Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Poet and Nature Lover

Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterAmy Ludwig VanDerwater is a wonderful person. I can say this because I spent a weekend with her many years ago at a poetry workshop run by the Highlights Foundation.  In 2012 our poems were united under one cover when we each had a poem included in the collection Nasty Bugs, published by Dial. Amy, a writing teacher, loves poetry, spending time outdoors, family, and making things. Her collection of nature poems, Forest Has a Song, was a Golden Kite Honor book and won the Cybils Poetry Award. 

I know you love poetry! What do you like best about it?

I love the way great poets plant and tend each word with care.  I like poetry’s power and brevity and the way one can find a poem to match every emotion and experience.  Reading poems helps me never feel alone.  Writing poems, on the other hand, allows me to braid my feelings and observations with a variety of literary techniques; I adore the puzzle of rhyme and meter.

FOREST HAS A SONG was clearly written by someone who loves nature. What was your primary inspiration for writing the poetry in this collection? 

Forest Has a Song

A year ago today on Earth Day we featured this book and a special poem by Amy! See it HERE.

We live way out in the country, south of Buffalo, NY, and our family spends lots of time out in the woods.  My husband Mark, a science teacher, teaches us about the plants and beasts, and this book simply mirrors out the wonder I feel again and again, each time we hike together.  When I visit schools and share puffballs and owl calls with students, I feel my wonder ripple outward and hope that children and parents and teachers will make joyful plans to poke around in nature.

I hope so too! It seems that most of us spend too much time inside these days. Do you have advice for teachers and parents who want to share more poetry with their children?

Please just do.  Share what you love!  Tuck poems into the nooks and pockets of each day.  Poems are small; they fit into the folds of our hearts.  Offer children poetry that spans the range of human experience, from sadness to delight.  This is how children will know that poems can be friends and that they, too, can find poems to match their moods and worlds.

Amen! One way parents and teachers can share poetry easily and freely is by visiting your blog, The Poem Farm. Can you tell us a little about that?

I began The Poem Farm blog  in April 2010, as a place to write a poem each day for National Poetry Month of that year.  I did indeed write a poem each day of April 2010 and liked doing itso well that I continued writing a poem and mini lesson each day for 365 days, from April 2010 – April 2011.  This is how The Poem Farm established itself, and I continue to share poetry, lessons, and children’s poems regularly in my corner of the Internet.  This month (April 2014) finds me in the middle of a project I call THRIFT STORE LIVE, a series of 30 poems each about an object I’ve found in a real thrift store.  The Poem Farm blog is a place for me to experiment with writing and to connect with children, families, and teachers.

And you live on a real farm! I’m sure this gives you lots of inspiration for The Poem Farm. What is that like?

We actually call our home Heart Rock Farm, but it is also really The Poem Farm in 3-D.  We live in an old farmhouse on 24 acres in Western New York, and we’re usually growing something (latest – gooseberries), making something (latest – butter lambs), or caring for something (latest – newish bunnies).  It’s a heavenly spot with four real seasons, and we feel very grateful to have lived here for the last ten years.

Okay, now I want to come visit!  Just for fun, can you finish these sentences? 

Two of my favorite poets are Naomi Shihab Nye and David McCord.

Two of the best poetry books to share with children are ANOTHER JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY MORE NCTE AWARD WINNING POETS, edited by Beatrice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten –  and KNOCK AT A STAR: A CHILD’S INTRODUCTION TO POETRY edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy.

When I write poetry, I usually do not how I will begin.  I write my way into a poem.

I read poetry daily because I hope it will help me become a better person and a stronger writer.

My favorite writing tools are black pens, unlined notebooks, and quiet.

One tip I have for aspiring poets is read the kind of writing you hope to write.  Let the words of favorite poems become part of you.  Learn from others, and listen to the whisperings of your own spirit.

Thank you for your inspirational answers Amy!

As with most nerdy chicks, there is much more to Amy than we were able to cover in one interview. Please visit her comprehensive website to find out more about her and check out her blogs, The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks, a fascination blog featuring the notebooks of writers, illustrators, and more. You can see my notebooks HERE.

Teachers, check out this teaching guide for Forest Has a Song!  Finally, if you are concerned about too much standardized testing in school, you will enjoy Amy’s opinion piece featured in the Buffalo News. Happy National Poetry Month everyone!

 

 

 

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst QuotesI’m not sure that the words of any author or poet out there have touched my emotions as simply and directly as Judith Viorst’s have. In the world of children’s authors, she is best known for her oh-so-true picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The character Alexander gave us the quote for which Viorst is perhaps best known. “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.” Who can’t relate to that? But Viorst has written many other wonderful books and collections of poems that are just as relatable. So much so, for myself, that I sent copies of her poetry collection  How Did I Get to judith viorst quotesBe 40 & Other Atrocities in lieu of invitations to guests invited to my fortieth birthday party. Viorst published the collection in 1976 when I was a young child, but the feelings behind the poems still spoke to me. Loudly! This is what poetry is all about. I was not surprised to find that her quotes spoke to me as well.

For a short biography of Judith Viorst, click HERE

Judith Viorst Quotes

  • Growing up means letting go of the dearest megalomaniacal dreams of our childhood. Growing up means knowing they can’t be fulfilled. Growing up means gaining the wisdom and skills to get what we want within the limitations imposed by reality—a reality which consists of diminished powers, restricted freedoms and, with the people we love, imperfect connections.
  • A normal adolescent is so restless and twitchy and awkward that he can manage to injure his knee—not playing soccer, not playing football—but by falling off his chair in the middle of French class.
  • Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces, and then eat just one of the pieces.
  • We will have to give up the hope that, if we try hard, we somehow will always do right by our children. The connection is imperfect. We will sometimes do wrong.
  • Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive, and irrational – but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?

Aren’t those wonderful, insightful, and down to earth? 

 

Book Spine Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. According to the Academy of American Poets:

“National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

There are many ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, but one of my favorites is to create Book Spine Poetry. These are poems you don’t write so much as “find” in the title ideas of other authors. In honor of National Poetry Month, my children and I came up with a bunch of Book Spine Poems — we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed “writing” them!

1397611200346

 

Love and longing in Bombay

Cloaked

Time and chance

In darkness

 

1397611433277

 

Heavens to Betsy!

Beautiful chaos

Ruined

My life

Without fail

 

 

1397611381552Baby Bear, Baby Bear, what do you see?

The night fairy

Perfect piggies

The witch of Blackbird Pond

The last unicorn

But not the hippopotamus

 

1397611326858The bad beginning

An offer you can’t refuse

The nasty bits

The enemy

The end of the affair

Game Over

 

 

1397611158416The Elephant’s journey

The hard way

Accidentally fooled

A hog on ice

 

 

 

1397611076867Pirate Princess

You’re finally here!

To catch a mermaid

Demon of the waters

Into the deep

With nothing to lose

 

 

How will you celebrate National Poetry Month?

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014

 

Instant Images

Ideas for The Boy ProblemI write humor for middle graders. It’s a fun job, made doubly so because I have a wealth of information living under the same roof with me – my daughter. Before she arrived at middle school, my son was there. So for six of the past seven years I’ve been living with some of the inspiration for my novels. A parenting perk for sure!

Middle graders are awesome! They haven’t yet lost that joie de vivre, so they still embrace the cute, fun, and funky! Especially girls. I paid attention to this when writing The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy, forthcoming April 29 from Scholastic. My daughter was in seventh grade at the time, and I decided to deliberately populate my novel with things she found appealing. What better way to connect with readers of the same age?

 

cupcakes!

Some of my daughters cupcakes.

At the time she loved cupcakes. (That hasn’t changed.) She has cupcake socks, t-shirts, wall art, etc. So into the book I poured the ingredients for a cupcake theme – along with lots of cute cupcake images, via words and sketches! She also loved the inexplicably popular mustache trend. For that reason, I found a funny way to create a mustache motif in the book as well. Finally, since Tabbi, the main character, uses predictions to try to figure out who the right guy for her is, I was able to insert some time-tested predicting tools – ever popular with middle graders. 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers (also called fortune tellers).

 

The Boy Problem

Using instant images has made it fun and easy to find and create book bling for The Boy Problem’s launch!

Note that all of the above: mustaches, cupcakes, 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers have popular and very concrete visual images. As an author, you want to think about the visual images you put into your readers’ heads. Sometimes you do this with subtlety, using carefully crafted similes and metaphors. But it is also okay to stick instant images into your books. Ones you know your reader will easily visualize and identify with! If you’re writing for middle graders, I recommend considering this.

 

My daughter starts high school next year. To be honest, I am a little worried about this. Where will I get my instant-images? Will she have the same enthusiasm for cute, fun, and funky? Probably not! I will need access to that kind of The Boy Problemthing when I write my next novel. What will I do? Well… I do have a niece starting middle school in the fall. Hopefully she won’t notice her aunt eavesdropping and checking out her accessories at every family get-together for the next three years!

To read more about the creation of THE BOY PROBLEM and to see the trailer, click HERE.

 

And you can watch this adorable trailer created by students in Mr. Etkin’s class to find out more about the book! I saw this for the first time today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Maria Callas

Because Maria Callas was famous for her beautiful voice, I thought it’d be great to let you hear it before reading her quotes.

Maria Callas was born in New York City in 1923.  After completing eighth grade, she moved with her mother to Greece to pursue education, and develop a career in singing. She began her career singing opera in Italy, and returned to the United States in 1940. Maria is known as one of the most influential opera singers of the 20th century. To find out more about her click HERE.

