The Sunday Salon: Rhymes with Purple

The Sunday

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, 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.

Sunday Salon: Children’s Stories

The Sunday

Despite the fact that I’ve been reading enough mysteries lately to re-paper the rooms in several haunted mansions, it’s children’s stories that are on my mind this week.

Last week, I had the wonderful experience of attending Peter Yarrow’s (of Peter, Paul and Mary) performance/book signing at the Jewish Community Center in Dallas. Unlike a formal concert, this was a more intimate affair. He spoke and sang for about an hour, inviting various kids up on stage to help out, and showing off several of his books.

The newest, Day is Done is the latest in his collection of stories based on his songs. The first was, of course, Puff, the Magic Dragon. I now have signed copies of each, got to converse with Peter for the second time in my life (the first was in August, 2002, in California), and have a lovely photo with Peter to help me remember the event.

And did I mention the books?

But kiddie lit is also on my brain because of an old Leo Buscaglia book, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I was first introduced to it about 27 years ago when I was part of a team from the Modesto UU Fellowship that performed the book in a reader’s theatre format. I was twelve at the time.

Today, I was again part of such a performance, on the stage at my church (Oak Cliff UU). You see, our church has recently lost two of its elders, and everyone is still grieving, still raw. I mentioned the book when I was at lunch with our minister and our associate minister, and they said, “So you’ll stage it as a dramatic moment, yes?”

And so I did.

And today we read.

And there was not a single dry eye.

But we needed the release.


So, I may be reading mainly mysteries, but I’ve been reminded lately that even adults can take a moment to see things from a child’s perspective, and be the better for it.