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Tuesday, 26 June 2012 10:43

TODAY, CHARLOTTE ZOLOTOW'S 97th birthday got me reminiscing.  In the early 1980's, Charlotte invited me to lunch. We had alread done several books together and met to discuss future projects.  At some point in an always fascinating conversation, I mentioned there were I CAN READ books of history, mystery, picture books -- yet -- there had never been an I CAN READ book of poetry.

Charlotte, literally, dropped her fork, looked at me and said, "Do it!  Do it!"  I did.  I could write endlessly about the book's development; perhaps another time.  SURPRISES, published in 1984, illustrated by Megan Lloyd became the first I CAN READ book of poetry.

SURPRISES was starred in School Library Journal, became a Best Book of the Year, was published in the United Kingdom, became a best-selling paperback and went on to receive a multitude of further accolades.

1984!  Almost three decades later the book is still in print.  Thank you again, dear Charlotte.

I dedicated the book to:  William C. Morris -- a good book friend" which he was.  I didn't realize at the time this was the first book ever dedicated to Bill, a great individual.

Prior to the publication of SURPRISES Bill wrote to me saying:  "I can't tell you how thrilled -- and well, overwhelmed -- I am with your news that SURPRISES is going to have the perfectly marvelous dedication.  You have indeed done something very special for me...To have any book dedicated to me is a thrill I've never experienced and for the first Harper Poetry I Can Read Book to have my name in it makes my cup run over."

When I took SURPRISES from my bookshelf this morning, I looked at it, sighed, recalled days with Charlotte, with Bill.  I am still surprised at the genius, the insight, the foresight such people had in our industry.  I am proud to have been a part of it all.







Thursday, 10 May 2012 10:55

SENDAKMAURICE AND I met in the late l960's after ...WILD THINGS.  We met at meetings -- here, there, hither, yon. He was the first author I interviewed for BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE (Citation Press, 1969).  He asked to see what I wrote about him.  He liked it.  He encouraged me to go ahead with a project of interviewing 104 authors and illustrators for the book.

Prior to BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE being published, I was in contact with Dr. Richard Bamberger, then editor of the international journal BOOKBIRD.  Richard wrote asking about my book, especially in regard to my interview with Maurice.  In a letter dated 2/2/l968, he wrote from Vienna:

"It would be very interesting for our readers to get introduced more information about this famous illustrator" (sic)

The interview appeared in the 3/69 issue of BOOKBIRD.  The lead article was was written by another dear friend, Lloyd Alexander, reprinted from THE HORN BOOK (4/1968).

In l977, at an NCTE meeting in New York City, I put together a panel, "Journey of a Book" with Joan Robins, promotion director at Harper, Misha Arenstein, a teacher in Scarsdale, Ursula Nordstrom and Maurice!  What an afternoon.  Rather than speaking to the audience Ursula and Maurice had a toy-telephone, back-and-forth conversation about working together.  The ballroom was packed.  We had about an hour.  No one would leave.  It went on -- and on.  The session was taped on a small 8-track tape.  I cannot find it anywhere. I don't even think NCTE could locate it at this time.  If so, it would be a rarity...a true collector's item.  What a loss!  Ursula and Maurice talking together!

Maurice has a long wondrous career - a genius in the field.  Prior to what is considered his first book, THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Ayme (Harper, l951), he took pride in his 'first true' children's book, GOOD SHABBIS, EVERYBODY, published in l950 by the United Synagogue Commission of Jewish Education when he was twenty-two years old.

Our connections went on.  He was a Mickey Mouse collector; I was nicknamed "Mickey" as a child.  He almost insisted I include Ruth Krauss and Crocket Johnson  in BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE. He didn't have to.  I adored the couple.  We had a host of mutual friends including Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Mort Schindel..and so many others.

We rejoined with another friend, Karla Kuskin, on February ll, 1981 at the City of New York Salute to Maurice Sendak held at the Board of Estimates Chambers to herald the cast of "Really Rosie".    Mayor Ed I. Koch bestowed a host of witty remarks about Maurice.

