Today it's my pleasure to welcome David L. Harrison, in celebration of his latest book for kids AFTER DARK: Poems About Nocturnal Creatures, illustrations by Stephanie Laberis (Boyds Mills and Kane/WordSong). You may have seen something about this book already as part of the blog tour David and the publisher put together.
As my regular readers know, I have a tradition of giving book creators 4 simple prompts and asking them to respond specifically about the current project. I'm delighted to offer David's responses below. The italicized/bold bits are the bits that particularly resonate with me. Enjoy!
DH: When we look at a body of water, we wonder what’s going on below the surface where we can’t see. In the same way, I look into the night and try to imagine what creatures are out and about and what they might be up to. Mysteries of the dark abound. For about as long as I can remember they have beckoned to me, stirred my imagination, made me need to know more. When I was six years old camping in a tent with my parents beside a mountain lake in Arizona, I lay on my cot in the dark electrified by the sounds of bears down the lane banging on metal trash cans after a free meal. In third grade I draped a sheet over our back yard clothesline, lighted it from within, and marveled at the insects and bats that appeared out of the dark to dart and swoop around me. Today when a raccoon runs across my roof at night or my headlights startle a possum scurrying off the road or I spot a fox hurry/sniffing along a lake bank, I immediately want to know the rest of their stories. Writing this book was the result of my curiosity. Unraveling each story, forming each poem, was, for me, delicious.
DH: In Egypt 3,000 years ago, a fact was that bees came from the tears of the sun god Ra. What makes any book based on fact difficult is making sure the facts are as true as current knowledge allows. I come with two degrees in zoology, dozens of nonfiction books, and a lifetime of observing animals, but for a book like AFTER DARK, experts on specific animals were called upon to critique my work and offer additional facts and insights. In all there were fifteen authorities who looked at the writing or illustrations to help make sure we were getting it right. For these I was grateful. The difficulty in writing books for young readers isn’t the writing itself, although that’s important, or in finding ways to make the material appealing, although that’s important, too; it’s in making sure the writer provides readers with the truth. Children believe in us. They trust us. If we get it wrong, they get it wrong. It’s a responsibility the writer carries with him/her throughout a project like this one.
DH: I’ve written about most of these animals in previous books and poems so in some ways it was like greeting old friends. But a writer always begins from scratch as though he is meeting his subjects for the first time. Facts DO change. I’ve written three published books about caves but I started a fourth one recently and approached it as though I knew nothing about my caves. In the case of AFTER DARK, I had two nice surprises during the time I spent preparing to write the book. One was about male porcupines. I didn’t realize how vocal they can be or how viciously they fight during the mating season to determine which male will win the right to approach a female. If there’s anything I’d rather not see coming toward me more than a porcupine, it would be an angry, lovesick porcupine spoiling for a fight! The other surprise was that armadillos can walk under water. Most of the armadillos I’ve seen were dead ones beside the highway. I hadn’t read about their mastery underwater and that was a fact I took pleasure in learning and passing along to my readers.
DH: At times I fear that poetry attracts more poets than readers. Somehow we have to entice busy children to slow down long enough to read a poem, roll it around in their heads for a moment, and decide to like it -- even though they might rather be reading another book in an unending series of action figures. That’s why poets need to put our best words forward. We need to provide a varied menu, rich in imagery, quick to capture interest, seasoned with surprises and, yes, sometimes even humor. Kirkus has given AFTER DARK a good review, and my favorite part is this: “Twenty-one animals who live by the light of the moon get profiled in Harrison's poems, written in a variety of forms, some rhymed and most not. . . a fine collection of poetical odes to a nicely diverse group of nighttime fauna." Yay. Someone noticed!
Thank you, David, so much for sharing yourself with us today. CONGRATULATIONS!!