Q&A with Carol-Ann Hoyte, Dear Tomato
What is Dear Tomato, and from where did the inspiration for it come?
Dear Tomato is a poetry anthology for young people which celebrates food and farms (and gardens, too) and things that grow. The 51-poem collection is international in scope as it features 34 writers from 7 countries. In fact, readers may be interested to know that 17 U.S. writers collectively contribute 28 of the anthology’s poems. The person who inspired me to embark on this project is my sister. She is an urban farmer based in New York City where she works for an organization called WhyHunger.
How did you find the writers for this book?
I drafted a call for submissions and strategically and selectively circulating it among those in my poetry networks and children’s literature writing circles. Seven writers whose work appeared in my first international poetry anthology for kids have a total of nine poems which appear in Dear Tomato.
Poetry, food and agriculture fit together so well. How did you come to realize that you wanted to explore this intersection?
My goal was to compile an anthology featuring poems penned by writers from around the globe so it seemed logical to have a universal topic as its focus. And what could be more universal than food? Food and agriculture go hand and hand so to discuss food without addressing agriculture would not have felt right or made sense to me. I hope this collection will help children develop an appreciation of poetry on some level and to gain insight into what they eat and how their food is produced.
What actions do you hope a young person reading Dear Tomato will take?
It would be great if young people who read the book are inspired to write poems about food and agriculture, to grow some of their own food at home and school, to encourage adults (ie. parents, principals) to buy food which is organic and/or local and to support socially-responsible commerce through the purchase of fair trade products (ie. chocolate, coffee, tea, etc).
Your target audience for this book is 8-12 year-olds. What are some of your favorite food and agriculture books for other age groups?
Pat Brisson's picture book Before We Eat: From Farm to Table (illustrated by Vermont illustrator Mary Azarian) is a fitting choice for kindergarten and up.
A great pick for 12 years old and up is Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks which uses 13 narrators to tell the story of the founding and first year of a community garden in an immigrant neighbourhood of Cleveland, Ohio. There are three more books which come to mind though they are aimed at 8- to 12-year-old readers. They are Katie Smith Milway's two illustrated non-fiction books -- One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference and The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough. And the third is Hadley Dyer's Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City.
If a farmer or educator would like to encourage young people to write their own food and agriculture poetry, what might you recommend as some first steps?
Here are two important tips when it comes to inviting young people to write poetry. Adults should first try writing the type(s) of poem(s) they plan to have their young participants write and they should provide young people with examples of the type(s) of poem(s) they would like to have them write.
Couplets: Since couplets are rhyming poems of only two lines, they make for a quick and straightforward writing activity. Alan Murphy’s poem “Free Range”, which appears in Dear Tomato, is an example of a couplet and it goes like this: “Chickens lay hale and hearty eggs / when they get to stretch their legs.”
Book spine poems: Young people could use food and agriculture books to write book spine poems. They create these poems by stacking books, with their titles lined up, in an order that appeals and is meaningful to them. You are to use the titles as they are and are not allowed to add words or punctuation. (Note: The top title is the first line of the poem and the bottom title is the last line of the poem). Have participants photograph their poems so that they can be displayed and they have a copy of their work to take home with them.
15 words or less: Collect food- and agriculture-themed photographs clipped from magazines, calendars, etc. Invite young people to each choose a photograph and brainstorm words inspired by or about the photograph. They can use some of these words (if they wish) to each write a poem of 15 words or less about or inspired by the photograph.