This month we interviewed author and poet, Laura Shovan. She spoke with us about her different approaches to writing poetry and prose, her love of language, and seeing writing prompts as puzzles to be solved through the written word. 

Laura’s upcoming book, Welcome to Monsterville, is an exciting, emotional, and hilarious poetic journey filled with delightful monster illustrations. She says it was as much an opportunity to bring humor into her poetry as it was to build an experience that she hoped would be as healing for her audience to read as it was for her to write.

Writing Challenge

This prompt was written by public school teacher Tracei Willis for Room 228 Educational Consulting (rm228.com) and is based on Laura Shovan’s poem “When I Cry” from Welcome to Monsterville. First, read the poem, then create your own spin on it with Tracei’s prompt.

“When I Cry”

There is a monster in me called Sadness.
Its arms and legs ache.
It is weary, as if it spent all night
walking across steep mountains. 

There is a monster in me whose hair
streches from its head in tangle rivers,
flowing fast– like the thoughts
that keep me awake. 

When I cry, Monster weeps.
Tears crawl on fuzzy legs down its cheeks.
They tickle! Monster laughs
until its teeth turn pink. 

Can I laugh too, even though
I am sad? Yes, Monster says.
You’re a weary, silly, laughing,
weeping, wonderful creature. 

From Welcome to Monsterville, by Laura Shovan
Illustrated by Michael Rothenberg

When I ___________ (Choose one feeling or emotion)

  1. There is a monster in me called _________________.
    What emotion does your monster feel? What do your monster’s arms and legs look like?
  2. There is a monster in me whose ________________.
    (What does your monster’s hair look like? What bothers your monster?)
  3. When I ________________, Monster ________________.
    (What does your monster do when you feel your emotion?)
  4. Can I _________ too, even though I am ___________?
    (What is your emotion? What is the opposite of your emotion? Can you do both at the same time?)


When do you remember first wanting to be a writer and what led you into your writing practice?
I have always loved books and writing, but reading  Jane Eyre in middle school changed my life. Author Charlotte Bronte described Jane wandering in the barren English moors vividly enough that I was transported to her setting. I was so fully absorbed, I forgot where I was for a moment. From then on, I understood how powerful words can be. I wanted to immerse my reader in a story, the way Charlotte Bronte did for me. By the time I was fourteen, I kept a journal and got involved with my school’s literary magazine.

Let’s talk a bit about your new release, Welcome to Monsterville. What inspired this work and what would you like your audiences to know about it?  What inspired this work and what would you like your audiences to know about it?
Friendship was the inspiration behind this book. My dear friend Michael Rothenberg was a poet and artist. One day, he sent me an illustration of a strange blue creature with red fishy lips and six pink feet. As a gift, I wrote a poem for Michael called, “Neighbor.” The poem begins with the line, “A monster bought the house next door.” It asks the question: If a monster moved into your neighborhood, what would you do?

Michael liked the poem so much, he sent me another monster illustration the next day. We went back and forth like that for a year. Michael created sixteen outlandish, friendly creatures and I translated the images into poems, making up stories and names for them. 

We collaborated on this project during a challenging time. Both of us were coping with difficulties in our lives. Then, about a month after we started working on the monster book, the Covid-19 lockdown began. It was an emotional time, and that shows up in monsters like “Bubblegum Head” and “Archie Pelago,” who represent big feelings: frustration, self-love, empathy, and fear.

As Dr. Mercedes Ballbé ter Maat, licensed art therapist and counselor, says in her introduction to the book, “Monsters speak to all of us; they are in all of us. They also spoke to me as I read these poems. Poems, like monsters, capture our feelings.” I’m just beginning to work with students on making art and writing poems based on Welcome to Monsterville. Young writers have much to share about their feelings, and playing around with the monster metaphor is one way to express those emotions.

As writers of all kinds, we often explore what might otherwise seem expected or ordinary and bring a fresh look or feel to it for our readers. How have you explored redesigning the ordinary in your own work?
I love this question! To me redesigning the ordinary connects with my practice of working with writing prompts, or interpreting Michael’s monster art. When an idea comes from outside my own brain, that brings a fresh look to my writing. It’s like solving a puzzle. I also enjoy challenging myself to try different genres with my novels. I have written a novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary; a sports story, Takedown; collaborated on a food-centered book with A Place at the Table. Now I am working on a climate fiction novel, set in the near future.

A special thank you to Laura Shovan for sharing with us! Read more about Laura and her work @ https://www.annjacobus.com/.

Laura Shovan is a novelist, educator, and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her work appears in journals and anthologies for children and adults. Laura’s award-winning middle-grade novels include The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Takedown, (2021 Sydney Taylor Notable) A Place at the Table, written with Saadia Faruqi. Her latest poetry collection, Welcome to Monsterville, released on April 25, 2023. 

An honors graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (BFA Dramatic Writing) and Montclair State University (Master of Arts, Teaching), Laura is a longtime Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Education, conducting school poetry residencies. She teaches for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.


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