Thursday, August 24, 2023

Q&A with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard


Rebecca Kai Dotlich


Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard are the authors of the new children's poetry book Welcome to the Wonder House. Dotlich's other books include Lemonade Sun. Heard's other books include My Thoughts Are Clouds.


Q: What inspired you to write Welcome to the Wonder House?


RKD: Being poets, both of us are curious about the world. We wanted to pair both research and imagination, and to weave a thread of wonder in this collection, while fostering curiosity and discovery in children's minds and hearts.


While brainstorming with our editor, Rebecca Davis, we decided to use the construct of our whole world being a house with different rooms, without doors or windows or walls. We wanted to fill each room with poems that would hopefully fascinate young readers.

Georgia Heard

GH: This new book, Welcome to the Wonder House, started as a wonderful collaboration. After teaching a poetry workshop, our editor, Rebecca Davis, gave Rebecca and me a ride to the airport. During the 2 1/2-hour drive, we came up with the idea for the book.


It initially revolved around a museum of wonder, but then we decided on the metaphor of a wonder house. There were so many rooms, or places, where we experience wonder from the Room of Quiet to the Room of Science. We must have brainstormed around 50. Then we had to whittle them down to the 12 that we included in the book.


Q: What do you think Deborah Freedman’s illustrations add to the book?


RKD: Deborah's illustrations are not only beautiful, but they are creative and imaginative. They give a different layer to the poems and a beautiful wash of colors throughout. I especially love her use of blue.


Her architectural background played a key role in many of the illustrations, since this was a metaphorical house with rooms of poetry.  For instance, the table of contents is designed with miniature windows, and she added muted background sketches of blueprints, which was surprising, and a real addition to the book.

GH: One thing I love about Deborah Freedman's illustrations is how they reflect her background as an architect. She conveyed our vision of the wonder house perfectly, starting from the title page where the reader is invited to gaze out windows that hint at the wonders outside.


Not only are Deborah's illustrations radiant, but if you take a closer look, you'll discover hidden surprises and playful touches. For instance, in the two-page spread for the Room of Creatures, the ocean scene is also cleverly a bathroom with faucets. Children will adore looking closely at these illustrations, uncovering unexpected details that add depth and layers to the book.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would appear in the book?


RKD: We spent hours and days and weeks on this. I traveled at one point to Georgia's house, and it was there that we spread the poems on her dining room table and used huge post it notes to represent each room, then like a puzzle, decided which poems fit in which rooms. The order of the rooms came first, then we fit the poems in. (We also did this once at our editor's house.)


GH: Starting the book with the Room of Curiosity felt right because curiosity is at the heart of wonder. Ending with the Room of Wishes was a natural choice, as wishing opens the door to the unknown, and lets us dream about things we don’t know yet, imagining things that aren’t here right now.


Choosing the order of the poems in each room was a blend of finding those that could introduce the Wonder room theme, and considering space on the page.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “This slim volume teems with STEAM extensions, from exploring poetic forms and devices to investigating scientific facts and hypotheses. A beautifully conceived invitation: to look, see, wonder.” What do you think of that description?


RKD: I am quite happy with it, we all are.  The main objective is to nudge children to "look, see, and wonder."


GH: The terrific review from Kirkus highlights an interesting aspect of Welcome to the Wonder House – its connection between poetry, science, and the theme of wonder. Our hope is that the book invites children to look at the world around them with curiosity, and encourages them to express their thoughts, observations, and feelings in imaginative and artistic ways.


Q: What are you working on now?


RKD: I am working on a few poetry collections, and a possible series for very young readers. 


GH: I'm currently revising a couple of poetry picture books and working on several anthologies for children. In addition, I’m writing another version of Heart Maps and I just finished writing a new edition of my book on teaching poetry, Awakening the Heart, which is forthcoming next year.


Q: Anything else we should know?


RKD: Just that we hope this book finds its way to readers who are inventive, creative writers and readers, and also to those who need more of a nudge to do so. That would make us very happy. Thank you, Deborah, for inviting us to visit your blog. 


GH: Thank you, Deborah, for the opportunity to talk about Welcome to the Wonder House!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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