Leafy Landmarks: Travels With Trees, Interview with Michelle Schaub + a GIVEAWAY!

Welcome PBB friends! I’m so thrilled to have Michelle Schaub here today! She has been someone I’ve looked up to for SO long as a fellow poet and rhyming picture book author. I *think we originally met in the Poet’s Garage, a critique forum we both belong to, but I’ve been following her on socials since forever as well, so its all a blur!

Either way, you are all in for a TREAT today as Michelle shares about her FANTASTICALLY AMAZING non-fiction picture book poetry collection, LEAFY LANDMARKS: Travels With Trees, illustrated gorgeously by Anne Lambelet and published by Sleeping Bear Press! Welcome Michelle!

RGL: First of all, I have to point out that this book has SO many layers – more than I think I’ve EVER seen in one book! Not only does it take the reader on a road trip across the US (geography) to introduce us to famous and significant trees (science, nature, and history), but it does so through poetry, providing examples of FOURTEEN different types of poems (poetry/writing). WHAT?! My mind is truly blown. You have to peel back all these layers for us and explain how this all happened. Which piece of this incredible idea for a book came first and then how/when/why were the other layers added? 

MS: Adding the layers was a long process. I wrote the first version of this book way back in 2007. My original plan was to write a browsable nonfiction book about the 50 Millennium Landmark Trees. (In the year 2000, a not-for-profit organization called America the Beautiful Fund honored one historic tree from each state as a Millennium Landmark Tree.) I soon discovered that this approach led to a lot of redundancy. Many of the millennium trees were from the same species and marked similar historic moments. So, I expanded beyond Millennium Trees and searched out other amazing trees grown in the U.S. with kid-friendly stories. I wrote those stories as prose vignettes, organized chronologically according to the historical moments the trees witnessed. 

After several years of submission and rejection, I realized that this approach was too one-dimensional. During those same years, I had been honing my poetic voice and publishing poems in children’s magazines and anthologies. I decided to revisit my tree book as a poetry collection. As a middle school language arts teacher, I knew that teachers craved mentor texts to model different poetry forms. So, I trimmed the vignettes into sidebars and wrote a poem for each tree. I purposefully used a different poetry form for each landmark. To add more educator appeal, I added a glossary of poetry forms.

After several more rounds of rejection, I realized the collection needed a more dynamic, kid-friendly arc. Instead of organizing the poems chronologically, I reframed the collection as a family road trip. To emphasis the road trip theme, I added an introductory poem, “Hit the Road” and included a map to indicate the locations of the trees. 

Finally, I added back matter that discusses the environmental importance of caring for trees. I do believe all those layers are what eventually sold the book. My editor at Sleeping Bear, Barb McNally, said she was draw to Leafy Landmarksbecause it appeals to so many different readers.

RGL: You did some serious research for this book! Wow! Can you give us a glimpse into your research process for this one? How did you find all these amazing stories and then how did you decide which ones to highlight? And how did you determine which poetic style to match with each tree?

As a nonfiction writer, researcher is a key part of my process, and Leafy Landmarks is by far my most researched book. (I have a huge file box of notes to prove it.) I located many of the trees by searching the internet. I found champion trees on American Forests’ website. I l discovered local landmark trees by browsing different city’s Chamber of Commerce sites. I scoured the National Parks Service website. Friends who knew I was working on a tree book sent me newspaper articles they’d read about famous trees. Once I settled on fourteen trees of different species and locations around the country, I sought out expert reviewers from the parks, museums, and memorials associated with the trees. When I write nonfiction, I usually seek out one or two expert reviews. But Leafy Landmarks has over twenty expert reviewers, from historians to arborists to paleontologists! 

As far as matching poetic styles, I knew I wanted a different form for each tree. Some choices were easy. For the Japanese Cherry Blossoms, I wanted to feature a Japanese form. Haiku was my first thought, but this form is already so popular. So, I decided to showcase a lesser-known form: sedoka. For Pando, I wanted a form that mimicked aspen tree’s growth. Aspens start as one single trunk, then spread through underground shoots to sprout up another, then another, then another trunk, all clones of the original. I decided to write an etheree, which is a ten-line poem that “grows” from one syllable in the first line to ten syllables in the final line. Form also followed function for my “Lofty Titans” poem. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees on earth, so I wanted my poem to feel tall. I stretched the poem from top to bottom of a double page spread with just one word per line. Other choices took more thought. I wrote “Morton’s Mission,” which celebrates the founder of Arbor Day, in several different forms before deciding on a zeno, a poetry form invented by former Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. (Who I got to meet once at a Highlights poetry workshop!)

