He's written poems about sumo wrestlers and ladybugs, Eleanor
Roosevelt and Rosa Parks, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel
Tower, Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez. He filled an entire book with
poems on the life of Italian astronomer Galileo.
His rhyming riddles unravel the mysteries behind oxidation and
rust, and his math riddles engage the reader in arithmetic without
their realizing it.
Children's poet J. Patrick "Pat" Lewis is willing to write about
almost any subject.
Dr. Lewis has penned 45 children's books, mostly collections of
poetry. He's known for humor, whimsy, and a nonsensical style. But
Lewis also addresses serious issues: discrimination, the
environment, and extinct creatures.
He devotes hours daily to his work, selecting the best word to
complete a line of verse.
"Good verbs are muscle, and adjectives are fat," Lewis says.
"Finding that great action verb is what good writing is all about."
What takes equal dedication and passion is speaking to groups of
children. Lewis leaves his home near Cleveland to make more than 40
appearances at schools, libraries, and conferences each year. Last
month, he traveled to the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, and
Hungary; this month he'll be touring Ohio and New York.
"He's a Pied Piper ... teaching children to love poetry," says
children's poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Lewis is at ease before audiences of all ages. Rebecca Kai
Dotlich, poet and author,fondly describes him as a "ham."
But he isn't just an entertainer. He describes the tedious
mechanics of writing poetry and reveals that even successful poets
Once upon a time, Pat Lewis did not like poetry. As a college
student, he was taught to analyze poetry - to find its meaning.
Because some of the poems were long and dull, he didn't realize that
reading poetry could be fun.
He earned three college degrees - bachelor's, master's, and
doctorate - all in the same subject: economics. He taught college
economics for 30 years. He also wrote books and articles on
During this time, a friend reintroduced him to poetry, and he
discovered that he loved it. Among his favorite poets are Edward
Lear and X.J. Kennedy.
Not wanting his poems to all sound alike, Lewis strives to use "a
hundred different voices," he says. He also does extensive research.
"Pat can write complete whimsy, and then he can write poems that
are very serious, steeped in fact and history," said Ms. Dotlich,
who was co-author with Lewis of "Castles: Old Stone Poems."
"He doesn't shy away from poems that need particular dates, or
battles, or names of presidents," she notes, "In each poem, there
are facts ... that seem to be thrown in naturally so they tell the
The research and writing process for "Blackbeard: The Pirate
King" was challenging. That's because reliable information about
Edward Teach, known as "Blackbeard, the Pirate," is limited. Lewis
had to do more than read historical records; he talked with David
Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the North Carolina
Maritime Museum in Beaufort.
Mr. Moore was happy to talk with Lewis about the project, but he
was also skeptical. "I thought, 'Here's a guy who's going to write
poetry about Blackbeard. Now that's going to be interesting,' "
Moore recalls. "I didn't think poetry would work with the telling of
the story of this notorious pirate."
Lewis listened to Moore's suggestions - especially feedback
concerning wording and dates. The poetry about the pirate succeeds
in dispelling myths. Blackbeard was responsible for many inhumane
acts, but was also falsely accused of committing other misdeeds. …