Friday, March 2, 2012

Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Purdie Salas

It is always a pleasure to host Poetry Friday, and today, I am hosting the delightful Laura Purdie Salas, as well.
Laura has two new poetry books, Bookspeak! and A Leaf Can Be...

As a sales rep for a book distributor, I have the great pleasure of getting lots of book samples. At our winter conference in San Antonio, Lerner Publishing, host distributor for Millbrook,  was one of the presenters who left samples for us to take home. As we gathered around the table to make our selections, I saw A Leaf Can Be... standing propped open at the back of the table. Just as I was about to reach for it, another buddy rep picked it up. "Aww, I wanted that one. I know her," I complained. (Okay, I know her as much as you can know somebody whose blog you haunt.) My buddy kindly handed the book over to me, and I love it.

The simple, lyrical text reminds me of the kennings so often used in Old English and Norse poetry. Just how many things can a leaf be?

   ...Shade spiller
                          .....Mouth filler              And so much more!
The delicate artwork by Violeta Dabija draws the reader right into these gentle descriptions.

Laura agreed to be my guest today and answer a few questions. Enjoy.

Dori: Tell us about the process of developing A Leaf Can Be...

Laura: I really wanted to try writing a rhyming nonfiction book. I’m a fan of the form, and there aren’t enough of them out there! I went through a bunch of ideas I had researched for other projects. I tried a couple of other science topics, but they were too complex. They came out sounding like little lessons in rhyme, which was NOT what I was going for. I wanted a book that was fun to read and that told about some amazing thing in the world.

After a couple of failed attempts, I was reading through some of my published works, just looking for a starting point. In Chatter, Sing, Roar, Buzz: Poems About the Rain Forest (Capstone, 2009), I read my poem about how Honduran tent bats use leaves for shelter. It is so cool how they do that! I knew from a recent conversation with my Clarion editor that animal poems/books are a hard sell, because they’ve been done so much. So I looked at it from the other point of view. Instead of focusing on the bat, I thought about the leaf. Who knew that one big leaf could be a tent home for a whole mini-colony of bats? I wondered what else leaves could do that I never really thought of. And A Leaf Can Be… was born.

Once I completed the manuscript, it was submitted to two editors, and Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press bought it. I was thrilled, to say the least:>) Not only because it was a book sale, but because it allowed me to diversify, both in publisher and in manuscript form.

Dori: How does working on an assigned topic change your creative process?

Laura: Great question. I do a lot of work-for-hire writing, and the process it totally different from what I did with A Leaf Can Be… I think working on assigned topics requires tons of creativity. For poetry and rhyming books, I’ve written for both the trade and educational markets. When I write for trade markets, I come up with the idea, write it just the way I want it, and then send it out and pray I’ll find an editor who loves it too. For the educational market, an editor offers me a contract to write a certain book on a particular topic that meets certain specific rules. Those rules might deal with word count, curriculum standards, phonic sounds, vocabulary levels, etc.

I write a lot of straight nonfiction work-for-hire, too, but I’m going to talk about this in terms of poetry and rhyme, since LEAF is rhyming nonfiction. I’ve written 10 assigned poetry collections for Capstone, several rhyming shared readers (both fiction and nonfiction), and numerous poems for standardized assessment materials. I’ve enjoyed working on them—they’re a lot like puzzle-solving. When I’m working on assignment, I start with the requirements. For instance, I’m working on a very brief rhyming story right now, 150 words, using short o sound words, and involving geography and travel. It’s kindergarten level. So I picked a geographic feature and did some research on it. I knew the story had to involve someone (kid or animal) traveling to or along that feature. As I read about the feature, I jotted down short o words that cropped up (like crop!). I picked a main character that’s an animal using a short o sound (no, not a dog—as prohibited by the publisher!). I plotted out a brief story over the 10 pages I have for my story, jotting down just the main plot point for each page. And only then did I start playing with words and thinking about the sound and the rhyme this project would use.

The pressure is higher on work-for-hire, especially with rhyming manuscripts. Once my plot outline was approved, as it was, I have no choice but to MAKE IT WORK. Unlike my trade projects, where I could discard an idea that just wasn’t working, I am locked in. The editor is expecting it, and I don’t want to disappoint her. I must come up with an entertaining and lightly informative rhyming story by March 7. So I will stick with it, and somehow it always works out.

