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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Darren Sardelli and Review of What If?

Darren Sardelli is a humorous poet who knows how to get kids excited about poetry. He’s been invited to speak at over 800 schools and libraries, nationwide, where he’s transformed reluctant readers and writers into poetry fanatics. Growing up, Darren had very little interest in writing. He’d rather be riding his bike, playing sports, or figuring out how to beat his favorite video games. After an inspirational dream during his junior year at Loyola University (Maryland), everything changed. Darren discovered how much fun poetry could be. He started writing and never looked back.

Sardelli is the author of Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie (School Poems That Are Out of This World!) (2009). His poems have been featured on Radio Disney, in bestselling books on the Scholastic Book List, and appear in 25 children’s books in the U.S. and UK. Some of these titles include The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems (2021), Night Wishes (2020), Hop To It (2020), Construction People (2020), I Am Someone Else (2019), School People (2018), Great Morning! (2018), One Minute Till Bedtime (2016), Mary Had A Little Jam (2016, Latest Version), A Bad Case Of The Giggles (2015, Latest Version), What I Did On My Summer Vacation (2009), and I Hope I Don’t Strike Out (2008).

His most recent picture book, What If?, releases April 1st.

Welcome Darren,

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? Do you prefer poetry anthology/books or picture books? Do you prefer writing children’s books or poems?)

I’m a hockey player with a passion for writing creative rhymes for children. I started writing when I was 20. Before that, I had no interest. Now, I write anywhere and everywhere. I might wake up with an idea at 2 AM and write until sunrise. It’s exciting sharing the pages with other poets in anthologies. I love writing picture books and poetry books as well. I can’t say I have a preference. I’m just happy to be published.

Sounds like you are doing exactly what you should be doing! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I’d like to pursue stand-up comedy. I have a lot of jokes that I’ve been writing down throughout the years. I’m looking forward to testing out my material at open mics.

Here's the world going back to normal and stand-up comics entertaining us all. What do you tell a comic? Break a funny bone? So, what was your inspiration for What If?

After writing a poem with 4th graders, in my Build-A-Poem Workshop, the first line was stuck in my head. “It’s raining orange lollipops.” As I was driving home that day, I started making up all of these 'What If' questions.

“What if it did rain orange lollipops?

What if it started snowing in your lunchroom?

What if people traveled in giant bubbles?”

That night, I wrote a couple of lines down in one of my idea books. A few months later, I picked up the book and started writing more questions. I kept writing and editing a little each day until it turned into a manuscript.

What a great way to capture a story! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was your favorite book as a child?

Some of my favorite books as a child were Frog and Toad, Caps for Sale, and The Bernstein Bears series. Although I wasn’t crazy about reading, I remember enjoying these books.

Is there something you want your readers to know about What If?

In Max’s original sketches, there were no turtles. As the illustrations were being created, I reworked some of the lines in the book. One line read, “What if tortoises could teleport?” Max quickly drew a sketch and sent it over. When my wife saw it, she really loved the image and suggested putting more turtles in the book. Max loved the idea and in a nutshell (or turtle shell), turtles became the main characters. My wife kept me grounded and focused throughout the process. She’s an amazing person.

You are extremely lucky to have such a wonderful partner. What do you find to be the hardest part of writing in Rhyme? Do you have a resource you find really helpful? Which was the toughest part of What If? to get right?

Writing in rhyme can definitely be tricky. Before I was published, my rhythm was choppy and a lot of my rhymes were forced. My content was pretty solid, but I didn’t understand how to structure a poem. It took one conversation for all of that to change. While attending my first Writer’s Conference in 2003, I met Monte Schulz (son of Charles Schulz). He’s the one who taught me about meter and rhythm and showed me how to write a poem correctly.

The toughest part about What If? to get right were the rhymes in the 6th line of each stanza. These lines and rhymes had to be very specific. I had to rework the lines many, many times before I got them right.

I try not to use resources because I like to figure things out in my head. Once in a while, though, I do use It’s an amazing site that is perfect for any writer. I highly recommend it.

Oh my gosh, how fun is that? We definitely meet the most amazing people at conferences. When you first got to see Max Hergenrother’s illustrations, did anything surprise or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

It was such a pleasure to work with Max! He’s a really talented artist. Our process was interesting. We kept going back and forth until we got it right. Many of his original sketches look nothing like the artwork in the book. In fact, the original characters were a boy and a girl. Along the way, the main characters became turtles. Each turtle has a unique look, personality, and trait that stands out.

Text © Darren Sardelli, 2021. Image © Max Hergenrother, 2021.

My favorite spread is the space scene (turtles in space). I also love the basketball and hockey spread as well.

