Poems That Are Part of Me

It falls to me to complete this tour Around the Table, our fifth post about poems we met as children.

Certainly my sense of language and story were shaped by the many poems our mom read to us five children at bedtime. I especially loved There Once Was A Puffin by Florence Page Jaques (1890-1972), and proposed it as a text that I would illustrate for Dutton Children’s books early on in my career. It came out in 1995. The dedication reads, “To Mom, in whose voice I hear this still.”

Oh, there once was a puffin

Just the shape of a muffin,
And he lived on an island
In the bright blue sea!

He ate little fishes,
That were most delicious,
And he had them for supper
And he had them for tea.

But this poor little Puffin,
He couldn’t play nothin’,
For he hadn’t anybody
To play with at all.

So he sat on his island,
And he cried for awhile, and
He felt very lonely,
And he felt very small.

Then along came the fishes,
And they said, “If you wishes,
You can have us for playmates,
Instead of for tea!”

So they now play together,
In all sorts of weather,
And the Puffin eats pancakes,
Like you and like me.

 This poem was previously published in Child Life magazine and then reprinted in The Big Golden Book Of Poetry by Jane Werner Watson (1947).

Other childhood poem favorites were by A.A. Milne: Binker in Now We are Six, and Disobedience in When We Were Very Young, all with wonderful “decorations” by Ernest H. Shepard. I loved reading A.A. Milne’s poems to my own children and look forward to sharing them with grandsons, too.

Binker is about an imaginary friend who never lets the young protagonist down.

A sample:

The curious Disobedience is about a mother who does not mind her three-year old’s rules, which made me wonder if my mother needed better taking care of.

Here, in it’s entirety:



Last but not least, here’s a shout out to the story-poems that Mom recited by heart. Once when I burnt my hand badly and couldn’t sleep, Mom sat beside my bed long into the dark night. I was comforted by the glow of the tip of her cigarette and her beautiful voice reciting one poem after another: The Flyaway Horse, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Highway Man, Custard the Dragon. Those cadences are as much a part of me as the genetic material I inherited. Little did she know she was nurturing a writer.





5 responses to “Poems That Are Part of Me

  1. I loved the puffin poem. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your puffin is a poem unto himself! I love that little guy and Jacques’s poem.) The A. A. Milne I’ve always loved is The King’s Breakfast, which ends with this:

    “Nobody,” he said,
    As he kissed her
    “Nobody,” he said,
    As he slid down the banisters,
    My darling,
    Could call me
    A fussy man –
    I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”

    Thanks for sharing some of your favorite

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the poetry theme!

  4. I LOVE your illustrations in the puffin book (which, for some reason, my oldest brother was required to memorize in high school, and I have been trying to find ever since)! The birds are realistic enough to be recognized, the scenes show island and shore habitat, and the bright, playful homeyness is just the right touch so readers feel they are already friends with the puffins. Bravo, and thank you!

    I plan to find a copy of the book with your illustrations, and recommend it on my Pinterest and (upcoming) blog pages. *(Note: Although tufted puffins are not as well known as Atlantic puffins in America, it encourages research and learning!)

    [My initial disappointment:
    Another illustrator for the same title (no offense Ms. Shari Halpern), gave them a colorful big nose. I confess that I am a bit of an illustration connoisseur (snob), and although I appreciate stylized artistry, if I don’t immediately know what a thing is without a label, it loses points with me.]

    I also enjoyed your other examples of poems that shaped your childhood.

    My parents were not confident enough in themselves to teach us what they knew; we only heard short bursts of an old song or poem here or there in all these years. But Mom taught us to read early using can labels and grocery ads, then books when we could afford them. (Mom didn’t think she was smart enough to read much, especially thick books–thanks to her thoughtless brothers–and mostly didn’t enjoy it until I was old enough to choose books for her. Now she reads them almost as fast as I can find them!)

    Now we all love to read, and two of the five “kids” write poetry–mostly for fun.

    So here’s a poem I wrote recently in honor of an writer and poet I encountered online (I’m a writer and copywriter). I notified him of a typo that he said he had corrected several tomes already. And everyone knows that poets and writers are moved to write by pain of some sort….

    Poem of a Typo

    A monster worth its hype, oh,
    Must feed on hopes so ripe, oh,
    A fleeting smile to wipe, oh
    Lest poets (writers) cease to gripe, oh
    And lose their urge to Type-o!
    (by Carolyn Bragg 3/20/22)

    Have a lovely day!

  5. A delightful rhyming book, if you read it in the spirit it was written in, is Nosy Norah!

    The “chorus” goes like this:
    “Quiet,” said her father.
    “Hush,” said her mum.
    “Nora,” said her sister, “why are you so dumb?”

    And a nearly impossible to find out of print book called Hey Kid! by Rita G. Gelman (1978-10-03) (Mass Market Paperback). I found it in a library once, many, many years ago…not knowing that libraries didn’t keep good books forever, I didn’t look for and buy a copy immediately. I just made a photocopy.

    “Hey, kid! I have this thing. It’s white and black and grey. I’m gonna let ya have it kid. Today’s your lucky day!”

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