by Joe & Allison Kelly
illustrations by Supakit Chiangthong
When this poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane, by Allison & Joe Kelly came my way, I was absolutely delighted to read it! Not just to myself. I read it aloud to my kids, and, randomly quoted some of the lovely lines to the other adult in residence as well.
Shel Silverstein meets Kenn Nesbitt meets Kurt Cyrus.
That's what popped into my head as I read this set of poems. The random everyday quirks with a deeper thought-provoking perspective à la Shel Silverstein, the laugh-out-loud aspect of Kenn Nesbitt's works, as well as the amazing wordplay that Kurt Cyrus brings to his creations, these are what struck me when I read the forty eight poems in this collection.
Some are long and showcase their wordsmithing perfectly while others are crisp and short and made me double up with laughter.
The younger child's favorite was, of course, Bath for the "Ewww..." factor, and Painter, as he had tried that once and found that it was not appreciated.
The older child loved the Secret Club and Pop Quiz, while chuckling at Clover and nodding along with If Only I had a Dollar.
Vegetables - a cautionary tale is at once brilliant and funny, one of my favorites. The wordplay in Broke is superb.
Before I start listing the joys of each poem here, let me stop and share an informal interview with this talented couple.
1. Tell us about your writing journey - when did you start, what was your motivation for writing?
J: I started writing children's poetry when I was fifteen - right around the time I met Allison, actually. I love the variation inherent in a poetry collection, and I love it as both a reader and a writer. The imagination's zigzag from character to character, situation to situation; not knowing to which world the next page is going to take you, only that it will be a place you're sure to enjoy. I guess that's why we were drawn to the paper plane.
A: Like most writers, I'm sure, I'm thrilled by the idea of creating something new that wasn't there before: a character, a plot line, a turn of phrase. I've been enthralled with the writing experience since the age of six or so; it's truly been one of the constant joys in my life.
J: And me, right?
A: Yes, Joe. And you.
2. Do you focus on writing only for children? What are some of your other works?
A: I will write for anyone! I recently started a small business in which I write and publish personal memoirs for people -- usually older folks whose children want to gather their stories and memories in one place before it's too late. I also write material for standardized tests for students ranging in age from kindergarten to high school, and for both native English speakers and English language learners.
J: I'm not quite as versatile as my wife. It's been largely children's material to date - poetry, rhyming books, middle grade; even tried my hand at YA. I'm drawn to the imagination bursting from the genre seemingly everywhere you look. My "day job" is in finance, so I find balance in using the creative side of my brain after a long day or week of analytical thinking.
Aboard a Paper Plane is our first title. While writing, however, we stumbled upon a few ideas that were too long to be part of the collection. The game plan now is to turn those into stand-alone rhyming stories. We've also started planning a second poetry collection. We don't have any timelines or anything as of yet, but we're certainly having fun putting it all together.
3. What was the inspiration for this particular book? Why a poetry book? How did you settle on the 48 poems included, it's a tall order? Which of these are your top 3 favorites?
A: A poetry book allowed us to experiment with a lot of tones, themes, characters, and settings. We were writing the book in our free time (evenings, weekends), so we wanted to make sure the experience was always fresh and exciting. And as for the inspiration, Joe's the idea generator, so I'll let him take it from here.
J: Thanks, Al! The inspiration for the book was an odd collection of dozens of little things I've noticed throughout my day-to-day. Normal things - things you see every day ,but maybe don't put much thought into. Like a graveyard or a boomerang or a lobster - stuff like that. If an object or situation catches my eye, I jot it down in the Notes app on my iPhone. It's also energizing to take lofty "life lessons" -- try not to compare with others, be grateful for what you're given, and so on -- and repurpose them in a fun and accessible way through poetry. In terms of the forty-eight, we were trying to assemble a nice variety of lengths and subjects and styles. There were a handful that didn't fit with Aboard a Paper Plane. We hope to find a home for them in the next collection!
A: My favorites are probably The Runner, Guardian Angel, and The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear. They're all very different, and I think they give a good idea of our versatility. I think they best showcase our humor, wordsmithing, and wit.