RGL: This is your third published poetry collection, along with the wonderful Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections and Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day At The Farmer’s Market! Congrats on all your poetry successes! As someone who also writes poetry (and who has been told MANY times by editors that poetry collections are a “hard sell”) what is your advice for breaking through with poetry collections in this market? (i.e. what am I doing wrong!? lol)

MS: True, poetry collections are a tough sell, but they are not an impossible sell. My advice is to make sure you have a fresh angle. For example, There are SO MANY poetry collections out there about animals. So, if you are going to write about animals, what’s going to make your collection stand out? What if those animals wore pants? That’s the angle Suzy Levinson took in her 2023 CYBILS Poetry Award-winning Animals in Pants.  Also, make sure your collection has an arc. It might not be a traditional narrative arc, but there should be some logical progression to the poems. For example, in Finding Treasure, I knew I wanted to write a poetry collection about fun things people collect. Instead of randomly ordering the poems, I framed the collection as a child’s quest to find the perfect collection for show-and-tell. She seeks advice from family, friends, neighbors (even the mail carrier) regarding their collections before deciding on a collection that’s right for her. (I discuss the concept of poetry collection arcs more thoroughly in this RHYME DOCTOR’S post.) Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, adding layers widens your readership. (The publisher’s marketing department will loves this.) 

RGL: The illustrations by Anne Lambelet are truly phenomenal! I love all the color and texture. She really brings all this amazing history to life! Which is your favorite spread and why? 

That’s like asking which of my children is my favorite! Each spread is more amazing that the last. If I had to choose, I’d say I absolutely love the Moon Tree spread. The way Anne weaves the rocket’s trail into the tree, creates the perfect canvas for the words of my free-form poem.

RGL: Lastly, my favorite question to ask my guests: What is one question no one has yet to ask you about the making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂    

MS: Have you visited any of the trees in person? 

YES! I’ve been road-tripping to the Leafy Landmark trees with my family for the past eighteen years. I’ve “zigzagged up steep mountainside and meandered shore to shore” as I write in “Hit the Road.” I have a picture of my youngest as a preschooler pointing to the plaque that marks the site of the Boston Liberty Tree. (He’s now 21!)  For many of the trips, I brought my own shaggy white dog named Bear along. (I don’t think Anne Lambelet knows this. The fact that she included a shaggy white dog in the illustrations is a happy coincidence.) I still have a few trees to cross off my list, like the Wishing Tree in Seattle and the Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City. Road trip, anyone? 

Michelle’s BIO:

Michelle Schaub is an award-winning children’s author and poet. She loves using poetry and rhyme to inspire and empower kids, especially when it comes to caring for the Earth and each other. Her most recent books are A Place for Rain and Leafy Landmarks: Travels with Trees. Michelle shares ways to make poetry fun and accessible for young learners at POETRY BOOST, www.poetryboost.com.  She also mentors aspiring children’s book writers through her critique service, Rhyme Doctors, at www.rhymedoctors.com. Michelle lives in Colorado with her husband, three children, and a shaggy white dog named Bear. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Michelle hanging out in nature with her favorite trees. Find out more about Michelle at www.michelleschaub.com  

BUT WAIT…

YES, THERE’S A GIVEWAWAY!!!!

Michelle is generously offering to offer a signed copy of Leafy Landmarks (US-only). Comment on this post to enter, and be sure to watch this space in my next post (June 18) to see if you won!

AND….

The winner of LAST MONTH’S GIVEAWAY,

a 30-min Ask-Me-Anything Zoom call with Karyn Friedman-Everham, author of OTTER OUGHTA KNOW, is….

***SANDRA NICHOLS!***

Congrats Sandra! Please email me at [email protected] and I’ll be sure you get your prize!

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW, and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A PASSOVER HIDE-AND-SEEK ADVENTURE, with seven additional rhyming picture books forthcoming. Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A PASSOVER HIDE-AND-SEEK ADVENTURE, and has seven additional rhyming picture books forthcoming, including LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic, 9/3/24), WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW (Capstone, 1/1/25) and ALWAYS ME (HarperCollins, 4/15/25). Her award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives with her family in Summit, N.J., where she enjoys bouncing on a mini-trampoline, playing Mah Jongg, and eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream (although not usually at the same time!). Find out more and sign up for Rebecca’s monthly newsletter where she answers subscriber questions and shares tips learned throughout her writing journey at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.

56 Comments:

  1. Wow! Now I can hardly wait to get a copy* for my neighbors who have a Champion Butternut tree – and grandkids to read to! Fascinating details and beautiful artwork. Brava, Michelle and Anne!

    *no need to enter my name in the drawing!

