Have you always written in rhyme when you felt the need to vent?
No, not at all. At the time, I had been reviewing a recently published book of nursery rhymes, and as I was looking through the book the idea to translate my thoughts and feelings into rhyme began to take form. The origins of nursery rhymes, especially the old English classics, are fascinating to me. Most of the rhymes are politically motivated; Mary, Mary Quite Contrary – for example is believed to be about Mary Queen of Scots, and nothing at all to do with gardening. Ring Around the Rosy a seemingly harmless child’s rhyme and playground game is actually referring to the Black Plague which ravished England in the 1600s.
You discuss a wide range of subjects. Was there a particular reason for these particular subjects?
Yes. Lots of reasons, actually, but, oh dear, where do I start? Well, your first question prompted my answer that spoke to the political side of things, but there are definitely more personal subjects referred to in some of the rhymes. Take Little Boys, for example. Hmm… My brother, Dave, immigrated to New Zealand from England with his wife, Bernadine and their three daughters and only son in 1981. Tragically, not long after the family arrived in New Zealand, Stuart died in a freak accident. It was such a heartbreakingly, sad, sad time. One of my last memories of Stuart is from the time my mum was babysitting him at her house. I had stopped by and saw Stuart literally swinging off the curtains in the living room. My Mum was beside herself, begging him to come down, and I clearly remember Stuart looking back at her with the sweetest smile on his face; that was Stuart. I am so very happy to say that Dave and Dine celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary on September 3rd, 2014 in New Zealand with their three daughters and many grandchildren.
On a much lighter note, a friend once suggested that I likely owned lots of shoes. I thought that was such an odd thing to say to me, but I decided to count my shoes, and sure enough I was shocked to discover that I owned 130 pairs. Now, all things are relative, but for my profession and income, that was a ridiculous number, and it didn’t even include my boots! Embarrassed, I gave away lots of pairs to my sister and friends, and donated lots of pairs to charity. Over the years though the numbers have crept up again, and embarrassing as it is to admit, I love shoes! All the women in my family love shoes. Even the Little Girls - what can I say? Some years ago I broke my left ankle in three places which hurt like the dickens, and as a result, it is always painful for me to wear heels for any length of time.
Do you still wear heels?
Yes, I do. I still wear heels from time to time, and yes, it always hurts my ankle for a couple of days afterward. But it’s worth it, and my shoes are all stacked and boxed in rows neat - the boots can get a bit messy though…
Let's discuss the book's title and the poem of the same name.
The title was suggested to me, by my publisher, Richard Kelley of Words in the Works. The original title was Liz Lime’s Rhymes for the Times, which I loved, by the way, and was illustrated by Dawn Beacon. The artwork depicts children sitting in the library with electronic readers and was created to convey the debate as to whether or not eBooks and printed books could co-exist. However, since it took me so long to make the decision to actually “publish" my rhymes, the debate became moot. Dawn’s cover artwork is now depicted on the back cover of the book. The visual character of Liz Lime is a nod to Tina Fey, one of my personal heroines, who along with Oprah rose to the top of an industry that was dominated by men.
What was the reason for the title change?
Richard felt the new title held universal appeal. Most of the issues addressed in the book are highly debated issues, but every single person in America on the day of 9/11, was deeply affected by the terrorist attacks. Most people can tell you exactly where they were, and what they were doing at the exact moment when the learned of the attacks. The outpouring of love and support for all those people in the city, on that day, was phenomenal and came from all over the world.
Like us all, you were clearly moved by the events of that day. Where were you when you heard the news?
