Me: Congratulations on your beautiful new book, A PLANET IS A POEM (Kids Can Press, May 2024)! I’ve read what seems, as Carl Sagan might say, billions and billions of space books, but never one that approaches the objects of our solar system with such a delightful profusion of poetry styles. What inspired you to write this book?

Amanda: It was a combination of things. In 2015, I was doing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and as part of my work I was studying poetic forms and I had a lot of rhythms in my ears. I’m also a regular listener to the CBC radio program Quirks and Quarks. Right about then, they were reporting on images of Pluto sent back to Earth by the New Horizons Space Probe. At some point, someone on the program said something about “volcanoes of slow-moving nitrogen mud,” and I could hear the iambic beat in there. Then they described a red, heart-shaped plateau that seems to beat because of the movement of red dust. I was hooked. I wrote a poem called “A Pantoum for Pluto,” and although that poem didn’t end up in the book, it got the ball rolling.

I have always had a fierce love of the night sky and of our solar system. Now I could combine that with my passion for poetry! What can be better than feeding two passions at once?

 

Me: How did you decide which kind of poem goes with which planet (and beyond; go Arrokoth!)?

Amanda: I studied each planet as though they were a character in a book. I was drawing on my theatre background, too. When you are in theatre, you find your character’s rhythm. The way they move and talk. I looked at each planet that way. For example, the Sun is the center, and without it nothing else exists. It’s massive, strong and, for us, fixed in one place. I thought it needed a poem to pay it honor. So, I wrote an Ode to the Sun. Mercury on the other hand, is really fast. It rotates around the Sun really quickly, so I knew I wanted fast moving rhymes. I wrote a kind of Dr. Seuss rhythm, rhyming couplets poem. (Anapestic tetrameter if you want to get pedantic about it!)

The more I researched the solar system, the more I realized it was essential to give a sense of it not “finishing” at Pluto. There is so much more! And the New Horizons probe that I mentioned has now given us a glimpse of that with little Arrokoth. I wanted to help people realize that there is still so much more to discover.

 

Me: The expressive, painterly illustrations by Oliver Averill really add a wonderful backdrop to your words. How did you two get paired? Is there anything you can share about his process or your collaboration?

Amanda: I didn’t know Oliver or his work before I wrote the book. My editor, Kathleen Keenan, and the wonderful team at Kids Can Press gave me a short list of illustrators that they were considering. When I saw Oliver’s work, I knew he was the one. I love the passion he brings to the page, and his expansiveness. I didn’t actually have much to do with how he went about illustrating the book – for the most part I tried to stay out of his way! I made sure that everything was factually correct and negotiated a few small details, but honestly, he is brilliant at what he does and he added a whole level to the book that I couldn’t have imagined beforehand.

 

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Amanda: My very first book, Writing: A Fact and Fun Book (Kids Can Press 1992), came from a desire to share my love of the physical act of writing. At the time I was a full-time calligrapher, teaching at the University of Waterloo, but I also had young children who were just learning how to write. I am passionate about the development of written forms and how, until the printing press, writing changed over time depending on social, cultural and economic factors. I wanted to share my passion for the lines, shapes and dots that make up written communication.

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Amanda: I have just finished a graphic novel about the Polish pediatrician, writer, and children’s advocate, Janus Korczak. While the form is a departure for me, Korczak’s work is a bit of an obsession for me. I helped create a play about Korczak ten years ago. The manuscript is currently with the illustrator, Abigail Rajunov, and I can’t wait to see what she is doing with it! It is scheduled for Spring 2026 with Kids Can Press.

Me: Wow, can’t wait to see it! Wishing your books much success!

To learn more, please visit Amanda West Lewis

 

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