  2. What an engrossing read – the layers are so seamless; the learning is easy! Hop every location mentioned has it in the gift shop!

  3. Layers, layers, layers…I love layers! You’ve nailed an innovative, engaging approach to nonfiction. I also think your story is a testament to the value of taking time (sometimes A LOT of time) with a manuscript to find out what it needs to be the best. Can’t wait to read!

  4. Rebecca and Michelle, thank you for a wonderful interview! We’ve made a couple of cross-country drives and marveled at the amazing and varied landscapes of these United States. Love your focus on the famous trees. And the poems that reflect their shape/growth. Congratulations!!!

    ps: I’ll have to see whether the Angel Oak from John’s Island made it into your book!

  5. Leafy Landmarks is a mentor text for PB writers and poets! Love all the layers!

  6. I love reading about the journey of a book! Can’t wait to read this and am thrilled that my library has a copy.

  7. This book looks like a great addition for my school library. I will be purchasing one for our collection. And you have inspired me to make a road trip!

  8. This book is stunning on many levels. Thanks for the interview.

  9. Fantastic post Michelle and Rebecca! Terrific insights for this writer despite the fact I don’t write poetry. Hooks—I need to pay more attention! I will definitely request my library purchase this beautiful book!

  10. The illustrations are stunning and the topic so important. I am truly impressed by the writing and multi-layers.. I typically don’t purchase nonfiction but this will be my first!

  11. Ok this looks delightful! Thanks for sharing!

  12. I LOVE this book, Michelle! And what a great interview, with all the questions I wanted to ask. As soon as I saw it at the bookstore, I snatched up a copy right away. It is wonderful throughout!

  13. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oh my gosh, this book sounds AMAZING! I can’t wait to get a copy! Congrats!!!!!

  14. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oh my gosh, this sounds AMAZING! Can’t wait to read it. Congrats!!!!

  15. danielle hammelef

    I am amazed how much information is packed into this road-trip book. I know it will inspire me to look for new places to travel. Congratulations on this beautiful book with so many layers like rings on a trunk.

  16. Such a fascinating book journey, Michelle! I love both the many layers and the variety of poetic forms you incorporated in this book! Anne’s illustrations are marvelous as well! I’m really looking forward to reading this book! Congratulations!

  17. So many incredible layers to this book – it’s amazing! Thanks for giving us more to save here at Picture Book Builders!

  18. This looks AMAZING! Congrats, Michelle, and thanks for sharing your journey!

  19. Michael Henriksen

    Thank you for sharing the odyssey of all it took to put together this amazing book! Looking forward to discovering amazing trees with in these pages that I can go visit with my own family!

  20. Such a beauty! I’m a fan!!

  21. Thank you, Rebecca and Michelle. The journey to finding all the layers is great. Always a welcome subject. This book looks wonderful!

  22. I appreciate your positive feedback, Sue!

  23. This sounds amazing — I’m so impressed with all the layers you have in this collection! Can’t wait to read it!

  24. Congratulations on the publication of this brilliant book, Michelle. I’ve seen a few of these trees and now am inspired to visit the rest of them.

  25. I recently requested LEAFY LANDMARKS from our library and am anxiously waiting to read the lovely poetry collection and enjoy the illustrations.

    Thank you for the excellent SCBWI Illinois webinar, “The Right Path for Your Picture Book”, presented this week.

  26. Sounds like a wonderful book❤️

  27. Another wonderful book by Michelle! Her books are as wonderful as she is!

  28. Congratulations, Michelle–I loved learning about your book’s journey (hooray for persistence and finding the winning approach for your story!) Putting this on my TBR list. Thanks for the great interview!

  29. I loved reading about your journey to write this book, especially as you added layers and shifted your focus. And stuck with it. Will need to read!

  30. As a huge tree lover myself, I can’t wait to see this book in person! Thank you for offering the give-away. 🙂

  31. Thank you for sharing your beautiful book!

  32. I love everything about this book! The beautiful poems, the interesting facts, the travels throughout the US. What a trip it was to get to publication, too! Congratulations, Michelle!

  33. Love the story behind the book, Michelle & can’t wait to read it! Congrats!

  34. Angie Quantrell

    This is so adorable! Definitely a must read! Congrats!!

  35. Angie Quantrell

    Hmmm. I commented and it has disappeared! Hopefully you will not end up with two comments. This book looks amazing! Definitely a must read! Congratulations!!

  36. Not only does this book sound like a great read on multiple levels, plus lovely illustrations, but I appreciate hearing about the long journey it took to get published. Good for you to not give up on a good idea.

  37. Great post. Fascinating layers. Worthy, important subject –and an amazing journey on all counts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *