Published in association with Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
Illustrated by Junli Song
For ages 6+
Poetry for children is fast becoming a pet passion for me these days. I've always enjoyed poetry and still have my first poetry books given to me as a very young child and have a healthy bijou adult poetry collection. It's also exciting to receive a new book and form my own thoughts about it without having been influenced by anyone else. It means that my conclusions are completely my own and I am pleased to share the good news that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘When Poems Fall From The Sky’!! I know you will too!!
I'm thrilled to have been given the opportunity to interview author Zaro Weil, to ask her about how it was working with Kew, her poetry and inspiration for this timely collaboration. Kew Gardens is a really special place to me, as we used to go there a lot when our children were young (and the Sunday roasts were delicious)... we have moved too far away now unfortunately!!
As you will delight in reading below, Zaro is an endearingly inspirational woman who has much wisdom to impart, with a zest for life and supporting children to enjoy and appreciate the world they will soon inherit.
Nicci: Firstly, Happy Poetry Month! It’s October and this has to be one of your busiest times of the year! What have been some of your highlights so far?
Zaro: Hiya Nicci! So nice to meet you! First of all, thank you for inviting me to answer these detailed interesting questions. I am, of course, thrilled that you like the book! I can honestly say that creating each page was a labour of love for both Junli and I.
October is, as you say, Poetry Month. What a wondrous thing. For the nation to celebrate the idea that this very, very special placement words we call poetry holds such very, very special importance for us humans. And especially for kids. National Poetry Month is a time when poets all over the land are even more excited than usual to share their thoughts and words. Because in October poems really do float right down to us like thousands of magical colourful leaves falling from the sky. Landing not just in pages of books, but on TV, in videos, on radio, on the sides of buses, in our schools, in our classrooms and even on pieces of paper right in front of our noses. Because poetry is something exciting and fun that every child can take part in; reading poems, learning to write poems and even sharing their very own poems. Another highlight for me was a wonderful free virtual event for schools that I did to celebrate NPM – it was a collaborated with Mr Dilly, that incredible man who creates brilliant videos and plays for kids and who I consider to be our National Pied Piper. I truly love connecting with young readers and this couldn’t have been a more fun way to do it! The event can now be viewed here and I hope some of you readers might share this with the young poets in their lives.
Nicci: Belated congratulations on your CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) poetry prize for your first poetry collection illustrated by Junli Song - ‘Cherry Moon’, 2019. I’m so excited to see that you have collaborated together again for ‘When Poems Fall From The Sky’ in association with The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. It is in celebration of the paperback edition with Welbeck Editions which published at the end of last month that we are chatting about all things poetry and Mother Nature. Tell us a bit about your inspiration for this new body of work and how Kew Gardens became involved.
Zaro: Thank you. it was one of the joys of my life to win the CliPPA for Cherry Moon. I had to keep pinching myself to believe it was real. A few years later, the way I came to the next book, When Poems Fall from the Sky, was simply walking around in the beautiful gardens at Kew. I remember it was just spring. A few flowers were out. And the colours were so brilliant that for some strange reason they reminded me of row after row of bright- coloured gumdrops. I noticed all the odd shapes of the giant trees and felt … well . . . awed. And quite small in their presence. As I stared, the sun began to pass through the branches and eerie twisty shadows soon tumbled onto the ground. There were inky shadows stretched out everywhere. I wondered what was under those shadows. I thought about all the creatures that must be scurrying in secret down deep in the heavy dark earth. By now my mind began to turn pinwheels. I was not thinking logically. I began to think poetically. And really and truly that is how the idea for the book was born. Later, when I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Kew and told them of these reveries and showed them some of the early poems I had written as soon. As I had come home, to my huge delight, they LIKED them. PLUS, when they saw the incredible artwork for the poems that Junli Song had created, they double liked everything.
Nicci: Reading ‘When Poems Fall From The Sky’ is such a joy! There are haikus, plays, a rap, and more. You are such a versatile poet. Have you always been a children’s poet by trade? It’d be lovely to know more about your journey.
