The Backstory: FOR EVERY LITTLE THING
I am thrilled to welcome Nancy Tupper Ling to The Backstory today to share all about her new poetry anthology, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING (Eerdmans Publishing, 2021) coauthored by June Cotner and with illustrations by Helen Cann. This beautiful book about sharing gratitude and appreciating the small things in life releases on September 21, 2021.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind FOR EVERY LITTLE THING.
First off, please tell us a little bit about FOR EVERY LITTLE THING.
June Cotner and I gave FOR EVERY LITTLE THING the subtitle “Poems and Prayers to Celebrate the Day.” This was our hope, that young readers will enter a celebration with every turn of the page. A delightful coincidence is our book launches on September 21st—World Gratitude Day. What perfect timing since our hope is that children and families will find joy in the day’s ordinary moments. We believe the book will nudge us to stop and notice the little things in life, like fireflies and slurping noodles and, as the title poem says, “scales and wings, for each and every little thing.”
This is such a beautiful theme to build the anthology around. I can just imagine families sharing poems over bedtime and initiating conversations about gratitude.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
My co-author, June Cotner, was the mastermind behind the initial idea for the book. At first she thought the book might be called “Counting Blessings,” based on a poem by a long-time contributor, Barbara Younger. Soon we began to gather poems to inspire gratitude in a child’s day, from falling snow to pets, from bedtime hugs to train-filled dreams. Along the way, I wrote a poem called “For Every Little Thing,” and that became the title poem of our book. It wasn’t until March of 2018 that we signed with Eerdmans and they hired the fabulous illustrator, Helen Cann https://helencann.co.uk/
I love the message of gratitude and appreciating all the small, wonderful moments in life. It is a positive lesson for children and a welcome reminder for the grownups in their lives.
How did you approach selecting poems for this anthology?
We began with several famous poems, like Christina Rossetti’s “Hurt No Living Thing” and Emily Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose.” We also had a few from June’s longtime contributors. Next, we read a ton to see whose books might be competitive or comparative. Then we organized the poems into chapters. Our final chapter headings are: Morning, The World Around Us, Graces and Blessings, Love and Kindness, Family and Friends, Nightfall, and Dreams. Once the proposal was accepted, we sent out a “call for submissions” That’s when the real fun began as the poems started to pile in. We received amazing poems, but we had to select those that fell under the vision of the book…so in the case of FOR EVERY LITTLE THING there needed to be a spiritual side to those accepted.
That must have been such a hard decision choosing the final poems. It is so interesting hearing about the process from beginning to end and how this book came together.
What did the collaboration between you and June Cotner look like?
I feel privileged to work with June. I call her the Queen of Anthologies. She has over 35 anthologies to her name, and her books have sold over a million copies. I’m still learning a great deal, but FOR EVERY LITTLE THING is our third co-authored book. Maybe I hit my stride with this one because I felt more comfortable with the decisions I needed to make. June has so much experience, knowing the markets, and what ideas are most likely to sell. What I bring to the table comes from my experience as a poet and children’s author. I’m comfortable editing poems to become stronger and I’m able to envision which poems will appeal to a young reader. Together we’ve become quite the dynamic duo.
Your strengths seem to compliment each other so well. You really sound like a perfect team. And with so much experience, what a great partner to learn from!
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I think we have ideas all the time…driving, hiking, taking an airplane flight. It’s the observation, contemplation, and motivation to capture them in some form. Even if I’m unable to return to my ideas until days later, at least they’ll be awaiting me if I jot them down. My poem, White Birch, was a Writer’s Digest Grand Prize winner out of almost 18,000 entries and I wrote that one (almost in its entirety) in the shower. It was a gift. Believe it or not, I was still getting critiques and suggestions from fellow writers the very day when I learned it had won.
Yes, those ideas are always floating around us just waiting to be noticed and expanded on.
