Today I get to share the latest picture book from a poet children like to call “Father Goose”!
Charles Ghigna – Father Goose® is the author of more than 100 books from Disney, Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Time Inc., Abrams, Boyds Mills, Charlesbridge, Capstone, Orca and other publishers. He has written more than 5000 poems for children and adults that appear in anthologies, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines ranging from The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal to Cricket and Highlights for Children. He served as poet-in-residence and chair of creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, instructor of creative writing at Samford University, poetry editor of English Journal for the National Council of Teachers of English, and as a nationally syndicated feature writer for Tribune Media Services. He speaks at schools, conferences, libraries, and literary events throughout the U.S. and overseas, and has read his poems at The Library of Congress, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Library in Paris, the American School in Paris, and the International Schools of South America. You can learn more about him at his website.
His latest picture book “A Poem is a Firefly” is just in time to celebrate National Poetry month! This is a great introduction to poetry for children that sings of the variety of moments held within each poem that also contain wonder and heart. It’s lyrical language in a simple form that will appeal to the youngest readers AND the poets alike. Plus the adorable illustrations by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde are incredibly appealing and endearing. This is a book that I suspect will be read and re-read, as well as owned by many picture book lovers.
Me: You are a very talented and prolific writer and poet with more than 100 books published. Can you talk about your writing and publishing journey? When did you start writing? How did that lead you to where you are now?
Charles: Thank you so much, Jena! It’s an honor to do this interview with you on your beautiful blog.
I started out as a high school teacher of English and creative writing, then later taught creative writing at an art school, and poetry writing in college. At night I wrote my poems and stories. Years later I began submitting my manuscripts to publishers. My first success was a four-book contract from the Walt Disney Book Publishing Company. One of those books was a collection of my poems titled TICKLE DAY: POEMS FROM FATHER GOOSE. After those first four books were published, I discovered I could reach more kids with my books than I could as a classroom teacher. I traded in my teacher hat for my writer hat and began writing full-time.
I used to tell my students that books are little magic carpets that can carry them around the world. Little did I know my books would become little magic carpets that would take me on trips from Florida to Alaska and Canada, from New York to California and Texas, from South America to England and France. I now spend most of my time writing here in my “treehouse,” the attic of my 1927 Tudor cottage. Every morning I climb the stairs, turn on my computer, look out the window, and start making up poems and stories. From where I sit looking out the window, it feels like I am in a treehouse! Sometimes I go outside and take long walks up and down the hills of Homewood. Those hikes help me clear my head and gather new inspiration. At night, I often stay up late writing while everyone else is asleep.
I do most of my writing late at night in the treehouse and usually have two or three writing projects going on. I keep each project on an open file on my desktop and move back and forth among them to work on each one as the spirit and muse move me. I spend most of my mornings rereading my nightly drafts and work on my revisions and edits during the afternoon. I also keep pad and pen on my nightstand. My writer brain is most inspired at night. My objective editor brain functions better during the day. I especially like to write on cloudy days and rainy days … and sunny days. And any days!
Me: When and how did you get the name “Father Goose”?
Charles: When I first started doing school visits, students and teachers began calling me “Father Goose.” The name stuck. It was a lot easier to say than “Mr. Ghigna” — and a lot easier to spell. The Walt Disney Company suggested I use that moniker for one of my first books with them, TICKLE DAY: POEMS FROM FATHER GOOSE. Illustrator, Cyd Moore, created the first image of Father Goose. Other illustrators have continued the tradition, often including a goose or two in my new books. Now I’m called Father Goose more often than my real name!
Me: Like yourself, I am also a teacher and a huge fan of poetry. I too am passionate about sharing poetry with others. What was it that first sparked your own love of poetry?
Charles: I’ve always loved language since I was a kid. I love playing with words and writing them on paper to see where they might go, to see if my thoughts can take shape with enough interest to interest others. Poems always seem to be just the right little package of words for that. Finding poetry in the world and sharing it with others makes us feel alive. It fills us with hope. It celebrates life. It shines light into the corners of the world and turns the overlooked and the common place into sparkling gems of wonder and joy.
Writing for children is like that. The greatest reward comes in knowing that our poems and books might stir the minds and hearts of children with a vision and wonder of the world and themselves that may be new to them or may reveal something already familiar in new and enlightening ways. Many of my books are about the wonders of Nature and how much fun it is to spend time outside enjoying the natural world around us. I like to help foster in children a deep love of Nature whenever I can so they will want to take good care of this glorious planet for themselves and future generations.
Me: “A Poem is a Firefly” is a book exploring what a poem is all about. What about this text made you realize that it would be perfect as a picture book?
Charles: Good poems “show” rather than “tell.” Good picture books do too! I wanted to show young readers what a poem is by relating it to little comparisons from nature.
Me: This book starts by asking a question: “What’s a poem?” It goes on to explore the answer in a myriad of beautiful ways. Is this an important conversation you want to have with young readers? Why?
Charles: Yes, I think this is a very important conversation to help introduce poetry to kids. It also gives teachers and parents a fun way to begin that conversation. I wanted to create a friendly group of woodland characters who would each tell what they think a poem is. As the young reader listens in on the conversations, they come to understand and feel what a poem is without being didactically told. The book provides a natural way to encourage kids to start looking for poetry in their own lives, and to compare the little things in their world to poetry. It also encourages them to take time to stop and look around at the wonder and magic of their world.
Me: The illustrations by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde are both adorable and fit perfectly. I love her interpretation of some of the moments in the poem and each character. Did you have any art notes for this poem or did she imagine the whole book on her own? Were there any illustration surprises for you when you finally saw them?
Charles: Yes, Michelle’s work is wonderful! It’s always great fun working with her on our book projects! Her images are always so charming, whimsical, and full of light and love. This is our second book together. She illustrated our book Alabama: My Home Sweet Home, and we are working on another new book right now titled Fetch Cat. I always include art notes with my submissions, offering them as “suggestions” to the art director and the illustrator. Of course, the art editors and illustrators have their own ideas too, and I love to see them take my little notes and run with them far beyond what I ever had in mind. Michelle is like that. Her imagination and artistic talents are unlimited. It’s always a joy to see how she brings my words to life. And, yes, she always includes a surprise or two!
Me: Any advice for other aspiring picture book writers or poets?
Charles: I like to inspire children by sharing my love of poetry with them and letting them know they each have poems in them just waiting to come out. I tell them that they are all poets, they all see the world in their own unique, original, way, and that writing is simply talking on paper.
I challenge them to start keeping a little journal, something they can pull out and write down their thoughts each day. I ask them to write a few sentences every day for two weeks. I tell them “to write in your journal for two weeks, and then stop — if you can. If you can’t, you’re a writer! And no one, no matter how hard they may try, will ever be able to stop you from following your writing dreams.
Enjoy those dreams. Follow them. Make new ones. Share them. Write of your passions, your loves, your fears, your joys. Find your writer’s voice by listening deep inside. It’s that little voice that says in a low, soft whisper, “Listen to this…”
I love that. Thank you again for stopping by Charles.
Dear readers, this book was JUST released this week. If you haven’t yet had a chance to track it down, I recommend doing so. It’s a creative take on poetry that both kids and adults will enjoy. Don’t miss it!