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Things To Do author Elaine Magliaro shares the peaks and valleys she encountered while creating the poems for our featured picture book.
Author Elaine Magliaro on her writing journey
The manuscript for my book Things to Do made quite a journey from its original version to its final draft. It became a much leaner poetry collection through the editing process. The original manuscript contained twenty-eight poems; the final version has fourteen.
I had to leave many of my poems on the cutting room floor: alarm clock, breakfast, bus, school, pencil, noon, school lunch, spelling test, book, school bell, grass, lawnmower, bicycle, dinner, homework, grandfather clock, nightlight, teddy bear, and night. That’s a total of nineteen poems to which I bid farewell! Just nine of the original poems remained. I had a long road of writing and rewriting before I reached my destination.
Melissa Manlove, my editor at Chronicle Books, traveled the months-long journey with me.
A Small Crisis
Here is an excerpt from an email that Melissa sent to me during our early discussions about my manuscript:
As we also discussed, we’re going to make this text less school-age-specific. Towards that end, I think we need to think further about what our moment of small crisis is to be. I think a pet running away / getting lost is a bit too fraught for the younger readers of this book. What about losing a favorite toy –your teddy bear?– so that when it is recovered it is filthy and must endure the trial of the washing machine? (perhaps in the background we see a dog carrying it off a small way?) Small children (and older children will recall this well) hate to see a beloved toy go into the washer/dryer. Or perhaps the toy is only forgotten in the backyard, and caught in the rain –thus your rain poem–and has to spend time in the dryer? Or perhaps you have other ideas?
TEDDY BEAR HAD TO GO
Oh, how I tried to make my “story in poems” work with a teddy bear scenario. I failed . . . miserably! I just couldn’t get it right. After several attempts, I gave up. I think it was for the best. After I threw up my hands in defeat, I got the idea that the “moment of small crisis” should be a rainstorm interrupting the little girl’s day of play outdoors. Fortunately, Melissa liked the idea.
I then got to work writing the SKY poem, which would imply an oncoming rainstorm. It helped to move along the arc of my story in poems. Soon after completing that poem, I got an inspiration to write a poem about boots. My first draft needed no revisions—and it fit into the storyline perfectly.
I had to revise some of the poems that we kept in the collection. A few had minor revisions; others required much more. One that underwent a major change was the honeybee poem, which had originally been a “worker bee” poem.
Things to do if you are a WORKER BEE as it appeared in my manuscript:
Be yellow and fuzzy.
Stay busy. Be buzzy.
Tidy and clean.
Tend to your queen.
Be a working machine—
A syrup collector.
Go forage for nectar.
Reap pollen from flowers.
Don’t spend idle hours.
Don’t sit and relax.
Make honey and wax.
You must toil without end—
Yours is a lifetime of labor,
Melissa thought the poem was too long. She suggested I keep just the first two lines . . . and leave the poem at that. I decided to add two new lines to the beginning.
The final draft of Things to do if you are a HONEYBEE:
Flit among flowers.
Sip nectar for hours.
Be yellow and fuzzy.
Regarding my SNAIL poem, Melissa wrote: “LOVE the first two lines. Love the image I get of a child hunched over a snail, getting a good look at this small creature. The last two lines are not wrong… but don’t feel as strong as the first two. They also sound to me like a slightly different voice. Revise a bit?”
I changed the ending of the SNAIL poem from
And anywhere you chance to roam
Bring along your mobile home.
The wonders of your world are small.
Don’t hurry by.
Enjoy them all.
Melissa suggested cutting my SUN poem from the collection during the early stages of our discussions because, at that point, it didn’t seem to be helping with the storyline. Later, we added my revised version of it back into the collection after the “small moment of crisis” had changed:
My original SUN poem:
Wear a crown
of golden light.
Keep the planets
in their place.
Be the queen
of outer space.
I changed the ending to this:
warm yellow rays.
Rule the sky
on summer days.
Melissa thought my RAIN poem was “lovely!” Still, she wanted me to revise it. She wrote: “…after ‘windowpanes’, though, I keep expecting to hear its rhyme in ‘drains’… are you sure you don’t want that word in there somewhere? The last three lines feel less powerful to me than the previous ones. I suggest you confine yourself to the imagery that might reasonably be in front of your main character—you start getting too far afield at the end.”
My original RAIN poem:
Polka dot sidewalks.
Roll off rooftops and gurgle down gutter spouts.
Patter around a porch in silver slippers.
Dimple a quiet pond.
Tickle tulips and glisten the grass.
Tiptoe over silken seas.
Look for a lost rainbow.
After revision, the first two lines remained the same—but nearly everything else changed. In addition, it became a rhyming poem.
Polka dot sidewalks.
Whoosh down gutter spouts.
Gurgle into drains.
Patter ’round the porch
In slippers of gray.
Tap dance on the roof.
(Note: I wrote four new poems for my book: BIRDS, SKY, BOOTS, and CRICKETS. We also added the SPIDER poem that I had cut from my manuscript.)
A LONG JOURNEY
During months of discussions with my editor, I wrote and rewrote . . . and produced eight different drafts of my poetry collection. I completed the final draft in June of 2012. Chronicle then spent more than a year looking for an artist to illustrate Things to Do.
The journey from original manuscript to final draft to published book was a long one indeed. It took over half a decade. Along the way, I got frustrated. There were days when I thought I’d never “get it right.” There were times when I had to step away from my computer and not think about Things to Do for a while.
Now, however, I can say that all of the time I spent brainstorming ideas, revising poems, writing new poems, dealing with my own frustrations, and waiting for my publisher to find an illustrator were definitely worth it. I’m proud of my book. I realize how fortunate I was to have an editor who helped me to shape my poetry collection into what it was really meant to be. When I look at Catia Chien’s artistic visions of my text and see how she breathed life into my words in such a beautiful way, I think I must be the luckiest children’s author on the face of the Earth!
SOME POEMS THAT I LEFT ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
Things to do if you are an ALARM CLOCK
(This had been the first poem in the collection.)
Don’t YELL at me!
with a harsh metal voice
that makes my ears ring!
Don’t jolt me from my sleep
and start my day off wrong.
Sing me awake
with a soft morning song.
Things to do if you are GRASS
Live on a hillside meadow.
and golden as summer sun.
Hide fluffy field mice
and a symphony of crickets.
honeybees, and butterflies.
Drink the fallen rain.
Bend and sway
to the rhythm
of the wind
Things to do if you are NIGHT
(This was originally the last poem in the collection.)
Be the shadow of day.
Put the sun to bed and light the moon.
Rouse sleeping raccoons and owls.
Paint oceans black.
Sprinkle stars across the sky.
Slip softly away before dawn.
ONE MORE POEM
I have been an elementary teacher, a school librarian, and an instructor of children’s literature at a university. I am a parent and grandparent. I have spent my adult life immersed in children’s books. I’ve collected thousands of them. I absolutely LOVE reading them aloud to young listeners! That’s why I’d like to leave you with one more poem that I cut from my book. It has a special place in my heart:
Things to do if you are a BOOK
Be filled with words that tell a tale
of a little mouse and a giant whale
of a runty pig and his spider friend
who was true and loyal to the end
of a badger who loved eating bread and jam
of a funky guy, green eggs, and ham
of a spunky girl named Ramona Q.
of a boy and the Jabberwock he slew.
Be filled with words and tell a tale
that will let my imagination sail.
Be a mystery
or a fantasy
or sing with sounds of poetry.
Between your covers
let there be
a story that’s just right for me.