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About Ted

About Ted

“What I Feel Like Now”

“What I Look Like Now”

Welcome! What do you want to know about me? You already know that I write lots of fun and funny poems for kids. “But there must be more than that,” I hear you say. Of course, there is tons more to share with you, if you’d like to read it all.

To make it easy for you to find out what you need to know about me, I have included below just about all the questions and answers I could think of—especially the questions I get asked the most.

If you don’t find the information you are looking for, just zip me an email or a letter. I try super-hard to answer every letter or email I receive, but because I’m often busy traveling or writing, I don’t always get to my correspondence as quickly as I (or you) would like. Be patient. I’ll try to get back to you

Some FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and some OGAs (Often Given Answers)

How old are you?

Where do you get your ideas for writing?

How many poems have you written?

Are those other people in your videos really your cousins?

How long does it take you to write a poem?

Where do you like to write best?

What do you do if you get a great idea for a poem but can’t get to it right away?

How long does it take to get a poem or a collection of poems published?

Can you PLEASE publish one of my poems in a book PLEASE?

Can you take photos for your next book at OUR school?

Why do you write in the voice of kid?

Where did you grow up?

Did you like school as a kid?

Do you remember the very first rhyme you heard as a child?

Did I have any favorite books growing up?

What are your favorite children’s books now?

How about your hobbies—as a kid and now?

Why, oh why, is your name pronounced “shy?”

Where do you live now?

Do you have any kids?

Is it true you were once a classroom teacher?

What’s the biggest adventure you’ve ever had?

One almost-last-question: What’s your favorite color, food, word, season, and ice cream flavor?

One last question for now… Did Nancy Cristman really kiss you?

Answers

How old are you?

I regularly lose track of my age, but since I have a birthday in November, I do remember how old I am, at least for now. I’m 63 years old in people years, 469 in dog years, but only 9.2 in Gzorkian years. Gzork is where my alien cousin Dweedlezorp lives, when he’s not visiting earth. I may move to Gzork someday soon, where I’d be much younger instantly.

I am often introduced at schools I visit as “a 3rd or 4th grader in a grown-up’s body,” and that’s exactly how I feel, especially when I’m diving into a poem, riding my bike, playing kickball, or licking peanut butter off my fingers. I can almost instantly travel back to being a kid. As you might expect, I’ve been known to sometimes embarrass my wife and kids by being a teeny-weeny-jelly-beany bit ‘young.’

So, I guess I’m just a really big kid with glasses and grayish hair.

Where do you get your ideas for writing?

Ideas come mostly from my memories—both as a child and as a teacher—and also from being a careful observer of the world around me—especially watching and listening to people—like you!

Reading my poems, you’d probably think I had a strange childhood, and I guess I sort of did. But life is both funny and hard for most everyone, and I try to reflect that in my poems. My kid-life mostly was pretty easy and fun.

I do remember a lot of things that made me uncomfortable as a kid–like when Nancy Cristman kissed me on the way to 2nd grade, or when I got yelled at by a teacher or a coach, or getting embarrassed when I made a mistake in class, or when I really had to ‘go’ badly in school and the teacher seemed to ignore me, or when I wanted to trade snacks desperately but couldn’t… all of these events seemed to naturally flow into poems–usually with some sort of funny ending.

Sometimes, of course, the endings aren’t so funny, because life for kids is often not very humorous, like in “One Good Thing” when the kid’s dad is yelling at him from the soccer game sideline. Fortunately, my dad was not that way. He was great. But as a coach, I’ve seen plenty of dads who are not too great at giving sideline support, and I feel really sorry for the kids of those dads.

Of course some of my poems, like “School Was a Real Zoo,” (below) are pure fantasy–things I’d love to have happen, but probably never would.

Then there are other poems of mine, like “Truthball” (also below) where I write about wanting to have the power and knowledge to invent amazing things, so I can find out the truth about life. Of course, that’s pretty much a long shot, but it’s still fun to imagine.

If you have amazing events, people, and feelings in your life, sometimes writing about them in a poem or a story is the very best way to share them; and you feel better about them at the same time.

So get writing! And send me one of your poems for the Young Poets page, where I share bunches of very cool poems from kids from all over the world.

How many poems have you written?

I’ve written at least a few thousand poems. Not all of them–in fact, most of them–never make it into books, or even get as finished as I’d like them to be. But I keep wrestling and playing tag with them.

I hope I never stop writing. I have so many poems and stories inside me shouting to get out, I figure that I’ll have to write until I’m 158 years old, to get them all out of me. So I have about 100 more years to live! Cool, eh?

Are those other people in your videos really your cousins?

You bet they are. Would I kid you about something as important as family? Besides, they all look a lot like me, (even Dweedlezorp) so we have to be related, right?

How long does it take you to write a poem?

Sometimes a poem will flow right out of my pencil, all by itself, in minutes. But that’s super-rare. Usually, I’ll start a poem one day, then I’ll meet it again for coffee the next day to make some revisions. That’s my favorite time—looking closely at every word in a poem draft to see if it’s the absolute best possible word. We (the poem and I) might have 5 or 6 meetings over several weeks before the poem stands up and suddenly announces, “I’m done! Time for recess! Time for snack! Time to stretch your creaky back.”

I guess, on average, it takes about a week to finish a poem. As you might imagine, I have many poems in progress at the same time. Whichever one shouts the loudest in the morning gets my attention.

I like to work on collections of poems on a theme (like sports, or school, or idioms, etc.) at one time so I keep more focused, but I don’t always succeed if a noisy idea pops into my head demanding attention.

I try to finish one poem a day. That’s my goal. I don’t always achieve it, but it averages out that way.

And how long do I write each day? Good question! Usually I try to write poems from 9:00 to Noon each day—often also on weekends. If I’m on the road visiting schools, I write for an hour in the morning and then for a couple hours before dinner, before I collapse.

The important thing for all of us poets (that includes you) is to not stop writing a poem until every single word is exactly the way we want it. You have to be disciplined and tough… trying different words, starting all over again…whatever it takes to get to say exactly what you want to say.

And you’ll know…you absolutely knowinstantly when that happens. So don’t you give up until it’s right, and I won’t either.

Where do you like to write best?

I’m happiest writing in two places: When I am home (not traveling) I often work at a desk and office that I have in my basement. I’m surrounded by books and have a view of mountains out the window. And I often put soft music on in the background. Or I sometimes go for a change of scene to the fabulous library at Middlebury College in my town. Somehow sitting around busy students (as long as hey are not chatting) is very inspiring.

What do you do if you get a great idea for a poem but can’t get to it right away?

I always carry a pencil and lots of scraps of paper with lots of notes scribbled on them. Actually, I now often carry a very small notebook in my pocket for the same reason. Then I transfer all my great ideas into an idea notebook at home. That notebook (actually I have about 10 of them) is bursting with ideas for poems and stories.

I highly, highly, highly recommend that you get yourself an idea notebook too. It’s not a diary, but a place to write ideas, poems, and stories, to draw pictures—anything you can think of, before it flies away. If I don’t write stuff down, it goes flittering away in the breeze. Bye, bye great idea….

How long does it take to get a poem or a collection of poems published?

Far too long! There are many good writers out there trying to get the attention of many busy, overworked editors. I sometimes send poems out to magazines, and book editors who publish anthologies of many different poets, and it takes months sometimes, to hear back from them. Once you hear them say “yes, we love your poems!” then it usually takes 1-3 years to get your poems published in a book.

The bottom line? It takes a lot of patience and hard work. But I’ll never stop writing. And even if I’m not published as much as I’d like to be, it’s the act of writing that is the most satisfying. I’m happiest when I finish a poem that I am proud of.

I hope you feel that way too.

Can you PLEASE publish one of my poems in a book PLEASE?

I’d love to, and someday I intend to do an anthology of poems just written by kids like you, but at the moment I just don’t have time. But you can have a poem of yours published on the web, on my web site. That’s even better. Just click on the Young Poets link on the Kids Page and I’ll tell you how to do it. I don’t publish every poem I receive, but send me your favorite/best (just one) poem and I’ll take a look. I’ll even try to write you back.