Though I will say one difference in writing work-for-hire verse or poetry is that I am more devastated by editorial changes. When an editor makes changes that disrupt the meter, for instance, I am shattered. But in the work-for-hire projects, the publisher’s priorities aren’t necessarily the same as mine. OK, they aren’t ever the same as mine:>) That’s just the way it goes. So I have to be able to also just let it go. To say, this is good verse. I wish I could make it perfect verse, but this is the best it’s going to get given the parameters I’m working within.

(On my website, I sell a textbook for writers interested in writing nonfiction books for the educational market. It’s a book form of the online class I offered for several years:

Dori: You participated in Drum Corps last year. How do other artistic endeavors like this influence your poetry?

Laura: Oh, good question. I don’t see direct cause-effect influences. But doing things like that, totally stretching myself, teaches me that it’s OK to fail. It’s OK to make a fool of myself. It’s OK (more than OK, it’s essential) to try new things! And it reminds me that we can each accomplish amazing things if we really push ourselves (like, I performed in the color guard as Minnesota Brass won the world all-ages drum corps championship!). Other artistic attempts, like drawing and painting, have failed more spectacularly:>) But I think those attempts are more important than the failures.

Dori: Where did your idea for the 15 words or less come from?

Laura: Oh boy—it’s been a while. I decided to try doing a photo and poem every day for 2007. I just like to try new things to challenge myself, and it seemed like it would be fun. But I wanted it to be short and fast, because I’m also realistic! So I came up with 15 Words or Less. As I said when I blogged about it: “These aren't good poems, mind you. They're really just thoughts in some kind of poem form.” I shared some on the Wordy Girls blog I did at that time with Bonny Becker, Susan Taylor Brown, and Susan Heyboer-O’Keefe. And Bonny had the fabulous idea of making it into an interactive blog feature. Wow. I can’t believe it’s in its fifth year! I really love seeing what people come up with.

Dori: Have you published poetry ebooks yet? Do you think the market is going to move in that direction?

Laura: I haven’t, though I’ve been included in a couple of wonderful anthologies, Poetry Tag Time and Gift Tag, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. I have considered doing some e-collections, though. Poetry doesn’t sell well, generally. The small market makes poetry a financial loss for publishers, so they publish very little of it. But e-publishing is cheaper. So even though an e-book might sell only a few hundred or a few thousand (if you’re amazing at marketing it) copies, it would still allow you to reach that many readers, that many kids, students, librarians.

I haven’t gone forward yet, because my collections are picture books, which are still really problematic in e-book form. But I’m definitely considering it. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying e-books by Janet Wong, David Harrison, Steven Withrow, and more.

Dori: Any new projects you'd like to share?

I have a new poetry collection out called BookSpeak! Poems About Books (Clarion, 2011). I’m honored that it’s a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, and I’m having fun sharing it with folks. Also, I’m happy to say that Millbrook is going to publish WATER CAN BE… in 2014, also illustrated by Violeta Dabija (yay!). Other than that, I’m hard at work balancing a bunch of work-for-hire projects that are due soon and several poetry and prose picture book manuscripts that I hope will be good enough for my agent to submit. And I’m doing school visits and consulting with children’s and ya writers through Mentors for Rent, an hourly mentoring service ( I do seem to keep very busy!

Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to visit with me today. 

Stop over at Laura's  blog, writing the world for kids, to stretch your imagination with 15 Words or Less. And be sure to get your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Lerner Books

And now...

Linda at TeacherDance is celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday.

Books4Learning shares Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disaster Poems.

Over at Over at The Poem Farm, Amy has a poem about writing ("The Pen") as well as some thoughts for students about structure. 

Charles Ghinga is March-ing in this week with a peek at some of the spreads from my new book I SEE SPRING.

More celebrations of Dr. Seuss at GottaBook with Gregory K's  Oddaptation of the Lorax

Rene La Tulippe shares a video of guest poet and children's book author Iza Trapani reading her kids' poem "Grins and Giggles." And it comes with a giveaway of one of her books! 

Tabatha is passing along a peaceful poem today. 

