Category Archives: Poetry Books for Children

Wandering Goats

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Last weekend I went on a road trip with my husband. I thought we would see friends, birds and beautiful landscapes. We did, but we also saw goats.

The word for goat in Spanish is cabra, which may or may not be related to the word capricious.

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

We visited friends with goats, and were reminded of the origin of the word goatee.

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

We saw goats and kids playing in fields.

Arthur Rackham Goats

Arthur Rackham Goats

We came across this photo in a book at El Nido, a sweet hotel in Tieton, WA.

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

It was capricious the way that goats entered our trip and my mind.

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840's

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840′s

I like leaving town and leaving my routines. While I may be looking for something in particular I often find something completely different, such as an inspiring goat.

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Here is a poem by Eve Merriam, lightly related to goats and wandering. I welcome your comments and rhymes about goats, goatees, meandering or caprice.

Catch a Little Rhyme

Once upon a time
I caught a little rhyme

I set it on the floor
but it ran right out the door

I chased it on my bicycle
but it melted to an icicle

I scooped it up in my hat
but it turned into a cat

I caught it by the tail
but it stretched into a whale

I followed it in a boat
but it changed into a goat

When I fed it tin and paper
it became a tall skyscraper

Then it grew into a kite
and flew far out of sight…

Arthur Rackham

……………………………………………………………………..

ADDENDUM (May 26):

Here are some late breaking goats:

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Enjoy some Mama Lil’s peppers while watching this video of Bridget and Baylee eating lunch. They are the goats that inspired this post, owned by friends Kerry and David in eastern Washington.

 

IT’S SPRING!

Image

Baby hummingbirds just before they fledged from their nest outside my friend Samara Louton’s Seattle kitchen window.

A couple of months ago our bookclub decided that we’d each memorize a poem. I chose Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins. I taped it to the bathroom mirror so I can work on a line or two as I brush my teeth, (while standing on one foot, I might add: trying to improve balance and memory along with good dental care).

 Pied Beauty
 
 Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
                                      

                                  – by Gerald Manley Hopkins

 This splendid poem is called to mind everywhere I look this spring: in the dotted pink petal-fall on the patio around the cherry tree, the checkered frittilarias nodding in woodland shade, striped tulips, and notched and patterned butterfly wings. And, not least of all, in the sweet spots on our springer spaniel.

91

Never miss an opportunity to include a photo of Izabella.

Once you start looking for it, you catch the quirky rhythms of pattern everywhere: yesterday in the decorations on Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s front door, today in the tiny deep blue pearls that circle the centers of the anemones we are arranging as we figure out table decorations for my daughter’s wedding.

photo

I love the images that this poem puts so succinctly before me. And the awareness of dappled-ness that it awakens. As I come to own each line, patting it into my memory to the buzz of the toothbrush, I have come to appreciate the texture of the words and the pattern of the lines. It is, in itself, a lovely pied creation.

IMG_2212

More patterns, along the driveway at the Captain Whidbey Inn.

Having Fun

Clark One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish - Theodore Geisel

Clark
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish – Theodore Geisel

As I have been working on the illustrations for BOOM BOOM, I have been thinking about humor in children’s book illustrations – what amused me when I was a child and what I find funny now. I’m sure there is a common thread from one to the other, but I’m not going to delve too deeply. As E. B. White said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Sometimes the images act as punch lines to the text, while in others the joke is delivered on a separate plate from the words. Many are visual puns. What I see as a constant is the amount of fun the illustrator appears to be having. In the best comedy for children, I believe joy, humor and art are a trio act, with joy having the leading role. Have you ever tried to illustrate a children’s book when you are not in a good mood? Unless you are drawing trolls or  gargoyles, cheer up or take a break.

To demonstrate, I’ve put together a small collection of some of my favorites, old and new. I have no idea if the artists were grumbling or grinning when they worked on these books, but they must have been giggling at least a little by the time they were done.

Scrambled Eggs Super detail-Dr Seuss-Random 1953

The Ziffs on the cliffs and the Zuffs on the Bluffs
Scrambled Eggs Super – Theodore Geisel

Dr. Seuss tops the list. In my early reading years, the library my parents and I went to shelved their Seuss books on two conveniently low shelves. Scrambled Eggs Super was one that I picked up whenever it was available, regardless of how many times I’d checked it out already, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish made learning to read worth the effort.

