Brett Fleishman is the author of a series of poetry books for kids, including Toilet Trouble, Take a Hike!, and Bedtime Story. The books are organized by levels: beginners (K-2), intermediate readers (grades 3-5), and advanced readers (grades 5-7). He lives in the Boston area.
Q: How did you come up with your idea for your series of poetry books for kids?
A: When I first started writing children’s poems, I wasn’t thinking specifically about a poetry series. As I began writing more and more poems, I realized that many of my poems not only varied by length but also by complexity (types of vocabulary words, employment of word plays).
At that point, I created a spreadsheet and categorized my poems into different reading levels: beginner (grades K-2), intermediate (grades 3-5), and advanced (grades 5-7). It was at that point that I decided to write a series of children’s poetry for each of these three reading levels.
Q: You say that your goals are to make kids laugh and to make them think. What kind of feedback have you had from readers so far?
A: I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from teachers, parents, and book reviewers. I think teachers and parents really appreciate books that have an educational element to them, especially ones that are also interesting enough to keep students engaged.
Q: What do you think the illustrations add to the books?
A: I think in some cases the illustrations are “just fun” and in other cases the illustrations are a critical complement to the poems. There are many times when I am writing a poem that I specifically think about how the illustration will bring out the poem.
For example, in Toilet Trouble (my second beginner book), I have a poem called Neighbor. The poem reads as follows: I just met my neighbor. He’s a very friendly guy. He has 20 ovens. Gee, how strange. I wonder why?
With no illustration, this poem isn’t funny and doesn’t tell the reader much, if anything. With the illustration, which shows a baker proudly holding up muffins next to a sign that reads “20 Drury Lane,” it becomes clear that the neighbor in this poem is the Muffin Man.
Q: How did you first get interested in poetry?
A: I absolutely loved reading Shel Silverstein’s poems as a child. So that’s when I got interested in reading poetry. Having said that, I didn’t write my first poem until I was 41 years old. So, there was a loooooooong gap between my interest in reading children’s poetry and my interest in writing children’s poetry!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a 32-stanza standalone poem called Chasing Santa Claus, which is pretty close to complete. Each stanza will be accompanied by its own illustration. The poem ends with a play on words, which is a staple of many of my poems.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: You should know that I am terrible at coming up with answers to super open-ended questions like this one! Sigh.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb