Maybe it’s that I’m nine days away from turning forty, or maybe it’s just that the news has too many stories about damage from the oil spill, incredibly hot weather (and no rain), Outer Banks foreclosures, and the like, but lately I’ve been rediscovering poetry, and specifically poetry meant for children. Not Dr. Seuss, because I’m incredibly anti-Seuss, but Robert Louis Stevenson, Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne (because he didn’t ONLY write about a certain “bear of very little brain”), and even Ogden Nash.
Well, Ogden Nash might be a bit of a stretch, because I’m not really certain his stuff is meant for children, but most of it – most not all – is child friendly, though it might spark a lifelong love affair with really bad puns.
I talked about Robert Louis Stevenson a couple of days ago, referencing his poem “My Shadow,” (which, by the way, is ALSO one of the inspiration poems for this month’s project over at CafeWriting.com, so if you’re looking for a prompt, go visit – please? ) but my favorite kid-friendly poem isn’t one of Stevenson’s and it’s not even Milne’s “Coddleston Pie.” It’s Nash’s epic offering “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” and it begins like this:
Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.
See? Delightful. (The poem has a happy ending, of course. Well, mostly.)
Then there’s Shel Silverstein. If you grew up in the 1970’s, as I did, you probably know Silverstein’s book, Where the Sidewalk Ends which includes silly, disturbing poems like “Hungry Mungry” and “Sick,” which latter is excerpted below:
“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more-that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?”
And of course, I love Lewis Carroll’s verse almost as much as I love his stories, but one of my favorite childhood poems is actually a musical. It’s called Really Rosie and it’s based on the Nutshell Library books by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are with music by Carole King. Seriously! Carole King! It includes one of the best alphabet songs ever, “Alligators All Around,” which goes like this:
A – alligators all around
B – bursting balloons
C – catching colds
D – doing dishes
E – entertaining elephants
F – forever fooling
G – getting giggles
H – having headaches
I – imitating Indians
J – juggling jellybeans
K – keeping kangaroos
L – looking like lions
M – making macaroni
N – never napping
O – ordering oatmeal
P – pushing people
Q – quite quarrelsome
R – riding reindeer
S – shockingly spoiled
T – throwing tantrums
U – usually upside down
V – very vain
W – wearing wigs
X – x-ing x’s
Y – yackety-yacking
Z – zippity zound
A – alligators ALL around!
The entire musical was made into an animated special in 1975. Here’s a clip:
Despite the fact that I don’t have children, and the dogs refuse to learn to read, I do have an extensive collection of children’s books, mainly left over from my own childhood. This week, I might have to re-read some of the poetry in that collection.