I’m so excited to share today’s blog interview with you. I’ve been waiting since October to unveil this little goodie and today is the big book birthday for this one!
I met Georgia Heard back in October at Highlights. She was funny, insightful, philosophical and obviously poetic. She recited a poem about an apple from memory (while cutting into an apple and taking a bite of it) that made my heart race and my breath stop at the magic she had just performed. It was a beautiful demonstration and I knew I was going to love working at this poetry retreat (and I did).
Georgia Heard is a writer, a poet and a teacher. She loves to talk about mapping the heart (which is also a book she wrote) and believes anyone (not just writers) can do it. She has written several books and definitely has an emphasis on teaching children about poetry and the passion of writing. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her book “Boom! Bellow! Bleat! Animal Poems for Two or More Voices” is a unique collection of poetry for several reasons. One reason is that it’s an interactive collection of poetry that is meant to be read by at least two people (if not more). Another reason is that it’s a collection of poetry all about the sounds animals make. It’s a fun collection of poems for children (and adults!) that explores the many sounds to be heard around us that we might take for granted.
Me: You are a wonderful poet. Can you talk about your journey? When did you start writing poetry?
Georgia: Thank you for your kind words, Jena! My poetry journey began when I was a young girl and I composed poems as birthday gifts to my family. During birthday celebrations, when I read the poems out loud, I noticed that my mother’s eyes became teary. That’s when I first realized that words have the power to touch people’s hearts – and to connect us. Through poetry I found a way to connect to not only my own feelings, but to other people’s as well.
Me: I remember watching a video you showed us at Highlights that showed a forest filled with song before construction changed it and the music forever. Can you talk about that? Was that the inspiration for this book?
Georgia: The main inspiration for Boom! Bellow! Bleat! is this incredibly amazing beautiful planet we live on. As a poet, I try to breathe in the beauty of the world every day, and to express that magnificence in my poetry. The music of animals — from bird songs to cricket melodies — is part of that beauty.
At our Highlights poetry workshop I shared an article, and a sound video, from an author who had recorded the melodic sounds of a summer forest: flute-like bird songs, buzzing insects, and chipping chipmunks, among other sounds. After the forest was logged, and all the trees were gone, the author returned and rerecorded the sounds of the forest and it was eerily silent. Sometimes we get too busy to notice that right outside our window there is an orchestra of animal sounds.
As I researched the animals in the book I was astonished by the variety and complexity of sounds that all kinds of animals make and for a variety of reasons: whether it’s to communicate, to warn of danger, or even to express excitement to one another. I included some of this fascinating research in the back matter.
Me: “Boom! Bellow! Bleat!” features poems that can be read in two or more voices. What is it that draws you to that poetry form? What made you decide to use it for this book? Why not single voice poems?
Georgia: Since this is a book, and not a recording, I wanted to find a way for children to hear and experience the incredible variety of animal sounds. For instance, it’s one thing to describe a humpback whale song but it’s another experience all together when you can sing like a humpback whale to other whales as in in my poem Songsters of the Sea. Poems for two or more voices seemed like a perfect way to show, and not just tell, children about the marvelousness of animal music.
Q: That’s brilliant! The illustrations in this book are amazing! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Georgia: Aaron DeWitt did a remarkable job on the illustrations. What surprised me most was not just how beautiful, bold and colorful the illustrations are but also how scientifically accurate they are. For example, in the poem We Don’t Say Ribbit Aaron researched every frog and toad in the poem and illustrated each one precisely to scale, size, and color. At the same time his illustrations have a warm and creative quality to them.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this collection of poetry?
Georgia: I learned something new and was surprised almost every day as I was writing this collection. Can I tell you three things that surprised me (it’s difficult for me to choose just one)? Sure!
- Fish are very noisy creatures
- Animals have adapted different sound tones so when singing together in a forest they don’t drown each other out. Birds sing with the highest voice, insects call with a middle tone, and mammals communicate with the lowest sound.
- One of the three loudest creatures on the planet is a small shrimp the size of a pointer finger
Me: I’ve never heard your second fact before. That’s fascinating! Any advice for other picture book writers?
Georgia: Write about what takes your breath away and about the seemingly small things that inspire you every day. Find a way to write about what touches your heart and in a way that will also touch your reader’s heart.
Me: I’ve been reading your book, “Writing Toward Home.” In it you mentioned that you like to travel and have been to many different places. Have you ever been to Alaska? If yes, by any chance were there any great Alaskan animal sounds that you would’ve liked to include in this poetry collection?
Georgia: Thank you for reading Writing Towards Home. You’re right — I love to travel and I’ve been to many beautiful places. Alaska is on the top of my list of places I’d love to visit someday. I believe Alaska made it into the book – don’t Humpback Whales serenade in your Alaskan waters in the summer time?
Yes. Yes they do. I grew up with the regular sighting of them and once rode in a boat so close to one breeching that I was worried it was going to tip the boat! I didn’t think of whales. LOL! Oddly enough, I was thinking of land animals. BUT whales absolutely do count.
Dear readers, if you have the chance to track this book down, I highly recommend it. It’s fun to read with kids or others, the art work is beautiful, and I bet it would be fun in a classroom too! 😉