Jack Prelutsky, named the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, is the author of more than 40 books of verse and editor of several poetry anthologies. He has charmed children and adults with his witty, musical poems for nearly four decades. His poetry is memorized and recited by children across the country who love his inventive wordplay and unpredictable rhymes. His best-selling classics include "A Pizza the Size of the Sun" (1996 ) and "The New Kid on the Block" (1984). His latest books are "In Aunt Giraffe's Green Garden" and "The Wizard," both published in 2007 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2007 National Book Festival
Your poems are so colorful and creative. How do you become inspired to write a poem?
Things are going on all the time. I keep my eyes and ears open and try my best to be aware of what's happening. My main trick is that I always carry a notebook, and as soon as I see or think of something, I write it down. Six months from now, I might not remember that I saw a man with a penguin on his head, but if it's in my notebook, I've got it forever.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
Sometimes, no matter what I do, the poem won't come out. I simply can't seem to make it do what I want. When that happens, I either work on another project or do something completely different, like take a walk or go to a movie or a ballgame. Then I'll think about the poem just before I go to bed. Eventually, the poem solves itself . . . often in my sleep.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing? Can you provide a funny writing topic to get them started on a short story or poem?
Besides writing down ideas in a notebook, I suggest that students write about stuff that they know. Write about yourself, your friends, your family, your pets.
What's the funniest thing you've ever seen your brother or sister or dog or cat do? Write about that.
You were just named the first Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation; will you explain more about that achievement?
The award gives me a greater opportunity to spread the word about children's poetry and the poets who write it. I've been doing a children's-poet-of-the-month feature on the Poetry Foundation's website (www.poetryfoundation.org) in which I present the work of my colleagues.
Will you provide educators with a few fun ideas on how to incorporate poetry into the classroom?
Teachers and their students should realize that poetry is connected to all the other arts, and that all the arts are connected to everything else. A poem doesn't just appear out of thin air. It exists because something happened to a human being who chose to express the experience in poetry. A lot of thought goes into a poem, and a lot of thought should go into presenting a poem. Make the poem part of a larger picture . . . for example, set the poem to music, turn it into a drama, make art projects based on the poem and/or accompany it with sound effects. The possibilities are endless.
Here's a simple idea; pick a poem you like, and have each student find a melody that works well with the poem's lyrics and then perform it in class. For instance, my poem, "Deep in Our Refrigerator" from It's Raining Pigs and Noodles, can be easily set to the music of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "The Wabash Cannon Ball," and "America the Beautiful."