The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Michelle Schaub
Poetry provides a wonderful vehicle to make inferences,
determine themes, and cite textual evidence in complex,
yet manageable texts. ~ Michelle Schaub
Michelle Schaub is an award-winning children's author. Her children's poetry collection, Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day At The Farmers' Market, won the 2018 Growing Good Kids Award. Fresh-Picked Poetry was also a 2018 Illinois Reads selection and 2018 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom Book of the Year. In 2020, she will publish her third book with Charlesbridge, Dream Big, Little Scientists.
Notably, Michelle's poems have appeared various anthologies, including Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud, and The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations. In addition to working on her own writing, Michelle Schaub also nurtures a love of reading and writing with her students as a writing teacher. When she's not teaching or writing, she enjoys hiking, biking, collecting words, and exploring local farmers markets.
Her newest picture book, Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections, releases tomorrow.
Happy Book Birthday!
Michelle, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
MICHELLE: I actually started “writing” as a very young child, before I could even write. I loved telling stories to my grandpa, and he’d help me publish them. We’d cut, fold, and staple sheets of paper together. Then I’d draw pictures and dictate words for my grandpa to record. I used to give my homemade books as gifts at the holidays. I enjoyed writing all through grade school and high school, but I didn’t actually think about becoming an author until college. In my last semester, I took a creative writing class for fun. During one critique session, a classmate pointed out that my main characters were always kids. When she asked if I had ever considered becoming a children’s writer, a light bulb went off.
While I enjoy writing nonfiction and prose, writing poetry is my passion, and this is where I’ve focused most of my creative energy. When my children were little, I snatched bits of time to write while they were napping. Publishing credits trickled in with magazine articles, poems, and work-for-hire chapter books, but I didn’t get my “big break” until Charlesbridge accepted my first poetry picture book collection, Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, in 2014.
Sounds like you were destined to be a writer/poet. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I love making my own kombucha, which is a fizzy, fermented tea. I first tried this health drink at a farmers’ market, no surprise. It’s pretty pricey, so when my craving for kombucha started to cut into my budget, I decided to brew my own. It sits on a shelf in my kitchen while it “cultures,” looking like a strange science experiment. Not only is this a great conversation starter, but the end elixir isn’t bad either!
I can imagine the comments you get from visitors. Especially, if they'd never brewed their own before. Writing a collection of poems about what friends and family collect is such a great premise. What was your inspiration for Finding Treasure?
My grandmother was big collector. Teapots and cups. Giraffe figurines. Butterfly mementos. I used to love visiting her house and pouring over all the different items she had on display. The poem “Grannies Teapots” from Finding Treasure is based on the tea parties I’d have with my grandmother. She’d always let me choose the teapots and cups. I still use one of her teapots regularly, and every time I bring it out, it sparks memories of our time together. The idea that collections are keepers of stories and memories is at the heart of my book. To me, this is the true treasure behind a collection.
I agree with you. I collect ornaments from places I travel to. Unpacking them (and repacking them) each Christmas sparks tons of memories. How did writing Finding Treasure differ from your first poetry book with Charlesbridge, Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers' Market (2017)?
Actually, I went through a similar process with both books. First, I came up with an idea based on something that was near and dear to my heart. Then I started brainstorming different topics for poems. Once I had a few ideas, I tried to think of a story to tie the poems together and give the book structure.
For Fresh-Picked Poetry, this structure comes from two friends exploring the market from early morning set-up until the last tent is taken down at the end of the day. My brilliant illustrator, Amy Huntington, added another story element Fresh-Picked Poetry by having the two friends’ dogs escape and create a bit of a hullabaloo.
For Finding Treasure, I invented a protagonist with a problem: a child who needs to bring a collection of books to school for show and tell. Unfortunately, she doesn’t collect anything, so she “hunts” for inspiration by asking friends and family what they collect. With both books, I also focused on including a variety of poetry formats, from haiku, to rondeau, to two-voice poems.
I enjoyed the various poetic formats and truly love the extras that illustrators bring to the picture books! Do you have a favorite poem in Finding Treasure? What was the hardest one to write? Why?
For me, choosing a favorite poem is sort of like trying to choose my favorite child. I love them all, each for different reasons. I will say, one of the poems I’m most proud of is “The Gist of Collecting,” which is about things that scientists collect. After I’d written a few poems about traditional collector items, like baseball cards, coins, and buttons, I was trying to think outside the box. It dawned on me that some people collect items as part of scientific inquiry. For example, there is a specific type of entomologist who collects and studies flies called a dipterologist. This poem was also one of the most challenging for me to write because I had to fit specific scientific terms like ichnologist (someone who collects and studies fossils) into the rhythm and meter of the poem.
Yikes! Congrats on accomplishing that feat. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Growing up, I absolutely loved Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books. They were the first “chapter” books I read, so they gave me a sense of accomplishment and possibility. Looking back, I think I also admired the deep messages about friendship and life that came in such a seemingly simple package. Plus, they made me laugh.
You used different types of poems in Finding Treasure. I like Aunt Nisha’s Nature Display Haikus. Did you purposely set out to use a different form for each collection? What poetic form is used in "Sissy’s Snow Globes"?