I was driving to my dentist’s office listening to NPR on the radio. In 1976, I had attended the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, England, and as I was about to leave the exhibition with a friend, an IRA bomb exploded in a stairwell. Minutes earlier as my friend and I approached the staircase, I realized we had forgotten to buy some felt butterflies that had caught our attention earlier in the day. We literally turned back from the stairwell, walked to the vendor, made our purchase, then as we turned back toward the stairwell, the bomb exploded. If we hadn’t bought those butterflies, we would have been in the stairwell at the same time as the bomb went off. As I was driving that day, listening to the radio, I actually experienced a flashback. I heard again the loud “BANG!” as the bomb exploded. I remember being surprised that the blast sounded exactly as we’ve read in comic books. I could once more smell the smoke and burning flesh of those injured as their screams bounced off the walls. I felt again that overwhelming feeling of dread and fear engulfing my body. The flashback lasted for minutes - I was so shaken that I had to pull over for a while. I can’t begin to imagine the intensity of the flashbacks the surviving victims of 9/11 still suffer to this day. Interestingly, after meeting Richard in 2013. I learned that he too, had attended the same Ideal home Exhibition in London, and on the same day as me. From our discussions, I learned that Richard was standing just a floor below me as the bomb exploded. Thank goodness Richard also, although narrowly, escaped harm - go figure.
How long after 9/11 did you write that particular poem?
Hmm, about 8 or 9 years after - I will never forget.
Who do you think the book will appeal to?
Parents and children alike; I hope. My understanding is that the most popular children’s books are those that appeal to parents. I’m optimistic that parents will enjoy the subtleties and layered messages of the rhymes as they read to their children. Equally as much as I hope, as the children will enjoy the illustrations. I loved nursery rhymes as a child, my favorites were Ring a Ring a Rosy (The Black Plague) and Remember, Remember the 5th of November (Guy Fawkes). I feel rhymes are a fun way to teach children history lessons. When children are old enough they can ask their parents questions about the rhymes and illustrations, but until that time, they can just enjoy sharing special time with their parents as they read together.
Tell us about the artists. I don't think I've ever seen a children's book that is the work of 16 different artists.
The artists at the time were all represented by Portfolio Solutions, LLC, and are all brilliantly talented picture book artists. It was suggested to me by a professional in the children’s book publishing field that perhaps the illustrations should be rendered by the same artist for a more consistent look. A consistent look throughout the book was exactly what I didn’t want! I wanted a surprise on every page, and each thought provoking illustration accomplished that goal for me. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough rhymes to suit every artist in the agency.
What is the significance of the hummingbird, which appears in every illustrated rhyme?
As lame as it sounds, each time I put the book on the back burner, or doubted that anyone would be interested in reading it, or worried that terrorists would come after me because I dared to call them cowards, a hummingbird would appear outside my office window. The hummingbird has become a significant and positive symbol in my life. The hummingbird logo that can be seen on the end papers of the book was created by Patrick Girouard, an artist also represented by Portfolio Solutions, LLC. Patrick is an amazingly talented children’s book illustrator, and also someone I consider a friend.
This is a unique way to record history. Do you have another book in the works detailing more recent events?
Perhaps. But in terms of more recent events, has anything really changed since I first started doodling these rhymes in 2009? My rhymes are still current. I, for on one, am still angry at the politicians on both sides of the aisle who bicker and bark, and use their positions of power to line their own pockets instead of improving the lives of those they pledged to serve. I’m still sad as a society, we are still so judgmental and fearful of others who appear different from us. I was so very excited and hopeful when Barak Obama was nominated for the presidency in 2008. Martha Luther King, Jr, a true hero in my mind, did not die in vain, or did he? Children are still being shot in the streets because of the color of their skin. People are still being tortured and executed because of their religious beliefs. Bankers are still using our money to make insane profits, but are paying depositors meagre interest rates. The oceans are still polluted and marine life is still suffering. Landfills are still growing. Terrorism is as big a threat today as it was on that day in September! And, some politicians want to go back to Iraq and drop a few more bombs! Have we learned nothing in the last five years?
Although not my original intention, my publisher suggested we print the origins behind each of the rhymes, in the book itself, which I think is a good idea. At least I hope it proves to be a good idea.