Friday, January 26, 2018

Q&A with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is the author of Read! Read! Read!, a new book of poetry for kids. Her other books include Every Day Birds and Forest Has a Song. Her blogs can be found at Sharing Our Notebooks and The Poem Farm. She lives in Holland, N.Y.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?

A: I love reading, and I often write in my notebook about things I have read and books that have changed me. In a way, Read! Read! Read! is a collection of reading memories from around our family’s home and in our history. For example, the guinea pig of “Googling Guinea Pigs” was based on the guinea pig of our Georgia’s third grade class (and was really named Cleopatra!) 

I do keep collections of words in my notebook, and sometimes these words inspire poems. Long ago I read Charlotte’s Web to our children partly to prepare them for sadness in life. Everyone in our house reads way past bedtime. You can often find someone stretched out in front of the heater with juice and a newspaper here, and we love books about dogs and all animals. So really, Read! Read! Read! is like a family reading scrapbook. 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

A: My biggest hope is that a child will read the book and say, “That’s just like me!” I wish to celebrate – with all readers – the many gifts of reading.

Q: What do you think Ryan O'Rourke's illustrations add to the book?

A: I adore Ryan’s art. It is full of joy and whimsy and dark and light in all of the right places. Ryan has captured these many moments of reading in ways that I never could have dreamed, imagining for us a staircase, treehouse, and even a dog made from books. I find his illustrations to be magical and at the same time, full of heart. My friend Barry Lane says that the big guinea pig alone makes the book worth the price!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment, I have my finger in a few project pots…but I don’t talk about them much because then I will be less likely to do the work. Somehow, talk makes the writing feel finished even when it’s not yet begun…so I’ve learned. However, I love sharing poems at my blog The Poem Farm every Friday. In this place, I find many small collections of poems that sometimes grow into books. 

I have two books coming out in March: Dreaming of You with Boyds Mills Press and With My Hands: Poems About Making Things with Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

And as April is around the bend, I am still trying to decide what this month’s Poetry Month Project will be. Each year since 2012, I’ve chosen a daily poem project and invite classrooms of children to play along and join in.

Questions for Editor Rebecca Davis: How was the title of this book selected?

A: We wanted a title that would convey the concept of the whole collection and also pay tribute to its spirit. First, we looked for titles amongst the individual poems but those titles seemed too specific to the subject of each poem (“Reading Time,” “Cereal Box,” “Word Collection,” etc.). Eventually, we settled on Read! Read! Read! because it is broad, applying to the whole book, and it also captures the enthusiasm and love for reading that is its heart.

Q: How did you decide on the order of the poems?

A: The poem “Reading” seemed like an anchor poem to me, because it’s profound and so beautifully portrays the essence of reading. I wanted it to start off the collection—to come even before the title page. 

Once that was decided, it seemed natural for the next poem to be “Pretending”—a poem about learning to read—and then to dive into the morning poems. Similarly, it seemed natural to end with the nighttime poems. In between, the collection needed to range in mood and emotion.

Certain poems seemed to naturally belong together (like the two poems related to traveling: “Maps” and “Road Signs”; or the two poems about reading materials that arrive by mail: “Birthday Card” and “Magazine”). 

The poem that speaks about what reading does to your heart—“An Open Book” is at the heart of the collection, exactly halfway through the book. With a beginning, middle, and end, the rest of the poems seemed to fall into place naturally.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You can learn about Ryan O’Rourke’s process for illustrating Read! Read! Read! here:

You can see the book trailer for Read! Read! Read! here: 

I feel extremely lucky and grateful to spend good portions of my time writing…when we write, we learn more about the world and about who we are and who we might become.

Thank you to Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press for donating a copy of Read! Read! Read! to a commenter on this post!

Thank you so much for inviting me to your online home, Deborah. It is a pleasure to visit.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb


  1. I would be overjoyed to win a copy of READ! READ! READ! What an insightful interview. Now I am ready to add some of Ms. VanDerwater’s poetry books to my classroom library. Thank you for posting such an inspiring literary conversation.

    1. Great! Please email me your address at!

  2. Nice interview, Amy & Deb. Phoebe's favorite poem is "Word Collection" - we have to read it over & over again, faster & faster! Also, I hadn't seen the trailer...pretty nice!