Can you take photos for your next book at OUR school?

I’ll give it some thought. Mostly I try to use kids who are friends of mine here in Vermont, because they are all close by, and also Pete Lourie (my friend and the cool photographer) lives close by too. But I’m looking at other schools too, outside of Vermont. Maybe someday…

Why do you write in the voice of kid?

Mostly because I’m just a kid at heart, and because that’s just the way the words come out. I can’t write any other way.

I truly believe the most important thing a kid (like me and you) can do—we must do—is find our own voices as writers. You have to share your opinions and feelings with somebody, or, even better, write them down. That’s why poetry can be so wonderful. It’s often easier to share feelings if you write a poem.

I definitely didn’t do enough writing or sharing when I was growing up. As a kid, sometimes I felt like I didn’t have a voice or an opinion that mattered. And I sure didn’t have much confidence in sharing my thoughts.

So now, as a writer, my kid-voice is finally bursting out, and I’m sharing all my frustrations, giggles and sadness. And since I’ve been an elementary teacher, I’ve seen a lot of other kids with similar (or sometimes very different) problems, so I sometimes write to share their voices too.

Of course, as you know, if you do share your opinion, it’s much more powerful if you are polite about it. Being bratty doesn’t work too well with most grown-ups, or friends, I discovered.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Buffalo, NY, but like a lot of people I’ve met who come from Buffalo, my family all moved away. (Buffalo gets a ton of snow in the winter!) We lived almost all over the US map—in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than anything, I guess I consider myself a New Englander, since I also lived a bit in Rhode Island, spend parts of some summers in Maine, and now live very happily with my family in Vermont. That covers all of the New England states, right?

Did you like school as a kid?

Good question. My answer might be surprising.

No, to be honest, I really didn’t like school all that much. I was a fairly shy kid (funny, huh, since that’s how my name is pronounced!) and I was kind of bored with school. Things came pretty easily for me, but I didn’t work as hard as should have. I got poor effort and handwriting grades. I know because my Mom (thanks Mom!) saved all my report cards.

But mostly I didn’t like school because very few teachers seemed to make learning fun or take an interest in my learning. In fact, I remember clearly being yelled at, I mean really screamed at, by my 3rd grade teacher when I brought her in some flowers that I’d picked on my way to school. It turns out she was allergic to them, and I was, somehow, supposed to know that? Well, that was the last time I ever brought a teacher anything, I’ll tell you!

I think that’s why I became a teacher—I was sure I could do a better job than some of mine did.

Do you remember the very first rhyme you heard as a child?

The one that I remember most, from my mother, besides nursery rhymes she probably told me, was this silly little rhyme. It absolutely cracked me up. It still does. It goes like this:

Algie saw a bear.
The bear saw Algie.
The bear was bulgy.
The bulge was Algie.
Then there’s this one Mom taught me. It’s frankly a little gross, but I still love it:
Lucy saw a train.
The train saw Lucy.
The tracks were juicy.
The juice was Lucy.

Did I have any favorite books growing up?

I honestly don’t remember too many books from my childhood, mostly because I wasn’t much of a reader. That’s very sad, don’t you think? I do recall absolutely loving Dr. Seuss books, mostly for the silly rhymes and rhythms. Also, libraries just didn’t have as many good children’s books (especially poetry) way back in the dinosaur ages when I was a kid, as they have now. At least, that’s the way I remember it. I certainly don’t remember reading much poetry, except for Seuss-rhymes and poetry of A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame).

I did love the book, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. What wonderful adventures Elmer Elevator had on his island with his dragon. I dreamed of joining them. Oh, and I loved Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, and One Morning in Maine, and his Homer Price books too—when they couldn’t stop the donut machine! I also loved The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. What a loyal group of friends Toad had!

E.B. White’s famous books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little were like little lightning bolts for me too–waking my ears to beautiful prose, and heart-warming stories. E.B. White’s writing has always brought smiles to my eyes, ears and heart! I re-read his books often for more smiles, whenever I need them.

I also loved to read biographies of famous people. I liked learning about what challenges people overcame in their lives. I had a classmate named Chris whose father was a children’s author of biographies, so that helped too, especially when Chris brought me his dad’s books for a birthday present. His dad’s name sounded super cool–A.B.C. Whipple.