Zaro: Haha. No. I did not start out to be a poet. I was a performer. I have loved to sing and dance since I was a child. And when I grew up, after university, I decided I wanted to work with kids. So, I began to teach dance and drama to children in America, where I lived at the time. I also began to study poetry writing at a university nearby. But after a few years, I had these dreams which kept bubbling up and I decided to start a theatre/dance company to perform for children. I had a burning wish to create and perform in original shows for kids with live music, exciting words and invigorating dance. With fellow actors, musicians, and dancers. And to follow it all up with classroom visits where the performers could teach kids all kinds of things about music and drama and dance and writing. A total arts experience was the big dream. And somehow, it worked. I wrote and directed and performed for over 10 years. Every single day of every single school term. We were incredibly lucky to have had that opportunity.
It so happens that the little company my friend and I created together all those years ago, Metro Theatre Circus, is still doing all those things back in the states. With tremendous success. And next year the company will be celebrating their 50th Birthday. Hard to imagine. When I moved to London, I put some of the poems I had written for the shows into a book and found a publisher and zing zang zoom, I became a children’s poet. I can tell you it was amazing.
Nicci: The book has an overarching theme of Mother Nature and her role in how our planet Earth co-exists with its creatures, flora, fauna, and humans. In ‘The Magic House of Seeds’ we see Junli’s gorgeous illustrations of Kew’s Chinese Pagoda together with a fantastic story of the ‘powerful wizard of growing things’. How vital is it for you to help children to see the powerful connection between humans and earth’s survival through your work?
Zaro: Yes. You are right. it is vital for children to understand that there is an extraordinary big world out there. A world filled with mystery and joy. A world that keeps us fed and clothed and protected. And once we learn to see it and appreciate it, only then can we be motivated do whatever it takes to preserve this remarkable planet. My books aim to secure this connection in the minds and hearts of children through a variety of forms, images, rhythms, moods and words. All of which conspire to have the love of mother nature become the default setting in their lives.
Nicci: I love the plays within the book, and wasn’t expecting to find plays at all! So brilliant! My favourite has to be ‘A Planetary Play: A Mother Nature Production’ and I love it so much I just yearn to see it performed by children in schools. Are you out and about much working with schools in person at author events? What’s some of the takeaways you have from visiting schools? Are the children in Primary Schools in the UK as familiar with poetry as much as you’d like?
Zaro: Oh. That is my favourite play as well! And I long for teachers to organize classes to do this play with their classes. Naturally, I would also love to have a day or a week to get this little play into shape with kids.
I do go into schools and love being there. I need to feel the warmth and energy of kids. It's like a tonic to me and nothing stimulates my writing more than working directly with children. I think poetry reading and writing is growing in schools and judging by the fantastic array of poetry books which are blossoming in the children's publishing world, I feel that we are on the cusp of making poetry not just an important but a critical part of the curriculum.
Nicci: The ‘Wood-Wide-Web’ rap is so awesome - taking such a great mode of expression and intertwining it with fungi and microscopic beings in nature…”hey there oak, how ya doin’ hedge, what’s up elm, what’s happenin’ friend in your house in this realm”… so fun and engaging. Are you mindful about observing the culture our young people are influenced and embedded in these days to inform ways of communicating to them - meeting them where they’re at, and inspiring them to be poets themselves ultimately?
Zaro: Yes. Of course, anyone writing for children needs to be attuned to their idioms and current enthusiasms and understandings. But that is not to say we must necessarily as authors pander to those expressions to the exclusion of more traditional forms of literature. I could elaborate but it would take up ALOT of paper here!
Nicci: Junli Song’s illustrations really bring movement and energy to your writing and her colour palette is incredibly eye-catching and beautiful. I love the diverse characters throughout the book, whether human, animal or plant. How did you first come across Junli’s work and what was the process like to engage her for both books?
Zaro: Oh YES! She is a dream, isn't she? A wonderful artist! So vibrant and original and joyous at heart. I came across her at the Bologna Book Fair when she was a recent art school graduate. As I glanced through her portfolio, I knew in a split second that she simply had to illustrate Cherry Moon. And I was fortunate enough to have put the right things in place to make that happen.
Nicci: As each poem has its own plot and character, is the timeline from start to finish generally much lengthier than say a picture book or perhaps a middle grade?
Zaro: Yes. That is very observant. This book can take a short or long time to read. It's also a book that can be read over and over since there are a lot of hidden meanings and little jokes throughout. Both in the words and in the art.
Nicci: It’d be lovely to know some of your cherished poems written by poets you hold in high regard. Do you have one or two you’d care to share with us and why they. mean so much to you?
