One Minute Till Bedtime is an impressive collection of children’s poetry compiled by former American Children’s Poet Laureate, Kenn Nesbitt. Whilst I wouldn’t encourage my students to drop off to sleep in the middle of class, we have been sneaking a few-more-than-a-few poems into our school days, and I speak from experience when I say this book is a brilliant classroom resource – because it celebrates the FUN of poetry!
I had a few questions about the process of compiling a poetry collection, and I’m delighted to share Kenn’s insights with you…
Kenn, with One Minute Till Bedtime, you have put together an anthology that touches five countries. How did you know where to start – to draw poets from so far afield?
I’ve been writing children’s poetry for more than 20 years, and have met many, many poets during that time. Years ago I started keeping a list ofchildren’s poet I knew, and those I hadn’t met yet. When the opportunity to create this anthology came up, I was able to reach out to nearly 200 published children’s poets. I received submissions from over 160 of them.
What is the breakdown of poets/countries, as included in the book?
There are 132 poets in this collection. 100 of them are from the US, 15 are from Australia*, 13 from the UK, 3 from Canada, and 1 from Italy.
What sort of things (aside from being less than 60 seconds) were you looking for, when making your selections?
I was looking specifically for poems that would evoke an emotion. I am of the opinion that good poetry makes you feel something when you read it, so this was my key criterion in choosing the poems. Additionally, I was interested in poems that I felt were particularly well-written, regardless of style or form.
I love the diversity of the poems. There are some that could be considered almost a risk, going so far out on a limb … and that’s what makes you laugh out loud at the success of the poems. (Like April Haplin Wayland’s, ‘Rolling down the Hill’, and James Carter’s ‘What to Yell When You’re Trapped in the Belly of a Whale’. Delight!)
In addition to sharing the work of so many children’s poets from around the world, I wanted to show the diversity of poetry being written for kids today. That includes concrete poems like these, as well as poetic forms such as pantoums, haiku, abecedarian poems, free verse, humorous rhymes, and more.
How did you decide on the order of the poems, to balance length, type, themes?
With over 140 poems, I thought it would be a good idea to break the book up into sections, each with about 20-30 minutes of reading. This makes a book with seven sections, one for each day of the week, and each with a reading time of less than 30 minutes.
I also decided to begin each section with more realistic poems (e.g., poems about nature, seasons, etc.) and progress toward more imaginative and dreamlike poems, and poems about bedtime and sleeping. The idea here was to somewhat mimic the process of falling asleep.
With this in mind, I selected the actual order by printing out all of the poems and spreading them out on my kitchen table where I could easily see them and shuffle them around. I also wanted to pair poems together so that similar poems could share a common illustration on each two-page spread.
How super-talented and diverse is Christoph Niemann!? I love the quirky extra dimension his illustrations bring to each poem. Were there poems where Christoph submitted more than one possible illustration to consider? Can you give us a short insight into this collaborative process?
I agree. Christoph’s work is so clever and whimsical that you can spend as much time with the illustrations as you do with the poems. There were indeed a few poems where Christoph provided two illustrations for me and my editors to consider. For the most part, though, he worked with the publisher. I didn’t have any direct contact with him during the illustrating of the book, but I did get to see the early sketches and watch as the illustrations progressed.
You yourself have seven poems in the collection. Do you have a favourite amongst your own contributions?
If I had to select just one, it would be “Have I Told You?” I’m also fond of “Whew!,” “How to Fall Asleep,” and “What Do You Dream?”
And finally, what are some of your tips, to make bedtime reading a success?
I think the best thing a parent can do to make bedtime reading a success is to do it consistently as part of a child’s bedtime ritual, beginning at birth. Also, use it as an opportunity for discussion and learning. Children will have lots of questions as you read to them. It’s okay to stop and explain as you go along. This is a great way to expand a child’s vocabulary and their knowledge of the world.
Thank-you so much for the insights, Kenn, and congratulations on a job done exceptionally well!
* Links to Australian poets in One Minute Till Bedtime