Poppy Chase has worked in education, being a classroom teacher, elementary campus administrator and a middle school teacher. She lives in Southern California with her husband Tim and Yellow Lab called Tucker. Her Debut Children’s Novel ‘The Untold Story of Dinosaur School’ published by Little Goblins.
Buy yours here or check out Poppy’s Website here.
Shall we start our interview with a brief introduction, was there anything in particular that made you want to become a writer and what other hobbies do you do outside of writing?
It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I fell in love with creative writing. A brilliant professor not only taught a course in composition, but she inspired creative expression and story-writing. Later, I enrolled in a couple classes when an author-in-residence program was offered. Since I enjoy writing so much, part of my own curriculum planning as a public school teacher included writing stories that enhanced my students’ curriculum whenever I was unable to find a relevant story that was already published.
Outside of writing, other hobbies that I enjoy include photography, landscape gardening, and stand-up paddling.
Congratulation on getting your debut children’s story published, how does it feel to be able to share your creation with young minds and parents? What made you choose to write children’s books rather than adults?
During the hours that I have volunteered story-time sessions for children ages 7-13, I have experienced feelings of joy, as I have observed the high levels of interest and participation during reading and discussion. However, there have been feelings of deep concern, as well, when children in these sessions have shared how they have been affected by bullying.
It has also been quite satisfying as I have experienced how well The Untold Story of Dinosaur School serves as an effective tool to encourage focused discussion and problem-solving. In agreement, two elementary school principals have shared that this book is now an important part of their professional toolbox when they deal with bullying issues on their campuses. With this in mind, it is a pleasure to create a story that is engaging and relevant for children and is supportive of parents’ and educators’ efforts to solve the problems of bullying together.
Through years of working with children and buying children’s books for my personal library, I was drawn to the challenge of writing engaging stories for them. Further, as I started writing stories, I knew that I didn’t want to write anything that I wouldn’t want my own children to read. So, my choice to write stories for children begins with my love and respect for them. This includes a desire to write something that is worthy of their time and effort to read it.
I really loved your book, The Untold Story of Dinosaur School, it sends a really strong message not just to children but to parent’s as well, about how to treat others and how to help somebody learn how to treat other, why did you choose dinosaurs to tell this particular story?
The whole idea of plant-eaters and meat-eaters living together seemed like an effective way to tap into a child’s prior learning and imagination. Children know that the world of dinosaurs includes unrestrained behaviour and tyrant lizards. Secondly, dinosaurs are traditionally described as having small brains. This meant that in reference to bullying I could also write, “Our brains are not so small that we can’t do better than this.” Small brains or big brains, bullying is a very serious issue, and in many cases, we can do better than we’re doing.
Your story addresses bullying between the two kinds of dinosaurs (meat-eaters and plant eaters), talking about bullying, in your personal opinion, do you believe that it has gotten worse or stayed the same?
It’s impossible to make an accurate measure of how much bullying has existed and currently exists in public and private schools. Some bullies are never reported by victims, and their stealth keeps them off the radar of parents and educators. Bullying is both a secret and acknowledge offence. I do believe, though, that the intensity has increased, as children and teens have included social media in their malicious attacks. However the incident rates of the past and present are calculated, the severe pain and fear that bullying can produce in another person’s life makes this an essential topic for thorough discussion and problem-solving.
I understand that you have had a career in education, working with children. Has this inspired your writing?
Yes. As an educator, the topic of bullying never goes away. Year after year, it is a hot topic during professional development and faculty meetings. As an educator, I have seen colleagues take responsibility as mandated reporters to alert administration and public services for children when they suspect that a child is being abused by an adult. Too often, when there is a case of bullying between students, their approach is to simply talk to their class about the importance of kindness and respect. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t go away by itself. A talk about being kind to one another is a weak bandage on a serious wound. This is clearly seen during my story-time discussions when children tell me about a bully and claim that bullying behaviour has been happening during the two to three years they have known each other.
