The First Children’s Poet Laureate
Jack Prelutsky (1940- present) is a poet who happens to write for children, and if you aren’t hungry when you start to look for his books, you may be when you find them. The irreverent titles like A Pizza the Size of The Sun, and It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, even his how-to-write-poems book, Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry, might make you think that he has a fixation with food, but that is not the case. 🙂
Mr. Prelutsky’s children’s poetry cover many topics – elephants, doodlers, somersaults, pelicans, growing up – anything that may cross the mind of a kid.
Mr. Prelutsky began his adult life as a cab driver, carpenter, photographer, furniture mover, door-to-door salesman, folk singer and operatic tenor. Some artistic pursuits? Yes, but not poetry… yet. His initial favorite topic for poetry was imaginary creatures, but at an editor’s urging, he wrote a book about real animals and a poet was born.
His first book, A Gopher in the Garden, and Other Animal Poems (out of print) was published in 1967. He has written over 70 books of poetry. In 2006, he was named the first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. He has also compiled several anthologies of children’s poetry, including The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury and The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. His books of poetry for young people have won many awards including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, School Library Journal Best of the Best Book, Library of Congress Book of the Year, Parents’ Choice Award and Booklist Editor’s Choice.
He claims that ideas for his poetry come from everywhere – a worm eating contest when he was young, disgusting food at a greasy diner. And his poems show this. I think this is a very important thing for kids and writers of all ages to learn – ideas are everywhere! We get so bogged down on developing the perfect idea or scene, we forget to look around us. Those little everyday details are what makes writing pop, even if you are writing a space opera fantasy that takes place in 3012!
Most recently he has been working on an operetta based on a favorite children’s book, and The Silver Moon, a book of lullabies he has written (music and all!).
A few poems to sample…
A Centipede Was Thirsty (from I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus)
A centipede was thirsty,
But to satisfy his need,
It drank too much for it to hold –
And so the centipede.
Ogrebrag (from Monday’s Troll)
A callow knight in armor,
Displayed his lack of wisdom
And charged into my cave.
He challenged me to battle,
In moments it was through.
He made a tasty morsel –
His horse was tasty too.
A Dragon’s Lament (from The Dragon’s are Singing Tonight)
I’m tired of being a dragon,
Ferocious and brimming with flame,
The cause of unspeakable terror
When anyone mentions my name.
I’m bored with my bad reputation
For being a miserable brute,
And being routinely expected
To brazenly pillage and loot.
I wish that I weren’t repulsive,
Despicable, ruthless, and fierce,
With talons designed to dismember
And fangs finely fashioned to pierce.
I’ve lost my desire for doing
The deeds any dragon should do,
But since I can’t alter my nature,
I guess I’ll just terrify you.