Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Poetry and Kids, Part One

A couple of months ago I decided it was finally time to share one of my favorite childhood books with my daughter: Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Children by Gelett Burgess.

Originally published in 1900, the poems in this book feature a group of ill-mannered, inconsiderate little urchins called Goops. The illustrations are charming. The lessons are humorous, but not subtle, which is a plus when dealing with small children. And the rhyming verses make the poetry easy to read and remember.

As a kid, I memorized nearly every poem in the book, and as an adult, I couldn't wait for a chance to revisit the world of the Goops with my own children. It took my five year old daughter only two readings to memorize this one:

Table Manners

The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they lick their knives.
They spill their broth on the tablecloth--
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop--are you?

Another favorite book of poems for childen is Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child’s Garden of Verses. Stevenson's poems are gentle and quaint, with an old-fashioned air that belies their timelessness. Children, after all, still wonder at the rush of a swing, the play of shadow and light, and the view of imagined worlds from a treetop.

Stevenson is particularly adept at observing the world through a child's eyes, as in Bed in Summer, which begins

In winter I get up at at night
And dress by yellow candlelight.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

Plenty of contemporary poets also write for children, including Jack Prelustky, Judith Viorst, Karla Kuskin, and of course Shel Silverstein.

The great thing about children's poetry is that adults can enjoy it too, making it the perfect form to share with your favorite kid. Poems require only small snippets of time - a funny rhyme to wake up in the morning, a quick limerick at lunch, a gentle song at naptime, or a thoughtful, dreamy piece to ease into the night.

Don't be fooled by silly wordplay and sing-song rhythms. The accessibility of kids' poetry means it may be easier to 'get', but it can still open your eyes and your heart and make you see the world in a different way. Just ask any kid!


Patry Francis said...

Oh, I love the goops! Wish I had that when my kids were little.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Yeah, they're great. Though some kids actually read them and want to be Goops. And I know some adults who might benefit from the lessons in there, too.