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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Charles Ghigna, Champion of Poetry

Charles Ghigna

Charles Ghigna at Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Wood­stock, GA

Our thanks to author and poet Charles Ghigna (GEEN-yuh) for tak­ing time out from his writ­ing, school vis­its, and con­fer­ence tours to answer these ques­tions which have been knock-knock-knockin’ on my brain since I first began read­ing his many books of poet­ry and, now, a non­fic­tion book about fas­ci­nat­ing ani­mals!  

Do you remem­ber when you first read a poem and it caught your atten­tion?

Mend­ing Wall” by Robert Frost, Fresh­man Eng­lish class.

At what point in your life did you real­ize you want­ed to write poet­ry? For a liv­ing?

I wrote lit­tle rhyming poems and sto­ries in ele­men­tary school and start­ed keep­ing a dai­ly writ­ing jour­nal in high school. Some of my entries were writ­ten as poems. I con­tin­ued writ­ing and keep­ing jour­nals through my col­lege years. When I began teach­ing high school Eng­lish, I had less time to write and my jour­nal entries began appear­ing as short, poet­ic pieces. That was my deli­cious late night writ­ing time— after grad­ing my stu­dents’ papers. 😉 Lat­er, I sub­mit­ted a few of those ear­ly poems and some of them were pub­lished in Harper’s and oth­er mag­a­zines. A few years lat­er, after my son was born, I began writ­ing poems for chil­dren. It was then I began dream­ing of “writ­ing for a liv­ing.”

What kind of poems did you like when you were young?

As a child I liked poems by Robert Louis Steven­son, Wordsworth, Longfel­low, Kipling, and oth­ers.

How do you stay tuned in to the kinds of poems very young chil­dren like?

I’m on the road this month vis­it­ing schools while pro­mot­ing my new Ani­mal Plan­et book. It’s easy to stay tuned in to the kinds of poems the very young like by see­ing so many “children’s faces look­ing up hold­ing won­der like a cup.” 

Score!50 Poems to Motivate and InspireI admire your book Score! 50 Poems to Moti­vate and Inspire. With the empha­sis on growth mind­set in class­rooms, it occurred to me that each of these poems could be used as a black­board or white­board encour­age­ment, a dis­cus­sion starter. The illus­tra­tions are excel­lent exam­ples of graph­ic design—they add even more depth to each poem. As teach­ers work with stu­dents to build graph­ic design skills, this is a men­tor text on sev­er­al lev­els. (In spite of the cov­er, this is not a sports-cen­tric book.)

Vic­ki, thank you so much for ask­ing about my Score! book. That book is near and dear to my heart. It was a true labor of love. I always want­ed to write a book of short quotable poems for young peo­ple to use when they need­ed a lit­tle extra nudge to keep them going toward their dreams. I want­ed to cre­ate a book of poems to inspire and moti­vate. I was thrilled to have Abrams pub­lish that book and even more thrilled to watch it become a pop­u­lar resource for teach­ers, coach­es, and par­ents. I’m hap­py to report the book has been adopt­ed by school sys­tems to use in their char­ac­ter edu­ca­tion pro­grams with prin­ci­pals read­ing a poem a day from it dur­ing their morn­ing announce­ments.

Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool AnimalsYour newest book, Ani­mal Plan­et Strange, Unusu­al, Gross & Cool Ani­mals, appeals to any kid who’s lived around ani­mals or yearns to wel­come ani­mals in their lives. Do you have ani­mals around you?

Yes, but all my ani­mal friends are free range. I have a hawk who lives in a near­by tree and cir­cles over my tree­house each day to say hel­lo, a mul­ti­tude of squir­rels and chip­munks I watch from my win­dow, and two jew­eled hum­ming­birds who come each day to drink from the feed­er. I would add the menagerie of mon­archs that have been danc­ing out­side my win­dow this sum­mer, but they have since flown far­ther south for the win­ter. My hum­ming­birds will no doubt soon join them on their way south.

This book is a depar­ture from your poetry—how did you come to work on this project?

Yes, this book was a “depar­ture” for me. I wrote a piece for the Bermu­da Onion about how the project came to be. The first para­graph explains how the project got start­ed. 

I had just fin­ished spend­ing near­ly a year writ­ing a six-book ani­mal series for tod­dlers when the phone rang. It was a Time Inc edi­tor in New York ask­ing if I might be inter­est­ed in writ­ing a 128-page book for Ani­mal Plan­et about strange, unusu­al, gross, and cool ani­mals for kids ages 8–12. Sure. And it’s due in nine months. Wait. What? Let me think about it. I’ve writ­ten more than 100 books, but I’ve nev­er writ­ten a big, non­fic­tion, research-based book. I do write a lot about ani­mals though. Most­ly in rhyme. Most­ly for tod­dlers. Sure. What the heck. I can do that. Wait. Did you say nine months?” (read the full essay by Charles here)

Have you always lived in Alaba­ma?

I’ve lived in Alaba­ma for more than 40 years now. I was at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty serv­ing as poet­ry edi­tor of Eng­lish Jour­nal when I received a two-year grant from the Nation­al Coun­cil on the Arts & Human­i­ties to begin the first Poet-in-the-Schools pro­gram for the state of Alaba­ma. I fell in love with this beau­ti­ful state—and with my wife. Peo­ple say to me, “You’re a writer. You could live any­where in the world.” I always smile and say, “Yes, I know. That’s why I live in Alaba­ma.”

Who have your poet­ic men­tors been?

Too many men­tors to name, but my very first poet­ic men­tor was my moth­er. She was the most cre­ative, inspir­ing “kid” I ever knew. She made each day an adven­ture. She had mag­ic in her eyes and she chal­lenged me to dream big—and to fol­low those dreams. I also had a high school Eng­lish teacher who on Fri­days told us to close our books, look out the win­dow, and make up sto­ries and poems. 

Tickle DayHow did you get the name Father Goose?

Many years ago when I first start­ed vis­it­ing schools, stu­dents and teach­ers began call­ing me “Father Goose.” The name stuck. It was a lot eas­i­er to say than Mr. Ghigna—and a lot eas­i­er to spell. The Walt Dis­ney Com­pa­ny sug­gest­ed I use that moniker for one of my first books with them, Tick­le Day: Poems from Father Goose. They cre­at­ed the first image of Father Goose. Since then my oth­er pub­lish­ers and illus­tra­tors have con­tin­ued the tra­di­tion, often includ­ing a goose or two in my books. I’m called Father Goose now more often than my real name!

One Response to Charles Ghigna, Champion of Poetry

  1. Charles Ghigna - Father Goose® August 23, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    Thanks, Vic­ki, for your great ques­tions — and for all you do to help spread the love of children’s lit­er­a­ture!

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