Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A hodgepodge of kids poetry

image I am a little bit of a poetry junkie.  In fact I have been known to trap people in the kids section reading them one after the other after the other after the other… until they either cry or threaten physical violence.  It’s honestly not my fault.  My mother did exactly the same to me.  I have so many poems stored in my brain that I can keep people entertained (or on the edge of hysteria) for hours.  Rosy will recall a wonderful visit to Julia Donaldson’s kitchen where Julia and I sat reciting A.A. Milne… and it wasn’t Rosy who cried!

So, I thought, Poetry Week is an excellent opportunity to share my favourite poem with you.  But which one?!?  This one… that one… but no, it has to be this one… but what about…

I therefore apologise in advance for this utter mish-mash of poems that I love, that mean something to me, that make me laugh, that make me cry or that are just downright, bloody brilliant. Oh, and there is tons of space at the end for you to add your own.  Let’s share!

(These are in no particular order at all… I love them all!)

Best known for Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne also wrote some stonkingly good children’s poetry.  When We Were Very Young was published in 1924 and Now We Are Six in 1927. I can recite both books, in their entirety, off by heart. If I was forced, at gunpoint, to choose favourites mine would include, from When We Were Very Young:

Rice Pudding

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

image

The King’s Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Now
Before she goes to bed.”

And from Now We Are Six:

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.

Twice Times

There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood,
And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times One -
But Bad Bear left all his buttons undone.

… I always wanted to be Bad Bear!

Next up, as a child I had a beautifully illustrated hardback of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson which was illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. Oh how I loved that book.  I would read and re-read every one over and over until I knew every line.  Particular favourites include The Lamplighter, From a Railway Carriage and of course, The Land of Counterpane.

If I’ve reminded you about this wonderful book and you want to have a look at all the poems you’ll find them here at Poetry Lovers Page.

Okay, those are the books… now I’m going to share a couple of favourite poems. First of all, I should say I took elocution lessons for over ten years.  Every session I had to choose a poem and prepare it for recital at my twice yearly exams.  A lot of the poems I love because of this.  It may be because I chose poems I loved to prepare (better doing 20 weeks prep on something you actually liked) but I also think I grew to love those poems through examining them and looking so closely at the way they fitted together and their meaning and rhythm.

Night Mail by W.H. Auden

You can watch a recitation of this wonderful poem above which was actually written for this documentary in 1936.  I’m not entirely sure this can be counted as a kids poem… but I studied it when I was twelve.  So that’s kid enough for me.  It is an incredible poem mostly, I think, because of the rhythm.  It so captures the motion of a steam train on its journey and takes you along with it. I still say Night Mail to myself every time I get on a train – sad but true.

A Case of Murder by Vernon Scannell

My children hate this poem but I love it. It’s super scary and begins…

They should not have left him there alone,
Alone that is except for the cat.
He was only nine, not old enough
To be left alone in a basement flat,
Alone, that is, except for the cat.

When you recite this, it really comes to life; all snarly and dark and dreadful.  The way the boy turns from cruel to terrified to… well we’ll never know. I urge you to read it aloud, preferably not next to anyone too young.

And just lastly… ‘cos I just cannot stop myself once I start…

Spike Milligan

I had a record when I was little (yes, I am THAT old) and it was called Badjelly the Witch and other stories.  I still have it somewhere.  On it Spike Milligan read the story of Badjelly the Witch on one side and on the other he recited a whole host of, what can only be termed… demented poetry.  I listened to that album over and over and over… well, there was no YouTube in those days! The poems included things like On the Ning Nang Nong, where the cows go bong and the monkey’s all say boo.  Or The ABC or My Sister Laura or Granny.  In Spike’s own voice these were just totally nutty verses which reached out to me as a child and let me be incredibly silly. I’m damn glad there was no YouTube!

Gosh… this has been a very long post by me!  Sorry if I got a little carried away, but poetry does tend to do that to me.  There are hundreds of poems that deserve a place on this page but I may induce tears if I go on any longer.

So, over to you… tell me what poetry inspired you as a child.  I would love to hear them.

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve has a full time job as a children's bookseller. She was, in fact, the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love then really has to be literature for children and teens, although she has been known to read grown-up books (not very often though - they didn't put in enough hours when they invented days). She especially loves to find brand new authors and is always on the lookout for a stunning début... Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website : EveHarvey.com

15 comments on “A hodgepodge of kids poetry

  1. Nikki
    May 29, 2010

    That poem, A Case of Murder, what an awful poem! I can see why you like it, it’s brilliantly written. But it’s horrible when you really think about it! I remember the Land of Counterpane. I used to read it when I had chicken pox!

