Forest Has a Song
By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; illus by Robbin Gourley
32 pages, ages 6 & up
Clarion Books, 2013
It’s April, which is poetry month. And it’s Friday – which means STEM Friday and “perfect picture books”. And I’ve got an interview with poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater – which means what would have (on any other day) been a “two-fer” is actually a “two-fer-squared”. You do the math….
So, about two weeks ago I got this awesome book in my mailbox: Forest Has a Song. The minute I saw the cover, I fell in love with it… what’s not to love about red boots? Endpapers filled with leaves of all sorts? A girl and her dog off on wild adventures?
The book opens with an invitation from the forest: “I’m here. Come visit.”
Themes: nature, discovery, seasons
like love: These poems are
accessible even to those of us who shy away from poetry. Both words and
illustrations invites us – no, pull us – into the forest. Words on the page
turn into chickadee calls; tracks in snow or mud become the Forest News…
“articles printed by animals on the
go.” As a journalist I appreciate news,
no matter the format. But here, let Amy’s poetry speak for itself:
Young raccoons / drink sips of creek.
Mouse and hawk / play hide and seek.
There are ferns and fossils, bones and birds… and somewhere in it all, Forest has a song. When I reach the end I’m not sure whether I want to flip back to the beginning and read it again – or grab my colored pencils and notebook and run outside – quick! – before the last notes of song drift away.
So I asked Amy: What inspired a book featuring poetry about foresty things?
Amy: We moved to the country nine years ago. Our old farmhouse sits on a large parcel of mostly wooded land, and so we are surrounded by the plants and creatures and mysteries that show up in these poems. Too, I loved playing in the woods when I was a little girl, and my childhood family and grownup family are both camping souls. I breathe differently outside, and writing these poems gave me time to breathe and write and live in that rich space.
SB: How did "forest" become a character?
Amy: I think it just evolved. During the revision process, that forest voice spoke up. Now I see that it weaves through many of the poems; the book feels like one long conversation between child and forest. The book started with a handful of poems. When I realized that forest imagery was appearing again and again in my writing, I made a long list of poem possibilities and just started writing, tossing, revising, and playing with the ideas.
SB: I love that the poems arc through the seasons.
Amy: I didn’t plan it that way, but since I’ve spent time in forests throughout the year, my different memories called up different pictures. Editor Marcia Leonard wisely ordered the poems in this narrative through-the-seasons way – she saw them as verses in a larger song, a ballad that would tell the story of a year in the life of a young girl and of the woods that she loved. So I drew on the details of the poems to arrange them in an order that followed the seasons. It was very satisfying! I could almost hear the poems click into place. And this, in essence, is what an editor does: help a manuscript become the book it wants to be.”
SB: How did "Forest News" grow from seed to "adult"?
Amy: This poem went through many, many revisions. Like a few other poems in the book, (“Song”, “Dusk”, “Home”) it is simply a list with a few words at the beginning and end. Much of my revision was focused on the internal sounds: whiskery-wild, sips of creek, scribbled hints/in footprints…
Amy’s poetry is not only lyrical, but grounded in science. Her husband, Mark, is a passionate biology teacher and, says Amy, “science advisor”. For example, she says, “when I’m writing along and wonder something, I simply call from the next room: ‘Do tree frogs really live around here?’ Usually he knows, but if not…we find it out!”
Beyond the Book
Try your hand at writing poetry about the world around you. Everything has a song – so if you don’t live near a forest, listen for the music in a vacant lot, or neighborhood park.
Listen to the songs of the birds – or insects or frogs – that live nearby. If you can, write them down… maybe their notes will inspire a song, the rhythm of their call a poem.
Go outside and draw one small thing in nature – a flower, grass… and color it in with pencil or paint or crayon. Then write words around it: what you see, action words, how it smells, its texture.
More Stuff: Amy's book trailer is here. Amy grows poems and writes stuff about poetry at her Poem Farm, and shares really cool writing notebooks here.