Is your monitor shaking, or your phone screen, maybe? I’m so excited about this week’s post, I might be jumping up and down a little….
Lee Bennett Hopkins is here!
If you’re a Poetry Friday regular, you know that Lee Bennett Hopkins is a singular force in the world of children’s poetry, holding the Guiness World Record for number of poetry anthologies for children published.
He has received countless awards for his own writing and his collections, including the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Florida Libraries’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the Christopher Award, and the distinction last year of being inducted into the Florida Arts Hall of Fame, among others. (Read more about Lee here.)
Today he shares a behind-the-scenes look at his newest anthology, SCHOOL PEOPLE, to be released Feb. 13 from Wordsong, the poetry imprint of Boyds Mills Press (so you know it’s first-class).
From the publisher’s description:
…this collection of poems paired with imaginative artwork introduces readers to the important grown-ups they’ll meet at school. From the school’s own story, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, to J. Patrick Lewis’s “Principal,” to Alma Flor Ada’s "Spanish Teacher," each poem features the women and men who inspire, encourage, and help children in their own unique ways.
The small format of photos allowed on my blog don’t do justice to the vibrant illustrations by Ellen Shi, but you can get an idea. The publisher kindly shared a couple of interior spreads – “Librarian” by Lee himself, and my own poem, “Lunch Lady.”
He opened the door.
As we walked in
It’s all about books.
And books are you!
Books will lead you
to magical places
to meet new faces.”
one single door
led us down
©Lee Bennett Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.
Long before lunchtime
Ms. Bailey keeps busy
stacking towers of trays,
filling the salad bar,
sliding steaming pans
We swarm the cafeteria.
“Here you go, Honey,” she says,
handing each of us a full plate.
Long after lunchtime,
Ms. Bailey scrubs everything clean,
hangs the last heavy pan.
She rubs her neck,
wipes her forehead,
and changes the menu sign –
©Robyn Hood Black. All Rights Reserved.
How did this collection come to be? Lee generously agreed to share his thoughts.
--How did the idea for SCHOOL PEOPLE come about? (And how long has it been in the making?)
I began my career as a sixth-grade teacher in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, in 1960 at the age of 22, fresh out of college. I taught sixth grade for three years before becoming a Resource Teacher in the same school working with grades K-6.
So – after almost six decades later the idea of a SCHOOL and its PEOPLE pops up. One never knows what memory will uncover. Such an obvious topic.
--Each of your anthologies has a distinct personality – some magic you make out of many different contributing voices. How would you describe SCHOOL PEOPLE?
Yes, each anthology does have a distinct personality. When creating an anthology my mind completely focuses on the topic whether it is a collection as difficult as the recent TRAVELNG THE BLUE ROAD: POEMS OF THE SEA (Seagrass Dreams/Quarto) for Young Adults, or SCHOOL PEOPLE for younger readers. I assign topics to various poets who work with me – a wondrous group of dedicated writers. My role is to put the entire collection into focus before it reaches an editor’s desk. The process of producing an anthology can take years.
--This book should lend itself to all kinds of interactions. How do you envision teachers might use it in the classroom or media center?
There are so many ways to use this book in schools. I envision an assembly program where various school people are invited to sit on stage, introduced as each child reads or performs a poem about them…from the principal to the custodian. Or as a weekly, monthly tribute to each of the people represented.
It can also be used to show appreciation of the work each person does to make a school a whole.
I would encourage young writers to choose one or more of their favorite school people to write about.
SCHOOL PEOPLE is also a nice gift to give to various school personnel. How often does a Custodian or a Crossing Guard get acknowledged?
--How do you hope students will respond to the collection?
Hopefully children might see the diversity of people within a school building - for example, a female coach, a male librarian. Also I hope they will experience empathy for individuals – the Bus Driver with ‘that smiling face’ to bring a child home again, the Lunch Lady who works hard and long hours, the Custodian who is “caring, helpful, smart, and kind,” the Nurse who is there “like the heart in my body/like the moon in the sky.”
--The 15 poems come to life in Ellen Shi’s colorful digital illustrations. Any thoughts about how the text and art work together here?
Shi captures so many different moments via her art depicting emotions that are part of every person involved with children. That caring Principal who could ‘teach a bully/how to be humble”, the Librarian who “opened one single door/yet he/led us down/pathways/we never/could ever/have traveled before.” Each double-page spread has a lot of offer, to linger with.
--Do you have a special memory you’d like to share about a teacher or staff member from your own school days?
It was my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Ethel Kite McLaughlin, who saw something in the mixed-up child I was due to growing up in a dysfunctional family. She was the one who turned my life around. Being with her in a self-contained classroom environment for a year convinced me that I, too, would become a teacher…like her. And I did! Without her guidance I don’t know where life would have taken me. One teacher. One voice. As Joan Bransfield Graham writes in “Teacher” – “You stretch my world much wider…I feel I, too, can fly.” Mrs. McLaughlin did indeed stretch my world. Oh, how she helped me to fly!
--I think most would agree you absolutely SOAR. Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you, Robyn, for your forever poetry enthusiasm! Hugs.
Other familiar Poetry Friday faces with work in this collection include Matt Forrest Essenwine, Michele Krueger, , Irene Latham, Charles Ghigna, Renée LaTulippe, and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. And other familiar POETRY faces include Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Ann Whitford Paul, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Alma Flor Ada, and Darren Sardelli. (So honored to share book pages with these fine poet-folk!)
But wait – there’s MORE. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press will send a copy of SCHOOL PEOPLE to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment below by Wed., Feb. 21, and you’ll be entered in the drawing. (Be sure the hidden email associated with your comment is a good way to contact you later for a snail mail address, just in case today’s your lucky day.) I’ll be out of pocket next Friday, but back to announce the randomly-selected winner on Friday, Feb. 23.
Sally Murphy has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week – hop, skip, or jump on over (under?) to beautiful Australia for more poetry surprises.