GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Today, we’re interviewing Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, whose book Forest Has a Song comes out today.

A spider is a “never-tangling dangling spinner / knitting angles, trapping dinner.” A tree frog proposes, “Marry me. Please marry me… / Pick me now. / Make me your choice. / I’m one great frog / with one strong voice.” VanDerwater lets the denizens of the forest speak for themselves in twenty-six lighthearted, easy-to-read poems. As she observes, “Silence in Forest / never lasts long. / Melody / is everywhere / mixing in / with piney air. / Forest has a song.” The graceful, appealing watercolor illustrations perfectly suit these charming poems that invite young readers into the woodland world at every season.

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn’t it beautiful? I could stare at the art for hours, and don’t get me started on the poems themselves! I’d like to add that it has already made an impact in our household. My first-grade daughter and her friend love to pore over it, reading out loud together, and both of them want to know how the artist did “such a good job.”

In Forest Has a Song, each poem is like an instrument solo and together, they make a beautiful opus. What inspired you to write a collection of poems that unite in such a way?

My family lives on the edge of a forest, we’ve spent a lot of time camping, and I grew up playing in the woods. Back in 2006, I realized that I had written many foresty poems and thought I would see how many I could gather.  Lee Bennett Hopkins has been a very generous teacher to me, and he taught me about how to do this kind of gathering and shaping.

I love each of the poems, especially the haikus, but my favorite is “April Waking”. Is there a poem that is closest to your heart?

I like “First Flight” because it makes me think about our children and being a mom, and I also like “Fossil” because of the magic.  It’s funny, but usually my favorites among my own poems are those I do not actually feel I wrote.  It’s almost as if they were whispered to me, and I served simply as reviser.  It’s strange and wonderful, really.

Which poem was most troublesome to write, and why?

“Farewell”, the last poem in the collection, was probably the trickiest for me because I initially had a different concept for the ending of the book.  When that changed, I needed to come up with a new poem, and that required me to get out of my old mindset.

Your journey to publication has been as varied as anyone’s, but the illustrations were certainly worth the wait! Which part of the publication process surprised you the most?

Everything was new to me, and so I was met with many surprises.  But the beauty of Robbin Gourley’s artwork is has been the most humbling part of it all, to know that she read and considered each poem so carefully.  I was surprised to feel so close to a person I had never met.  Robbin and I are friends online now, and we call the girl in FOREST HAS A SONG “our girl”.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did that desire lead you to where you are today?

I always wanted to be a teacher just like my mother and my grandmother.  And I have always loved making things and writing. My work as a fifth grade teacher led me to studying writing with Lucy Calkins at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the act of teaching writing deepened my own writing greatly.  I am fortunate to be able to write and to work with teachers and students around writing.  These two parts of my work nurture each other.

As a teacher and mother, how do you squeeze in time to write? Do you have any rituals or special places you like to write in? 

I write in the small spaces: over breakfast, in my head while driving, walking down the road.  And sometimes I fall asleep at night with my face in my notebook.  (It’s funny to read those entries in the morning.)  I love curling up in front of the heater with papers, books, and a black pen.  And I have a great old desk.  My blog, The Poem Farm, helps keep me on schedule as I post there two times each week. The ritual of blogging has changed the rhythm of my life.

Did you write any of the poems while actually in the forest, listening to the snaps and squeaks?

I do not believe that I actually sat in a forest to write any of these poems, but each one was written from real experiences and real things I said and thought in my life’s forests.  I have, indeed, said, “I wish I had moss socks!” when tiptoeing to the outhouse at our family’s camp…and this found its way into a poem.

Finally, as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know which authors and poets inspired you as a kid.

I was a big Shel Silverstein fan as a girl, and I also adored A CHILD’S BOOK OF POEMS, illustrated  by Gyo Fujikawa.  I remember being scared at the ends of NANCY DREW chapters and I remember stacks of library books each week.  I was an avid reader, but I was an equally avid creator and explorer.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share here at OneFour KidLit, Amber.  It has been a privilege.
Amy Photo Red Vest

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writer and writing teacher living at Heart Rock Farm, south of Buffalo, NY, with her husband and three children.  Amy’s poems appear in numerous anthologies, and she is the author of two poetry books for children: FOREST HAS A SONG (Clarion, 2013) and READING TIME (WordSong, date TBA).  Amy is also co-author of the professional book, POETRY: BIG THOUGHTS IN SMALL PACKAGES (Heinemann, 2013) and maintains a searchable blog full of hundreds of poems and mini lessons at www.poemfarm.amylv.com as well as a notebooking blog at www.sharingournotebooks.amylv.com. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown Ltd.

The illustrations–which are incredible–are by Robbin Gourley.  Forest Has a Song is published by Clarion and edited by Dinah Stevenson.

This interview was conducted by OneFour member Amber Lough, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s books authors debuting in 2013.

Amber Lough lives in Syracuse, NY with an astrophysicist and their two kids, Future CEO and Future Comedian. She spent half her childhood in Japan and the Middle East, but majored in Russian because she likes a challenge. She quit her job in the Air Force to write stories about other worlds and times. Her Middle Eastern fantasy, THE FIRE WISH, is due from Random House Children’s in Fall 2014.
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One thought on “GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

  1. I’m going to share this with some teacher friends of mine. Sounds like Mary Oliver, for kids :0)

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