Childrens Poems Biography
The first ever U.S. Children's Poet Laureate tells us about himself."Want to learn more about me? Well, you've come to the right place. Kids all over the country have asked me questions about who I am. Here are my answers.
Where did you grow up?
I was born on September 8, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in the Bronx in a working-class neighborhood made up of Jewish, Irish, and Italian families. My father, mother, younger brother, and I lived in a six-story apartment house where everyone knew everyone else, just like a small town.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid?
It's difficult to single out any one favorite book, but among those I loved were Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton and stories about Robin Hood and King Arthur. Another one I liked was The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
Are you married? Do you have any children or pets?
My wife's name is Carolynn, and we've been married since 1979. We don't have any children, and we're temporarily between pets. We've owned a couple of dogs and have had several cats.
What do you do in your spare time?
I have many interests besides writing poetry. I enjoy photography, carpentry, and creating games, collages and "found object" sculpture. Lately I've been teaching myself to draw and create multimedia on the computer. I also collect art, children's poetry books, and frog miniatures. I studied classical music as a young man and still attend the opera and symphony whenever I get the chance. I also love to eat out!
How did you become a writer?
I'd always enjoyed playing with language, but I had no idea I would be a writer. I discovered writing as a career only by accident when I was about 24 years old. I had spent months drawing several imaginary animals, but one evening I decided to write a little poem to go with each drawing. A friend encouraged me to show the poems to an editor, and when I did, I was astonished to find that the editor — Susan Hirschman — thought I had a talent for writing verse. Susan told me I was a natural poet and encouraged me to keep writing. She published my first book and, 30 years later, she's still my editor.
Where do you write?
I have a studio in my house, which contains my writing desk, computer, library of reference books and children's literature, as well as my frog collection, many windup toys and just a lot of stuff. I can't seem to throw anything away. A large window over my desk lets me see trees and many kinds of birds.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! Everything I see or hear can become a poem. Several toys in my studio have turned into poems. I remember things that happened when I was a kid, like the day my new baby brother came home with my mother from the hospital. Or I write about things I like or don't like. I love spaghetti and wrote a poem about it.
Did you always like poetry?
No, in fact there was a time when I couldn't stand the stuff. In grade school, I had a teacher who left me with the impression that poetry was the literary equivalent of liver. I was told that it was good for me, but I wasn't convinced. When I rediscovered poetry in my twenties, I decided I would write about things that kids really cared about, and that I would make poetry delightful.
What advice do you have for young writers?
READ! READ! READ! and WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Keep a notebook and write down things you see, hear, and think about. Ideas disappear quickly unless you jot them down. When you have an idea for a poem or story, write down anything you can think of that has to do with that idea. Study your list and you'll start to see connections among certain items. If you are writing poetry, don't force rhymes. It's better to work on what you want to say and create a feeling for the poem than to try to make up things just to make the poem rhyme.