Mary Lee sends out a poem today  to all the bloggers who have started the Slice of Life challenge for March.

I have a busy day today, driving to a presentation at a school this morning, but leave your link and I'll be back about noon to post more of your comments.

Over at Maria Horvath's blog, today's theme is hope and optimism, part of the series of poems that can lead to quiet contemplation. 

At Author Amok, Laura has a RAADical Forecast. In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, the weather site Foot's Forecast is asking people to send in Seuss-style local weather reports.

Ruth shares an original poem today at her blog, There is No Such Thing as a God Forsaken Town. 

Tara is celebrating Women's History Month at A Teaching Life.

Laura Salas, our lovely guest today, is in with a poem from TAKE TWO! A CELEBRATION OF TWINS, by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen. And don't miss the opportunity to drop by and write a poem at 15 Words or Less Poems.

Carol is double dipping with her own "poem" for Poetry Friday and Slice of Life over at Carol's Corner.

Katya is celebrating a late-winter snow over at Write. Sketch. Repeat

Robyn Hood Black is living life on the wild side with Carl Sandburg at Read, Write, Howl.

Linda in today at Write Time with a Mary Oliver poem and thoughts about learning from poetry.

Diane Mayr at Random Noodling shares a poem called "Spitwads"! Her poem at Kids of the Homefront Army is based upon something she heard about Eleanor Roosevelt as a child. And Kurious Kitty shares "The Cardinal" by Henry Carlile. Kurious K's Kwotes' P.F. quote is by Lawrence Raab.

Jama continues her celebration of Kelly Fineman's new rhyming picture book,  At the Boardwalk over at Alphabet Soup.

Stop by Across the Page for a poem about moss.

Liz at Growing Wild has been thinking about the Japanese form tanka all week. She has posted four tanka about being a kid in a grown-up world, with an idea for a classroom activity using tanka.

Jeannine wrote about Winnie-the-Pooh's take on writing poetry at Views from a Window Seat. 

Janet's selection at All about the Book is Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, edited by Jan Greenberg.

Julie Larios features a poem from Janet Wong's new book, The Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year, over at The Drift Record.

Check out the two original haiku about snow at Check it Out.

Lori Ann at On Pointe features Flower Girls. 

readertotz is celebrating Step Out Gently by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder.

Did someone mention madness? Stop by Think Kid Think for info on this upcoming poetry event hosted by Ed DeCaria. 

I'm headed to the nursing home to read with my mom. We're both enjoying Andrew Clements' YA novel Things Not Seen about an invisible boy and a blind girl. I'll be back near suppertime to post any remaining links.  

Sherry's Poetry Friday selection is a sonnet by Keats at Semicolon.

Donna's post is a poem about her mother she was inspired to write after visiting my blog last week. I'm honored, Donna. 

David Elzey is in this week with an argument in favor of planetary status. 

At Booktalking, Anastasia Suen is sharing an update of an old classic: Down by the Station by Jennifer Riggs Vetter (Author) and Frank Remkiewicz (Illustrator).

At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine announced the winners of Janet Wong's new book Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. 

Paper Tigers offers a review of Kate Coombs and Meilo So's new book Water Sings Blue, and a reminder about World Read Aloud Day on 7th March

At Gathering BooksIphigene writes about Robert Louis Stevenson's On Some Ghostly Companions at a Spa. 


  1. I visit Laura regularly, and love the 15 words or less challenge, but when reading this, I'm still amazed at all she does accomplish-busy life. The books look wonderful, both in their own way. Thanks for hosting Dori! I'm celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday in my post today. Here's the link:

    1. Thanks, Linda, and I always look forward to your 15WOL poems!

  2. Thanks for hosting. Thanks for the recommendation on A Leaf Can Be. The title is intriguing and I love the illustrations.

    Please link my post with poetry Friday. I share Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disaster Poems

  3. I adore A LEAF CAN BE, and I'm so happy to hear that there will be a second collaboration, about water! This is a perfect combination of word and art, both informative and charming. (My high school science teacher husband thinks it's great too!) And I agree with Linda - Laura's accomplishments and dedication are inspiring! Thank you for hosting PF and this great interview which I'll also share with teachers!

