Poetry makes up a definite part of our lives at home. When Althea was very little I would read her Tennyson while she was finishing up lunch in her high chair. Admittedly, this was the first book on the shelf within reach and mostly I read the poems to keep myself from the supreme boredom of waiting to see if she would spit the peas or try the mashed banana. It also felt good to be reading poems again after so much time with the “What to Expect” books that formed a neat pile on my bedside table. But this was the start of poetry with my little one.
In my childhood home, nursery rhymes were a daily pleasure. I can recite many of them by rote and was surprised when my husband found that impressive since I just assumed that everyone knew these rhymes by heart. Nursery rhymes are a first introduction to poetry since they teach the valuable skills of pattern and rhyme in language and tell us stories about the world around us through the lens of a child’s eye.
The nonsensical poetry of Doctor Zuess, Al Perkins and Lewis Carroll is particularly fun as Althea gets older since it’s all about the rhythm of the words on the page and little to do with life’s lessons or even real words or worlds. Lord knows we get enough about life’s lessons at almost all times. It’s nice to know that poetry is a space that can be free from all that on occasion, particularly in the world of children’s literature.
A year ago, I read somewhere that waking your child with poetry after a nap is a lovely and gradual way of bringing them back into their day. I’ve found this allows us to skip some of the cranky-ass behaviour I was seeing when it was just up – pee – downstairs. Now, Althea and I take a little time together as she lies in her bed to read a poem or two from one of those great old childrens’ compendiums of literature that you can find at garage sales if you dig hard enough. When I ask, “Do you want a poem?” and she nods sleepily, calls out for “orange book” and laughs at all the funny bits – I’m just so happy! Who says kids can only enjoy picture books? It’s absolutely not true! Don’t believe it for a second!
And now I have discovered the joys of contemporary poetry written specifically for children! Some of this has been hit and miss but I’ve got to say the beautiful combo of David Elliott’s poetry and Holly Meade’s illustration is a consistent hit around here. We have read In the Wild and On the Farm and we have now ordered In the Sea from our library. If you can find them, I absolutely recommend them. Here is a little sample from In the Wild:
Big yet moves
Powerful, yet delicate
As to color, plain –
an ordinary gray.
But once we start to look,
we cannot look away.
When peaceful, silent;
when angry, loud.
Who would have guessed
is so much like a cloud?