Friday, April 24, 2020

Spotlight Friday - A Hatful of Dragons blog tour - 4.24.2020

April is National Poetry Month

Join me on Fridays as I share a new poetry book for your collections.  Some may be a book that is a poem, others may be collections of poetry.  All books you'll want to add for {future} readers!

One of the best ways to keep kids reading is to keep them laughing.  They mostly look for humorous books so when you add laughter to poetry... you keep the readers turning the page for more!  And poet Vikram Madan knows that - just look at the title of his most recent collection of poems!

A Hatful of Dragons by Vikram Madan
A Hatful of Dragons: 
And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems
by Vikram Madan
published by WordSong an imprint of Boyds Mills & Kane

Full of poems that make you laugh out loud, many poems even make you turn the page before you get to the punchline of the poem.  That little bit of a pause gets readers thinking about what direction Madan is going to take with his jokes, but they always leave you with the same ending - laughter.  And I'm thinking that's what we may need even more lately, pages with stories and ideas and possibilities that make us laugh!

While the poems in the collection can be read and enjoyed individually, readers will notice certain plot lines and characters are often woven throughout the collection.  The ending of a poem might not be the ending of that particular poetic story!  Readers will enjoy going back to these quick little stories and seeing there is actually more to read.

Poet Vikram Madan stopped by to tell our readers more about writing poetry.  Thanks, Vikram!

How do you approach writing for a young audience?

With my prior two books (The Bubble Collector and Lord of the Bubbles) I was very intentional in making sure the books had a lot of poetic diversity, from really simple to complex/nuanced, so they would be easy to get into for younger kids, and have some lasting value for older ones. And I also wanted the books to expose kids to how varied poetry could be and how much fun you could have playing with words. This Bubble Collector discussion guide will give you some idea:  I do need to create something similar for ‘Hatful of Dragons’.
In general when writing poetry I prefer to write poetry kids can grow into over time, rather than outgrow quickly. For example, somewhat like Jack Prelutsky (this is a comparison my editor made), I’m not artificially limiting my vocabulary to specific age ranges, but I am keeping in mind that the poems still make sense to the young reader. Humor really helps engage the kids, as do the illustrations. That way they have words to read, pictures to enjoy looking at, and fun with the whole experience. 

When I do school visits, I am often surprised by which poems the kids seem to like the most. I’ve found I’m not a good predictor of what they will like so the more variety I can provide, the more the likelihood kids will find something they favor. Incidentally, by not keeping the vocabulary too simple, the books are also enjoyable for older readers.

What can readers expect when diving into your newest collection?

Hatful of Dragons has a lot of visual variance among the poems (Including some comic-strip formats), recurring characters and interweaving plots. So I am hopeful kids will find it enough of a fun experience to come back to it again and again. And in that process read some poetry. :) 

I know you have a visual background.  How do you incorporate that into your poetry?

I used to do a lot of cartooning in my college years so I’m naturally attuned to visual humor and punch-lines. When I’m gestating a poem, a part of my brain is exploring visual ideas in parallel, so that words and visuals start emerging together. Sometimes the visuals play a supporting role and let the words lead the dance. Other times, I’ll be enamored with a visual gag and then I have to mold the words to get to the visual endpoint.  The book has a lot of visual variety mostly because I give each poem space to evolve into whatever form suits it best, whether it’s a rebus or a comic strip or a concrete poem or something more traditional.

Writing rhyming poetry isn't just coming up with the many rhymes, you also have to think of the rhythm and beats of the lines.  How do you do that?

I find every word has a physical aspect to it, in how we say it, hear it, and feel it. And when you string words together, they have a natural in-built rhythm that can’t be controlled, only harnessed. As I assemble words, I am listening to how they sound and then I might build a structure around their cadence - or if they don’t fit into the structure I am trying to create, well then I have to find different words or a different structure. A few examples:
* The first poem in my book is titled ‘The Panda and the Pangolin’ (page 4). Looking back at my notes, it apparently started as a poem about pangolins:
    ‘A band of banded pangolins’. 
And following the sound of that sentence, I then wrote:
    ‘The panda and the pangolin’
which seemed to offer more possibilities. What if it was the other way around: ‘The pangolin and the panda’ ?
I tried 
    ‘At the edge of my veranda / sat a pangolin and panda’
But ‘The Pangolin and the Panda’ didn’t have the same natural rhythm as ‘The Panda and the Pangolin’ so I went back to the original
    ‘Said the panda to the pangolin / I like your little mandolin’ 
Better. But I needed to drop the extra ‘Said’ syllable:  
    ‘The panda and the pangolin / between them have a mandolin / a clarinet, a violin / a drum made from some beaten tin’
And the rest of the poem unfolded from there, with active guiding to make sure it ended where I needed it to. 
(Note that, when I started, I had no idea what the poem was going to be about. I just followed the words home).
* Another example is the poem ‘The Flippy, Floppy Flappers’ (page 13), which was inspired by a painting of energetic, bouncy creatures with big flapping ears. For this poem, I had a concrete subject and I just needed to find the right words to express their energy. I consciously used a lot of alliteration hoping that repetitive tongue movements would make the poem feel like it too was bouncing and flapping when read aloud. 
A first version, a rough sketch trying to get the idea down, went like this:
    ‘They keep lapping they keep looping as they vault and spring and leap / They can barely bear to stand still and they rarely stop to sleep’
My tongue kept tripping on ‘vault and spring’ and on ‘stand still’ and ‘stop to sleep’, so after experimenting with many variations, I finally arrived at:
    ‘ They keep leaping, lapping, looping as they flop and flip and flap / They can barely bare to idle and they rarely nab a nap ‘
Says the same thing, but flows so much better and I really like how the words feel in my mouth.
Here’s a video of me reading ‘The Flippy, Floppy, Flappers’:

Thank you to Vikram for stopping by today!

Be sure to find A Hatful of Dragons and check out the other stops on the blog tour:

More about Vikram Madan:
Vikram Madan grew up in India where, despite spending his childhood rhyming and doodling, he ended up an engineer. After many years of working in the tech industry, he finally came to his senses and took a leap of faith to leave his tech career behind and reboot himself as a professional visual artist. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, Vikram writes and illustrates humorous poetry. His first self-illustrated book of funny poems, The Bubble Collector, won a 2013 Moonbeam Silver Award for Children’s Poetry. A follow-up collection, Lord of the Bubbles, was released in 2018. Vikram’s third collection, A Hatful of Dragons, was released by Boyds Mills & Kane in Spring 2020. Vikram currently lives near Seattle, Washington with his family, two guitars, and a few pet peeves. Somewhere along the way he has also won editorial cartooning awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Press Association. Visit him at


  1. Hi Michele, do you have a place where I can contact you? I would love to share my books with you. I follow you on Twitter and really admire your work. Thanks, Lynda