    Over at The Poem Farm, I have a poem about writing ("The Pen") as well as some thoughts for students about structure.


    1. Thank you, Amy! And thank you for encouraging me to talk with my editor about water in general when river didn't fly:>)

  4. Thanks, Dori. Great interview with Laura!
    I'm March-ing in this week with a peek at some of the spreads
    from my new book I SEE SPRING at:

  5. Hi Dori! What a delightful interview with Laura. A Leaf Can Be does sound amazing. Thank you also for hosting Poetry Friday this week.

    In GatheringBooks, Iphigene writes about Robert Louis Stevenson's On Some Ghostly Companions at a Spa. :)

    1. Myra, I can't find your link. If you read this, please send it again.

    2. Hi Dori, I'm sorry, here it is: - so sorry about that.

  6. Great interview, Dori (and Laura!).

    I'm up with my Oddaptation of the Lorax today.

    Happy Dr. Seuss's birthday... and thanks for hosting!

  7. Thanks for hosting, Dori. Wonderful interview, and A Leaf Can Be looks so beautiful! Laura, I also do work-for-hire for the educational market and have experienced some of those cringe-inducing changes by the publisher! At first I tried to state my case, but now I just let it go. :)

    Today I'm up with a video of guest poet and children's book author Iza Trapani reading her kids' poem "Grins and Giggles." And it comes with a giveaway of one of her books!

    1. Yeah, Renee, it's tough doing rhyme for the ed market. LEAF CAN BE... wasn't that, and it was lovely to write it the way I wanted to! I just recently had some issues with a wfh project on content vs. meter. They wanted strong meter and rhyme to help new readers read and predict. But then my editor was suggesting changes that threw off the meter. On this one, though, when I respectfully pointed out the issues, she was very amenable. I explained that I was trying to give them the strong meter they asked for, but those changes would break that meter. I left it up to her about which was their top priority, the meter and readability, or the content in the additions she suggested. She agreed with my version, which did work in some, but not all, of her suggestions--yay! Waiting on final approval, though, which has to come from other people, so we'll see. I try to mostly let it go, but I do want projects that reflect well on my skills as a poet, ya know?

  8. Thanks for hosting, Dori! Happy Poetry Friday. I'm excited that Laura is doing a second book about water -- could it be a series?!

    I've got a peaceful poem today:

    1. When I said "second book," I meant after "A Leaf Can Be." Not two books about water...

    2. lol--I figured:>) Though I did have to cut a TON of water roles and had enough rhyming couplets for probably two books.

  9. Great interview! My poem today goes out to all the bloggers who have started the Slice of Life challenge for March:

  10. Thank you for hosting, Dori, and for the very interesting interview with Laura about the creative process.

    Over at my blog, today's theme is hope and optimism, part of the series of poems that can lead to quiet contemplation.

  11. Laura (Shovan) was having trouble commenting, so she asked me to add hers:

    Thanks for the interview with Laura, Dori. I am a fan of her books.

    I have a RAADical Forecast. In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, the weather site Foot's Forecast is asking people to send in Seuss-style local weather reports.

  12. Thanks for hosting! I have an original poem today here:

  13. Thanks for hosting, Dori. I have two poems in celebration of Women's History Month:

  14. Thank you, Dori, for hosting and for featuring me and LEAF CAN BE! Great story of how you got the copy. And it's always extra pleasing to me when another writer likes LEAF. I mean, I want everyone to love it:>) But my writer friends' support of it has been fabulous, and that means everything. I so lucked out with Lerner's illustrator choice! Anyway, thank you so much for spreading the word! And thank you, Commenters, for all your lovely words:>) I'll come back and respond to comments directed to me later.

  15. And I'm in today with a poem from TAKE TWO! A CELEBRATION OF TWINS, by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, at

    And with 15 Words or Less Poems (drop by and write a poem!) at

  16. I LOVE BOOKSPEAK and am hoping someone gives me LEAF for my birthday next week. Can't wait to come back and read this interview when I have a little more time to enjoy. I'm doing Slice of Life this month, so I'm double dipping with my own "poem" (if you can call it that) and Poetry Friday today.