Eloise

Here is what I have to do every French morning…
Eloise in Paris – Hilary knight

Eloise In Paris 2-Hilary Knight Kay Thompson-1957

I am all over the Etoile…
Eloise in Paris – Hilary Knight

When I was about eight I discovered Eloise on a family road trip visiting friends of my mother’s in Vancouver, Canada. I slept in their daughter’s room. She was at least fifteen years older than I and long out of the house, but her collection of Eloise books by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight, were still there. I poured over Knight’s exuberant illustrations for hours. Eloise is truly all over the Etoile and all over the page. Her gestures and body language are as much choreographed as drawn.

The Story of Ferdinand bull butt-Robert Lawson Munro Leaf-1936

He didn’t look where he was sitting…
The Story of Ferdinand – Robert Lawson

The Story of Ferdinand, the sensitive bull. While beautifully composed and exquisitely drafted, Robert Lawson‘s illustrations for Munro Leaf’s text are also wonderfully fun to look at.

The Bedside MAD-William M Gaines-52-59

The Outer Sanctum
The Bedside MAD – William M Gaines

The Bedside MAD 2-William M Gaines-52-59

The Outer Sanctum second spread
The Bedside MAD – William M Gaines

At about age nine, my taste in humor took a sidestep when I purchased some old MAD Magazine paperbacks. These books compiled early issues that featured artists like William M Gaines (also the magazine’s founder). He specialized in spoofing popular radio dramas from my father’s era such as “Inner Sanctum” with goofy yet surgical expertise. I think their intended audience probably wasn’t me, but take a close look at the details and you will see why I liked them so much as a nine-year-old.

I Know an Old Lady-Abner Graboff Rose Bonne-Rand McNally 1961

I know an old lady who swallowed a bird
I Know an Old Lady-Abner Graboff

I didn’t discover the work of Abner Graboff until I found a copy of I Know An Old Lady by Rose Bonne at a school library sale a few years ago, but I wish I had found him sooner. Thank you, Abner, for breaking all the rules.

And lest you have the impression that I only look at children’s books published before 1960, here are a few more contemporary works that make me laugh.

Arnie the Doughnut-Laurie Keller-Holt 2003

Arnie looked around and saw all sorts of doughnuts…
Arnie the Doughnut – Laurie Keller

Laurie Keller is funny, in both text and imagery (And in person too. I was lucky enough to meet her). She could make a stand-up comic out of a golf ball.

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks Ed-Calef Brown-HM1998

Ed
Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks – Calef Brown

This image by Calef Brown is wonderful even without the poem that accompanies it (sorry, you will have to go get the book yourself and read it). Which came first, the image or the words? Who cares. I’m glad for both.

Insectlopedia The Walking Stick-Douglas Florian-1998

The Walking Stick
Insectlopedia – Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian is a poet who is also an artist. Or maybe he is an artist who is also a poet. Either way, he creates books with a graceful blend of sophistication and whimsy (sorry, you are going to have to go get this book too). His humor is subtle and precise and beautifully rendered.

Glasses Who needs em-Lane Smith-Viking 1991

…potatoes however…
Glasses, Who Needs ‘Em? – Lane Smith

And Lane Smith. Smith has made numerous hilarious books, but I think I like this image from Glasses, Who Needs ‘Em? best of all. Do you see what I mean?…

I hope this small sampling has made you laugh, tickled your funny bone, or at least improved your mood. If you are going to be illustrating children’s books, you might as well be smiling, right?

Twist

For many years I have enjoyed doing yoga. I like to feel my feet on the ground,and the breath in my body. This summer I have really been savoring my yoga classes so I decided to revisit Twist:Yoga Poems , a book by Janet Wong that I illustrated several years ago. Here are a few of the pictures with Janet’s poems.                                                                                                                                                                    

LOW CROW

Crow depends on his elbows.

You cannot always fly.

You need somewhere to rest

the weight of yourself.

TREE

Trees watch.

This is why

they grow tall,

this is why they bend and sway,

so they can see around a house,

over a hill,

beyond a fire.

Look, not just on a windy day.

See how they move.

At the tip of each branch

there is an eye.

WARRIOR

A warrior

takes his stand,

feet planted sturdy and strong.

Before long, he sees

he is heading the wrong way.