Yes, I purposely included several different poetry forms in the book. In addition to haiku, the collection includes rondeau, double dactyl, two-voice, list, free verse, and counting poems. Partly, I did this for the sake of variety and interest. But, wearing my teacher hat, I also including different forms to be used as mentor text in the classroom.
"Sissy’s Snow Globes” was originally a shape poem in the form of a snow globe. However, this format would have required a double page spread. Because of space limitations, we had to modify the layout of the poem. The words are still laid out to float like flakes in a snow globe, but I wouldn’t consider it a true shape poem.
Text © Michelle Schaub, 2019. Image © Carmen Saldana, 2019.
Interesting. Did you have any input into the illustrations for any of your books? Either at the beginning or in a later review stage? Do you have a favorite spread or image?
I did not have any input into the illustrator for my two poetry collections, but boy did I hit the artist jackpot. Both Amy Huntington (Fresh-Picked Poetry) and Carmen Saldaña (Finding Treasure) did an amazing job. With both books, I had input after seeing initial sketches and then again after final spreads were set. But I only made a few minor suggestions where the details of a picture needed to be tweaked to better match the text of the poem. For the most part, I sat back and let the artists work their magic.
And they certainly did just that! Is there something you want your readers to know about Finding Treasure?
Many of the poems in the collection were inspired by real-life collectors I know and love. In addition to “Granny’s Teapots,” which was inspired by my own grandmother’s tea time collections, my father-in-law’s love of toy trains inspired “My Father’s Trains.”
My husband collected baseballs cards as a kid, (he still has boxes of them stacked in our basement,) which led to “My Brothers and Their Baseball Cards.” My son keeps aquariums and loves adding new, exotic fish, hence “Asher’s Aquarium.” Collecting is such a universal hobby. I hope that the poems in my book strike a chord with readers as they think of the collectors and collections they know and love in their own lives.
It definitely is a universal activity and so very varied. I've seen spoon, key, drill bit, ceramic doll, anime character, dice, and button collections. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?
What I find most frustrating is hearing over and over that children’s poetry is hard to sell. As a teacher and poet, I see children’s poetry as such a vital part of literacy. In fact, when I present at conferences, I like to say that poetry is literacy’s superfood. It’s packed with rich content in a concise package. Poetry is also my passion, so it’s hard to hear that the thing you love is not the thing that editors are dying to publish. Sometimes I wrestle with putting my poetry writing to the wayside to focus on more “marketable” genres. But then I come back to the advice I heard from a Skype visit with J. Patrick Lewis at a Highlights Workshop. He said, “If you are going to be a poet, be a poet.” Basically, stay true to your passion.
Excellent advice. If you don't do what you're passionate about, it shows. Can you tell us a little about the Poetry Friday Anthology For Celebrations and Great Mornings: Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud ?
I am honored to have a couple of my poems included in these amazing poetry anthologies. Both books are published by the wonderful editors and children’s poetry champions, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell. Celebrations is a collection of poems about holiday and celebrations throughout the year. Each poem is presented in English and Spanish. Great Mornings is a collection of poems on various topics that spark school community. Both anthologies contain curricular connections. They are great resources for classroom teachers who want to weave poetry into their school day but are short on time.
What great books to be associated with! Is there anything you’ve learned from your critique buddies (assuming you’re in a critique group)?
Over the years I’ve been part of different critique groups, and I’ve learned valuable lessons on craft and life from different members. The most consistent lesson I’ve learned is that a critique group is essential. It keeps you honest, pushes you to be better, and dusts you off when you’ve fallen in the dirt of rejection or self-doubt.
There is nothing quite as valuable as emotional support through this roller-coaster of a career we've chosen. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’ve recently finished reviewing the final proofs for my third book with Charlesbridge, entitled Dream Big, Little Scientists (due 2/18/20). This bedtime book in verse introduces readers to twelve branches of science. Alice Potter, the illustrator, did an amazing job bring twelve budding scientists and their science-themed bedrooms to life. I can’t wait for this book to connect with curious STEM-loving kids!
I love the cover and the premise. I can't wait to see the book! Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?
If I had known how long and winding my road to publication would be, I’m not sure I would have started on the pathway back when. Just out of college, working on my first manuscript, I thought I’d hold my own published book in my hands within five years. Boy was I wrong! Instead of a straight shot to success, it’s been a twisty journey, filled with many wrong turns and lots of potholes (i.e. rejections.) But I’ve also had stretches of sunny days, cruising with friends I’ve made in this wonderful writing community. Through it all, I’ve learned that publication is not the destination. It’s just another stop on the journey. I try to enjoy the ride, the daily honing of craft and connecting with others who share your love of reading and writing. This is what really matters.
Wonderful advice! Thank you, Michelle for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back Friday to the Perfect Picture Book post on Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections.
To find out more about Michelle Schaub, or get in touch with her:
Michelle’s Blog Tour – Be sure to check them all out:
Matthew Forrest, Radio, Rhythym, and Rhyme: https://mattforrest.wordpress.com/ Sept. 13
Melissa Stoller, www.melissastoller.com/blog Sept. 16
The Grog, https://groggorg.blogspot.com/ Sept. 18
Maria Marshall, The Picture Book Buzz: TODAY! and as a #PPBF post on Friday, Sept. 20
Jama Rattigan, https://jamarattigan.com/, Sept. 27