What are your favorite children’s books now?

The list is way too long to put here, but I can share two (or maybe three) of them with you right now. The rest of the list I can share with you when I come to your school.

My favorite picture book right now is by Peter Reynolds. It’s called The Dot. Peter (and his spunky main character Vashti) reminds me that every one of us has a gift. We just have to find it and share it with the world.

My favorite chapter book is a tie. So it’s two books, both by Roald Dahl. I love his beautiful story called Danny the Champion of the World, and I also love the fun of The BFG.

Check them out!

How about your hobbies—as a kid and now?

I had lots of hobbies growing up–mostly having to do with sports. I loved to play soccer, and swim, sail and ski. At summer camp, I learned how to canoe, hike and camp, and I still do that with my family.

I also did a lot of ‘alone’ stuff as a kid. I especially loved to climb my favorite tall hemlock tree, and sit in the very tippy top branches, pretending I was the captain of a sailing ship zooming around the world, or maybe the pilot of a plane. When I was up in my tree, no one could bother me there and tell me what to do. I was in charge of me, and the whole world, too.

I also sometimes went to the theater see plays with my parents and my younger brother and older sister. I loved plays, and still do, especially musicals. I loved the way the songs wove breathtakingly funny rhymes all around bouncy melodies. I’m pretty certain that’s why I write in a bouncy rhythm and rhymy style now.

Now, for exercise, I do a lot of biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, canoeing and sometimes I play tennis. When I need a quick break, I go for walks with Fudge, my 13-year old chocolate lab puppy and with my wife and friends.

Why, oh why, is your name pronounced “shy?”

My name, like my forebears, came from Germany, and I know in Germany they pronounce my name like “shoy.” Now it’s “shy.” That’s about all I know. You figure it out. Am I shy? Yes, as a matter of fact I am, unless I’m with friends like you.

I wrote a very silly poem a few years ago about the pronunciation (and the mispronunciation) of my name. Here it is:

One Scheu Guy

I’ve never known quite what to do,
For all my life I’ve been a Scheu.
It really didn’t matter who,
My teachers, or people from Kalamazoo,
I’d tell them one time, maybe two,
Sometimes I’d scream ‘til I was blue,
I’d threaten to have my lawyer sue,
But none of them seemed to have a clue,
(Well, some got the message, but only a few.)
Hey, just between us, (me and you),
I think their brains were full of glue.
Oh, yes, I agree, it looks like “shoe,”
It’s a name that one could misconstrue,
But I hope that you won’t do it too.

“So, how do you say it?” I hear you cry,
“Please tell us and we’ll all comply.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” say I.
Just listen, then just give it a try.
It’s short and sweet and smooth as pie,
As gentle and soft as a lullaby,
It’s as clear as a crystal, azure sky,
As quiet and quick as a butterfly.
(Hey, it’s true, I never lie.)
Can you guess? Hey, you got it your very first try!
I knew you were smart, but I didn’t know why.
Me? I can’t say it. I’m that kind of guy.
I thought that perhaps you’d identify–
When it comes to pronouncing my name
I’m Scheu.

© 2010 Ted Scheu

I once wrote a poem titled “Help Me Please!” (below) which is all about my frustration over having my name constantly mispronounced by people–especially teachers. I’m sure some of you know what I mean, right? Why do our parents do that to us?

Where do you live now?

I live in the very cool town of Middlebury, Vermont, in a cozy house on a beautiful, cow-cluttered (and smelly…from the cows) hillside, with my remarkable wife and my two amazing kids, and Fudge. Actually my kids are all grown up—one daughter and one son—both are inspirations to me. They don’t live at home. That’s a good thing for everyone, although it’s lonelier with them gone.

I love Vermont. Life is just a little slower here, and that makes it easier to get to my writing. It also makes it easier to escape from my writing, too! If I want to go hiking, or biking, or skiing, I can just slide right out my back door.

Do you have kids?