  17. Darn! Forgot to leave the address! Sorry!

  18. Dori, thanks for hosting! That looks like such a beautiful book.

    Over at Write. Sketch. Repeat I'm celebrating the late-winter snow we got this week:

  19. Great interview, ladies! I've just read A LEAF CAN BE and it's playful and informative at the same time, with stunning illustrations. Today I'm living life on the wild side with Carl Sandburg:

  20. Good morning, Dori! Thanks for hosting. I'm in today at Write Time with a Mary Oliver poem and thoughts about learning from poetry.
    Happy Friday!

  21. At Random Noodling I share a poem called "Spitwads"!

    The poem at Kids of the Homefront Army is based upon something I had heard about Eleanor Roosevelt when I was a child.

    Kurious Kitty shares "The Cardinal" by Henry Carlile. Kurious K's Kwotes' P.F. quote is by Lawrence Raab.

  22. Wonderful interview with Laura. SO happy to hear there'll be a sequel to A Leaf Can Be. And I love BookSpeak!

    Today I'm continuing to celebrate Kelly Fineman's new rhyming picture book, At the Boardwalk:

    Thanks for hosting today, Dori!!

  23. Loved reading this interview. Thank you for hosting!

    I have a poem about moss today...

  24. I've been thinking about the Japanese form tanka all week. Today I've posted four tanka about being a kid in a grown-up world. At the end I've added an idea for a classroom activity using tanka.

    Here's the link to my blog Growing Wild:

    Thanks Dori!

  25. Dori, what a treat to start the day with the thoughtfulness of you and Laura!

    I wrote about Winnie-the-Pooh's take on writing poetry at

  26. Thanks for hosting.
    My selection is "Heart to Heart: new poems inspired by twentieth-century American art" edited by Jan Greenberg.

  27. Hi, Dori - this week I have a poem from Janet Wong's new book, The Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year, over at The Drift Record

  28. Meant to say thanks so much for the great interview of Laura Purdie Salas. I love what she says about how essential it is to try new things, and how the attempt to do so enriches us in general as creative people in the world.

    1. Thanks, Julie! That does feel so important to me, and yet it's so easy to let it slide...

  29. Hi Dori,
    I have two original haiku for snow today:

  30. Love Laura's interview.

  31. Thanks for hosting and for Laura's interview. Wonderful!

    At On Point I have Flower Girls.

    And at readertotz we are celebrating Step Gently Out.

  32. Hi Doraine. Today I just want to say thank you to several people in the kidlit community (including some from this Poetry Friday circle) for paving the way for the Madness! 2012 event that I'll be hosting at my blog. Here is a link to my new post "Did Someone Mention Madness?"



  33. Thanks for the interview and thanks for hosting. My Poetry Friday selection is a sonnet by Keats:

  34. I was inspired to write about my own mother after reading the poem "What I Learned From My Mother" by Julia Kasdorf
    and your poem, "What My Mother Taught Me". I found it to be such a wonderful experience, bringing me back to childhood and an appreciation for all she taught me. There are certainly more things, and perhaps there is a memoir here somewhere. Anyway, here 'tis:
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  35. i'm in this week with an argument in favor of planetary status

    wonderful interview, thanks for hoasting!

  36. Thanks for hosting today, Dori! At Booktalking I'm sharing an update of an old classic: Down by the Station by Jennifer Riggs Vetter (Author) and Frank Remkiewicz (Illustrator)

  37. Thanks for doing the roundup this week!

    Sorry to be leaving the link to my Poetry Friday post so late in the day. Because of the storm here yesterday, I couldn't drive home from my daughter's house until today.

    At Wild Rose Reader, I announced the winners of Janet Wong's new book "Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year."

  38. Thanks for hosting, Dori, and a great interview - some intersting insight into the complex process of putting the book together, which looks gorgeous, by the way - congratulations, Laura.

    I'm in Poetry Friday this week with a review of Kate Coomb and Meilo So's new book Water Sings Blue, and a reminder about World Read Aloud Day on 7th March:

    1. Thank you, Marjorie! Oh, I'm going to have to check that out!

  39. PS I was so hung up on getting apostrophes in the right place, I missed out the "s" in Kate's name - of course, that should be Kate CoombS. Sorry.

  40. I love how mortified we all are if we make a typo in our haste to leave Comments on blogs:>)