It has been said over and over that he was a curmudgeon, sometimes mean-spirited, gruff,  I never knew him this way.  Even when he bitched about something he was funny - always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  He was the kind of kid you would send to his room without any supper!

"Childhood is a period of great torment," he said.  He felt that way a lot about adulthood, too, living through a great deal of loss.

How well I recall the days at his home at 29 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village, where we talked endlessly...the address once owned by William E. Parsons, dentist-inventor who was the first to make artificial teeth!

Among his favorite books was HIGGELTY PIGGLETY POP! (Harper, 1967), a tribute to his beloved dog, Jennie, who appeared in his art in almost every book he did from 1954 on.

Jennie writes in ...POP! 


As you probably noticed, I went away forever.  I am very experienced now and very famous.  I am even a star...I can't tell you how to get the Castle Yonder because I don't know where it is.  But if you ever come this way, look for me.  Jennie"

Generations to come will look for the sky when they find a Sendak star  and one day might even find the Castle Yonder. 





Friday, 30 March 2012 12:53

DR_SEUSS2April and I turn another year chronologically on the l3th -- Friday the l3th.  Thank goodness I am not superstitious.  I say 'chronologically' because there are two very nasty words I cannot utter -- 'old(er)' and 'retire(ed)'.

April l9th, I deliver a talk at Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida, for the Edison Speaker Series as part of their 50th Anniversary celebration.  The talk is "Celebrity Encounters in Writing."  Thus, back to the late 1960's, early '70's, when I hopped hither and yon interviewing close to 200 authors and illustrators of books for children.  What memories.

Working on the speech gave me impetus to delve into a bevy of files -- pulling out a host of memorabilia.

The letter on the left is, of course, from Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, who sent the greeting to me in 1991, on the publication of a collection I did, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, where I included a verse   from his HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU (Random House, 1959).  Along with the note I received a copy of his ...BIRTHDAY TO YOU, warmly autographed. 

 "HILARY' in the note refers to Hilary Knight, the wondrous illustrator of the ELOISE series, who illustrated my SIDE BY SIDE and HAPPY BIRTHDAY (both Simon & Schuster; both long out of print).

I truly forgot how much correspondence Ted and I had for over such a long period of time.

Other tidbits I found were items from Julie Andrews, Shel Silverstein, Madeleine L'Engle, Roald Dahl, Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, et. al.

Talking with Shel Silverstein at an outdoor cafe coffee shop - Cafe Sha-na-na - on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village was like meeting Santa Claus for the first time!  Unreal!

March was a busy month.

I completed a second adult novel, a comedy.  I swore after placing THE END on the last page I would never go through this process again.  It only took about a week or so before thinking of a third.  The gods must be crazy!  Several ask:  "What if neither gets published?"  My response:  "I cannot think about that. The one thing I can think about is that I did it and not saying, "I wish I had.' or "Someday I might." 

Received news from my incredible editor, Rebecca M. Davis at Boyds Mills/Wordsong, that Jane Manning will illustrate JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES, to appear in 2015.  Jane did the artwork for my A PET FOR ME: AN I CAN READ BOOK (HarperCollins).  I'm quite happy I'll be teamed up with her again.

So -- another year on the planet.  I love the quote from the rebellious Alice Longworth Roosevelt, who said:

"First you're young, then you're middle-aged, then you're wonderful." 

Happy April-ing!

Saturday, 05 May 2012 09:30

IT IS MAY -- or how could April pass by so quickly!

I begin by congratulating Sylvia Vardell on her gargantuan production of THE POETRY TEACHER'S BOOK OF LISTS.  Everything about it, including a quote from me, can be found at 

This is a resource for everyone to bring poetry and children of all ages together.  There is simply nothing like this volume.  Every school and public library should have copies.

