Thursday, February 28, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: There Was an Old Gator who Swallowed a Moth by B.J. Lee

Here's the Story - 
I’m delighted to share a sub-story behind the story. That sub-story is: cumulative rhyme.  I first encountered the possibility of using cumulative rhyme as a structure for writing a picture book in my critique group, where over the years, several works in progress have been posted using the This is the House that Jack Built and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly structures.  Being a poet at heart, these structures appeal to me greatly because they are, in essence, poetry and because, while I do write in prose, I have a soft spot for rhyme. I began studying cumulative rhyme and had two works in progress using this format when I encountered the idea for the Gator. My husband and I saw a juvenile gator riding waves in a local lake and it dawned on me how larger-than-life gators are. That's when my Gator character was born! I also thought that it might make a great regional flavored book and, since I was trying to break into picture books, I thought this might be the way to go. The other two works in progress went on the back burner and I focused on bringing Gator to life. I targeted Pelican Publishing because they were regional and because they had already published several There Was an Old...books. My hunch was right and Pelican Publishing responded quickly to my query.

But let me back up a bit. In order to write one of these There Was an Old Lady... parodies, I did a lot of studying. I looked at Lucille Colandro, Jennifer Ward, and Penny Parker Klostermann (a CP of mine). In all three of these authors’ works, I noticed that the MC does not die in the end and I really like the MC not dying. I also like the way that these authors changed up the original.

In Colandro’ There Was an Old Mermaid Who Swallowed a Shark, she actually includes nonfiction material in every other  spread using speech bubbles. In Jennifer Ward's There Was an Old Martian Who Swallowed the Moon, she incorporates a refrain: "Blast off! Beep! Beep!  Zoom!” 

Penny Parker Klostermann also changed up the form quite a bit in There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. I also loved how she incorporates a mini storyline for the steed,
 "that galloped around at a terrible speed. 
Oh how the Dragon wished it would stop, 
that clippity, clippity, clippity, clop!”                                               and then in the end,
“clippity, clippity, clippity, stop!”

putting an end to the steed’s mad antics and leading into the denouement as well.  Brilliant!

Though I experimented with various of these techniques when writing There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, I finally decided to go with a fairly straight-up version of the original There Was an Old Lady.... I feel that it worked best for my Gator character, and clearly Pelican Publishing agreed!

That's my substory behind the story and I'm sticking to it! :)

Description of There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Gators and panthers and crabs, oh my! The classic cumulative tale There Was an Old Lady gets a Floridian flourish in this charming adaptation.  Down in the southern swamps a hungry gator accidentally swallows a moth.  Of course, he swallows a crab to get the moth! What will he swallow next? The gator predictably continues swallowing bigger and bigger creatures until the unexpected happens―all over the page! Along the way to its hilarious ending, the story― strengthened by the delightful illustrations―introduces readers of all ages to the many critters, both big and small, of the Florida swamp. With a familiar use of repetition and an abundance of rhythm, this silly story is perfect for read-aloud experiences.

B.J. Lee is a former college music librarian turned full-time author and poet. Her debut picture book, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, released on February 1, 2019 from Pelican Publishing. Additionally, she is an award-winning children’s poet with over 100 poems and stories published/forthcoming in major anthologies by such publishers as Little, Brown, National Geographic, Bloomsbury and Wordsong. Magazine credits include Spider, Highlights, and The School Magazine. She lives in Florida with her husband, poet Malcolm Deeley, and toy poodle Bijoux.

B.J. Lee is available for school visits including assemblies and writing and poetry workshops with a musical component. She can be reached at

T: bjlee_writer
IG: b.j.lee

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  1. Thank you for having me, Lynne! A pleasure to write about my experience with cumulative rhyme!

    1. I just love everything about this book, B.J., the rhyme, the characters and the art, so I am absolutely thrilled to have you here! XOXO

  2. Congrats B.J.! Thank you for sharing your journey and research for your delightful new book :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by My Word Playground and celebrating this delightful book, Charlotte! Be sure to subscribe or follow!

    2. Thank you Charlotte! 🐊💚

  3. It's great to learn more about your book, BJ! Congratulations on this fun story.

    1. So nice to see you here, Wendy! Can't wait to feature your book, as well! Please be sure to subscribe or follow the blog so you don't miss out on other wonderful stories behind the story!

    2. Thank you Wendy! So nice to meet you at RUCCL18!

    3. The KidLit world is really a small world -- so cool that we all know each other! XO