HOP TO IT—It’s Poetry Friday!

Happy Poetry Friday! I’m delighted to be your host today. Mr. Linky is in charge of the links for this week’s posts, so please add your link below.

I’ve got a special treat to offer today. Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell are joining me to talk about the making of their newest poetry anthology, HOP TO IT! Thanks, Janet and Sylvia for answering my questions!

BS: Back in February, 2020 (although perhaps it seems like 2010…) you had an open call for HOP TO IT poems. Your plan was for 75 poems that encourage movement and get the wiggles out. You asked for some poems that might involve full body movements and some that could be done in a chair. What inspired you to choose this theme?

JW: We first thought about doing a movement-themed book at the end of 2015, after an energizing session on that topic for NCTE in Minneapolis. But then we decided to focus on the reading-writing connection—and spent the next couple of years creating the Poetry Friday Power Book series, followed by a book of “morning announcement poems” for principals. Four years after we first had the idea for a book of movement poems, it popped up again, and we decided that it was finally time to HOP TO IT!

SV: Right! Any time we do a presentation, we invite the audience to participate in reading a poem along with us—with a repeated line or key word or fun motion—and those poems always get a great response. So, we decided to make this a focus of the next book with as much physical movement as we could inject! Research has shown that we are becoming a very sedentary society and many children have difficulty paying attention and learning when they have to sit so much. Let’s show them how active poems can be!

BS: Having an open call is unusual and generous (thank you, from every writer who is reading this post!) Why was an open call important to you, and what difficulties did that present?

JW: To me, the best thing about anthologies is the way they elevate new voices—and having an open call is the best way to find new poets.

SV: Janet and I brainstormed a list of movements to challenge poets to consider including clapping your hands, drumming on your desk, moving while seated, dancing, bending, shrugging, flexing, stretching, reaching, toe-tapping, and so much more. We posted a graphic with this list alongside a list of poem elements to incorporate from repetition to alliteration to similes to suspense. We spread the word on social media and watched the submissions roll in!

JW: The hardest part of this project: knowing that we didn’t want the book to have more than 75 poems (which kept inching up to the final number of 100 poems) meant that we automatically had to say no to a lot of poets whose work we love. We now work with approximately 200 poets—and we wish we could showcase everyone’s poems in every book. Saying no is the hardest part of creating any anthology. One hundred poems seemed to be about the limit for this book because we envisioned teachers holding it while moving; you need to be able to hold it easily in your hands.

BS: Your original plan was to accept poems through March and publish the book in August. But then 2020 happened… how did the pandemic change your vision? Did you consider delaying or cancelling your anthology? If so, what convinced you to soldier on?

JW: We received tons of submissions, more than we needed. But many of those poems were very similar in topic or approach. While we wrestled with that—how to choose 1-2 poems from 10-12 that are very similar?—next thing we knew, we found ourselves distraught over the pandemic, and we wondered whether we should expand the theme of the book.

SV: We chose to include poems about topics such as COVID-19, mask-wearing, staycations, keeping connected with friends, and Zoom—but right after we made that decision, the social justice protests started appearing on the news and we felt compelled to expand our theme once more.

JW: The trick was to stay true to the movement theme, which I think we’ve done because the social justice-themed poems all have a movement connection of some sort. There are poems about exercising your voice, standing up for what you believe in, marching, and raising your fist in the air in solidarity (something that seems to have originated during the French Revolution).

SV: The result, we think, is a book that sums up 2020 and helps us move forward while still keeping a focus on childhood experiences, physical interaction, and emotional truths.

BS: What challenges did you expect in marketing a book when schools were online and in full-stress mode? Have you been able to reach the audience that you intended? What feedback have you received from teachers and families using this book in class or online?

SV: Every publisher is struggling to debut new books without book signings, conference presentations, book tours, and personal appearances. We’ve used social media as creatively as possible posting videos and digital “postcards” and generating lots of comments, connections, and sharing. Our absolutely favorite thing is how the poets themselves are helping to spread the word, sharing the book online and in their own communities.

