David L. Harrison, Missouri’s poet laureate through 2025, has spent a long career writing books for children. In this Q&A, the nonagenarian scribe shares his creative routine, offers advice for aspiring writers, and shares a few poems.

David L. Harrison has been named Missouri’s poet laureate children’s book author through 2025.
Photo courtesy of David L. Harrison

Interview by Paul Cecchini

Becoming a children’s book author is not an easy job, but David L. Harrison of Springfield, Missouri, has been living the dream for more than 50 years. He has over 90 books to his name, both poetry and prose, which have netted him numerous awards and international recognition— 

and he has no plans to slow down. At almost 90 years of age, Harrison continues his daily practice of writing, and has even been named Missouri’s poet laureate through 2025.

Q: When did you decide to become a professional writer? 

A: I was a science major at Drury University. As I was registering for my last semester, the dean said, “I won’t let you graduate unless you take some non-science classes.” I went to my advisor. “You might take a writing class,” she said. The fellow who taught the class told us we could write anything. At the end of the semester, he said, “You need to be a writer. You’re good at it.” With that little scrap of encouragement, my life changed. 

Q: What does it mean to be Missouri poet laureate? 

A: To the best of my knowledge, I may be the first children’s poet laureate of any state. That’s important to me personally because maybe if I’m the first, I can be an encouragement to other children’s poets. A much higher percentage of young people like poetry than adults. The poet laureate of the state is charged with making poetry more palatable to people. 

Q: How does your daily writing routine unfold? 

A: I’m up at 6 AM, go to the kitchen to turn on the coffee and grab a breakfast bar. By shortly after the hour, I’m at my desk with my “breakfast.” I work until 1 PM. When I finish, I’m tired. I’m hungry. I want to eat—and at my age, if I’m not careful, take a nap. 

Q: How has the children’s book market changed over the years?

A: The cell phone has changed everything. To write for kids means you have to be aware of distractions in their lives, to grab their attention quickly and hold it. Kids still laugh at the same things. They still want comfort, to be entertained, loved, supported. You can write to all those needs. 

Q: What advice can you offer aspiring writers and poets? 

A: Write. Practice. If you just started, you’re not going to be very good. I was terrible for years. There’s only one way to make your writing better: Keep at it. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 minutes you can squeeze into a day, you have to do something. The brain can’t improve on a blank piece of paper. 

Q: Is there a moment from your career that stands out? 

A: A mother came up to me once and said, “My daughter was inconsolable. We moved to a new neighborhood. She left all her friends. We couldn’t find a way to comfort her.” The librarian sent her one of my books [Little Turtle’s Big Adventure] home, about a little turtle displaced by contractors building a road, and how hard that turtle worked until he found a new pond. The little girl told her mother, “If a little turtle can do that, I can do that!” She drew strength from it and became happy again. Those are moments you tuck away and go back and go back to on a cold day. 

The Truth About the Saber-tooth

By David L Harrison

The saber-tooth enforced the law
With giant canine, leap, and claw.
Victims whom he gnawed and chewed
Agreed he was a handsome dude.
No one thought the saber mean,
Just a perfect eating machine.

But vision dims as time passes.
Soon he needed eating glasses.
One day when he went to roam,
He forgot his specks at home.
Nearsightedly he lost his mate,
Who, by accident, he ate.

For months he moped about his loss
Without the will to bathe or floss
Until at last his stink was linked
To how the saber went extinct.
With rotten teeth and rancid breath,
The saber stank himself to death.

© 2014 David L Harrison, all rights reserved, posted with permission of the poet


This is the poem I wrote to honor Missouri as part of my requirement to become Missouri’s 7th Poet Laureate.

By David L Harrison

 They asked a child,
“Why do you like Missouri?”
The child answered,
“I live here.
My friends live here.
I love Missouri.
It’s my home.”
It was a good answer.

They asked a student,
“Why do you like Missouri?”
The student answered,
“In school I learned,
the first people canoed Missouri waters,
cupped their hands at its springs,
drew bows in deer-high grass,
lived well off the land.”

The teacher said,
“Explorers came, wagons followed,
packed with bibles, fiddles, cooking pots.

Folks built cabins, churches, schools,
outposts, the seeds of towns.”

The farmer, voice soft as tilled soil,
said, “Missouri is dogwood trees,
front porches, barns, lakes.
It’s rows of corn whispering in river-rich earth,
cows in rolling pastures,
frogs at night singing to the moon.”

The business person said,
“Missouri is the heartbeat of many nations,
the confluence of cultures,
sharing visions, growing together.”

The writer said, “It is original thinkers –
Truman, Carver, Benton, Twain.
It is serious fishermen, rabid fans,
the Show Me State, Missouri . . .”

They asked an older person,
“Why do you like Missouri?”
The older person answered,
“I live here.
My friends live here.
I love Missouri.
It’s my home.”
It was a very good answer. 

© 2023 David L Harrison, all rights reserved, posted with permission of the poet

Feature image photo by Rawpixel.

Article originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of Missouri Life.