
I’m sure all writers have those moments. But what stood out most for me is Hoberman’s consistent perfection of rhythm and simplicity in every single book. Her poems flow like honey. They are crafted so beautifully and read so naturally. As I toiled over my own collection this summer, I would sometimes stop and think how very tortured my efforts were. Then I’d pick up a Hoberman book and think: simplify. Let the rhythms and sounds do the work. (P.S. Thank you, Mrs. Hoberman!)
And that, apparently, is what Hoberman has been doing since she first put pen to paper. Mary Ann’s first published collection, All My Shoes Come in Twos, hit the shelves in 1957, illustrated by her husband Norman. (See a video of Mary Ann reading this book at Poetry Foundation.) (click graphics to enlarge and read):
Eventually, Mary Ann’s volunteer work with the Literacy Volunteers of America inspired her to create the fantastic series You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You. Essentially collections of poems for two voices written in simple, short phrases, these books encourage young readers to read out loud together.
In between and after, Hoberman delighted with book after book of perfect verse with her trademark humor, wit, and wordplay…
…her seemingly effortless rhythm and unique perspectives on a vast array of topics, including families big, small…
… and silly…
…and her wonderful picture books that combine sweet stories with rollicking rhyme and memorable characters, as in this amusing retelling of the Pied Piper story…
…and this gem that features the spiffy dog Oliver Tolliver and gorgeous illustrations by Marjorie Priceman.
Hoberman also dipped into anthologies, offering us such important collections as 2012’s Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, and The Tree That Time Built, which was a 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor book.
And then there’s the collection of one hundred of Mary Ann’s own poems, brought together in 2006 in the delightful book The Llama Who Had No Pajama. The poem featured below is “Hello and Good-By,” first printed in 1959 in a collection of the same name. It is the perfect example of one of those “why didn’t I write that” poems! I adore the concept, the rhythm, the repetition, the images, the schoolyard-song quality in the child’s voice. Perfection!
For me, though, one of the biggest jewels in the crown of Hoberman’s work is the ridiculously charming A House Is a House for Me, which won the National Book Award in 1983. It’s adorable, not to mention a favorite read-aloud with my boys. Once again, that impeccable rhythm carries you along — and what fun it is for kids to think of other types of houses for other types of creatures!
And now on to the show! Lee’s reflections on Mary Ann Hoberman shed light on what inspires this poet to write — and how she has in turn inspired generations of readers for almost sixty years.
LEE BENNETT HOPKINS on MARY ANN HOBERMAN
In Her Own Words: Mary Ann Hoberman on
Language and Writing Poetry
“Most of my ideas have originated in memories of my own childhood and in my own early interests and pastimes. As a younger woman I had almost total recall of myself as a child; and even now, when I am a grandmother and the years on which I draw for my stories and poems are more than half a century behind me, I can still tell you the names of every one of my elementary school teachers, where I sat in each classroom, who my friends (and enemies) were, and how I felt about myself, my family, and my world. In many ways, despite the sorrows and pain of childhood, I loved being a child; and as a child I was somehow already aware that childhood was fleeting and that I must never forget what it felt like to be new in the world.” (from the author’s website; adapted from Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators)
“I think that my poems begin in my feet. Nothing gets me started on a poem like a walk. In some uncanny way, the steady rhythm of my step allows new ideas to surface and take hold in my mind. Sometimes the beat comes with words attached. Sometimes it is only a wordless cadence that must find its language. But once it manifests itself, I know that sooner or later, the poem will follow. This magical confluence of sound and rhythm is always the seed of the poem.”
“I think of language as a vast treasury, free for the taking. I approach words as unique individuals, each with its own family history, its own color and rhythm and sound, speaking to us out of the past, connecting with us with our own pasts, trailing multiple meanings, many of them subliminal, but there to be unearthed and made use of by the poet, the lover of language.”
“I like to think of words with double meanings and then just play around with them. Many of my poems are like puzzles, which isn’t surprising because I adore crossword puzzles and all kinds of word games.” (NCTE profile by Shirley B. Ernst and Amy A. McClure)
“A line will just come to me and that starts the pearl in the oyster.” (NCTE profile by Shirley B. Ernst and Amy A. McClure)
More about Mary Ann Hoberman
Dates: b. 1930 in Stamford, CT
Education: Smith College (B.A. History, 1951), Yale (M.A. English Literature, c. 1986)
Occupation(s): Writer and poet; teacher from elementary through college; volunteer with Literacy Volunteers of America
Recognition: 2003 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, US Children’s Poet Laureate 2008-2011, 1983 National Book Award for A House Is a House for Me
First book published: All My Shoes Come in Twos (Little, Brown, 1957)
- Biography at Poetry Foundation
- Videos of Mary Ann reading her work at Poetry Foundation (highly recommended!)
- Reading Rockets video interview with Mary Ann Hoberman
- See all of Mary Ann’s book covers with links to more info
- Profile of Mary Ann Hoberman for NCTE, by Shirley B. Ernst and Amy A. McClure
- See Mary Ann Hoberman’s website for info about the author and her books
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
2009 – Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006 – Nikki Grimes
2003 – Mary Ann Hoberman
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: NIKKI GRIMES
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See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems © Mary Ann Hoberman or by respective authors in case of anthologies. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved. Video and post content © Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.