He turns and

takes his stand,

feet planted sturdy and strong.

 

I looked at many Indian miniatures while I was working on the book. I was inspired by the colors, the patterns, the delicacy of the painting and the way the space was divided.  (An interesting fact I learned is that the beautiful yellow paint was made by feeding mango leaves to the cows then collecting, drying and grinding the cow urine into pigment.)

In yoga class I always felt like a phony when I used sanskrit words like drishti or namaste. But this summer a teacher explained that when you use the foreign words it slows you down and you can understand the meaning in a different and more thoughtful way. That makes sense to me. In that same way I am always trying to understand the art that inspires me and to look at it closely; the act of translation helps me twist and stretch. I want to use foreign words or imagery but still speak my own language.

Namaste!

The Poetry Roller Coaster

On the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz

I know it sounds almost sacrilegious for a poet to say this, but sometimes I get tired of poetry. Its compression exhausts me, and I long for the expansive qualities of fiction – long, languid prose that I hear in my head with a Southern accent so that each syllable is drawn out, drawled out, in less of a rush.  Even in fiction, Hemingway was never my thing; give me Flannery O’Connor every time. I go through phases where all I want is for the words and the world they bring me to unfold slowly.

Then, suddenly, I’ll come on a poem that says to me, “Yoo-hoo, Julie, this is why you love poetry.” Often, it’s a little ditty and not the great, famous poems that call to me that way. For one thing, famous poems rarely say “Yoo-hoo.” They are too solemn for that – at least when I’m in this kind of “Leave me alone” mood – they feel grand and architectural, pillars on the Parthenon. Elegant, accomplished, heady – they are poems to ponder, and when I’m in this mood, they feel ponder-ous.  No, the strong, upstanding, built-t0-last poems are not the ones that lure me back to my love of poetry.

It’s the playful little poems, often for children, that find me when I’m hiding and draw me back out into plain sight, out into the fresh air. Here’s one I found last night which did exactly that.  When I read it, I heard the roller coaster of poetry going back up, up, up – clackety-clacking.  You see, it’s a wooden roller coaster on a boardwalk at the beach, and it’s rickety and makes a  lot of noise, and I draw in my breath and get ready to whiz around and be thrilled.  Hands up in the air – poetry is not for cowards! And I hear someone shouting up to me from down on the beach, “Julie, is there ANYTHING BETTER THAN POETRY????”  And I shout back, “Noooooooooo!”   This little ditty did it:

Moon

I have a white cat whose name is Moon,
He eats catfish from a wooden spoon,
And sleeps till five each afternoon.

Moon goes out when the moon is bright
And sycamore trees are spotted white
To sit and stare in the dead of night.

Beyond still water cries a loon,
Through mulberry leaves peers a wild baboon
And in Moon’s eyes I see the moon.

That’s by a poet named Willam Jay Smith, not one of the pillars of the Parthenon, perhaps, but he knows a thing or two about poetry – was Poet Laureate from 1968-1970 -  and he is a sturdy wooden strut in my poetry roller coaster.

The Cyclone in Coney Island

By the way, it’s Poetry Friday, and if you want to see what people are posting, you can head over to Paper Tigers where Marjorie is in charge of the round-up today.

My Book Bag

From time to time, I want to share books from my own book bag with you here -  “around the table.”  This is what I have in my book bag today:

FAVORITE POETRY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN – 2011

 

I’ve read so many “Best Books of 2011″ lists since January – and discovered so many titles I might otherwise have missed – that I’d like to share my list of nine favorite poetry books for children in 2011.  I chose them based on the craftsmanship behind the poems themselves, the beauty and delight of their illustrations, and the kid appeal (or, sometimes, teacher appeal – though hopefully both) of the whole package. Above are cover images – just click on those for larger images.  And click on titles in the list below to read more about them at Goodreads.com – I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

If you’re interested in these books – either as a reader or a writer -  be sure to follow Sylvia Vardell’s wonderful blog, Poetry for Children as well as Librarians’ Choices, the blog project headed up by Ms. Vardell, where you’ll find a Master List of worthy poetry titles for kids, put together by librarians around the country. And visit blogs of people who participate in Poetry Friday from week to week – you’ll find a list of people who host the Poetry Friday Round-Up through June over at A Year of Reading.

Illustration by Mark A. Hicks