Upon opening the first page of Daniel Holtz’s new children’s book of poetry titled, “Stinkleberry Pie and Other Ridiculous Rhymes,” readers might be reminded of the late children’s poet Shel Silverstein. With his inventive rhymes and quirky accompanying illustrations, the Colchester resident has created a hilarious and clever book for grade school readers on his first venture into the literary world.
The idea for the book was sparked on a plane trip to visit two of his children, McCartney and Wilder, who now live across the country, when his aisle mate commented on some of the drawings he was working on. The doodles were part of a journal Holtz was creating for his children to remember him by after he passed one day in the future.
“She said, ‘Are you writing a children’s book?’ and I flipped back through a few pages and said, ‘I think so, yeah, thank you,’” Holtz laughed. After that encounter, he quit the journal, bought a sketchbook and nine months later he was holding a hardback copy of his published work, the first of hopefully many, he said.
“When I finally was holding a hardback book with a dust jacket in my hands, it was pretty astounding,” Holtz said. “It was very affirming that I can do this, I can continue to do this.”
While Holtz has been drawing since he was a kid, he said he never thought he’d ever write and illustrate a children’s book of poetry.
“I think in my heart I always knew I wanted to do something artistic,” he explained. “I just always got sidetracked by entrepreneurial endeavors that had nothing to do with art.”
Holtz has run several businesses in his adult life, including a website development company in the late 90s “long before Facebook,” a food manufacturing company and most recently, a mattress business. While his current endeavor might not be his passion, he said it gives him the time and flexibility to work on more creative projects, like music, art and his books.
Holtz said he wrote most of the poems while on walks with his dog in Airport Park or in the woods and was often inspired by the natural environment. Even his children got involved with the process:
“The kids helped me with a lot of the poems, actually,” he said. “Some of them we started together, [for] some of them they came up with words or lines…There’s one poem called Secret Seasons that my daughter might have written half of with me.”
While Holtz has always been an artist, he said writing the book taught him a lot along the way, and it took a meandering evolution over time to work out the kinks and finally get to the finished product. He and his wife Katrina even formed their own publishing company, Ampersand Media, to publish the book through the Ingram printing group.
“There were a lot of moments during this process where I really doubted if I could get there, if it was going to be good enough,” Holtz admitted. “I don’t know if I’d ever done something like this that took that long… I just had to keep the faith, just keep doing what you’re doing and it’s going to turn into something.”
Now that the book is completed, Holtz said he’s excited for its official release on April 1, the first day of National Poetry Month. He and Katrina are working to get the book in local bookstores, and will also sell it online at multiple retailers.
The book is geared towards children in kindergarten all the way up to sixth grade, though Holtz said kids might have to “cherry pick” through the poems, because some might be more challenging than others, depending on their age. But that’s the point, he explained.
When writing “Stinkleberry Pie,” Holtz said he wanted the book to challenge other kids’ books in the level of vocabulary, complexity of the rhymes, as well as the themes.
“There are words in here that adults are going to look up,” he explained. “This is important; kids don’t hear enough big words, so I’m going to make them stretch in this book.”
While the book is written in a silly and entertaining manner, Holtz said some of the poems deal with some more mature topics, which he thinks kids should be talking about.
“This is not a cute book,” he explained. “There’s a few cute moments, there’s some gross stuff because it’s for kids, but there’s some heavy stuff too. There’s some stuff in there about life and death, and about climate change, and about things that were on my mind that I think kids should get into.”
Holtz also explained that the book is best enjoyed if read aloud.
“It works better if you can perform [the poems], I mean, poetry is in many ways a performance art,” he said. “Before you even get to the title page it opens with a quick note from the poet, and it’s ‘please read aloud these ridiculous rhymes,’ because they really sing when you’re reading them.”
Holtz has also started recording a podcast called Stinkleberry Pie to accompany the book, which he likens to a late night variety show like Prairie Home Companion or Live From Here, but for kids. In the podcast, Holtz reads poems from the book in the voices of his characters, and he even wrote all his own original music for the show.
Holtz said he’s excited about the positive feedback they’ve received about the book so far and is eager to see how it does when it is officially released, but he’s most proud to have a finished product that he was able to dedicate to his children.
“I ultimately felt like this was so much more of a leave-behind than the journal,” he said.
“Stinkleberry Pie and Other Ridiculous Rhymes” can be pre-ordered online from danielmholtz.com, or found in online retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound as well as in the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne starting April 1.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Daniel Holtz’s name. We regret the error.