Mymcbooks's Blog

Keepsake that Educates!

Mymcbooks Interview Author Joyce Sidman


Joyce Sidman is the author of many award-winning children’s poetry books, including the Newbery Honor-winning Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and two Caldecott Honor books: Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (also a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner) and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors (which won the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award).  She teaches poetry writing to school children and participates in many national poetry events, including the annual “Poetry Blast” at the American Library Association meeting.  Her recent book, Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, has been critically acclaimed and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.  Joyce lives with her husband near a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Author of Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature.

I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog


What is the last book you read?

I just read The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje.  Beautiful, sad, haunting.  I also read a middle grade novel recently that I loved: Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.  I’m in the middle of The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, which has completely won me over so far.

What was your favorite children’s book?

By “was” I assume you mean what did I love growing up?  I loved Kipling’s Just So Stories: such a rich voice, and so many different ways to think about the origins of things.  I was also a big fan of adventure stories like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, and The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton.

What were your earliest memories of writing?

I remember writing poems around age ten: that transforming moment of realizing that you have noticed something—something important—and that you need to write about it.  I had a wonderful 6th grade teacher who brought in an interesting picture every week, propped it up on the chalkboard, and asked us to write a story about it.  Heaven!  And she often chose my stories to read aloud, which was also heaven.

Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came naturally?

It was something that I needed to do; I really couldn’t understand the world without it.  This is still true.  I love words and all their depth and color, and I love stories, which help explain who we are.

Do you generally get a story idea first or does the main character develop first?

The process for poetry is a bit different than that of fiction.  I generally start with a question, such as “What do creatures do at night?” (which led to DARK EMPERORANDOTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT), or “What would happen if a whole classroom of kids wrote apology poems to each other?” (which led to THIS ISJUSTTO SAY:POEMS OF APOLOGYANDFORGIVENESS).  Then, I do a lot of thinking and researching, and slowly the framework of the book settles into place.  Sometimes I write steadily, but sometimes the project falters after a few poems.  That’s when I need to set it aside for a while and come back later.  The passage of time often helps with clarity.

What inspired you to write Swirl by Swirl?

It’s always fascinated me that there are certain patterns that recur in nature.  After many false starts with various pattern projects, the idea of a simple book–just about spirals–presented itself.  They’re so graceful, so beautiful, and they are found in so many places.  I wanted to find out why.

Are you working on a new book?

I am always working on a new book.  If not actually writing, I’m always thinking.  My next published book will be one tentatively titled WINTER BEESANDOTHER POEMS OF THE COLD, about how creatures survive winter.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

Hmmm . . . for me, it is probably the time when I feel bereft of ideas.  Empty.  Or too critical of myself to take on a new project.  This doesn’t happen too often, but it feels like the end of the world.

Do you write full time or do you still have a day job?

I work part time as a writer-in-residence at local public schools, teaching poetry.  I work with four classrooms a day for one week of intensive writing.  It’s a blast, and it’s also exhausting.  I also travel to writing conferences and speaking engagements.

How do you react to a bad review and have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I’ve had a few reviewers say things I disagree with, but nothing really negative, thank goodness. I’m sure it will happen–but it’s all part of the business.  A successful writer must develop a thick skin.  Writer’s block–yes, it happens.  It’s awful, and you just need to find ways to get around it.

What do you hope that readers will take away from your book?

A sense of joy and wonder at the richness of the natural world. And a sense of belonging to it, as well.

Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with?

Steve Jenkins and Sy Montgomery.  We could talk about weird creatures all evening!

What author inspires you the most and why?

Oh, so many inspire me, from the very famous to the unknown.  If I am pressed, I would say that the poems of Mary Oliver have been touchstones for me.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?

Writing is a job, and I treat it that way.  I work every weekday, going to my desk right after breakfast and staying there until late morning, when I go for a long walk and think about my projects.  After lunch, I work on the “business” aspect of writing–emails, promotion, interviews (like this one!), etc.

What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?

Develop a relationship with the librarians at your local public or school library.  Discuss your child’s interests and needs with them, and take their advice.  They know so much!

What advice you would give to new writers?

I have a whole pep talk here:  But basically: learn to revise, but don’t lose sight of your own unique voice.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I think I’ve gone on long enough . . .

Thank you for this interview


June 21, 2012 - Posted by | Meet the Author | , , , ,


  1. I loved this interview! It is fascinating to read her process of creating poetry. I love how she first poses a question and then delves deeper with research. Keep up the good work! marthalynn16 at gmail

    Comment by marthalynnrm | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  2. Hi Joyce. Congrats on the release, my kids will love reading it. The snail on the cover will be a big hit with my daughter- she LOVES them. I am looking forward to reading the new book you are working on about winter. I was born an raised in MN- I know about winter. I am now living in FL and wish for some cooler weather. The sun is great but not all the heat.
    Great interview Ella.

    Comment by your1chef | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  3. Hi Joyce,
    Such a pleasure to meet you here. I’ve enjoyed your interview. My grandson loves these little creatures so I know he’d love this book. 🙂
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Comment by Carol L. | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thank you Joyce for sharing. I especially liked that you could recall a teacher that inspired you to write. I will probably use that idea in my own homeschool…. if it worked in your school it might be what my kids need for inspiration as well.

    ajdunville (at) yahoo (dot) com

    Comment by Amanda | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  5. I would love this book fo rmy boys! I think they would really enjoy it!

    Comment by shauna | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  6. I am so impressed with Joyce’s down-to-earth advice and observations…the spiral is such a creative shape to discover with a child….I love her comments about self-discipline and choosing books according to individual interests.
    Joyce is wise and joyful.

    Comment by Elsie Brockett | June 22, 2012 | Reply

  7. Great interview! Thanks for sharing Joyce!!

    Comment by Rose C. | June 24, 2012 | Reply

  8. This is why I was an English major. Loved the interview.

    Comment by Meghan | June 24, 2012 | Reply

  9. I enjoyed reading about your inspiration for your poetry.

    Comment by tmy56 | June 24, 2012 | Reply

  10. Loved the interview and your prospective on things and I know we would love the book too!

    Comment by Cherie R. | June 28, 2012 | Reply

  11. I love how the author sees the patterns in nature. I think the idea for her new book of poems is wonderful. I think children would enjoy reading poems about how animals survive in winter.

    Comment by Maryann | July 2, 2012 | Reply

  12. I’ve always wondered about how animals survive the winter. I look forward to reading Joyce’s next book.

    Comment by likwan | July 19, 2012 | Reply

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