Poetry Friday October 4th, 2019: Introducing Robert Heidbreder

Hi Everyone, and welcome to Poetry Friday. I'm excited and nervous to be hosting today for my first time! Leave your links below and enjoy a special day celebrating poetry. 


Now that I'm finished sharing first drafts of my memoir, I’m hoping to highlight Vancouver children's poets on my blog. I want to brag! We have a lot of talent here north of the 49th parallel. I’m beginning with Robert (Bob) Heidbreder. Not only is he one of my favourite local authors, he’s also one of my favourite children’s poets. Reading anything by Bob saturates me with sunshine. His language is all hippity hoppity bibity bopity. It fills my body with rhythm and makes me want to dance. 

Bob is kind, generous, gracious, funny and smart. He came by for lunch the other day and I interviewed him about his life and work. I wish I was smarter and had recorded our time together so I could quote him accurately. I also forgot to get my husband to take a picture. Next time I interview someone, I’m recording it and adding, get a photograph, to the list. I had a lot of questions. I should add that Bob is very patient.

Bob Heidbreder was born in 1947 in Quincy, Illinois. He didn’t take to reading till he was in grade six, but adored the “bounce of poetry.” His earliest poetic influences were memorizable poetry like street rhymes, Mother Goose, skipping and playground poems like Eenie Meenie Miny Moe. He nearly drove his sister crazy by reciting 'Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear' until she screamed. Bob's first book, Don’t Eat Spiders is based on these kinds of poems. Eenie Meenie Manitoba is another.

He began writing early and had poetry published in his school newspapers. In high school he discovered W.B. Yeats and Robert Service. Present day favourite poets include: Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop, especially this poem, 

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

read the rest here. 

In secondary school Bob embraced the Latin language and then went on to study Greek and Latin at Grinnell College in Grinnell Iowa. In 1970 he immigrated to Vancouver, Canada to do graduate work in the classics department at the University of BC. A search for a Latin Dictionary introduced him to Jane. They fell in love, got married, and lucky for us, Bob never left Vancouver.

Given his classical background, I couldn’t help but ask how he came to teaching Grade One.
His response: I was tired of academia.

Bob spent thirty years with little ones before retirement. These youngsters brought him back to the rollicking poetry he loved in his youth. At first he only wrote poems that entertained, engaged and educated his students. Then Jane encouraged him to try to get his work published, and the rest is history. He’s been a beloved Canadian poet ever since.

He has won all kinds of accolades, awards, and honours; including The Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence 2002-2003. His classroom work is highlighted in Mr. H and his Unruly Puppets, a documentary directed and produced by our mutual friend, Annie O'Donoghue. (My husband was the cinematographer.)
In Mr H's classroom, learning was challenging and fun. "A cast of over 50 puppets, led by the wise wizard Alphaterwa and the unruly Stanley C. Crow, transformed the Grade One curriculum into a year-long interactive drama.” You can watch that video below. I discovered it online recently and will have to report it to the creators. It might not be available for long. I encourage you to take 30 minutes to watch it and be inspired.




On Writing:

Here are some of his writing habits:
  1. Poems are written in his head before writing them down. He works on them while walking or riding his bike. When I asked if he was worried about forgetting, he replied that he trusted his process and if he forgets it, then it probably wasn’t very good anyway.
  2. When a poem is ready Bob retreats to a quiet space where he writes on the computer. He loves the clean look of the poem without all the scratching out on paper.
  3. He is "not a disciplined writer who writes everyday." He works when ideas strike - then he might focus hard on a project for months.
For him, the easiest thing about writing is “Getting ideas.” The most difficult thing is “Working through ideas to the end.” He has a 'sleeping drawer' where he puts manuscripts that are not coming together. They might languish there for years before he gets back to them.

The best advice he's ever gotten is to "Keep at it. Don’t give up." His advice to new writers includes the same advice, with the addition of, "Avoid adjectives. Discover your own voice. Write for yourself." As an afterward, Bob claimed that before you are published, you write for yourself. Afterwards you tend to write to get published.