Congratulations on your Writer's Digest win! That is incredible. And the fact that you were still getting critiques at the time you were notified of your win is a lesson right there. There are always more suggestions or opinions to be had and you need to trust your gut about when to submit a WIP.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Books from my childhood play over in my mind when I’m writing… The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton; Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey; Crow Boy by Taro Yashima; and Arty the Smarty by Faith McNulty (LOVED THIS ONE)
I treasure so many books from my peers—and that could easily be the subject for a future interview!
There is something magical about the books from our childhood. It could be the stories themselves or the memories associated with them, but these stories seem to stick with us and hold a special place in our hearts.
And I couldn't agree with you more about books from our peers. I find so much joy in their success, especially knowing the hard work, time, and waiting (oh so much waiting) that they put into them.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I used to keep a pin cushion (see photo) when I started submitting my first poems for publication. At first it was filled with all red pins, representing the rejections I received. Then one day I added my first green pin (a poem that was “a go”). Soon the green began to outnumber the red. I never used this system for my picture books, but I keep the pin cushion as a reminder about when I first became brave enough to share my words with others.
Such a great visual reminder and motivator!
I also keep a few “Hopeful Reminders” around my office (see photo). These are items I treasured up and saved along the way that represent certain stories. One day when I was in an antique store I found a “double happiness” pencil box. It had the phoenix and the dragon on the outside cover. I kept this for ten years before my story was accepted by Chronicle. I still keep a hedgehog, Fiona, who is a character in an unpublished story, plus a card I found with two birds to remind me of characters in another story I’m working on.
I love how you surround yourself with "Hopeful Reminders". I am inspired now to find my own to represent my stories. Having a physical representation of each story would be like being surrounded by old friends.
As far as resources, besides the usual or “ushe”(as my kids say) like Roget’s Thesaurus and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Marketplace, I have several poetry guides. These include:
The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser
The Art of Reading Poetry by Harold Bloom
I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You by Naomi Shihab Nye
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
And over a hundred poetry books by various poets.
Where I’m supposed to write.
Where I actually write.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Listen!…but know who to listen to! In other words, never think you know so much about your art that you don’t need to listen to another’s critique. On the other hand, know who is offering that criticism. If it is helpful, lean in. If it’s a bunch of malarkey, let it go.
Great distinction and wonderful use of the word malarkey! It is important to stay humble while also evaluating how useful a critique will be in elevating your work.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Yes! June Cotner and I just sold a children’s spiritual anthology entitled BLESS THE EARTH: A CHILDREN’S BOOK OF PRAYERS AND POEMS FOR HONORING THE EARTH to Keren Baltzer Convergent/Penguin Random House. In the meantime, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING received a Gold Standard Selection from the Junior Library Guild, and a lovely review from Kirkus.
Congratulations to you and June on the forthcoming title and of course on the positive attention FOR EVERY LITTLE THING is receiving!
Where can people connect more with you?
Readers make sure you connect with Nancy on all of her socials. And be sure to check out her Author Acrostics series on her website. She has had amazing authors join in and I may have snuck my way in as well.
Also, be on the lookout for Nancy and June Cotner's upcoming anthology, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING releasing September 21, 2021, from Eerdmans Publishing with illustrations by Helen Cann. You don't want to miss it!
Nancy thank you so much for joining us today and sharing all about FOR EVERY LITTLE THING. I loved learning about your collaboration with June as well as your thoughtful advice for authors. Best of luck with your future projects and I can't wait to read more from you!
Nancy is generously offering a copy of FOR EVERY LITTLE THING to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT NANCY TUPPER LING
Nancy Tupper Ling is the winner of the prestigious Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award. She draws her inspiration from the multicultural background of her family. Her picture books have received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. They include The Story I’ll Tell (Lee and Low Books), Double Happiness (Chronicle Books), The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful (Penguin) and her next children’s anthology with co-author June Cotner is entitled For Every Little Thing (Eerdmans Publishing).
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.