The ice is coming off the lakes. The birds are returning and filling the air with song. The snow is melting. Today crocuses blossomed in our garden, and coltsfoot flowers along the road.
It’s time to put away snowshoes and skis, take out walking shoes and enjoy spring!
And spring means poetry month is here – the largest annual literary celebration in the world according to poetry.org. It is a way to remember the importance of poetry in our lives and throughout civilization – from ancient poets like Homer to those of past centuries like William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson to today’s poets like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Amanda Gorman and Joy Harjo.
National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Not only poets, but schools, libraries and bookstores celebrate poetry in our culture.
Everyone can participate: readers, writers, students, teachers, old and young, male and female. Bookstores and libraries host literary events. Poets read their poems and bloggers blog about poetry.
How can you celebrate? Here are some ideas.
Read lyrical, poetic picture books as well as poems – they have a lot in common!
At a NESCBWI conference, I listened to Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple speak about the similarities between a poem and a picture book in their talk, Poetry as Picture Book Text. Both use figurative language, sensory details, imagery, personification, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor and other poetic devices. They use rhythm and resonance to evoke feelings and engage the imagination.
Introduce poetry to kids.
It builds vocabulary and improves reading fluency. Need help? Poet and author David L. Harrison has compiled 55 poetry ideas for the classroom during poetry month in the new issue of MISSOURI READER at https://joom.ag/zGzI
Participate in – and organize – poetry readings and events online and in person.
In 2016, I wanted to participate in Montpelier’s Poem City – but discovered that I was ineligible because I don’t live in Vermont! So a few of us from our local Poetry Group approached the Adirondack Center for Writing – and Saranac Lake’s Poem Village was born!
Poem Village is a community celebration of poetry open to all – from schoolchildren to seniors. Poems are posted in store windows, surprise pocket poems are hidden at restaurants, doctor’s offices, and place all over the area for you to find. Poems even appear in your email inbox! This year you can visit the online poem showcase here:
Welcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?
Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?
Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in – colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.
Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.
Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.
Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.
Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.
Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!
Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)
Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com
Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.