&#x2019;s encounters with poetry
was Ralph who at 2&#x2013;3 chimed in, as so often, to a book of rhyming verse: the verse goes &#x2018;Here&#x2019;s a shy kitten/ soft and sweet/ and here&#x2019;s a white lamb/ with four little black&#x2026;&#x2019; &#x2018;WHEELS!&#x2019;, he shouted.
Here is Rebecca perched in a tree at 4&#x2013;9 composing her own poem on the pattern of Russell Hoban&#x2019;s A Birthday for Frances &#x2013; &#x2018;Happy Chompo to me, is how it ought to be&#x2019;:
Living in a tree Is how I ought to be Can&#x2019;t you see Living in a tree How I ought to be It&#x2019;s just like I have to be Doing what I have to do Living in a tree is all that I can do...
When Rebecca was turning 2, I decided it was time for something different, so for her birthday I gave her In a Spring Garden &#x2013; a book of haiku by famous Japanese poets with delightful illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats:
The moon in the water turned a somersault and floated away. (&#x2018;Ry&#xF4;ta&#x2019;)
&#x2018;Decca [Rebecca] somersault!&#x2019; she cried, with much delighted laughter. She also wanted many repeats of Issa&#x2019;s:
The puppy asleep biting the willow tree.
One morning when she was 2&#x2013;4, I was reading Rebecca animal haiku from an adult collection. After hearing many of these she suddenly announced: &#x2018;A frog jumps up in a willow&#x2019;. After that she made up many short &#x2018;haiku&#x2019; of her own, which she insisted we write down. They showed that she had understood the essence of this poetic form. For example: &#x2018;Frog goes in the water and croaks in the grass&#x2019; and &#x2018;A hibiscus hides in a tree and wiggles his head, head, head.&#x2019;
Strong feelings are inspired by poetry. We were in our first intense passion for Jansson&#x2019;s Moomintrolls when Ralph at 4&#x2013;3 asked me whether the threatening Groke was always awake. Then he went off to find the book, chanting to reassure himself:
We don&#x2019;t know and we don&#x2019;t know &#x2019;cause we&#x2019;ve never seen one and there&#x2019;s nothing real about them.
The children encountered death in nursery rhymes. &#x2018;Who killed Cock Robin?&#x2019; fascinated Ralph at 3&#x2013;1. When the title of a picture book version was read at 2&#x2013;9, he replied: &#x2018;A bird &#x2013; a sparrow with an arrow &#x2013; see?&#x2019; However some months later he was still musing on it as Rebecca was singing the rhyme: &#x2018;What made him killed, Becca?&#x2019; Anxiety was not the only emotion; there was also consolation. Rebecca at 3&#x2013;10 quoted gently to a disturbed baby Ralph: &#x2018;Come little cub, don&#x2019;t look so sad&#x2019; from Aileen Fisher&#x2019;s Do Bears Have Mothers Too? A year later she comforted him with a lullaby of her own
based on &#x2018;All the pretty little horses&#x2019;: &#x2018; A couple of
years later he was still struggling with school in metaphorical language. Having tried all week to wear the class medal and being bitterly disappointed, he observed: &#x201C;It&#x2019;s as if you&#x2019;d killed a lion and then got killed by a mosquito!&#x201D;
When you wake up in the morning you&#x2019;ll find a lamb in your cot. You&#x2019;ll find a mouse. A sheep, a mouse and a horse in your cot. The horse is a toy one, but the lamb and the mouse are real. Baa baa, squeak squeak, neigh! Little baby, go back to sleep now I&#x2019;ve sung to you.
At 11&#x2013;9 she wrote a poem on the drought in seven stanzas. Here are the first and fifth:
I am happy, I lie back in the dewy grass I watch the river as it gleams in the sun the cockatoos screeching high in the trees. The river and I: we are one.
The old gum see him happy like me in every limb.
Metaphor and simile
Although many scholars maintain that metaphor/simile is not available to young children, I recorded many examples of their use by my children. &#x2018;They&#x2019;re as green as emeralds&#x2019; &#x2013; of peas &#x2013; said Rebecca at 2&#x2013;7, and, at 4&#x2013;11: &#x2018;I&#x2019;ve got a pail of water &#x2013; I&#x2019;m going to Jack and Jill it on Ralph!&#x2019; Ralph at 7&#x2013;7, talking about the problems of changing schools, came up with this telling analogy: &#x2018;It&#x2019;s as if you&#x2019;re climbing up a big mountain and you know what the landscape is like when you go down, but there&#x2019;s been an avalanche, and it&#x2019;s all different.&#x2019; A couple of years later he was still struggling with school in metaphorical language. Having tried all week to wear the class medal and being bitterly disappointed, he observed: &#x2018;It&#x2019;s as if you&#x2019;d killed a lion and then got killed by a mosquito!&#x2019;
Dr Virginia Lowe lives in
Ormond, Victoria, Australia. For the past 14 years she has been the proprietor of Create a Kids&#x2019; Book, a manuscript assessment agency, which also runs regular workshops on
creating the picture book or children&#x2019;s novel, runs interactive writing
and a regular free e-bulletin on writing for children and children&#x2019;s literature generally. See
for further details.
Books for Keeps No.186 January 2011 7
This is just a brief indication of the part that poetry played in the lives of two young children who were not exceptional except for the amount of contact with verse. The poetic language they heard and read gave richness to their expression, different ways of perceiving the world and aided their understanding of other people. Amazing what something as simple as playing with words can do! n
Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell (2006) is published by Routledge (978 0 415 39724 7, &#xA3;26.99 pbk).
This article was originally published in Poetry and Childhood and is reprinted with permission. Poetry and Childhood is reviewed in this issue of BfK on p.20.
| Page 2
| Page 3
| Page 4
| Page 5
| Page 6
| Page 7
| Page 8
| Page 9
| Page 10
| Page 11
| Page 12
| Page 13
| Page 14
| Page 15
| Page 16
| Page 17
| Page 18
| Page 19
| Page 20
| Page 21
| Page 22
| Page 23
| Page 24
| Page 25
| Page 26
| Page 27
| Page 28
| Page 29
| Page 30
| Page 31
| Page 32
| Page 33
| Page 34