Oops. I guess I answered that above, but here’s a little more… You bet I do have kids, and they are the awesomest kids in the solar system. Except, I guess they’re not officially kids anymore. My daughter is a first grade teacher in California, and my son works in Boston for an advertising agency. I’m super-duper proud of both of them. They both continue to advise me on my work.

Is it true you were once a classroom teacher?

Yes. I taught for a bunch of years, grades K through 5, in Shelburne, Vermont. And I loved it…mostly. But I was so busy as a teacher that I wasn’t able to find time to do any writing. So I left my full-time teaching job in 1998, so I could express my kid-voice in my writing.

Of course, I still teach. Some of you know that, because I’ve come to your school. I love to travel around to schools all over the world, doing workshops and assemblies. So now, I’m more of a traveling teacher, sharing my love for poems, and helping kids find their writer’s voices in poetry. Checkout my “School Visits” page if you’d like more information about that.

In addition to having been a teacher, I’ve also been an officer in the Navy, a banker, an advertising executive and ad writer, and a carpenter. That’s all part of a very long and mostly boring story that I won’t get into now.

What’s the biggest adventure you’ve ever had?

There have been many–I’m lucky–but two stand out strongly in my memory:

At age 15 (I was pretty big and strong for my age) I got a summer job on a 58-foot sailboat that raced across the Atlantic Ocean from Rhode Island to Ireland. That was every bit as exciting as I had hoped (and as you can imagine), and I hope to be able to write a kid’s book about the experience someday. I was smart enough to keep a journal, to help me remember. It was very hard work—the sailing part—and even quite scary at times.

The second big adventure happened more recently, when I joined a team of friends—all more experienced mountain climbers than me—to climb 14,410-foot high Mt. Rainier, in Washington State. It was a two-day climb, and very hard work—using ropes and all that climbing gear you need to be safe—but the reward of watching the sunrise from the top of a sleeping volcano was spectacular! I’d love to do it again someday…maybe.

Putting this web site together was a pretty cool adventure too. But I don’t want to do it again anytime soon either, thanks very much.

One almost-last-question: What’s your favorite color, food, word, season, and ice cream flavor?

OK, that was sneaky, but here’s my answer: yellow-orange (like the Vermont leaves in the fall), turkey dinner (especially at Thanksgiving with family), snickerdoodle (it’s a kind of cookie), fall (because of the color and the coolness) and just about any ice cream flavor with chocolate in it.

One last question for now… Did Nancy Cristman really kiss you?

This, believe it or not, is the question I get asked the most, especially by 1st and 2nd graders. Yes, I promise you, she did. I remember exactly the spot of grass on somebody’s front lawn (and the spot on my right cheek) where it happened. It was in my hometown of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, as Nancy and I were walking to school in second grade, just like the poem says. It was like a bolt of lightning, I was so surprised.

And no, I didn’t marry Nancy Cristman. She married someone else, and I heard the very sad news a few years ago that Nancy Cristman became very sick and died about 20 years ago. So, I think of her whenever I read that poem, and I know, somewhere, Nancy Cristman is smiling about it. The poem is below.

That’s it for now…but…

If you have any more questions, please send them to me by e-mail or by snail mail at:

Ted Scheu
P.O. Box 564
Middlebury, VT 05753

I can’t promise I’ll be able to respond to every letter and question, but I’ll try. Maybe I’ll post your question, and my answer, here on my web site!

Thanks!

PS: Just for giggles, I’ll put all the poems I referred to in the questions and answers above, below. Just so you know.

One Good Thing

(What I’d Love to Say, but Won’t)

(From my collection “I Threw My Brother Out”)

Stop shouting, Coach. It’s clear to me
you think I’m playing wrong.
I do the things you taught me, but
I guess I’m not that strong.

Can’t you think of anything
I’m doing well today?
I’m sure there must be one good thing
that you can think to say?

Say my shirt looks great tucked in.
I don’t have breakfast on my chin.
I wear my socks just as I should.
Or when I sweat, the drips look good.

Say you like my curly hair.
I’m super great at breathing air.
Say “Nice try” if I miss the ball
and “That’s okay” when I slip and fall.

Say my smile is a winning one.
After all, I am your son.