Maria Callas Quotes

  • You are born an artist or you are not. And you stay an artist, dear, even if your voice is less of a fireworks. The artist is always there.
  • That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teachers make the best of a pupil’s means; great teachers foresee a pupil’s ends.
  • An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.

 

Don’t forget to enter the Giveaway for a piece of original art by Zach OHora, and a picture book signed by both Zach and Sudipta! Click HERE for details.

 

 

 

Happy Book Birthday, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS! (and a Double Giveaway!)

In honor of the book birthday of my newest picture book, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS!, I have such an awesome treat for you! First, a guest post from my incredible illustrator, Zachariah OHora, about his creative process. Then,there is an awesome giveaway where two lucky winners will get some great prizes (scroll down to the end for more information on the prizes, though you don’t want to skip over this great post, do you?)

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Zachariah Ohora

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

by Zachariah OHora

When I first heard about this project I was super excited to work with Chad (creative director at Abrams) and Sudipta.
That excitement quickly turned to fear when I realized I’d never really drawn dinosaurs before.

Not even as a kid.

Plus there seemed to be a whole lot of dinosaurs I’d never heard of.

Gallimimus?!
Really?!

I think there were like five dinos when I was a kid and half of them don’t even exist anymore, er, I mean, they ALL don’t exist anymore, but uh…you get the point.

I realized I couldn’t just fudge through with a vague lizard creature.
So I started where all ignorant people do, with a Google search.

Fear turned to terror as I collected images. NO WAY WAS I GOING TO PULL THIS OFF!!!

Then I had an idea. One that might appear brilliant enough to fool everyone into NOT noticing I can’t draw dinosaurs. What if it was kids DRESSED as dinos instead?

TrexColorpalette 1

This seemed like the perfect solution as it allowed me a good deal of creative license.

TrexStudy 2

(Left: One of the first sketches for T Wrecks Boy. Right: Then I thought since he was always wrecking stuff perhaps he couldn’t see out of his mask)

TrexStudy 3

Then Abrams politely showed me a book that already had my “brilliant” idea in it that came out two years earlier.

Illustrator gulps.
Illustrator whines.
Illustrator wrecks!

Illustrator practices and practices drawing dinosaurs!

Until finally the characters ended up having some human qualities but were most definitely dinosaurs!

TWrecksNewNEw-1

Fortunately everyone was happy with the new version and that’s what you see in the book.
Fear of failure forced me to get my proper dinosaur education on. And best of all Sudipta was happy with them too.

Sometimes in a collaboration you have to go way out of your comfort zone.
And that’s a good thing.

zauthorphotoZachariah OHora is an illustrator and author of a number of children’s books. His debut STOP SNORING, BERNARD! was awarded the Society of Illustrators Founder’s Award and was chosen as the PA One Book for 2012. His book NO FITS NILSON! was awarded a Kirkus star and was the Huffington Post Book of the Year for 2013. He lives and works in the tiny village of Narberth, PA with his wife, two sons, and two cats.

Sudipta wasn’t just “happy” with these illustrations — she was thrilled! (Why am I referring to myself in the third person??)

Thank you, Zack, for such a great and insightful post. And just so you know, I hadn’t heard of a Gallimimus either — not until my then 4-year old son educated me on that and all the other dinos in the book (except the Tyrannosaurus — I had heard of that!).

And now, for the part you’ve all been waiting for…

THE GIVEAWAY(S)

In honor of TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, we here at Nerdy Chicks Rule are going to give away TWO prizes to one lucky winner.

First, the winner is going to score a copy of TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS! signed by both Zach and me! And second, the lucky winner will get an original sketch from the book, signed by the illustrator himself!

Book and art — how can you not like that?

How do I win? asks my faithful blog reader.

It’s very simple.

1. To register, fill in the form below with your name, email, and Twitter and/or Facebook handles. (Don’t forget to hit ‘Submit’!)

2. Tweet or post about the TYRANNOSAURS WRECKS! release with the hashtag #TWRECKS and tag Sudipta (@SudiptaBQ on Twitter or Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Children’s Book Author on FB) AND tag Zack (@ZachariahOHora on Twitter). Don’t know what to tweet/post? Cut and paste one of the suggestions below:

  • Happy book birthday to TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS! http://wp.me/p126Z2-N4 #TWRECKS @SudiptaBQ @ZachariahOHora
  • Do you know #TWRECKS? http://goo.gl/m28AnO @SudiptaBQ @ZachariahOHora
  • Got #TWRECKS? http://goo.gl/7nd3xU  @SudiptaBQ @ZachariahOHora

3. Every time you share using the handles you’ve registered, you’ll get one entry. The contest will close on April 7, 2014 at 11:59pm. At that time, we will gather up all the entries and choose a WINNER!

GOOD LUCK!