On Publishing in Canada:

Bob enjoys the stimulation of working with all his editors. A favourite was Sheila Barry, a superhero in Canadian Children’s Literature who is much loved and missed in the Canadian publishing community. He figures it's good that writers don’t get much interaction with illustrators. He wouldn’t expect an illustrator to ask him to change a few words, so doesn’t expect to have a say in how illustrators interpret his books. Only once did he assert that he didn’t think an illustration was in the best interest of a book. Luckily the editor agreed.

In the last few decades we have lost many independent Canadian publishers in general and of children’s books in particular. Kid’s Can Press, originally a local publisher of children’s literature, has now become a multinational corporation. More and more often, Canadian authors are asked to remove aspects of their work that contain Canadian references because they don’t sell in America.

To date Bob has published eighteen books. Some have been rhyming picture books and others are collections of poetry. His books have been shortlisted for, and won, numerous awards here in Canada!


My favourite is Drumheller Dinosaur Dance. This is one of my go to books when I am substitute teaching in primary grades. Students unfailingly love it. Told in rhyming, rollicking poetry full of onomatopoeia, it shares the shenanigans of dinosaurs late at night in a special spot near Drumheller Alberta. The typography dances and sings all over the page in unison with Bill Slavin's and Esperanca Melo's raucous artwork! Every student I've introduced this too has loved to shout out the chorus of, BOOMITY-BOOM RATTELY-CLACK THUMPITY-THUMP WICKETY-WACK. Here it is in the following video.



I also adore Song for a Summer Night: A Lullaby. Qin Leng's illustrations are the perfect match to Bob's lyrical poetry.


Here are the first three stanzas of the poem:  

Day’s left the sage.
                  Night’s in the wings
                  The summer air sings
                             What a summer night brings.

Draw back the curtains.
                The still park’s below.
                The children at windows
                            All wait for the show.

Tall tree branches arch
              To frame the stage wall.
               Thick, whispering leaves
                           Tell of night’s spell.
                                             shh- shh ...

That final cumulative repeating refrain ends up being
shh - shh
glint - glint
pring - pring
tra - la - la
snap - snap
tip - tap
hoo - hoo
click - click
purr - purr
scratch - scratch
pound - pound

Rooster Summer, his most recent book, is a memoir in verse about his summer holidays with his grandparents on their farm. It's full of magic - the kind that can only be experienced by children in a place full of wonderful animals and doting adults. There's Rexter, the talking rooster; Seed-Sack, the mule who thinks he's a horse; Ginger Tea, the dog; and Tuftin, the cat. Many of Robert's descriptions, like this one, "inside is a bundle of purrs" make me want to swoon. Rooster Summer is a book that will make you nostalgic for a time and summer the likes of which you might never have experienced. Madeline Kloepper's vintage style art is the perfect accompaniment to the poems in the book.

Bob is very busy! Our Corner Store, a companion memoir in verse, is in production with Groundwood. The release date is set for April 1, 2020. 
He's got a couple of projects in the writing stage and three other books in production: 
  • Catch the Sky, pocket poems about observing the sky, published by Greystone, either 2020 or 2021.
  • Alphabet Antics, an alphabet book that looks at the shape of letters rather than the sounds, published by Tradewind, date to be announced.
  • Pianissimo, illustrated versions of musical terms, published 2021 by KidsCan.
I leave you with a few other questions and answers. 

Favourite color: “Yellow. It gives me a bright feeling, like wearing a piece of the sun.” 

Favourite movie: “Paper Moon.”

Favourite food: “bread, all types of bread”

Favourite vacation spot: Gabriola Island where he and his wife have a cabin and chunk of land

Favourite book: “The Good Soldier because of the unreliable narrator”

Favourite word: growing up, it was Mississippi, but while he was teaching, it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Favourite music: Jazz. These days Bob’s taking a course, What Makes it Jazz: at the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University.

If you could be someone else, who would you be?
"I'm happy being myself," but wouldn’t mind being a high powered stage actor for a day. 

If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?
"Let’s see what we can laugh at. Laughter gives us power."