  2. Linda B
    May 29, 2010

    What a lovely, lovely post. When my children were young I happened onto a lovely book titled Read Aloud Poems Every Young Child Should Know. Beautiful colored illustrations, wonderful poems that cry out to be ‘read aloud’ and shared with a child. My four children are now grown with chldren of their own, and I have searched and located extra copies of this book for them to read to my grandchildren. My 50-year-old son can still recite some of the favorite poems.

  3. kirstyjane
    May 29, 2010

    Milne is lovely, but I have to admit to loving Beachcomber’s versions of Milne just a little more.

    “Hush! Hush! Nobody cares.
    Christopher Robin
    has fallen
    downstairs.”

  4. kirstyjane
    May 29, 2010

    (Aw, silly WordPress wouldn’t let me do the spacing.)

  5. Hilary
    May 29, 2010

    Brilliant post, Eve! And thanks so, so much for the Night Mail video – absolutely superb.

    I said in my post yesterday that I didn’t learn much poetry when young, but it seems I lied. I absorbed reams of AA Milne, was brought up on When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. If we’re trading favourite bits, here’s mine:

    My Teddy Bear is short and fat,
    Which is scarcely to be wondered at.
    He gets what exercise he can
    By falling off the ottoman,
    But generally seems to lack
    The energy to clamber back.

    This is more and more a description of me as the years go by.

    I’m sure the best children’s poetry only gets better as we grow up and get older.

  6. Moira
    May 29, 2010

    Lovely piece, Eve! And how wonderful to see “The Night Mail” again …

    I believe the first piece of poetry to make a real impact on me was the one I memorized for a poetry recitation competition in Scotland in the 1960s.

    It was Lady Nairne’s “The Laird o’ Cockpen”, which starts:

    The laird o’ Cockpen, he’s proud an’ he’s great,
    His mind is ta’en up wi’ things o’ the State;
    He wanted a wife, his braw house to keep,
    But favour wi’ wooin’ was fashious to seek.

    I was about 10 at the time, and I did it in my finest Scottish accent, WITH ACTIONS …. and I won.

    When they found out that I was a Sassenach … I gather there was a wee bit of a rumpus … :D

    The whole poem’s here …

    http://www.rampantscotland.com/songs/blsongs_laird.htm

  7. elizabethashworth
    May 29, 2010

    The Eagle by Alfred Tennyson isn’t really a children’s poem but I was obsessed with it when I was around seven or eight years old. I remember standing up to recite it in class when we had been asked to learn a poem. Azure is still one of my favourite words.

    The Eagle

    He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
    Close to the sun in lonely lands,
    Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

    The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
    He watches from his mountain walls,
    And like a thunderbolt he falls.

    Alfred Tennyson
    1851

  8. Jackie
    May 29, 2010

    I remember that Tennyson poem, in fact, ‘crag’ is a word I always associate with eagles because of it. And I’ve read Milnes Winnie the Pooh books, but don’t recall any of the poetry mentioned here. I’ve been so deprived!
    This was a really wonderful post,Eve! So many of the examples I’ve never read, so it was a treat. Really enjoyed this piece.

  9. Melrose
    May 30, 2010

    Nobody’s mentioned “Green Eggs and Ham”, or “The Diggingest Dog”, or “Mr Brown can Moo, can You?”, or even “The Grinch”…

  10. Melrose
    May 30, 2010

    Mr Nobody, of course, bringing us on to (can’t remember the exact words or the poet, maybe that Anonymouse chappie…)

    As I was going up the stair
    I met a man who wasn’t there…
    He wasn’t there, again, today
    How I wish he’s stay away…

  11. RosyB
    May 30, 2010

    I remember The Eagle too. I used to love a poem called Ozymandias by Shelley:

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

    I think I liked the rhyming and its general grand sound – being a child who loved a bit of grandeur and melodrama.

    I loved many of the A.A.Milne’s above and could recite most of Winnie the Pooh when I was four – in the exact intonation of a tape I had.

    I love The King asked the Queen and the Queen asked the Dairy Maid…

    And I was considered to be the character in both that rice pudding poem and the following nursery rhyme:

    There was a little girl,
    Who had a little curl,
    Right in the middle of her forehead.
    When she was good,
    She was very, very good,
    But when she was bad, she was horrid.

  12. Lynne
    May 31, 2010

    Is anyone here an Odgen Nash fan? Does anyone remember The Tale of Custard the Dragon?

    My whole family can quote A.A. Milne. It rather unsettled my husband at first, but he’s joins in now….

  13. Michelle
    June 4, 2010

    Dr Seuss! And Shel Silverstein!

  14. Pingback: One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Procrastination Station #73

  15. sarafurlong
    August 20, 2010

    I can still remember the Jack Prelutsky’s “It’s Halloween!” In its entirety!!! We had the book on tape. Also, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” by Silverstein and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2010 by in Entries by Eve, Poetry: children's, Theme weeks and tagged , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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