J: I wouldn't say I necessarily have a favorite poem, but I do have a few favorite lines. Like in the "Octopus Barber", the line about the monkfish. Or in "Fortune Teller" when the narrator daydreams about body surfing. Or in "Aboard a Paper Plane" - the part that goes, "You'll cartwheel to the moon and then you'll swim from here to Spain / Or close your eyes and scrunch your face to sprout a lion's mane." That makes me smile every time.
4. Tell us about your favorite children's author(s)? Favorite children's book(s)?
J: When I was very young, my favorite book was Richard Scarry's "Best Ride Ever". In retrospect, it was a pretty odd story. Essentially, the plot line revolved around this dog named Dingo. Dingo Dog had a really, really cool red car. What Dingo Dog did not have was much respect for traffic laws. Dingo would drive his car down the sidewalk, through the supermarket - I think at one point he even drove through someone's living room? At end of the day, the whole book was a pretty airtight case study on why we don't let animals operate machinery. According to my dad, I would laugh nonstop through the whole story. Guess I was kind of a weird kid...
A: You were a weird kid? According to my mom, my favorite book as a little kid was "The Book of Virtues". It was 1,000 pages and had no pictures. I would ask my dad to read it to me every night...
J: Okay - you got me there. But since my Dingo Dog-days of childhood, I've accumulated a whole host of both authors and stories I admire. Just to name a few: Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" & Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for their wordplay and structure. Shel Silverstein for his characters and situations. R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" for their zany twists. But my absolute favorite? I love "Oh, the Places You'll Go". My grandparents gave me a copy when I graduated high school. It's been on my desk ever since.
A: I loved the Berenstain Bears series -- the cute stories, the colorful full-page pictures! But most of the formative works I read as a child were when I was a little older, eight or nine or so. I loved "Little Women" most of all, followed closely by "A Wrinkle in Time" and the Babysitter's Club series.
5. How does the collaboration work? Each writes, and also edits the other's?
A: Writing children's poems has always been Joe's passion. He comes up with the idea, any clever turns of phrase or characters, and writes a first draft. Then, we both sit down in front of it to comb through line by line and word by word. I'll suggest changes, shore up the scheme, and do my best to make sure every word counts. We find that this process makes the best use of both of our skills.
J: That said, there were a few poems in the collection that we wrote pretty much top-to-bottom together. These were, most notably: The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear, If I Only Had a Dollar, Patient Pat, and The Gadget. My favorite part about writing is being able to work with Allison. I love having this as a shared experience.
6. Why eBook? And how was the self-publishing experience? Were you interested in submitting to the traditional publishers?
A: At this point, self-publishing Aboard a Paper Plane as an eBook was our most practical and expedient option. We've also submitted to some literary agents and traditional publishers. We're hopeful that our run as an eBook isn't the destination, but rather a step on the journey.
7. How did you "meet and collaborate" with the illustrator? On behalf of the illustrator, will you be able to share how they created the art, and whether they are open for working with other authors interested in self-publishing?
J: We met Supakit on Fiverr (which - by the way - is a great platform for children's book authors to partner with illustrators). Our experience with him was fantastic - he was professional, easy to work with, and very talented. For each poem, we'd put together a detailed description of what we were looking for in the picture, shoot it over to Supakit, and then let him work his magic. Unfortunately, we don't know too much about his process. As of today, Supakit has taken his profile down on Fiverr. He was a student during most of our collaboration, and we got the sense that he was taking on other time-intensive responsibilities as he got closer to graduating.
8. What do you do when you are not writing? What are your other interests/passions?
J: When I'm not writing or working, I enjoy running on the treadmill while watching a movie or show (currently, season 1 of True Detective), practicing the piano, drinking Guinness, all things personal finance, and spending time with my friends, family, and beautiful wife.
A: I love trying new recipes, learning languages (I'm currently taking a Spanish class!), reading, entertaining, and slowwwly decorating our house. And of course, spending time with my family, friends, and Joe!
Our sincerest gratitude to the Saffron Tree team for featuring us and our debut poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane! We truly appreciate all you do to promote children's literature. We hope you enjoy Aboard a Paper Plane; please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments! Happy reading!
[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book but the opinions shared here are entirely my own. Review policy for this blog is available.]