Zaro: I grew up loving the simplicity and humour of certain American poets; William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickenson, Carl Sandburg. I also love Eugene Field, from a much earlier period. I think this one, about the Flimflam, just sounds so funny. It always makes me smile. In fact, when I was making the theatre pieces, we performed this special poem in schools throughout the US. So, it means a lot to me remembering it.
The Fate of The Flimflam
A flimflam flopped from a fillamaloo,
Where the pollywog pinkled so pale,
And the pipkin piped a petulant "pooh";
To the garrulous gawp of the gale.
“Oh, woe to the swap of the sweeping swipe
That booms on the hobbling bay!”
Snickered the snark to the snoozing snipe
That lurked where the lamprey lay.
The gluglug glinked in the glimmering gloam,
Where the buzbuz bumbled his bee--
When the flimflam flitted, all flecked with foam,
From the sozzling and succulent sea.
“Oh, swither the swipe, with its sweltering sweep!”
She swore as she swayed in a swoon,
And a doleful dank dumped over the deep,
To the lay of the limpid loon!
Nicci: You have provided some excellent teaching resources at the end of the book (available to download at the end of this post) aligned specifically to four of the poems, which is just magical and amazing for making it as easy as possible for teachers to include poetry within their classrooms. How do you feel about the state of poetry for Primary School age children right now, and where would you like to see poetry headed in the next 5 years in children’s education and popular culture?
Zaro: I was over the moon with the study notes that CLPE provided for this book. It has added so much to the book, providing a wonderful inter-active element. I think poetry needs to take its place on the primary core curriculum. Because learning, particularly the result: knowledge, is very much a process of discovery. The discovery of understanding what really matters (learning how to assign value and meaning to the very often very confusing things in life). The discovery of how to make good and thoughtful judgements. And probably the most important discovery of all. That it is a good thing to become original ... and stand out from the crowd; to grow into the true blue you ... you would most like to be. And whereas those critical learning pathways we need to navigate the world is essential; numbers, literature, history and science, nonetheless, it is the magic and seeming illogical, highly sensory and meaningful nature of poetry which brings us in touch with our deepest most creative and imaginative selves. The self we need to discover to fulfull our own unique potential. I could keep going on this subject and certainly have written about this previously. But I do yearn that poetry, and the teaching of poetry, is something which could be implemented in all teacher training courses and in the classroom.
Nicci: Are you working on many new children’s projects at the moment? What’s next for you?
Zaro: I am soooo excited. I have just finished my next poetry book. I can’t say much more at this time. But stay tuned. I would love love love to visit any school or institution who might be interested.
I am also tickled pink that Welbeck Editions will be publishing a beautiful paperback edition of 'Cherry Moon' early next year. With fantastic study notes, from CLPE.
And one other wonderful thing I might mention here: Mr Dilly has created both a PLAY and FILM of When Poems Fall From the Sky. It will be ready next spring! And from what I've seen it is fantastic and will just well . . . knock your socks off! Find out more at mrdilly.com
Thanks for the super interview, Zaro! It certainly feels like a to be continued...
Download FREE teaching resources and activity sheets
About the creators
Zaro Weil (author)
Zaro Weil lives in southern France with her husband, two sheepdogs and a host of birds, insects, badgers, wild boars, crickets, donkeys, goats, hares - and loads more! She has been a lot of things: dancer, theatre director, actress, poet, playwright, educator, quilt collector and historian, author, publisher and a few others.
Zaro loves writing and animals and trees and making things up.
Junli Song (illustrator)
Junli Song is an artist and storyteller with a rather unusual background, having previously studied economics and international development at the University of Chicago and then the University of Oxford, respectively. Since then, she has completed a Master's in children's book illustration, and is currently pursuing an MFA with a concentration in printmaking at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
saving the planet
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Publication date: 29 September 2022
Format: Paperback (also available in Hardback)
Praise for When Poems Fall From The Sky:
"A glorious garden of poems, stories and plays to enchant and delight all ages. In turns wise and funny, and always pulsing with the magic of the natural world."
- Sophie Anderson, author of 'The House of Chicken Legs'
Also by Zaro Weil and Junli Song:
Paperback edition available to pre-order (publishing February 2023):
*My review copy was provided by the PR/publisher.
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