Before we parted, Bob reflected upon the idea that a moment is a poem. Narrative is the accumulation of these moments put together. He also left me with his three R’s of writing poetry:
  1. Rhythm
  2. Repetition
  3. Risk:  (As an example he explained: start with an ordinary statement like, 'today I ate my lunch.' Turn it into, 'today my lunch ate me.' )
I decided to play with that and here's what I ended up with:

Today my lunch ate me
I was surprised as I can be
Inside it's tummy I tickled away
Till it spit me out shouting, Go Away!

What can you come up with?

I would like to give a special shoutout to Michelle Barnes who has been an unwitting mentor and inspiration to me for the brilliant questions she asks authors! 




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48 comments:

  1. Thanks for introducing us to Robert and his poetry!! I'll have to look for some of his books at the library. Especially enjoyed the videos and the "Song for a Summer Night" excerpt. Thanks for hosting this week, Cheriee!

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    1. Summer Night is especially beautiful Jama - in both the verse and illustrations!

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  2. What a wonderful, rich post! I enjoyed the introduction to Robert and the clips you shared. I especially liked your description of why you like his poetry: "Reading anything by Bob saturates me with sunshine. His language is all hippity hoppity bibity bopity. It fills my body with rhythm and makes me want to dance. " and also "Song for a Summer Night." Thanks so much for hosting this week, Cheriee!

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    1. Thank you Molly. The contrast between Drumheller Dinosaurs and Song for a Summer night really highlights the diversity Bob is capable of!

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  3. And look at that a perfect post right out of the gate. Cheriee, this is such a lovely and rich post. Thank you so very much for introducing us to Mr. H. I'm playing the Mr. H. and his unruly puppets right now and you're so right. Bob is a gem of a person. I love that he's a teacher writer. His students are so fortunate. Please introduce us to more poets from your neck of the woods! I'd love to meet more. I'm taking a quick stab at your challenge:

    Today I ate much lunch
    it was very yummy
    every part of me agreed
    especially my tummy
    the only problem was
    when I threw away my napkin
    and looked up at the clock
    it was only half past nine
    not even time for snack
    to start!

    tee hee!

    This week the Swaggers are trying their hand a Xeno poems. Come join us!

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    1. I enjoyed your response to the challenge Linda! I'm so glad you are watching Mr H and his Unruly Puppets. Isn't he just brilliant!

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  4. Thanks for hosting and for the cool interview! Michelle makes a great mentor, doesn't she? I'm sharing two poems today -- one by a young poet and one that is collaborative.

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    1. She sure does! I enjoyed both of those poems today.

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  5. Wow, what a post! Thanks for introducing me to this poet, Cheriee--I'm not familiar with his work, so I'm going to have to seek it out. We have many of the same habits--working on poems in our head, writing them on the computer, etc. I love his third R--and your funny take on lunch eating you. Thanks for hosting!

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    1. I too sometimes end up working on poems in my head, but unless I go and write them down soon, they get lost in the rest of the mess in there.

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  6. Everything about this post made me smile. I want to be a first grader with him and all of those unruly puppets as my teacher! Thank you for all of this and for hosting today. I'm off to find more of his work...and to write the three R's into my notebook. Love! xx

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    1. I too want to be a first grader in Mr H's classroom!

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  7. Thanks for introducing us to Robert Heidbreder, Cheriee! I suspect the “bounce of poetry” is what pulls many of us as children! Looking forward to more of your interviews with Canadian children's poets.

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    1. I agree - that playfulness with words delights us when we are young and for me at least, delights the kid still inside me.

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  8. Thanks for introducing us to Bob's work...looks like he has a penchant for fun words and playtime! (And thanks for hosting!)

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    1. Thanks Matt. I'm happy to spread Bob's work to a larger audience!

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  9. I love those three R's, too, Cheriee. What a great interview and nice of you to credit Michelle for the questions, which bring good answers! I checked our library system & they have seven of Robert's books, including the beautiful Song for a Summer night. I love reading about Rooster Summer! Thank you for hosting this week.

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    1. I hope you enjoy his poetry Linda. I think you will enjoy Rooster Summer and I am looking forward to his next memoir!

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  10. What a marvelous post Cheriee! Thanks for introducing me to this new-to-me Canadian children's author and poet, Robert Heidbreder– I love all the bouncy poetry here. I'm looking forward to your future posts on more Canadian authors. Thanks also for hosting the roundup!

