Tuesday, January 16, 2018


FLASHLIGHT NIGHT: Rhyming picture book to take out to the tree house

by Matt Forrest Essenwine with artwork by Fred Koehler

Suppose that I want to write a friendship
picture book adventure.
It will come alive through three important elements.

 Let's say these are -

tree house

And to up the stakes for me as a writer,
let's say I'll pull it off in rhyme.
Beautiful rhyme. Not just rhyme for when you play word games at home.
You know what I mean. The beautiful quality of
the low percent of submitted rhymed manuscripts that can become traditionally published

I hope you'll sit down soon with the rhyming picture book, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT.
The text is by debut picture book author Matt Forrest Essenwine
& the art is from the well-known award-winning creator, Fred Koehler.

This is a poem story alive with the promise

of high adventure unfolding
in the sedate backyard tree house. The friends 
flash the light to discover that it:

Shines a path where waters rush
reveals a hole in the underbrush

Oh my gosh! What's next? Don't 'cha wanna know!!!

The illustrations by Fred Koehler are like a nocturne gallery. 
The nightshade from scene to scene heightens the child’s delight in overlooked 
but important clues. I went back to look at them up close, as soon as
I read this book about the adventures & friendship of a girl and two boys. 

To celebrate publication, the two creators agreed to tell me something about their childhoods.


“Hi, thank you for doing a post, Jan! I really appreciate that.”

                                   (The book deserves a lot of spotlight, Matt.- jga)

“Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I developed an appreciation for nature from a young age.
 We lived on 10 acres of mostly wooded property, and although I was not allowed to go 
deep into the woods, the woods were all around me and therefore afforded me a great 
opportunity to use my imagination.

"I never had a tree house as a child, but I did have something I called my “hideout,”
which was an area just off of our lawn that consisted of lots of large, flat stones, thick juniper bushes, 
and a couple of large, easily-climbed trees. Some days I would pretend I was a bad guy 
hiding from the law, while other days I was the good guy trying to track down the baddies.
My hideout was also my “secret” place to have lunch. Mom would give me my food 
and I would head out to one of the flat rocks there and eat underneath the tree. 
And even though this little area was right along the edge of the lawn and only 
15 feet or so away from the road, I felt like I was in my own little world!

"I suppose it is no wonder, then, that the natural world and my sense of family have
 played such crucial roles in my writing, both for adults as well as for children. 
I am fortunate that dad has not sold the place yet – at 82, he still lives on that same 
old dirt road surrounded by woods – but I know that a not-so-little piece of me 
will be lost the day he does.”

                      (This paints an evocative picture, Matt. And so great about your Dad. – jga)

I first encountered Matt’s work via the Poetry Friday crowd.
I anticipate Matt’s poems & stories to appear in many forthcoming picture  books. In fact,
his second picture book, which he co-authors, is due out in April.
Go visit him here.


“When I was a kid, our house backed up to an acre or two of Florida scrub. 
Through the woods, I had neighbors whose dad worked construction and 
brought home all the scraps of job site lumber. In those trees, we would build 
the most elaborate fort systems, with tight ropes lines between the trees, trap doors, 
and even underground bunkers. We had more fun than any other kids on the planet, 
and probably could fend off pirates better than the Swiss Family Robinson.”

             (I see the foundations of an artist’s mind in those constructions, Fred.
                                                      Thank you! – jga)

I first encountered Fred's talented work in the hilarious, minimalist-word story by 
poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich,  ONE DAY, THE END.  
This year I anticipate Fred’s Pacific garbage patch-set debut novel.

Also, travel along as KidLitTV reveals, via a talk with Rocco Staino, 

I ordered FLASHLIGHT NIGHT from my local indy, Midtown Reader.

My child days hideout memories include a tree seat my father nailed into one of our beautiful,
old dogwood trees, so I could read up there, undisturbed & also, the creek ravine woods that 
beckoned me not far from that tree. Earlier, at our first house, I loved the fresh-scented,
old pine fairy woods. It rose up dark green on damp dirt on the side of our house that was 
opposite from the neighbor's aromatic dairy farm. 

Readers of the Group Blog: good luck with all your rhymes, especially the picture book kind. - JG Annino


  1. "Shines a path where waters rush

    reveals a hole in the underbrush"

    Oh my gosh! What temptingly beautiful words. I must add this book to my MUST READ list!

    Donna L Martin

    1. I think it will pull you along on the adventure, Donna!

    2. Thank you, Donna - I hope you'll like it!

  2. Thank you SO MUCH for this, Jan - I really appreciate your kind words and support. I find it interesting that both Fred & I grew up playing in similar circumstances, using our imagination to create adventure in the "woods." I'm also fascinated by the fact that so many people have comments about those two lines from the book ("...hush"/"...brush") - because they were never in the original manuscript! They were added after our editor, Rebecca Davis, had suggested I include an additional scene between the dark woods and the tomb. Glad it worked out!

    1. Hi Matt. I love knowing this, thanks. This brave nighttime imagination quest is mysterious, fun & so different. All the creators (editor especially) deserve a lasting spotlight for this story. And I was keeping this post for a surprise. . . which I guess it was!

    2. It was DEFINITELY a surprise, thanks again!

  3. Thank you, Jan, for this wonderful post! Your interviews with both author and illustrator cement the fact this book is a must read! What lovely memories both men recall about their childhood and growing up with imaginations that created and fanned incredible worlds for them to visit.

    1. Appreciations, Anne! I should have added that everyone is invited to share their backyard/tree house/ hiding place/ flashlight memories . . .

    2. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and leave such a nice comment, Anne!

  4. Thank you, Jan, for featuring this book filled with wonder and rhyme, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT. I requested this book from our library system previously and found it to be delightful. Now I want to read it again!

    I enjoyed reading about the childhood experiences of Matt Forest Essenwine and Fred Koehler.
    Suzy Leopold

    1. Thank you, Suzy! I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

    2. So you are THE certified fan of this poem story Suzy. A returning reader!

  5. Thank you, Jan, Matt, and Fred, for bringing back my childhood memories of secret places and unfolding adventure. I'm going to get your book and let my imagination soar :)

    1. I hope you like it, Charlotte, thank you!

    2. Have fun remembering those secret dreamy play spaces, Charlotte.

  6. Enjoyed this post very much, Jan - thanks for sharing! The details of both Matt and Fred's childhood experiences were very fun to read about and made me reflect back on my own favorite childhood memories. I haven't gotten my hands on this book yet - will do so now!

  7. This book is lovely! Thanks for sharing it, Jan, and for introducing us to Matt and Fred.

    1. You especially know what makes a great rhyme in a picture book, Patty. Appreciations!

  8. I was a fort in the woods kid too. I really loved this book, both art and text.

  9. Appreciations for remembering your great child fort days. I think in addition to entertaining young readers FLASHLIGHT NIGHT takes adult readers back to their imaginative years of play.