Sully the Salamander

Mike Allegra Salamander DoodleSully the Salamander is the artwork of New Jersey–based author/illustrator Mike Allegra. Known as “Writer Fellow”—his blog is called heylookawriterfellow—Mike led some of us in Whatcom County WA and beyond on a week-long merry chase around Facebook and WordPress in pursuit of one of his famed “doodles.”

Why chase Mike Allegra for a doodle? Well, we absolutely, positively needed one, and here’s why. Now and then, Writer Fellow holds a contest on his blog to win a coveted doodle. Meanwhile, out in this neck of words, poets Luther Allen and July Kleinberg, in cooperation with Poetry CHaT, were sourcing talent for SpeakEasy 16, part of a regular reading series produced by Luther and Judy, only this one featured kid poets. Young poets ages 5 to 16 were invited to submit their original poems to read at SpeakEasy 16 at Bellingham’s posh Mount Baker Theatre in celebration of National Poetry Month. A supporting cast of adult readers was invited as well, including Yours Truly.

speakeasy-16-othermindNot being a poet nor having wee ones of my own,
I was hard pressed to come up with a children’s poem for SpeakEasy 16. Luckly, I went outside and found a salamander on my patio, caught there in the wake of a rainstorm. The poor tyke was very dehydrated, so for the next twenty minutes it was all about rescuing the salamander. Naturally, a talking salamander played a starring role in the poem I wrote that very afternoon.

Woeful was I to discover that meanwhile Writer Fellow had held a doodle contest and I’d missed the entry deadline by one day, missing my chance to win a doodle of a salamander to be projected on the wall while the poem was said aloud at SpeakEasy 16.

Hence was born the impromptu “Let’s Bug Mike Allegra Until He Gives In and Draws Us a Salamander” campaign that mainly involved getting all my friends to ply Mike (whom we knew only from his blog) with requests on Facebook and on his blog to draw a salamander to bolster my poem and make it more fun for the kids coming to the event. This quickly translated to “Please draw a salamander for the children of Whatcom County,” as if they needed it more than us adults.

Kid-executivesDelightfully, this artist on the other side of the country took it all in stride and for an entire week, he played with us adults. The game became to figure out different ways to ask for the salamander and then get his hilarious responses back. I put up wacky blog posts. My friends crawled all over Facebook. It was salamander business from early morning until late at night for a week straight, and we laughed till our stomachs hurt the entire time.

And, yes, he drew the salamander.



{Got awfully artful.}

Elizabeth Vignali: Elizabeth Vignali, adding her voice to the Salamander Supplicant Surge of 2015. O abundant Bellinghamsters who have long dreamed of scrabbling salamander claws and luminous scales rendered in ink (or, you know, pencil) please join Laurel Leigh’s shameless schmoozing for a doodle for the kid poets of Whatcom County!

Mary Gillilan: A cray cray salamander sounds weirdly delicious … but who could deliver such a creature? And I am given the second site … yes, yes … Mike Allegra, the gods and Laurel Leigh be calling you.

Cj Prince: When I was a kid I’d catch a lizard, rub it’s belly to hypnotize it, put it on my shoulder and we’d spend the day together. Now, I am thinking lizards are dry-land relatives of salamanders. So we catch a salamander and give it to the reluctant, long-lunching artist. Or we rub his belly, hypnotize him, and watch him doodle dozens of salamanders.


Jittery – the winning doodle that sparked this zany quest.

Marv Waschke: Whatcom County has 2 species of giant salamander and no salamander doodles. You gotta fix that for Laurel.

Frank Sahlein: Yes, as Laurel’s past life gymnastics coach (and she was a great one!), I am summoning up all the universal karma of the gymnastics community to request a salamander doodle for this worthwhile purpose! Thanks, Mike – and hey, I really like your work!

Carolyn McCarthy: The only thing that comes to mind is the ancient proverb: “A salamander is like a smile: give them both to Laurel. Right now.”

Mary Jane Fraser: We have to keep balance in the universe and a salamander is the opposite of Spooky Dolly (so aptly named). So, a not-cray cray salamander will cancel her out to zero. … It is then kind of like a public service.

Writer Fellow: … As far as I’m concerned, [Mary Jane] is the only person who has made a truly compelling argument on behalf of a salamander doodle.


{We called in the poets.}

Jilanne Hoffmann: There once was a doodler from Jersey,
Who thought Laurel and friends were unworthy
Of earning a doodle—
No, NOT of a poodle,
Of a sleek salamander named Shirley.

Writer Fellow: Shirley, you can’t be serious.


Chapter 2 of the Let’s Bug Mike Allegra series.

Starr McAllister: We want a Salamander!
When do we want it? NOW!!
Who should doodle it?
(See, help the youth of our nation be better poets than me … )

Susan Chase-Foster: There is nothing grander than a salamander for our darling Bellinghamster child poets (and Laurel)! Merci!

Writer Fellow: How about I draw a Bellinghamster? I like hamsters.


Sarah Gives Thanks Cover  hi res

Sarah Gives Thanks: The delightful children’s book authored by Mike Allegra (and published by Albert Whitman & Co.) tells the story of Sarah Josepha Hale’s quest to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

{It turned biblical.}

Writer Fellow: Like the Pharoah in Exodus, I am plagued by salamander requests.