JW: I’ve been sharing poems from the book with teachers, librarians, parents, and students (PreK through university) all over the world via Zoom—mainly the U.S., but also with schools in Spain and China. Buffy, this week I shared your poem “Be the Beat!” with kids in Shanghai! They loved tapping, snapping, and clapping. Kids enjoy doing the movements along with me, especially when they see their teachers and parents joining in. One favorite of teachers is “Deskercise” by Juli Mayer because, as with your poem, kids can stay seated for it. Primary kids really enjoy wiggling, flapping arms, and climbing like a cat in “Can You Wiggle Like a Worm?” by Rose Cappelli. And older students find “On a Beach” by Suzy Levinson very calming.

BS: Your partnership clearly has been a successful one. Tell us a bit about how the two of you began to work together. What role do you each take in developing an anthology? How has your partnership evolved after producing many books together?

JW: Sylvia and I have two completely different versions of this story, but she is very sure that she’s right—so I’ll let her tell it.

SV: My version of this story starts with me being Janet’s “groupie” and asking for her autograph in her new book, Good Luck Gold, at a conference a million years ago! That led to presenting at more conferences together which led to creating a tribute book of poems for Lee Bennett Hopkins in celebration of his receiving the Excellence in Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English—the award that Janet herself just received last month! (Woohoo!) We worked so well together on that project that we decided to try another book— which led to another and another and another!

JW: With the first few books, I took the clear lead in curating the poems, while Sylvia focused on the curricular components. With this latest book, we shared the duties equally and it worked really well. With A WORLD FULL OF POEMS (published by DK), Sylvia showed that she can put together a terrific anthology all on her own, so it would’ve been odd for her not to be involved in the curatorial process for this book.

BS: What’s next on the agenda for Pomelo books?

JW: Too many ideas—but no clear frontrunners yet.

SV: Plus, once we finish a book, we devote a LOT of energy to spreading the word about the book out in the world. Creating a new anthology is just part of the process; book promotion is the next crucial step! So, we’ve held Zoom poetry parties, recorded and edited videos of poem readings, posted on social media with a variety of graphics, and taken as many silly photos of us as possible!

Thank you so much, Janet and Sylvia, for all you do to promote poetry for children, and for your generosity to the Poetry Friday community!

Readers, here’s your chance to win a copy of HOP TO IT! Leave a comment by Monday, December 14. Three lucky winners will receive a book courtesy of Pomelo Books.

I invite you to visit the Poetry Friday posts listed below.

35 thoughts on “HOP TO IT—It’s Poetry Friday!

  1. Hey, Buffy, thanks so much for this very fun interview and for hosting the Poetry Friday gathering! And thank you ALL for your sweet comments. I always love collaborating with Janet on our projects and it’s an extra treat to get to work with so many of you poets too! There is so much mutual admiration and genuine care in the poetry community– so special!

  2. Thanks for sharing more about this lovely book. I enjoyed the poems and the interview about Hop to It. What a process to get this book put together and published. And what an important topic–movement, that is–especially now when so many kids are sitting in front of a computer for school. The poems that you shared here show so much variety in topic and voice. It must have been really hard to choose from all the wonderful poems, but I’m glad you did, Janet and Sylvia–you are both amazing!

  3. Thank you for your kind comments, everyone! Buffy: you came up with such fabulous questions. We really appreciate the chance to share our “poetry secrets”; seriously, I think most people don’t understand how much we agonize over not being able to include more poems. If we could create 500-poem books, we would!!!

  4. Buffy, I have Hop To It! and love it – currently it’s on my desk to share with teachers, some of whom are still teaching virtually – what could be better, anywhere, any time, than getting up and moving with poetry (a la “Deskercize”)? The tidbits of info throughout are just more fascinating nuggets to treasure. Great interview and selection of poems in this post – love the rhythms of Be the Beat – music is the language of many students, a way to connect with them. Thank you for hosting today.

  5. Buffy, Thank you for hosting Poetry Friday and for offering this interview with the authors of Hop to It. I proudly own the book, won in a giveaway by Jone Rush MacCulloch. I am currently reading it – every page, every poem – and love it. I would love to have the opportunity in the future to respond to an open call like this. They were very gracious, indeed! I see we share a love for monarch butterflies and their life cycle, too! Thanks, again, Buffy! Take Care.

