Heidbreder, Robert K. 1947-

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Heidbreder, Robert K. 1947-


Surname is pronounced "Hide-bred-er"; born March 3, 1947, in Quincy, IL; immigrated to Canada, 1970; naturalized Canadian citizen, 1975; son of Harry John (a chemist and sales representative) and Bernice Margaret (a homemaker) Heidbreder; married Jane M. Flick (a university professor), 1972. Education: Grinnell College, B.A., 1969; attended University of Washington, Seattle, 1969-70, University of British Columbia, 1970-73, 1974-75. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, gardening, reading, theater and musical theater, playing trumpet, bicycling.


Home—North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Vancouver School Board, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, primary schoolteacher, 1975-2005. Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, honorary lecturer, 2003; presenter of readings, lectures, workshops, and conferences on poetry and language development, 1986—.


Writer's Union of Canada, Children's Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia.


Canadian Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence, 2002; Blue Spruce Award, Ontario Library Association, 2005, and Chocolate Lily Award, 2006, both for Drumheller Dinosaur Dance.



Don't Eat Spiders, illustrated by Karen Patkau, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

(Editor and contributor) I Hate Dinosaurs and Other Poems, illustrated by David Shaw, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992.

Eenie Meenie Manitoba: Playful Poems and Rollicking Rhymes, illustrated by Scot Ritchie, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Python Play and Other Recipes for Fun, illustrated by Karen Patkau, Stoddart Kids (New York, NY), 2000.

I Wished for a Unicorn, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, illustrated by Bill Slavin and Esperanca Melo, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Crocodiles Say …, illustrated by Rae Maté, Tradewinds Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2005.

A Sea-Wishing Day, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Lickety-Split, illustrated by Dusan Petricic, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Author of five guide books for the Houghton Mifflin and Nelson Canada literature-based "Waves" reading series, 1992-93. Work represented in anthologies, including Spooky Poems, Children's Poems, Oxford University Press, 1988; So Whales Jump at Night?, Groundwood, 1990; A Cup of Starshine, Walker Books, 1991; For Laughing out Loud, Knopf, 1991; and Scared Silly, Little, Brown, 1994. Contributor of poetry to magazines, including Ladybug.


Robert K. Heidbreder once commented: "When I was a young boy, I wanted a horse. But I got a mule instead. It was a real mule's mule—a strong-willed sitter. After I'd finally managed to crawl up to ride on it, it would usually sit down and I'd go slip-sliding off into the dirt. Then it would do its mule honk and turn around and look at me—proudly and playfully. That used to drive me cucumbers, as my grandpa said. But the mule began to teach me patience. I learned how to coax it, play with it, laugh at its games, and trick it into a ride. We'd go moseying around the farm and I'd sometimes make up a little chant, like: Mule, mule, break a rule / Take me to a swimming pool.

"It never did, of course, because before we got too far, it would decide ‘Sit time!’ and down I'd go—swish!

"That mule, my own kind of unicorn, I now realize, led me into writing and teaching—both jobs that require patience, coaxing, and playful strategies.

"So whenever I'm asked ‘What started you writing?’ I like to answer ‘Oh, a mule!’ And ‘What made you decide to become a primary teacher?’ ‘Oh, a mule!’ It's a lively answer to two jobs I really love. I just wish I could remember what the mule's name was!"

Heidbreder writes the kind of catchy, tongue-tripping rhymes that will circulate throughout school playgrounds for years to come. In his first collection, Don't Eat Spiders, Quill and Quire reviewer Adele Ashby reported that Heidbreder has succeeded. The volume contains pieces on peculiarly Canadian topics, such as Newfoundland cod, but most are dedicated to celebrating topics universally interesting to children, such as polar bears, rocket ships, Halloween and Valentine's Day, numbers, letters of the alphabet, and problems such as tattling. "In Robert Heidbreder," wrote Ashby, "the editors of Oxford University Press have found a poet who does understand what delights children, in terms of both form and content." In addition, noted School Library Journal critic Alice Cronin, "the strong cadence" of Heidbreder's poems "makes Don't Eat Spiders superior for reading aloud." Sarah Ellis, writing in the Horn Book, described the best poetic writing for children: "The vigor and bounce of such poetry stems from its capture of the naughtiness and anarchy of the childhood underground, its games, taunts, and rituals." "Such a poet is Robert Heidbreder," this critic concluded.

