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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins - by Poets of Bless Our Pets

"I’ve always maintained that more can be said or felt in eight

or 10 lines than sometimes in an entire novel.”

~ Lee Bennett Hopkins

In one of his last anthologies, Lee compiled fourteen poems about our special animal companions. "From puppies to mice to turtles to ponies, this endearing anthology expresses children’s gratitude for creatures big and small."

Photo of Lee Bennett Hopkins © Charles Egita.

Photo © Charles Egita

One of his final collections, it was finshed after he died August 8, 2019. This post is a tribute to Lee from some of the poets of Bless Our Pets: Poems of Gratitude for our Animal Friends, which published April 16th.


Welcome everyone!

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? What is your favorite poem form to write?)

Author Photo of Rebecca Kai Dotlich and the cover of Welcome to the Wonder House.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich – Welcome to the Wonder House, with co-author Georgia Heard, illustrated by Deborah Freedman (2023) - I have been writing since I was 11 years old. But writing as far as reaching for a career and publication, since I was in college and even more so after my children were born. Many, many years. I began at my kitchen table, with a little cabinet for the pots and pans turned into my place to stuff my typewriter and papers when it was time to make dinner. Now, I have a yellow, light-filled writing room with built-in bookcases full of hundreds of books. I do of course make notes, as most writers do, on napkins and in a small notebook I carry, but I prefer to be in my writing room. I love poetry books more than anything. I also adore picture books, but poetry is my heart. I don’t have a favorite form for poetry, what matters to me most when I am writing is the emotion a poem can share with the reader, whether it be a shared wonder in seeing a butterfly or a sparkling rock, or the loss of your grandfather. 

Author photo of Chrles Ghigna and the cover of The Father Goose Treasury of Poems.

Charles Ghigna - The Father Goose Treasury of Poetry: 101 Favorite Poems for Children, illustrated by Sara Brezzi (2023) – I’ve been writing for more than fifty years now, most of those years spent writing right here in my hundred-year-old cottage in the middle of Alabama where I’ve written more than one hundred books. My writing room is upstairs in the attic. I call it my Treehouse. I write for children and adults. Most of my books for adults are collections of poetry written in free verse. Most of my books for children are picture books in rhyme, along with several collections of poetry, including the new Father Goose Treasury of Poetry: 101 Favorite Poems for Children.


Photo of Darren Sardelli in front of a school's welcome banner, holding his two books.

Darren Sardelli – What If?, illustrated by Max Hergenrother (2020) – One of the best things about writing is that I can write anywhere, anytime, and anyplace. There are no limits, conditions, or rules. I get to be as free as I want to be. There will always be challenges, but I make conscious choices to carve out time in my day to write. I started writing when I was 20 and have always held onto the belief that I could do something with my words. I love to write rhyming poems that have smooth meter and flawless rhythm. 

Author photo of BJ Lee and the cover of Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble.

B.J. Lee – Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble: Magical Poems chosen by Paul Cookson (2021)  - I’ve been writing stories, songs, and poems since I was a child, but 1991 was when I started pursuing writing with vigor. As far as kidlit, I prefer writing poetry above all else. I don’t have a favorite form, but instead enjoy choosing the right form for my material.


It's nice to get to know you all a little better. What helps you to be inspired? (perhaps a certain place, music, activity, etc.)


Rebecca Kai Dotlich – I feel the most comfortable and inspired to write in my small writing room at home, filled with bookshelves, my father’s desk, clay objects my children made when they were young, small toys, a vintage turquoise phone and my grandfather’s typewriter. And office supplies. Lots of colorful office supplies. I don’t listen to music while I write, because I love song lyrics and I would focus on those instead of what it is I’m writing. I marvel at words, those inspire me.


Charles Ghigna - Great question, Maria! The simple answer is everything inspires me! By the time I climb to the top steps of my Treehouse, I’m already in a mindset ready to write. I turn on my computer, look out the window, sip my coffee, and let the morning bring me something new to write about. Sometimes ideas come from my external vision of the world, sometimes ideas come from my imagination and the make-believe.