© 2010 Ted Scheu

 

School Was a Real Zoo

(This poem is not in any book…yet)

“What a bunch of animals!”
my teacher cried last week.
“Where have all your manners gone?”
He shook as he tried to speak.

“You howl and screech when I’m talking to you–
I’ve had about all I can take.
If you keep acting like savages,
it would be an enormous mistake!”

When Jillian giggled, well, that was it,
he snapped and began to unglue.
With a wave of his chalk, and some strange sounding words,
the class turned into a zoo!

In a flash, the room looked different,
and it certainly didn’t look good.
Wrapping around us, from ceiling to floor,
were bars where walls had stood!

I took a look at my classmates,
and couldn’t believe my eyes.
Suddenly, they were all wild beasts
of every conceivable size!

Heather was now a hyena,
who cackled a laugh at me.
And Jodie was swinging with Georgia
by her tail from the branch of a tree.

Most of the boys were gorillas—
they grunted and pounded their chests.
And Kim, Kate and Kelsey were furious birds,
shrieking from high in their nests.

I noticed that Mike was a hippo,
and somehow that seemed just right.
He happily rolled in the mud in the corner,
grinning with wild delight.

Zoe resembled a zebra,
with stripes all wild and free,
And Anthony’s huge anaconda coils
were wrapped around a big tree.

A mongoose was up on the counter—
it looked like Megan to me.
She was fighting with Jake, a big cobra-like snake,
and Ralph was the referee.

I laughed at a couple of dingoes—
I think they were David and Drew.
Then I looked down, and noticed with horror
that I was a dingo too!

Slinking around the closet door,
with shining, scissory smiles,
Came Kirsten and Christina—
two hungry crocodiles.

Then Gregory growled, from under the desk,
his eyes and teeth bright as knives.
When he batted the air with razor claws,
we wanted to run for our lives.

The school bell rang, and kids looked in
from outside of the bars.
Their eyes were bigger than burger buns
as they headed for buses and cars.

We spent a long night in our jungle cage,
feeling hungry and missing our beds.
Mr. Darwin had given us plenty of time
for his message to sink in our heads.

When he came into school the next morning
and turned us back into kids,
it doesn’t take a genius
to imagine just what we all did.

We ran to our teacher and hugged him,
promised never again to berate him.
And then, in a moment of quiet joy,
we ripped him to pieces and ate him!

© 2010 Ted Scheu

 

TruthBall

This weekend,
since it’s supposed to rain,
I’m going to stay in my room
and invent the first TruthBall.

When I hold it with both hands over my head,
and look deeply into its swirling spy-glass center,
it will tell me things no one else knows.

Things that will happen.
Things that are the truth.

I might ask it
who committed famous unsolved crimes, or
what tomorrow’s lottery number will be, or
who’s going to win the World Series, or
is there life in outer space, or
will my little sister always be a pest, or
is my teacher human, or
how long I will live, or
if Sara Smithers likes me, or
who I will marry someday.

But I won’t ask my TruthBall any of those things.
I just want to know
who stole my bike!

© 2010 Ted Scheu

 

Help Me, Please!

Help me, please,
my knees are jiggling,
all the girls
around are giggling.
Everywhere
my skin is sweating,
and I think
my pants are wetting.
Need to keep
my hands from shaking,
not to mention
stomach quaking.
Eyes are glazey,
heart is pounding,
lips are very
funny sounding.
Throat is drying,
brain is spinning,
I am trying–
but not winning.

This shouldn’t be so hard, and yet,
it always feels the same.
I hate correcting teachers when
they mispronounce my name.

© 2010 Ted Scheu

 

Nancy Cristman Kissed Me

Nancy Cristman kissed me
as we walked to school today.
It happened fast, and I was lost
with what to do or say.

I quickly looked around to check
if anyone had seen it.
If they did, and tease me,
they’ll be sorry, and I mean it.

Why did Nancy Cristman put
that smack upon my cheek?
I’m so confused, and probably
will stay this way all week.

I’ll guess I’ll have to marry her,
and share my lemonade.
A lot can happen to a kid
who walks to second grade.

© 2010 Ted Scheu