Megan Willome’s new children’s book was birthed from a bird bandit
A feathered thief snatched her son’s glasses, and Megan Willome watched in disbelief as it flew off with its new treasure. After the initial shock wore off, Willome’s next instinct was to investigate the culprit.
“I couldn’t believe that it had actually happened, so I went to the library to look for books on crows to try to figure out if I had seen what I saw,” Willome said. “That’s when I found a book titled ‘In the Company of Crows and Ravens’ [by John M. Marzluff]. It’s a scientific book, but it’s got these beautiful illustrations, and it’s all about crows and what they do and how our language is affected by them, and myths and legends and stories.”
What Willome didn’t realize yet was that in exchange for the glasses, she’d gotten a new hobby.
“I started writing poems about crows pretty much as soon as I got this book,” she said.
One of those first poems, “Blinded,” is featured with 16 others in Willome’s new children’s book, “Rainbow Crow: Poems in and Out of Form.” It’s a collection of short poems about crows with colorful illustrations alongside each poem.
The poems range from humorous to educational. Some have scientific facts, and others are based on legends and cultural myths. Willome drew on information she learned from Marzluff’s book, but she’s also become a bit of a crow expert of her own over the years.
“This has been an intellectual hobby of mine for 15 years. If there’s a new picture book out about crows, I want to read it. There’s a new poem about a crow? I want to read it. If I come across a legend of the crow that I’ve never read, from a different culture or tradition, I want to read it,” Willome said. “I’m just always gathering things, much like a crow gathers shiny things and stores them, that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. And I don’t see it ending.”
For long-time Wacoan readers, you’ll remember Megan Willome as one of our past columnists, writing “Musings” each month as well as in-depth features like the annual “Wacoan of the Year.” Currently, Megan serves as editor for Tweetspeak Poetry, and in 2016 her first book, “The Joy of Poetry: How to Keep, Save & Make your Life with Poems,” was published.
Writing has been a daily part of Megan’s life for years, so it makes sense that her curiosity with crows would intersect her penchant for penning poetry.
“I felt like the [crow] poems I was writing were for children,” she said. “They’re fun. They’re not deep and meaningful. They’re taking facts or stories and putting them in a poetic form.”
Willome experiments with a variety of forms of poetry in “Rainbow Crow.” There’s nine different forms featured, from catalog poems that repeat words at the beginning or end of lines to a diamante, a seven-line poem that creates a diamond shape.
“I started writing a lot of these in forms because I had a good friend in a writing group who was writing for a homeschool publisher, and she was having to do 30 different types of form poems on one subject every month. So 30 poems about pumpkins, 30 poems about snowmen. She would bring them to our writers group, and I immediately thought ‘I need to try this and do 30 form poems about crows.’ So that was the genesis for a lot of these” Willome said.
In “Rainbow Crow,” the name of the form is listed below each poem, but readers can also dive a little deeper in the back of the book where there is a description of each form and a brief background about each poem. Sometimes you might find a crow fact or learn about a cultural myth that inspired that particular poem.
“That was honestly my publisher’s suggestion. I never think about things like that [in an educational mindset],” Willome said. “But I have to say that the feedback I’ve gotten from people is ‘I am so glad you have those notes in the back.’ I think having at least a little bit of a teaser, knowing a little about the forms, knowing a few scientific facts about crows, having a few definitions, I do think people have found that really helpful.”
It’s a useful tool that makes the book versatile for a wider range of readers. It can be used to challenge older elementary kids to write their own form poems based off a favorite animal. It can also be a springboard into learning more about crows or researching other legends based on animals. But ultimately, the book was written to simply be read and enjoyed, even by the littlest children.
“Just enjoy it, enjoy the rhymes, enjoy the beautiful illustrations that Hasani [Browne] did,” Willome said. “I think that there is great value for kids in hearing poems, even before they can actually read them themselves. It greatly enhances their literacy in ways that are hard to quantify, but you get rhyme without realizing you’re getting it. You get rhythm. You get meter. Sometimes you get a big word. If it can be in a short poem, especially one that’s kind of fun or funny, you’re learning without realizing you’re learning.”
Willome said poetry makes all her writing better. For the past five years, she said she’s kept a haiku journal, writing one every day. This form, originating from Japan, consists of 17 syllables in three lines (a 5/7/5 pattern). “It is both very easy to do and very hard to do well,” she said.
“Most of the ones I write aren’t very good. But I don’t care because it has become a way of remembering that day or remembering something that happened or maybe taking a quote from a book and condensing it. It’s become a really wonderful part of my writing practice,” she said.
When she has a writing day, she spends the first portion, whether 15 minutes or an hour, reading and writing (and sometimes listening to) poetry.
“I don’t generally write anything until I have done that poetry time,” Willome said. “Because everything’s better. Even if I write a bad poem, what I write next will be better if I take the time to do that.”
And some poems flow easily from the first writing. “Blinded” is one of those that she wrote 15 years ago, inspired by the crow that took off with her son’s glasses, and it appears in its original form in “Rainbow Crow,” unedited. Willome said that’s remained her favorite, and it’s also coupled with her favorite illustration in the book.
“What Hasani captured in that is all the bright rainbow coloring in the crow,” she said. “If you look at a crow and it’s got the sunlight on it in just the right way, you can see those colors.”
“Rainbow Crow” is available for purchase now from Amazon. It is the first book in Tweetspeak Poetry’s “The Beautiful Science” series.