Remembering Newbery Award-Winner Nancy Willard

In memory of the beloved author, we share a poem from her collection Swimming Lessons


Poet, novelist, author, and illustrator Nancy Willard passed away in February 2017 at the age of 80.

Best known for her children’s books and inventive poetry, Willard was the recipient of a Newbery Award, Devins Memorial Award, and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Nancy sat down with us in 2014 to read “Questions My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him,” from her collection Swimming Lessons.



“Questions My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him,” from Swimming Lessons

Do gorillas have birthdays?
Yes. Like the rainbow they happen,
like the air they are not observed.
Do butterflies make a noise?
The wire in the butterfly’s tongue hums gold.
Some men hear butterflies
even in winter.
Are they part of our family?
They forgot us, who forgot how to fly.
Who tied my navel? Did God tie it?
God made the thread: O man, live forever!
Man made the knot: enough is enough.
If I drop my tooth in the telephone
will it go through the wires and bite someone’s ear?
I have seen earlobes pierced by a tooth of steel.
It loves what lasts.
It does not love flesh.
It leaves a ring of gold in the wound.
If I stand on my head
will the sleep in my eye roll up into my head?
Does the dream know its own father?
Can bread go back to the field of its birth?
Can I eat a star?
Yes, with the mouth of time
that enjoys everything.
Could we xerox the moon?
This is the first commandment:
I am the moon, thy moon.
Thou shalt have no other moons before thee.
Who invented water?
The hands of the air, that wanted to wash each other.
What happens at the end of numbers?
I see three men running toward a field.
At the edge of the tall grass, they turn into light.
Do the years ever run out?
God said, I will break time’s heart.
Time ran down like an old phonograph.
It lay flat as a carpet.
At rest on its threads I am learning to fly.

Looking for more books by Nancy Willard? Download them here:


Photo: Courtesy of Open Road Media