by Julie Larios
in the jungle sun,
in the days yellow heat,
trumpeting her song
and galumphing along.
I think no other animal can
(I know a mosquito can’t)
glow in the jungle sun
like a wild-eared yellow elephant.
We get used to animals being certain colors – an alligator is green, a goose is white, a giraffe is yellow and brown, an elephant is gray? But what if they were other colors? In my book Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary, I tried to imagine the different ways certain animals could be other colors. One of the things poems can do is surprise us by making us look at things in a new way. A pink kitten? A purple puppy? A red donkey? A yellow elephant glowing in the sun? Sure, why not?
Cut up a piece of paper into twelve smaller pieces of paper. Put the name of one animal on each piece, then put those pieces all into a bowl. Do the same for twelve colors – write the name of the color, one on each piece of paper, and put them into another bowl. Now, with your eyes closed, take one piece out of each bowl. Open your eyes – what did you get? Maybe the word “sheep” from the first bowl and the word “green” from the second. A green sheep??? How could a cow be green? Maybe it rolled on the grass and got its wool grass-stained? Maybe it ate something that made it sick and it turned green? Maybe it was just born green? (How pretty!) Write a poem about the animal whose name you drew, but make that animal be the color you drew, too. You can do this with friends and draw different combinations. When you’re done, you’ll have twelve poems – enough for a book!
I taught for several years on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA Writing for Children program, but just this year I returned to writing full-time: Hooray! Creating poems and books for kids is so satisfying, and I’m proud of my four books of poetry: On the Stairs (illustrated by my sister, Mary Cornish), Have You Ever Done That? (illustrated by Anne Hunter), Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary (a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book), and Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures (both of those last two illustrated by Julie Paschkis.) I’ve contributed poems to many anthologies, most recently to The National Geographic Book of Poetry (edited by J. Patrick Lewis) and the Poetry Friday anthologies (edited by the completely wonderful team of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell.) I also write poetry for adults, and that work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and been selected twice for The Best American Poetry series. Recently, I’ve been enjoying a more collaborative approach to poetry, writing the libretto for a pocket opera composed by Dag Gabrielson and performed by the New York City Opera for their Vox Series, and writing a poem set to music, choreographed, danced, filmed and chosen for screening at the International Screendance Festival. Poetry can go many direction!
I live in Seattle, Washington with my husband and a squawky, cranky cockatiel named Peaches, both of whom inspire poems. My kids are all grown up, but I’m hoping they’ll give me lots of grandkids to inspire even more poems!
Though I don’t maintain a website for kids, I do have my own blog for creative writers and teachers. It’s called The Drift Record because I like to drift around and find curious things to write about. I contribute to two other blogs about writing and the writing life: Books Around the Table, written collaboratively by fellow writers and illustrators, and Write at Your Own Risk, the unofficial blog of my brilliant, kind, hilarious colleagues in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.