Children’s librarians are experts in making local connections. As a librarian in Springfield, Missouri, I have gotten to know our resident children’s poet and author, David L. Harrison. Mr. Harrison has hosted several book releases and readings at my library. His programs are energetic and always include lots of engagement for the kids. I love having a local author available to help us promote a love of reading and writing to kids and it’s wonderful having a local connection for writing events at our library. Mr. Harrison has helped us out in the past by serving as a judge on our teen writing contest and his love of books and libraries shines through in all that he does. He is an invaluable partner for our library and I would encourage other librarians to reach out and make connections with their own local authors.
I recently had the chance to ask Mr. Harrison about his writing for children and how he encourages kids to get excited about poetry.
How did you get started writing poetry?
DH: My mother was frying fish in the kitchen and I was sent to the living room to wait for dinner. When I made up my first poem, I was hungry and tired of waiting. The words I thought of expressed my need. I liked the way they sounded: “Sometimes I wish/I had a fish/Upon a little dish.” No one told me I had to make up a poem. Or that it had to be about my hunger pains for fish. No one said I couldn’t use words that rhymed. For a six-year-old, it was just a fun thing to do. After eight decades I’m still making up poems. Kids ask why I climb out of bed at 6:00 to settle into my daily 7-hour writing routine. The reason hasn’t changed: it’s still a fun thing to do.
Tell us a bit about your books.
DH: I’m a naturalist by instinct and scientist by training so many of my books involve animals and the natural world around us. My work ranges from serious to playful. Two new titles came out in 2018. A PLACE TO START A FAMILY is a collection of poems about structures animals create in which to lay eggs or give birth to their young. It was selected by NSTA as an Outstanding Science Trade Book. The second title, CRAWLY SCHOOL FOR BUGS, is a lighthearted group of poems about a school where insects go to learn their trades. It was chosen to represent Missouri at the 2018 National Book Fair in Washington, D.C. and by NCTE as a Notable Book of Poetry. Previous books of mine have received those honors plus many others, starting with THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES that won a Christopher Medal in 1972. PIRATES (2008; also an NCTE Notable Book of Poetry) was a VOYA pick for nonfiction. In 2016, NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T, a book of poems about natural camouflage used by creatures to hide or to hunt, (also an NCTE Notable Book of Poetry) was selected by Association of Midland Authors as the best nonfiction children’s book published that year. My next release is a nonfiction picture book about the life cycle of bullfrogs: AND THE BULLFROGS SING, due May 14. This one is in prose.
What is your favorite thing about writing for children?
DH: Writing for children carries responsibilities. The author must get it right. If we mislead young people, they have no way of detecting our failure and may absorb poor information into the fabric of their thinking. These aren’t strangers on an airplane. They are excited children sitting in front of you during a school visit, hands whipping the air, firing off questions, learning every day and hungry for answers. They love authors, trust us, ask how old we are, call us by our first names, sleep with our books in bed. What is not to love about writing for children? I can’t think of a thing.
How can librarians and teachers introduce poetry to kids?
DH: The short answer is to introduce children to poetry early and often. Make it a treat. Make it surprising and exciting. Find poetry THEY like and give them plenty of it. They like short. They like rhyme. They like humor. Most poems for kids take a minute or two to read. Few school days (or schedules at home) are so crowded that a few minutes cannot be found to read a couple of poems. And what a small price to pay, anyway, for an experience that helps children develop vocabulary, understanding, fluency, and comprehension? There are many ways to help students develop a love of poetry. In CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN THE READING PROGRAM, 6th edition (Guilford Press, 2018), I wrote the chapter on how to introduce and involve children in poetry, “Creating a Community of Poetry Enthusiasts,” in which I provide 10 ways to introduce and support the use of poetry in the classroom, library, and at home. I had the privilege of writing by invitation the poetry chapters in the 4th and 5th editions of this industry standard series. For the themed winter issue of MISSOURI READER (February 2019), I wrote the lead article about poetry’s place in the classroom: “Poetry, the Game Changer.” With leading educators in the field of literacy and early child development I’ve written a dozen books for classroom teachers, all using my original poetry to set up classroom activities.
You’ve hosted several fun and interactive events at the Springfield-Greene County Library for your books. Can you tell us about what you have planned for your latest release party in May?
DH: I’m always grateful for a chance to present a program at The Library Center. For the one coming up on May 14 to celebrate the publication of AND THE BULLFROGS SING, we have special treats in store. I’m calling it, “Night of the Frog,” and inviting friends from our zoo to bring some frogs and talk about their niche in our habitat. A well known folk singer will render familiar frog songs, we’ll have frog coloring and a hopping contest, singers from David Harrison Elementary School will present a multi-voice poem of mine called “Chorus for Four Frogs,” and other students will act out the scenes when I read the new book. I’ll sign books later. I’m looking forward to the evening!
David L. Harrison is poet laureate of Drury University. His poetry has inspired plays, been set to music, sandblasted into a library sidewalk, and painted on a bookmobile. He holds two science degrees, two honorary doctorates of letters, and has an elementary school named for him. For further information: DavidLHarrison1@att.net, http://davidlharrison.com, and http://davidlharrison.wordpress.com .