INTERVIEW WITH RAVEN HOWELL
Bookstand Publishing (2016)
Reviewed by Paola Belloso (age 8) for Reader Views (04/16)
Article first published as Interview: Raven Howell, Author of ‘Spinning Circles: Action Poems’ on Blogcritics.
Children’s poet Raven Howell’s earlier stints included working in New York’s music publishing and songwriting industry, and writing verse for greeting cards before she transitioned fully into children’s poetry. She’s written poems for many publications and magazines (such as Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Humpty Dumpty) over the past twenty years, and authored two books, Dozy Poems, Cozy Days (2014/illustrated by Maris Howell, voted top notch tool for ADD and autistic youth) and her latest, Spinning Circles: Action Poems (2015). Her awards include three Letters of Merit from SCBWI, and Poetry Soup’s top new poet after the release of Dozy Poems, Cozy Days. Her poems have been featured in DVD’s, nationwide teaching booklets, and anthologies.
Raven is involved with children’s poetry workshops, a forthcoming poetry acrostic book, and updating her website and Facebook pages with tips and fun activities for parents, teachers, and children. She joyfully embraces baking, cooking, exploring nature, working on a collage, drawing, and reveling in plenty of family time and sunshine whenever possible! She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.
Sheri: Welcome Raven, and thank you for being with us today! Why don’t you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?
Raven: Thanks for this wonderful opportunity! I’m a poetry and book lover, and it’s such a pleasure to share my passion – to inspire, give tips, and emphasize the value of creativity in both children and adult lives.
Sheri: I understand you started writing at a very early age. Who was your biggest supporter growing up and how were you encouraged to follow your dreams of writing?
Raven: My whole family is super supportive of one another, and all of us are creative in one way or another. My father is a poet, so growing up, for me it was natural to see him travel for poetry readings, or have his work published in a paper or book, or to watch him spend time with other poets discussing literature. My mother was a dance teacher for many years and sang in choirs. My older sister and brother were playing music in bands from my earliest memories. I certainly looked up to them, as I still do, with awe and respect. But, during my childhood, I spent most of my hours as an observer. And, it’s as an observer in life that I approach my poetry writing, from that quiet inner place. My mother and father encouraged my dreams by giving me the freedom and space to make mistakes in life and move through them. I have always felt their faith in me.
Sheri: Tell us about your latest book – what is Spinning Circles: Action Poems all about?
Raven: Spinning Circles is my collection of short poems for the youngest children where simple actions bring poetry to life! Word meaning is acted out, so that it can be understood either by the accompanying pictures or by following the very directive of the verse. It’s a fun poetry picture book motivating physical and creative activity.
Sheri: What inspired you to write Spinning Circles: Action Poems?
Raven: It’s a compilation of poems I had written over many years and it felt like a great time to get it into the hands of parents, caregivers, and teachers since it provides a nice balance to our more computer and technology based education in this day and age, which is wonderful, but can be sedate.
Sheri: I love that Spinning Circles motivates children to act out the poems. How did you come up with such a delightfully fun way to promote physical activity?
Raven: First, on a serious note, these poems help preschoolers develop memory and recall skills. But, on a personal level, whether I can still handle the activity myself or just use my memory of it, it was fun to write about chasing fireflies at twilight or shooing ants away in the sandbox while building a castle. My inspirational ‘voice’ comes from the real deal – I personally really love all the creativity, mischief, and movement in each of these poems to the last one in the book where one is tucked into bed “in silver lullabies” by their parents.
Sheri: As a children’s author, how do you think kids connect to actual books in this age of the internet?
Raven: I understand that the percentage of kids preferring print books outweighs those preferring e-books. Having said that, beyond being a children’s author to just being a nurturing adult, I encourage children of any age to read books in any format they can get them in! Board books are doing fabulous these days, and you have to remember, as a young child how safe and comfy it felt cuddling your teddy bear under one arm and with the other, hugging your favorite book.
Sheri: What guidance can you give to parents on how to instill a love of reading and introduce the world of books to their children?
Raven: If you read with enthusiasm and a little theatric flair – it goes a long way to capturing a child’s attention. You can be the babysitter or grandparent as well, but if you show excitement, children respond. They will either join your fervor, or get a kick out of you giving it your all! I suggest introducing children’s poetry books to instill a love of reading because poems are easy to share as far as length and various styles to choose from, and rhyme for the littlest ones is such a big factor in supporting language processing.
Sheri: What is the best part about being a children’s author?
Raven: When I give poetry workshops to children in the 4th grade and up, I jokingly encourage anyone’s ambitions of becoming a writer by telling them that if they want a job that you can do in your pajamas, being a writer is the way to go! Though for now my pajama time is limited, the best part about being a children’s author is when I see a child reflect back their creativity in its own form from something I wrote or drew. I never get tired of reading or hearing a poem written by a child, and it’s a wonderful connection that’s experienced.
Sheri: What are the different ways you connect with your fan base?
Raven: I stay in touch with many students who’ve enjoyed my poetry workshops, and I always make sure the children get special notes from me after they’ve reached out in one way or another. At this point, the kids I saw in elementary school when I began visiting schools are well into college and graduating into the workforce, but I still connect with many of them now and again. My website is very family and school friendly and I get lots of messages from my fans. Also, both of my published books have their own Facebook pages with good, inspirational, and fun postings. In fact, there’s a great group of kids who call themselves “Spinnies,” fans from the Spinning Circles book, and they’re becoming more involved in some postings and short video takes.
Sheri: Our reviewer, Paola (age 8) absolutely fell in love with Spinning Circles. Her mother said she carried it around with her for weeks, taking it to school and reading it to smaller children. What a great testimony to the power of your writing. What is your secret to engaging a young audience?
Raven: In this instance, with the Spinning Circles book, action poetry is full of energy, and children of all ages gravitate toward spunk! To engage a young audience, think like a young audience.
Sheri: What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing for children?
Raven: There’s a lot of supportive and helpful advice available, and a lot of it may be obvious, so I’ll mention something special that Paula Morrow, who was the editor at Babybug and Ladybug said: a surprise ending can be the real clincher in the success of a children’s poem. And, action poems often have that element of unpredictability.
Sheri: What advice can you give aspiring children’s authors?
Raven: Write and read and edit and revise and consider if there’s a better word or way to say what you want to say. Your work, whether a story or poem, will find its place in the world!
Sheri: What’s next? Do you have another book in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Raven: I do have a manuscript at the publisher that’s being worked on for an animal acrostic collection I’ve written. We’re hoping to have it released by the Christmas season! I’ve also been asked to write a poetry activity and coloring book and I’m immersed in that project right now as well. It’s challenging and fun!
Sheri: Tell us about your website and all the wonderful information readers can find there.
Raven: If you’re looking for a colorful, accessible, and whimsical website – go to ravenhowell.com. I have tons of tips, trivia, activities, classroom units and kids’ art and poetry galleries. It’s a place of inspiring reading and writing and learning for grandparents, caregivers, parents, and kids of all ages.
Sheri: Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?
Raven: A verse from the Spinning Circles book: “Little inchworm, arch and turn. Pinch your green-ness on the fern. Inch up on my outstretched finger, then we both can sit and linger.” Work, read, write, create, play, and take a moment to linger!
Sheri: Raven, thank you so much for stopping by today. It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you and the wonderful work you do for children.
Raven: Many kind regards!