Darren Sardelli – Inspiration is everywhere. I’m inspired by conversations, street signs, books, lunch boxes, creative socks, and really good food. However, my 3 biggest inspirations are my Author Visits, Family, and Hockey. When I visit a school or library, I’m always checking out the posters, artwork, and decorations on classroom doors. I might flip through a few books in the library as well. Any idea that pops into my mind, I write down. The students and educators inspire me tremendously. They have great questions that shift my focus in creative ways. One member of my family who inspires me is my youngest son. We’re always creating characters, making up silly songs, and having fun with words. This thought process contributes to my writing process. I’m also inspired by hockey. I play roller and ice hockey every week. After a game, I get to be alone with my thoughts. My mind is clear, and my ideas are off the charts.


B.J. Lee – Inspiration comes from many places, but most of all I love silence when writing. Inspirational topics include nature, animals, biology, ecology, artwork, fantasy, children’s interests, and more.


I love that treehouse and all the ways you've each found to be inspired and continue being playful, with your imagination and your words. All of you had worked with Lee Bennett Hopkins on other anthologies before he approached you to be part of this project. What about this anthology, Bless Our Pets, appealed to you? Did you choose the topic (animal) for your poem and/ or the form of your poem, or did he assign these to you?

Book cover -  A lab dog with a bunny, turtle, puppy, and kitten around his feet and a bird hanging on a perch on the left.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich – From the first time in 1995 when Lee asked me to write a poem for an anthology (Small Talk), I was lucky enough that he included me each time he began a new project. Usually, he shared the new idea with me, and often asked me to write the beginning poem and/or sometimes the ending. So this project appealed to me like they all did; if it was Lee’s, I was in. “I like to keep you busy,” he liked to say, as he laughed that unforgettable laugh. He assigned me the puppy poem.

Charles Ghigna - It was always an honor to write poems for the late great Lee Bennett Hopkins. It was especially great fun writing "Pet Snake?" for him! Whenever he called, he laughed and say, "I need a poem about _______!” Weeks before he called to ask me to write the snake poem, he called to ask for a poem about math. That anthology is forthcoming from Wordsong and is tentatively titled A Day in the Life of Math. Lee laughed that infectious laugh and said, "I need a poem about division!"

Darren Sardelli – It was always a pleasure working with Lee Bennett Hopkins. If you’re a poet who writes for children, Lee was THE person you wanted to work with. If he reached out to you and asked you to write a poem for one of his books, the only answer was “Yes!” It didn’t matter what the book was about or what topic he assigned you. In my experience, Lee gave me a topic to write about. For Bless Your Pets, I had to imagine having a pet guinea pig. While in that state, I saw, heard, and felt what it was like to be around a guinea pig. It was an interesting fantasy. From there, the words just poured out of me.

B.J. Lee – I adore animals, so I was all in when Lee asked me. I believe he gave me three pets to choose from. Of those, I chose the box turtle, having had multiple encounters with them as a kid.

What an awesome privilege to be included in so many of Lee's anthologies. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author and poet?


Rebecca Kai Dotlich – Getting what you write published. It’s never easy. Determination and the willingness to keep trying and believing in yourself is paramount.

Charles Ghigna - I love writing for children. It’s a privilege and an honor. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as a challenge. I used to teach English and creative writing in high school and college. Now THAT’S a challenge! ;-)

Darren Sardelli – I love writing poems and stories for young people. I get to tap into the kid in me. I keep my process simple and fun. The most challenging aspect of this job is coming up with the perfect ending for a poem. I’m constantly shifting words and rhymes around until I figure it out. When I finally get it, I’m on CLOUD 9.

B.J. Lee – The most challenging aspect for me is trying to please agents and editors. Consequently, I’ve written a number of my pieces over a surprising amount of times.

Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your poem? What is the hardest or most rewarding part of creating this poem?

Internal spread - little puppy in a chair getting a tummy rub by a child's feet.

Text © Rebecca Kai Dotlich, 2024. Image © Lita Judge, 2024.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich – Puppy - I always try, if I can, to make a poem different than others that have been written about the same subject. There are so many good poems about puppies already written, so I tried to make it different, but I also tried to include emotion and heart. That was also very important to Lee.

Internal spread - on left, a boy leans away from a curious snake, wrapped around the neck of another child.

Text © Charles Ghigna, 2024. Image © Lita Judge, 2024.

Charles GhignaPet Snake? - When Lee called to ask me to write a poem for him about a snake, I’d never had a pet snake, but I’d give it a shot. I thought about a childhood friend who received a snake for his birthday when we were kids. The rest of us thought that was the coolest gift ever, even though we were happy to stand back and simply admire it from behind the glass of its cozy terrarium.

Internal spread - a fluffy guinea pig sits on a large flower mat.

Text © Darren Sardelli, 2024. Image © Lita Judge, 2024.

Darren Sardelli – A Letter to My Guinea Pig Writing the poem, A Letter to My Guinea Pig, was a big deal for me. In my opinion, Lee’s books are filled with some of world’s best poets who write for children. It’s an honor to be in that company.

Internal spread - on left, a boy lying on his stomach in the grass watching his pet turtle walk in the grass and white flowers.

Text © B.J. Lee, 2024. Image © Lita Judge, 2024.

B.J. Lee – Box Turtle - It was always hard for me not to keep a turtle if I found one. But my mother said that some wild animals are better off without human assistance. We don’t know their wants, needs, or how to keep them safe. I heard this speech many times—about the baby squirrel, about the baby bird, and always about the turtles. My poem was fashioned out of the tension between the child’s desire to keep the turtle, and her belief that it wouldn’t be the best thing for the little guy.

Wow, thank you for sharing these behind the scenes glimpses for each poem. Do you have anything else about Lee Bennet Hopkins that you would like to share? (Collaborating with him, a special memory, or the man in general, ….)


Rebecca Kai Dotlich – This is so hard for me. Because I loved him very much and miss him terribly. There is so much to say that I find it hard to begin. Not a week went by that we weren’t on the phone talking. He had so much heart. He had the best sense of humor. And everyone can recall that big, joyful laugh of his. After I stayed at his house a few times, he called it “The Rebecca Room.” Then cackled that beautiful laugh. Because we both adored Cole Porter, he got tickets and took me, along with Charles, to a theater production in Florida of Night and Day; Cole Porter. Many years earlier, he also took me to Radio City Music Hall in NYC at Christmas to see the Rockettes. He loved going to conferences and seeing so many of his good, good friends. He also loved being at home, playing board games, eating good food and watching Charles plant lovely flowers. If you were his friend, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you. He had a high bar for poetry and was a sweetheart with a giving nature, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly, either. He was a force of nature in the poetry world, and I will hold a space in my heart for him forever and ever.

Charles Ghigna - Our little inside joke was that he liked to assign me what he called "the more challenging subjects." It was, of course, more of an honor than a challenge to write for him. Over the years, Lee assigned several other "challenging” subjects for me besides reptiles and math. Here are a few. Try to guess which ones were the most "challenging." Ha! "Plumbers" for Construction People, "The Dash" for A Bunch of Punctuation, "Coach" for School People, and "Bath Time" for Lullaby and Kisses Sweet.

Darren Sardelli – Bless Your Pets is the 5th Lee Bennett Hopkin’s poetry anthology that my poems are featured in. I never met Lee in person, but I’ve had some interesting conversations with him. Lee worked with Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. These are the 2 authors who inspired me to start writing. Lee shared some personal stories involving himself, Shel, and Seuss. I was beyond fascinated.

Photo of B.J. Lee and Lee Bennettt Hopkins at an SCBWI event.