The Lee Bennett Hopkins/Penn State Poetry Award was given to Lee Wardlaw for her book, WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (Holt).  There was one honor book, HIDDEN, by the incredible Helen Frost (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).  WON TON is the 20th book to receive the award.  It is hard to believe that twenty years ago Ashley Bryan received the first award for SING TO THE SUN (HarperCollins).  The first event was held at the Governor's Mansion in Pennsylvania on a very rainy night.  Ashley and I have been friends for a very long time...long before he wrote ...SUN.

I was happy to receive a contract for a forthcoming book which I am plunging into with great enthusiasm after completing work a new book of poems (more about that one at a later date!)

More exciting was the package of sheets that arrived for my original picture book, MARY'S SONG, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, to be released by Eerdman's in September.

Funny about writing.  I pore through the spectacular sheets marveling at Stephen's artwork, then read the text forgetting I wrote it.  It even dawned on me that entire book is told by and from the Virgin Mary's point-of-view.  In brief, poetic prose, MARY'S SONG, is about Mary's quest to be alone with her baby.

The agenda for the Lee Bennett Hopkins/Edison State Writing Institute to be held on October 27th is now complete.  In addition to Gregory Maguire, Bill Farnsworth, illustrator extraordinare will be part of the exciting morning.  Click on EDISON on my site for complete information.

Several projects were finished during April.  Onto tomorrows...with another idea brewing which I hope will come to fruition.



Thursday, 01 March 2012 10:32

MARCH brings bugs -- NASTY BUGS - the official publication is March l5 (Dial Books).  Reviews have been wonderfully nasty including the lastest PUBLISHERS WEEKLY which ends:  "A squirm-inducing tribute to our blood-sucking, garbage-eating insect friends."  All the poems in the collection were especially commissioned.

The Lee Bennett Hopkins/Penn State Poetry Award was announced.  The 2012 winner is WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (Holt) by Lee Wardlaw; one Honor Book: HIDDEN by Helen Frost (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).


Norma Farber (1909-1984) and I enjoyed years of correspondence.  I have in my files many of her unpublished poems as well as a treasure of other mementoes she sent me.  I was thrilled to hear from her son, Tom, who sent me her adult work - YEAR OF REVERSIBLE LOSS - Norma's journal written after the death of her husband, Sidney.  Sidney Farber, a pioneer in chemotherapy of cancer, died in l973.

Norma published many extraordinary children's books.  After reading ...LOSS, I would suggest you hold your breath -- fast and hard. If you do not, Farber's writing will take your breath away.  It did mine.  For more on this beautiful, visceral work see

Another heart-wrenching memoir is Jane Yolen's THINGS TO SAY TO A DEAD MAN: POEMS AT THE END OF A MARRIAGE AND AFTER - - detailing her husband, David - and his five-year battle with cancer.  After reading both works one can only treasure relationships we are still fortunate to have - to hold onto.  Every day with a loved one is so welcomed.


What a happy sight to see William Joyce accept his Academy Award for THE FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSERMORE.  The film is dedicated to two of my dear-gone - but never forgotten - friends, Bill Morris and Coleen Salley.  Bill was one of the most professional and beloved publicists within the children's book community who worked at HarperCollins until his death.  The first book to be dedicated to him was my first I CAN READ POETRY BOOK - SURPRISES - published in 1984, illustrated by Megan Lloyd, and still in print (HarperCollins).  My editor was the beloved Charlotte Zolotow.  SURPISES -- 28 years in print.  What a SURPRISE!


I am obsessed - lovingly obsessed -- with work I'm doing on my second adult novel.  I am now working on the third draft, near completion.  What a trip.  And what a joy to be writing a comedy.  It isn't proper to laugh at one's own words - or is it?


Here in the Fort Myers, Florida community we are all a-buzz at Gregory Maguire (WICKED) being the featured author at the 4th Lee Bennett Hopkins/Edison State College Writer's Institute to be held on October 27th. It is is only March 1st - and calls are coming in for tickets to be limited to just a few hundred. For further information see at EDISON STATE COLLEGE.


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