During my years in public schools, teaching students with severe physical and other health impairments, it became quite apparent that even these precious children could be targets of bullies. My approach was to not only work with parents and school administration but to invite the bully to be my teaching partner in the classroom. Through our brief, but numerous sessions together, I observed a dramatic transformation from bully to a friend, as the former bully developed admiration, compassion, and respect for the disabled child, as he/she worked so diligently on individual goals. Parents, administration, and guidance counsellors worked together to support all students involved. Progress was monitored, and problems were solved in the community. The outcomes were far more positive than a brief discussion by a well-meaning adult about kindness and respect.
What advice would you give to others who want to write a children’s book? Was there a piece of advice that you were given that really helped you?
The only advice I received from professionals in the world of publishing was discouraging. Essentially, people told me that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an unknown writer to have his/her work published. When I asked if they knew anyone that I should approach for advice, all I would hear is that literary agents, editors, and publishers of children’s picture-books are overworked and few and far between. One literary agent that I approached required authors to have a large online presence, to have been published on “high traffic sites,” and to have an impressive calendar of speaking engagements during which he/she sold a few thousand books. Usually, however, the rejection was (is) quite brief, “I am closed to submissions and cannot take on another thing. I’m sorry.”
So my advice is this: In your (our) pursuit of a long and faithful relationship with a literary agent and/or publisher, wear strong shoes, and do not give up. Rejection notices are painful nose-bumps, but keep marching and keep writing!
Illustrations. Is this how you envisioned your story to be?
The first illustrator that I approached drew several sample pictures that looked like marshmallow characters, and only soft pastel colours were used. I was stunned because the topic of bullying is not soft and fluffy. As I approached Angelo, I asked him to think “colourful and edgy.” I also ordered a very large range of Prisma coloured pencils to equip him for the project. Angelo went right to work and, in my estimation, hit the ball out of the park. I was delighted with his creativity and joy. He had never thought about drawing pictures for children, but he found tremendous pleasure in thinking about communicating with children through his art. I appreciate his work so much.
Where have you travelled?
Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.
Where would you like to travel?
France, Alaska (again), the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica.
What is your favourite book and why?
I don’t have a favourite book, but I do have a favourite author—Eudora Welty. Writers write what writers know, and Eudora Welty’s writing showed that she knew the people of the South (the southern United States). Her ability to develop characters, plots and even comedy in short stories was so outstanding that I used many excerpts from her work as examples when I taught Grammar and Composition in middle school. My enthusiasm for her work must have made an impression because I heard from a number of my former students when she passed away in 2001.
What is your favourite quote?
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato, Philo of Alexandria, and Ian Maclaren have been cited as the original source.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years? Is there anything that you would really like to accomplish within the next 5 years?
I write, and I will continue to write. I hope to develop a strong relationship with a literary agent and/or publisher so that I can share more of my stories with children. Placing a story in a child’s hands is a gift that gives adventure, inspiration, and quiet time to think. I would like to accomplish this goal within the next five years.
A recent Experience?
Last week I returned from a trip by sea from Quebec City, around Nova Scotia, and into Bar Harbor, Maine. The North Atlantic was so stormy that we cruised through three category one hurricanes and had to cancel our visit to Prince Edward Island. Though there were very few children on the ship, there was a lovely family from Canada. As the ship bobbed around in the high swells, these parents allowed me to have a story-time session with their eight-year-old daughter and a thirteen-year-old son. We sat in the Crow’s Nest, next to large windows, and enjoyed The Untold Story of Dinosaur School. The children’s enthusiasm for the story was followed by an eagerness to talk. Both of the children were articulate and insightful, as they engaged in conversation about bullying. They shared how they attended a fine private school and how the few bullies they knew in that school got meaner and more powerful each year. When I asked them how the victims and bullies were helped in their school, they weren’t aware of any interventions beyond a conversation to be kind to one another. Though neither child claimed to be a victim of bullying, each appeared to be frustrated that bullies were just a part of one’s campus experience, as if bullying were a norm.
I would like to thank Poppy for taking part in this interview! Me and Amelia enjoyed reading this during story time, and are looking forward to some more of your books!
Don’t forget to check out Poppy’s Debut novel, available in paperback and kindle edition!