B.J. Lee – I’ll never forget the first time Lee called me on the phone. He was being coy and playful, reciting lines from my current poetry collection, which he’d never seen! But then I realized he must have my City Critters poetry collection to critique for the upcoming conference. I was charmed by him instantly, and when I met him in Orlando for the actual critiquing, my life would never be the same as he mentored several collections of mine. Let me put it this way. Before Lee, I knew I was good but had many doubts and negative self-talk. After Lee, no more doubts. He was simply wonderful to me. I’ll never forget him.

Thank you for sharing these memories and loving tributes to this amazingly talented poet, mentor, and super generous man. I am glad we have a few more anthologies of his to treasure. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Rebecca Kai Dotlich – I have both a collection of poetry and a picture book out on submission. While waiting for any word, I am revising two additional poetry manuscripts; one involves winter, and one involves color. I am also having such fun writing some beginning readers. Even though I often take long breaks from writing (as in weeks and months) I can’t imagine myself not writing poetry. It is my passion; it calms my nerves and soothes me when I am sad.

Charles Ghigna - Yes! Thanks for asking. I have several new projects in the works that I’m excited about: a novel in verse, a collection of poems for adults, a picture book about coin collecting, a picture book told through the eyes of an abandoned mother dog who waits at the pound for her forever home, a collection of love poems, a collection of light verse, a book for adults about women artists of the golden age, and volume II of The Father Goose Treasury of Poetry for Children. [Woah! 😲]

Darren Sardelli – Yes!!! My newest manuscript, My Taco-Flavored Book Report, is almost complete. This future book will consist of 125 poems that teach, inspire, and set imaginations on fire!!! I’m looking forward to sharing it with the world.

B.J. Lee – I’m currently working on a novel in verse.

Wow, I am looking forward to seeing all of these projects. Good luck with them! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why? 

Photo of trail through Redwoods National Park.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich – Redwood National Park. I went when I visited my sister and would like to go again. It really was majestic.

Photo of boardwalk path in Muir Woods.

Charles Ghigna - Muir Woods National Park is a favorite. Entering that forest of towering Sequoia is like stepping into a giant cathedral, a heavenly sanctuary on earth. The Nantahala National Forest in the mountains of western North Carolina also holds a special place in my heart. We had a summer home up there that bordered the forest. My parents’ ashes are a part of those mountains now.

Photo of Havasu Falls ©  NPS/M. Quinn.

© NPS/M. Quinn

Darren Sardelli – I’d like to visit National Parks in Arizona. I’m all about waterfalls. I hear they have some really good ones.

Photo of Acadia National Park in Maine.

B.J. Lee – I love Acadia National Park in Maine, where mountains meet the ocean.

Lee Bennett Hopkins was an amazing man who obviously loved poetry and enjoyed helping other poets succeed. Thank you all so much for sharing with us your memories and experiences with Lee and working on this amazing poetry anthology.

Book cover -  A lab dog with a bunny, turtle, puppy, and kitten around his feet and a bird hanging on a perch on the left.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review post on Bless Our Pets: Poems of Gratitude for our Animal Friends.

To learn more about these wonderfully creative individuals, or to contact them: 

Rebecca Kai Dotlich - author of 20 books and numerous poems, including Welcome to the Wonder House, with co-author Georgia Heard, illustrated by Deborah Freedman (2023) -


Charles Ghigna - author of more than 5,000 poems and 125 award-winning books from Random House, Disney, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and other publishers, including The Father Goose Treasury of Poetry: 101 Favorite Poems for Children, illustrated by Sara Brezzi (2023) –


Darren Sardelli – author of picture books, including What If?, illustrated by Max Hergenrother (2020) and award-winning poet with poems in 25 anthologies -


B.J. Lee – author of the picture book, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (2019) and poet with poems in 27 anthologies and over 100 poems, including Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble: Magical Poems chosen by Paul Cookson (2021)  -  


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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