I love that the text asks "What if rocket ships were free?" How have you been staying creative these days. What have you been doing to prime the well?

Believe it or not, it’s actually been a very busy school year. I’ve been visiting schools (virtually) all around the globe. I’m averaging 3 schools per week. I feel like my assemblies and writing workshops are just as effective as In-person visits. Throughout the day, I’m constantly writing down my ideas. When I have free time, I’m usually writing poetry.

You seem to be floating through this weird period pretty well. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m excited to say I have a forthcoming book being illustrated by Max. It’s called The Wild, Wild Walk. It’s a picture book, written in rhyme, about a boy’s wild adventure to his grandmother’s house. It’s packed with alliteration, personification, and many other literary devices. I think this book will be a fun read for reluctant readers. It’s going to hit the bookshelves in 2022.

Ooh, I'm excited to see this one. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?

I’ve always been fascinated with kangaroos. I heard they can leap 30 feet in a single bound and travel more than 30 miles an hour. I wish I could do that.

Thank you, Darren for coming by again. It is always a pleasure to talk with you.

To find out more about Darren Sardelli, or get in touch with him:

Review of What If?

If you're around kids, then WHY? and WHY NOT? are staples of your life. New to everything, kids are sponges, soaking up facts, experiences, rules, and traditions. Why does it always fall when I drop it? (Is "dropsy" really a required game of toddlers?) Why can't I do what I want, have what I want, eat what I want . . . ?

This is a fun book that kids will revel in wondering about the questions and laughing as the adults have to read them. Then, of course, try to think of an answer. (For that, I think Darren is devious.) It will undoubtedly spur thousands of fun, silly, and just maybe earth-shattering questions from our next generation of thinkers and wonderers.

What If?

Author: Darren Sardelli

Illustrator: Max Hergenrother

Publisher: Laugh-A-Lot Books, 2021

Ages: 0-103



Poetry, zany questions, imagination, inquisitiveness, and wonder.


Imagine a world where pencils open portals, pictures paint people, and basketballs are square. Imagination takes flight in this crazy, wacky, mixed-up book of questions.

What if gum grew on the sidewalk? What if grains of sand could talk? What if wheels were sharp and pointy and your hands were colored chalk? What if tortoises could teleport and dragons warmed your tea? What a crazy, wacky, mixed up place this world would surely be!

Opening Lines:

What if Bigfoot brought you breakfast?

What if garden gnomes were real?

What if Cupid made each chipmunk

fall in love with every seal?

What if witches lived in closets

and a dragon warmed your tea?

What a crazy, wacky, mixed-up place this world would surely be!

What I Liked about this book:

"What a crazy, wacky, mixed-up place this world would surely be!" indeed. What a great refrain to capture 2020-21! This refrain reminded me of the crazy imaginings I had after reading Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Honestly, how many others imagined their houses turned upside down and organizing their rooms on the ceiling?

I think kids will enjoy the fun questions, the wacky humor, and topsy-turvy feel of this book. After all, what kid wouldn't want their tea warmed by a dragon?

Text © Darren Sardelli, 2021. Image © Max Hergenrother, 2021.

I think one of my favorite questions has to be - "What if ice cream were a fruit?" Ha! Doesn't this rank up there with kids wishing that French fries where a vegetable? Or that chocolate was its own food group (and of course the bottom of the pyramid!)? This book also reminded me of a silly exchange I had when my kids were younger. Thinking of the phrase "raining cats & dogs," we got a great laugh when I asked if they thought it rained 'beavers & ducks' in Oregon. Wait until you see what Darren imagines falling through the sky in this book.

In addition to all Darren's joking and fun, there are a few more though provoking questions about illness, privilege, and my most favorite question and illustration in the book - "What if pencils opened portals to a world that no one feared?"

Text © Darren Sardelli, 2021. Image © Max Hergenrother, 2021.

Time machines, portals, fascinating turtles, and a hefty dose of imagination make this a fun rhyming picture book to encourage daydreaming, crazy thoughts, and fantastical drawings. Maybe even some exciting inventions. Combine it with some Shel Silverstein for a wonderful adventure in poetry, with a touch of poignancy. It's a book that will lead to lots of giggles and perhaps a look at why things 'are' to be the way they are. And how we want to change our world.


-make an origami turtle. ( If your turtle could be anyone or anything, what clothes would your turtle wear?

- what are the silliest questions you can, or have, ever come up with?

- can you think of any silly questions that might have resulted in an invention or discovery? Like the slinky or pens the write upside down?

- how would you create the world, if you could make the rules for how things worked? Why? Write a story or draw a picture of your world.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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