  6. Hip Hooray for a fabulous interview with Janet and Sylvia, Buffy. Congratulations on your poem, Be the Beat, with its own rhythm that makes me want to become a musician. This review is a must to send out via Twitter so I shall as I create the first segment of my Abundant Autumn Gallery. If you want to send me an offering for the gallery, please do. I will sign in to PF when I am finished with the post.

  7. Thanks, Buffy, for spotlighting both Janet and Sylvia in their ongoing campaign to champion and promote poetry and poets in classrooms everywhere. Of course their books can be enjoyed by a lone kid sitting in a library or at home, but it has always been their focus to support teachers in teaching poetry to children in schools–which is the main place most kids will be exposed to the entirely beneficial poetry virus! The only reason HOP TO IT did not make our NCTE 2020 list is *because* the book was seen as designed primarily as a tool for teachers and other adults rather than as a collection aimed directly at young readers. It is notable and outstanding in its category in every way! Glad so many of us could be a part of it.

  8. Happy Hanukkah, Buffy, and thank you for showcasing Janet and Sylvia, children’s poetry’s PB&J! What a delicious collaboration… and movement is such a great theme. xo

  9. I am so proud to be a part of this book. Sylvia and Janet are such a wonderful, dynamic duo, who promote poetry, poetry, poetry. One NCTE I was so bold as to introduce myself to them and tell them I wanted to write poems for them. It was the start of such an encouraging relationship that has pushed me forward as a poet. And I know they do that for so many others, too.
    I love “Your desk is a drum!” My 15 year old nephew is an up and coming drummer who got his start on his desk, no doubt to the irritation of many teachers.

  10. Thank you for hosting today, Buffy! Hurray for Janet and Sylvia and their tireless devotion to spreading the joys of poetry to children around the world! I loved hearing more about HOP TO IT! and learning about how they met. I hope one day soon we’ll all be able to gather face-to-face at conferences and workshops. They are so energizing and have so many ripple effects. Even though Zoom has filled some of the gaps, nothing replaces those in-person meetings. Happy Hanukkah!

  11. Thank you, Buffy! I’ve had so much fun with Sylvia and Janet promoting Hop To It. I didn’t know it was in the works for so long, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. And, by the way, I absolutely love On a Snow-Melting Day!

  12. Fabulous post. I really loved reading this insight – and having spent time zooming with Janet and Sylvia, now I can ‘hear’ them as I read! Joy. Thank-you for hosting – and for your fab questions.

  13. So much goodness in this interview and in the HOP TO IT! anthology. (no need to put me in the draw, I won a copy previously from Jone:)) Thanks so much for hosting, Buffy, and for asking all of the questions I was wondering about. Happy Hanukkah!

  14. Thanks for hosting, Buffy. I loved this long and full-of-background info from Sylvia and Janet. No need to put me on the list. I already had the pleasure of winning from Today’s Little Ditty! And I’m having fun reading the poems with the grand-girls. And, Happy Hanukkah, too!

  15. By interviewing the authors you provide something of a glimpse up the magician’s sleeve. Always intriguing to gain access to the backstory. Thank you Buffy, for this insight and for hosting.

  16. Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes look at the Janet & Sylvia’s new book, Buffy – it seems like everyone Inknow is in this! Thanks for hosting, as well!

  17. Thanks for your rich post BUFFY–I particularly enjoyed hearing about the backstory of HOP TO IT, and I’m enjoying my copy! Thanks also for hosting. Wishing you and your family a light filled Happy Hanukkah!

  18. Hi Buffy, thanks for hosting. It’s always wonderful to hear from Sylvia and Janet and always interesting to get the back story. Happy Hanukkah!

  19. Thanks for this wonderful post. Always great to hear from Janet and Sylvia. Love all the sample poems. I’ve been enjoying my copy of HOP TO IT (no need to put me in the draw). Thanks for hosting this week, Buffy!

  20. What a wonderful, rich post. Thank you, Buffy! A best thing about Vardell & Wong is how responsive they are to kids…this book is for NOW when we need it. And, they are responsive to poets working to write high quality poems for kids that get published! I’m delighted with the book, the team and all the friends that I see a part of it.
    Thanks so much for hosting this week. And, Happy Hanukkah!

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