word craft


We’re Celebrating!

Ragweed & Poppy illustration
illus­tra­tion from Rag­weed & Pop­py, copy­right Bri­an Flo­ca, pub­lished by Harper­Collins, 2020. Used here with permission.

It was 1993, and I was liv­ing for a few months in Cor­val­lis, Ore­gon. Wan­der­ing into a book­store, I found a remain­dered book about owls. Find­ing it fas­ci­nat­ing, I resolved to write a book about these won­der­ful birds. That’s why the book I was com­pos­ing began with a Mr. Ocax, a nasty owl. 

(At some point I gave that owl book to a fel­low writer and lost track of both her and the book. Alas, I can’t tell you—or myself—its title.) 

When I start­ed to write, I quick­ly shift­ed my inter­est to the mouse whom that Owl was going to eat. Her name was “Pip.” 

Back in my (then) home­town of Prov­i­dence, Rhode Island, I read a final draft of the book to a fourth-grade class in the Moses Brown School. A stu­dent showed me a book about a mouse named Pip. I changed the name of my mouse to Poppy. 

On Sep­tem­ber 1, 1995, Pop­py—writ­ten by me, pub­lished by Orchard Books, won­der­ful­ly illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Floca—was pub­lished. It van­ished, becom­ing tan­gled up in a pub­lish­ing cri­sis. What saved it was win­ning the Horn Book Award for that year. 

In no log­i­cal order, the whole sev­en-book series was com­plet­ed with the pub­li­ca­tion of Rag­weed and Pop­py in 2020. (Bri­an did the art for all the books) From a sto­ry point of view, it was the sec­ond tale (or tail) in the saga. The nar­ra­tive order of the series is Rag­weed, Rag­weed & Pop­py, Pop­py, Pop­py & Rye, Ereth’s Birth­day, Poppy’s Return and Pop­py & Ereth. It took twen­ty-five years to cre­ate. [Rag­weed, at some point, was in part rewritten] 

The Poppy Books

There are no books I enjoyed writ­ing more.

These days, par­ents write to me that they read the books when younger and are now read­ing them to their youngsters. 

As of May 11, 2021, the entire series will be avail­able in paper­back. Thank you, HarperCollins. 

To cel­e­brate this event, we invite read­ers to sub­mit ques­tions (in the com­ments below) about the series, or any one of the books. We will post answers on our var­i­ous social media platforms. 

Or as Ereth might say, we want you to be part of a cheesy cat­er­waul­ing celebration. 

12 thoughts on “We’re Celebrating!”

  1. The librar­i­an in my school could always tell when I read Pop­py to my third graders. She would have wait lists for her copies and our class­room library copies would dis­ap­pear into book box­es. Con­grat­u­la­tions! Com­mence caterwauling!!

    • In the writer biz, it’s best nev­er to say nev­er though I have no plan to write one and there are oth­er books I must write. But I do love the char­ac­ters so.….….….….….

  2. I have read Pop­py to my third graders, to start each school year, for 15 years now. It com­ple­ments the sci­ence I teach and often I refer to lit­er­ary con­nec­tions from the book for stu­dent writ­ings. The char­ac­ter devel­op­ment of Pop­py from begin­ning to end pro­vides an excel­lent frame work for my stu­dents and we often say “what would Pop­py do?” Many of my stu­dents search and read books from the series. I high­ly rec­om­mend this series and it’s author. The most pop­u­lar feed­back from for­mer stu­dents is their mem­o­ry of that mouse. I often have for­mer stu­dents ask me if I still read Pop­py? I still can’t put it down. Thanks Avi.

  3. As a zool­o­gy-obsessed child, I had to be per­suad­ed by my teach­ers to read more fic­tion, and one of the most effec­tive ways by which they did so was by intro­duc­ing me to fic­tion­al sto­ries that nonethe­less took clear inspi­ra­tion from real-life nat­ur­al his­to­ry. The Pop­py books (there were four at the time) fit the bill. I still look back on the ear­li­er books in the series fond­ly, and I’ve kept up with the new­er titles since then. (Haven’t had a chance to read the lat­est book yet, but I intend to!)

    My one press­ing ques­tion about the series is triv­ial, but I might as well use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask it: was there a spe­cif­ic rea­son Mephi­tis was not men­tioned in Pop­py and Ereth? I found his absence notice­able giv­en the way he was intro­duced as a major char­ac­ter in the pre­vi­ous book, and the sense of final­i­ty that Pop­py and Ereth gave the oth­er main characters.

  4. I have enjoyed read­ing the Pop­py series to my 2nd and 3rd grade class­es for 20 years. These sto­ries are often men­tioned as high­lights of the year when we reflect. You have made such a pos­i­tive impact on so many young lives look­ing for a hero, no mat­ter how small. Ereth makes us all laugh, and we real­ize that friends help make hard times so much bet­ter. We appre­ci­ate your beloved series. Many thanks!!

  5. Hi Avi. . My name is Mina and I’m 6 and 1/2. I tell sto­ries all day and I have since I start­ed talking.

    I love your Pop­py series. I want­ed to ask you about death in Pop­py books. When Rag­weed died, I did­n’t mind so much because i did­n’t know him. When Mr. Ocax died, I did­n’t mind because he was a bad dude. But when Rye died, after being with me for so many books, with­out any warn­ing, I was real­ly real­ly upset and for a days refused to con­tin­ue read­ing the books. I even cried real­ly hard one night with my mom and I asked her why why would he write this for chil­dren? Now I feel bet­ter about it, I’ve got­ten back to read­ing and even fin­ished the series. But still, I was won­der­ing how you decid­ed to have Rye die so sud­den­ly and with­out any warn­ing and did you wor­ry about how kids would feel read­ing that. And one more thing I want­ed to say: POPPY IS SO CUTE!!!! I think about mice all the time now, tell sto­ries about them, and am try­ing to con­vince my mom to get me one.

    Thank you,

  6. Dear Mina: Thanks for your note. I’m so glad you have enjoyed the Pop­py books. Crea­tures, big and small, often strug­gle for life. Owls do eat mice. For­est fires hap­pen. Fox­es have new kits. Mice have lots of new mice, New chil­dren come into the world. But in that world we live in young peo­ple often strug­gle too. The pan­dem­ic has been ter­ri­ble for all. But I have great faith that chil­dren can make the world a bet­ter place, that they care for oth­ers, that they are not afraid, that they can be as smart as you, and ask hard ques­tions. But they have the best smiles and the best love to share. Thank you for writ­ing to me.


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