Heidbreder's next collection, Eenie, Meenie, Manitoba: Playful Poems and Rollicking Rhymes, continues in the same vein as his first. Here he rewrites some classic nursery rhymes such as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear," replacing terms and ideas now deemed objectionable with others, often with a didactic intent, such as teaching Canadian geography or the names of animals. "These simple poems will appeal most to preschool and primary school children," predicted Janet McNaughton in Quill and Quire. Python Play and Other Recipes for Fun, as its title suggests, is full of poems celebrating children's play, including bicycles, mud, and playground activities. "Each poem is energetic and appealing, and avoids the common pitfalls of being too long, too clippity-cloppity, or too cute," observed Loris Lesynski in Quill and Quire. Heidbreder adapted his autobiographical story of a child who wished for a horse and got a mule in I Wished for a Unicorn, in which a child wishes for a unicorn so hard that her dog magically becomes the mythical animal and the two spend the day fighting dragons, outwitting wizards, and evading the monsters in the moat.

Heidbreder told CA: "Kids! Kids! Kids! For over thirty years I was engulfed in childhood as I taught six-year-olds to read, write, play, and live. Through listening and watching, I rediscovered the joys of childhood language and how children naturally play with language much as they do with water or sand. To them language is fluid, changeable, and tactile. Because I was always drawn to rhyme and rhythm—perhaps a result of my early piano and trumpet playing—I started writing for the children in my classroom, many of whom spoke different languages at home. Rhythm and the movement that can match rhythm is a universal language, and soon the children were rhyming, wriggling, reading, and laughing. My wife, who is a university professor, talked me into trying to publish my work. She and the children I have taught remain my inspirations.

"As I hammer out my rhymes and my stories, I think of Yeats's talk of poetry as ‘a moment's thought.’ So I try to make my rhythms and rhymes and subjects as natural and as much like everyday speech as possible. It takes me hours to write a ten-to-twelve-line poem. I keep returning to it, much like we return to home, until I settle in and find comfort for me and invitation to others in the poem I've written.

"Children like my poetry because it invites movement, action, and laughter. My book Drumheller Dinosaur Dance was chosen by children in Ontario and in my home province of British Columbia as their favorite picture book of 2005. I Wished for a Unicorn became a short video, and when I go to schools or libraries, children often have seen it on television, as they happily tell me.

"I continue to write because I want to continue to engage children in active, imaginative language, and I love knowing my words can come alive in their worlds."



Booklist, April 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of I Wished for a Unicorn, p. 1545.

Books in Canada, November, 1996, Geoffrey Cook, review of Eenie Meenie Manitoba: Playful Poems and Rollicking Rhymes, p. 32.

Childhood Education, winter, 2000, Catherine Lawbook, review of I Wished for a Unicorn, p. 108.

Horn Book, May-June, 1986, Sarah Ellis, "News from the North," pp. 354-355.

Ladybug, March, 1996, "Meet the Author."

Quill and Quire, February, 1986, Adele Ashy, "Poetry: One Hit, Four Misses," p. 22; November, 1996, Janet McNaughton, review of Eenie Meenie Manitoba, p. 45; December, 1999, Loris Lesynski, review of Python Play and Other Recipes for Fun, p. 39.

School Library Journal, April, 1987, Alice Cronin, review of Don't Eat Spiders, p. 83; August, 2000, Sharon McNeil, review of I Wished for a Unicorn, p. 156; September, 2000, Sally R. Dow, review of Python Play and Other Recipes for Fun, p. 218.