Laurel Leigh: We all know what happens to pharoahs. I’m pretty sure we have the Lord on our side in this salamander thing.

Writer Fellow: Let my Doodles go!


{Shameless bribes were offered.}

Kristin Edwards: I’m thinking Momofuku Crack Pie, lebkuchen, or some lammingtons.

Writer Fellow: I don’t know what any of those things are. You trying to poison me, Kristin?

Selah J Tay-Song: If I post a pic of my salamander tattoo will you do the darn doodle? : )

Writer Fellow: That’s salamander devotion right there.

Seán Dwyer: Since I offered money to have Writer Fellow draw you a doodle of a salamander for your poem that is being written to support the children of Whatcom County, and he hasn’t accepted the commission yet, I suspect it may because he doesn’t have a good salamander subject to doodle. So, here’s a lovely specimen!…/salamander-1…/

Laurel Leigh: Seán, I want you to know that the mere fact that you are ready to, I don’t know, mortgage your house for this doodle means the world to me and a bunch of kid poets in Whatcom County. I want to thank you. Thank you.


A couple of the kid-ecutives we brought in to lend a hand to the cause.

Seán Dwyer: Mr. Allegra, Laurel Leigh is the real deal.

Writer Fellow: More like a rabble rouser. … I hope you’re spending as much time on your poem as you are conjuring up ways to stalk and harass me.


{We flat-out whined.} 

Alicia Jamtaas: Mike, You really, really need to draw a fantastical salamander for Laurel Leigh’s poem – it’s about a salamander. Oh! Suppose you know that.

Yvonne Higgins Leach: Your drawings are amazing…. Please doodle a salamander for the kids of Whatcom County! Oh, please!

Spooky Dolly talks to Chloe

Writer Fellow’s response to the Spooky Dolly post: “Aaaaaand the salamander discussion has moved into cray cray territory.”

Writer Fellow: My goodness. What is it with Washingtonians and salamanders?

Laurel Leigh: … for one thing, with the rainfall level, we’re soaking wet most of the time, which basically makes us amphibians.

Writer Fellow: So you can pretty much draw anything and it would be a salamander. So get cracking.

Mom and sis

Laurel Leigh: Mike, pppllleeeaaassseee!!! Writer Fellow: Don’t beg, Laurel. It’s unseemly.

Laurel Leigh: … in the sort of words of Michelle Kwan that one time: “But if there could be only two doodles …”

Writer Fellow: You can tell Michelle Kwan that she’s not getting a doodle either.

Laura Rink: Salamander.

Writer Fellow: Hi, Salamander! My name is Mike.

Stephanie Renee Dos Santos: I sadly never entered [the last doodle contest] but it wouldn’t have mattered as I …  live in Brazil and I’m totally not in the know about any of these wacky characters. Right now I’m sort of feeling like an old portrait painting of somebody long forgotten, hanging is some wayside hall of a no longer important palace. I write historical fiction and I can see I am missing out on a lot of quirky fun! P-p-l-lease doodle a salamander for the kids of Whatcom County!

Writer Fellow: There’s no need to feel like an old portrait painting, Stephanie! You’re always welcome to hang out here and join in the fun! … Oh, wait. You’re one of those salamander people. Let me show you out.


And Then, “For No Reason Whatsoever” … We got to meet Sully the Salamander!

One Smart Girl

The final post in the wayward campaign – titled “At One Time or Another” was a blast to make. To shine a light on SpeakEasy 16 and give a well-deserved thanks to Mr. Allegra, I asked people around Whatcom County to pose for a picture while holding a copy of his book. The results were truly heartwarming.

Here’s the Salamander High-Five conceived by the brilliant Selah J Tay-Song, with dialogue by the equally brilliant Hollie Levine.

1. Raise right/left hand.

2. Curl fingers downward to make a salamander claw.

3. Say “Howdy!”

Writer Fellow: Now Laurel just needs to write a kick booty poem.

"A Poem for My Friend Luther" ~ a.k.a. The Salamander Poem

You be the judge. Here’s “A Poem for My Friend Luther” ~ a.k.a. The Salamander Poem


 What will Writer Fellow doodle next? 

We don’t know, but we’re pretty sure we’ll love it.

You can find more of Mike Allegra's captivating art and read his hilarious blog at

You can find more of Mike Allegra’s captivating art and read his hilarious blog at

Thanks for the week of smiles you gave to Whatcom County, Writer Fellow!

We hope you can see them beaming back your way.

21 thoughts on “Sully the Salamander

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  8. I’ve been spreading the salamander high five everywhere I go . . . the cult of the salamander lives! Howdy! squidge squidge squidge . . .

    • Awesome-o! You are a true pal to Sully and to me, Selah! And I will always be grateful that you left your online launch to dash over and sort out that Wallace and Gromit issue. That says a lot about your character. Not to mention that your book launch was crazy good!

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    • How unseemly would it be to edit some of those earlier Facebook posts to slightly enhance my image? In the memoir I’m writing about Sully, I’m taller and an heiress, but I think both those things are dramatically justified.

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