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    1. Thanks Michelle. I am excited about sharing our local talent, and getting to know their work better myself!

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  11. Thank you for this wonderful post and for introducing us to Bob. I must look for more of his work. Thanks too for hosting this shindig.

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    1. Thanks Tricia. I hope you get to read some more of his work!

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  12. I think everyone agrees that you brought a new Canadian poet to our attention and that your first hosting is a big success. There are several parts of Robert's interview that I enjoyed. Drumheller Dinosaur Dance has a special beat to its rhyming and I do love the chorus, BOOMITY-BOOM RATTELY-CLACK THUMPITY-THUMP WICKETY-WACK. I can see children really enjoying those sound words. The 3 Rs are notable and I thought the first habit was very interesting, especially since I engage in the thinking in my head stage often. I worry that I will forget my lines but the advice Robert gave I shall heed. There are many other parts that gave me more insight into this poet. I will end with a thought on your poem. You took a risk and come up with a funny poem that a child would giggle over. I will post my blog as soon as it is finished. I am trying to pack for a trip to celebrate my uncle's 91st birthday in Central NY (about 5+ hours away).

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    1. Summer's Enduring Beauty Part 2 is added to the link but I forgot to add my name or blog. https://beyondliteracylink.blogspot.com/2019/10/summers-enduring-beauty-part-2.html

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    2. I hope your birthday celebration is a great success Carol! 91! wow!

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  13. Oh this is so, so, so awesome!!! There's so much talent in our fair city! My parents had to drive out to Drumheller twice when I was a kid because I was so obsessed with dinosaurs, so Drumheller Dinosaur Dance has a special place in my heart. <3

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    1. It really is a brilliant book! Even my two year old grandkids love this book!

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  14. Thank you so much for hosting! And this is a wonderful interview! I will definitely be checking Robert's books!

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  15. Thanks for hosting! I can't wait to come back to read your post and meet Robert Heidbreder!

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  16. Cheriee, congratulations for a beautiful first Poetry Friday Roundup post! We're all so glad you're here, and what loveliness to read about Bob. I was nodding my head through much of the post and will share the "risk" with others... a necessary "r" for all artistic endeavors! Thanks to both for your generosity! (And yes, Michelle is an inspiration to us all!)

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    1. I'm glad I took the risk Irene. I'm kind of overwhelmed with all these comments, but in a good way! Mostly I am just so happy to be introducing Robert to a wider audience!

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  17. Thank you for hosting, and sharing Robert with us. I always love hearing about a poet's process.

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    1. So do I. I admit that since I have been writing more in earnest myself, I find I learn a lot by talking to and reading about their work.

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  18. Thank you for hosting and for introducing us to a poet we might not know. I absolutely love the idea of a sleeping drawer and the beautiful lilt of Song for a Summer Night.

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    1. I am so happy to introduce Robert to more people! Song for a Summer Night is a gorgeous in images and verse.

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  19. Thank you for introducing Bob and his poetry. His work sounds like a rollicking good time--and those puppets in his classroom. Wow! Thanks for hosting today. Isn't it fun?

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    1. It is fun! I'm mostly just so happy to present Bob to all of you!

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  20. Thank you for the introduction to Robert Heidbreder and his work! I found a number of his books in our library system's collection, so I reserved a few. Looking forward to digging in!

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    1. I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do JoAnn!

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  21. Thanks for introducing me to Bob! What a delightful post. Just checked our library for his books and they have some. Huzzah! :)

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    1. That is great news! I hope you end up loving his work as much as I do.

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  22. This was an amazing post! Thank you -- and thanks for hosting!

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    1. Thanks Liz. It's not as scary as I thought it would be.

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  23. Bravo, Cheriee, on hosting Poetry Friday for the first time! You did an amazing job. This interview with Robert Heidbreder and description of his work is incredible. Thank you for introducing him to us! I'm looking forward to finding some of his books. Rooster Summer sounds right up my alley. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Catherine. You don't want to know how long writing and rewriting took! I'm excitedly looking forward to Bob's next book!

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  24. Thank you for this wonderful intro to Bob and his work. This is wonderful!

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