Top 10 List
by Matt Forrest Esenwine
Illustrated by Fred Koehler
Many thanks to 2017 Best in Rhyme Committee Member
Deborah Williams for interviewing Matt Forrest Esenwine
about his fabulous new book FLASHLIGHT NIGHT!
Deb: Congratulations on the great reviews for Flashlight Night! This is your first picture book, but have you had other rhyming work published?
Matt: Thanks, Deb! Yes, I’ve had numerous poems published over the years. My first was back when I was in high school – I sent a free verse poem to the local college’s literary magazine and they liked it enough to publish it! That set me on my path. Since then, several of my poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies.
Up until 2009 or so, I was only publishing poetry geared for adults – primarily free verse – but I had some children’s poetry I’d written and didn’t know what to do with. A friend told me about SCBWI, I joined a local critique group, and began studying the craft as well as the market (a hugely important and often underestimated aspect of writing for children). My first children’s poem, “First Tooth,” was published in Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed, 2015) and between that poem and all the others I have – or will have – published in books, online journals, and ‘Highlights’ magazine, the grand total comes to about 24! Granted, in publishing, the wheels turn slowly, but I’m extremely grateful I’ve been able to get this far so quickly.
Deb: Your voice talent background taught you to pay attention to how written words sound when read aloud. Was this helpful to you in writing picture books?
Matt: Yes, it was…but what was more important was my ability to write radio copy (e.g., commercials). When writing a 30-second or 60-second radio commercial, one needs to create interest on some type of emotional level; introduce a problem; offer a solution; and then conclude the message. Sound familiar?? It’s a story! So no matter whether it’s a commercial, a poem, a picture book, or a novel, the general structure is very often the same – it’s how one varies that structure and what one does with it that makes the difference.
Deb: Which do you find more challenging when writing, perfect rhyme or perfect meter?
Matt: Perfect rhyme, no question. Perfect meter can be difficult, yes, but if one is writing in accentual verse rather than syllabic, it’s the rhymes that are going to be front and center to the reader. As long as the text flows, make sure those rhymes are as good as they can be.
Deb: Rhyming books are often a hard sell, partly because they’re tough to translate for foreign markets. What would you say to encourage those of us who write in rhyme?
Matt: I know of a number of folk who’ve written rhyming picture books that have been translated into other languages, and they usually end up as non-rhyming picture books. This is another reason why having a solid, universal story – and text that can be appreciated even in prose –is so important.
Deb: Can you share some creative marketing ideas you’ve used with Flashlight Night?
Matt: One of my first book signings was at night, and we displayed the book on a projection screen so everyone could see. I talked about the book a little bit, then showed the kids some shadow puppets on the screen, and everyone left with a small flashlight of their own!
I also contacted a local hospital’s gift shop, because I felt ‘Flashlight’ was the kind of quiet adventure book a young child might enjoy while staying there. The manager loved the book and ordered a case, and we scheduled a book signing during the “lunch hour” (a very loose term when it comes to hospitals). Before the signing I visited the on-campus preschool and read to three groups of young children, and by the time the signing rolled around many of their parents were requesting copies! In fact, we sold out of all the books in an hour – and I’m hoping to get back there before Christmas for another go-round!
Deb: What’s the most fun you’ve had since your book came out?
Matt: I’ve really been enjoying the signings, actually. Eventually when I’m old and grizzled (which may not be too long from now) and have a wall of books to my name I’ll probably become haughty and supercilious…but for now, I’m having fun meeting people and chatting with them about the book, my contributions to various poetry collections, and children’s publishing in general.
Deb: What’s next for you in your writing career? Will your next book be in rhyme, too?
Matt: This spring, I’ll have my name associated with two books! My second picture book, “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” (Pow! Kids Books), which I co-wrote with author Deb Bruss (“Book! Book! Book!”, “Big Box for Ben”), is scheduled for a March release. It’s about a couple of kids trying to put on a birthday party while their dinosaur friends – in the interest of helping – destroy everything. It includes a short glossary at the end so readers can learn more about the 14 different dinosaur species in the book…and yes, it’s rhyming!
I also am extremely grateful to Lee Bennett Hopkins for asking me to contribute a poem for his newest poetry anthology, “School People” (Boys Mills Press), which is being published by the same folks who published “Flashlight Night.” “School People is a collection of 15 poems about all the grown-ups that kids meet when they go to school: teachers, principals, the lunch crew, etc. Lee asked me to write a poem about the bus driver, so I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow friends’ and writers’ poems!
Deb; Thanks, Matt! We’ll look forward to reading more of your writing and rhyming!
Matt: Thank YOU, Deb – and also thank you to Angie and everyone for including our little book in the Top 10!
Congratulations Matt on FLASHLIGHT NIGHT
and making the 2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!
Buy it HERE
Watch for the live, streaming
2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement
on February 4th at 7:00 pm ET
from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.