It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Challenge for January, should you choose to accept it…

…from Sassy Student.

Posting challenge for January: “a book…every day, all month long. If you’d like to participate, please do! There are no rules, except you must post a book every day. It can be a book you love, a book you hate, a book that impacted you. Whatever you wish. You may review it, or just tell why it matters; you may post a picture from Amazon or your own copy. Whatev. Up to you.”

I’m three days late starting, but I’m in, along with Angela and Lara, for as many days of the month as I can manage! Given that I have easily read several thousand books in my life, this couldn’t be too hard. (Could it?)

In fact, this came along at a perfect time, because I’d promised myself before Christmas that I was going to tell you about a book, a lovely book I received early in December from the lovely Sarah Riley at Sourcebooks.

Sadly for its curb appeal, or whatever term applies to books, it has a pretty lame cover. The artwork is great, but the layout is not. The colour choice is poor – blue dragon and purple sidebar?? Three different fonts in the title? In three different colurs? Ick. It doesn’t cohere. And that list down the left? Really ick. It made the book look like a magazine – a cheap and chintzy magazine, the kind that clutter supermarket checkout lines.

Open it up, though! Open it, and it’s not chintzy, not at all.

Inside the covers, you’ll find poems of every flavour and style imaginable. The artwork is lush, the paper lovely, the size and heft just right for balancing on a lap. There are “kid poems”, there are poems you mightn’t expect to see in children’s poetry book. Like all of the best childrens’ books, this is one the adults will enjoy reading every bit as much as children will enjoy hearing it read. This book has staying power. Those selections which don’t catch your child’s attention this year will probably grab him/her next year.

I read through the book on my own, savouring the slither of the glossy pages over my palm, drenching myself in the colours, wallowing in the words.

Then I read it with the tots. Somewhere it indicated that the book is best for children 3 and over, and so I found it. The under-threes enjoyed the snuggling and the pictures, and the bouncing on my knee. What? Don’t you bounce when you read a good, gallumphing poem like

A baby kangaroo is called a joey.
His early life’s a little vertigo-y
Since Mama’s always bouncing like a ball.”
(From Joey by Brad Leithauser)

And don’t you laugh outright at the wonderful awfulness of ‘vertigo-y’?? But the under-threes soon tired of the book, and were wriggling to get down, long before George (four and a half) was done listening.

I discovered some old favourites, like Kipling’s:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

(Not nearly as earnest and teacher-y as it might seem from the first four lines. The last line will have every parent of a three-year-old chuckling in rueful recognition. Or maybe, some days, screaming it to the heavens!)

The Tale of Custard the Dragon, an Ogden Nash favourite, is sadly truncated. While I understand why it might be difficult to put all of a lengthy poem in a short anthology, you really must go out and find the whole story – and not leave poor Custard stranded in ignominy, before he achieves his triumphant finale!

– And of course, A.A. Milne. (Halfway Down the Stairs)

AND! The book comes with a CD, an auditory treat.

(For those who are uncertain of their ability to read poety aloud, give it a listen – and you will discover, as I did, that being able to write poetry is no guarantee that you’ll read it especially well… You’ll also realize that it’s hard to do it wrong. Just do it!)

The disk enriched the book for me. I’d not have given James Berry’s “Okay, Brown Girl, Okay” a second reading had I not heard Mr. Berry read it. Suddenly I understood layers I hadn’t grasped in my initial reading. (Granted, I read with three wiggling under-threes, who had decided about now that they were done with this book, thanks, and maybe they’d rather charge about waving the rainstick in the air.) I love the simple, telling metaphors in the poem, the compassion and encouragement he offers Josie. “All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.” Lovely.

As Mr. Yeats is with us no longer to read A Faery Song, the lilting Irish voice of Paul Muldoon will do quite nicely, thanks. I listened to it several times over, before discovering to my delight that he reads the next one, by Rainer Maria Rilke, too.

And then!! AND THEN!!

I was wandering about the livingroom, no longer, I confess, listening raptly to the tracks, until this utterly gorgeousgoooorgeous – creamy rich voice oozes from my speakers. The cadence catches me immediately. I know that poem. Who could ever read Poe’s The Raven without having the beat of it impressed permanently in your brain? What? Your grandfather didn’t read this out loud to you, your small body rocking to the rhythms of the words, and, as you got older, your mind enjoying the spookiness of the tale? Because of course grandad always read it on rainy nights. Heh.

And the voice? Basil Rathbone. Oh.My.God. You’ll buy the book on the strength of this track (track 36), whether or not you have kids. It’s only an excerpt of the poem, but, oooo, yummm…

George’s favourite was Rabbit (which, sadly, blogger can’t allow me to space properly). All the ‘bits’ should line up, one above the other, like (as the poet explains on the disk) a spine.

A rabbit
A little bit
An itty-bitty
little bit of beet…

George liked the clear beat and the tongue-twister quality. He went home today reciting “better bitter beet than none”. I think he’ll be getting this book for his birthday in the spring!

Okay, enough rambling. You can go buy the book now. Me, I’m going to listen to track 36 again…

© 2006, Mary P

January 3, 2007 - Posted by | books, memes and quizzes


  1. Oh Mary! I love this book. My son is on ly 6 months old, but we listen to it in the car on long trips. I love the poems, I love hearing the authors read them. I love hearing the meanings that the authors bring to them.

    My favorite (as an adult) may very well be on Turning Ten (Billy Collins, Track 55).

    a kind of measels of the spirit,
    a mumps of the psyche,
    a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.


    At four I as an Arabian wizard.
    I could make myself invisible
    by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
    At seven I was a soldier, at nine a price.

    It seems only yesterday I used to believe
    that there was nothing under my skin by light.
    If you cut me I would shine.
    But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
    I skin my knees. I bleed.

    Ok, not the most cheerful poem in the book, or the one I would choose to read to my son (either now or at ten), but one of the most evocotive bits of writing I have ever read, any where.

    Comment by anastasiav | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  2. Sounds wonderful — maybe a bit early for my wee one, but I have nieces ages 3 & 4….

    Comment by aaron | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  3. what a great meme! maybe when I get some more energy!

    Comment by Jenorama | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  4. yay! i’m so glad you’re joining us! this is a fun one, i’m already enjoying it. 🙂

    Comment by Lara | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  5. I just went to Amazon and bought it. One-click buying is of the devil. However, this sounds like an AMAZING book and CD and I can’t wait for it to arrive – hopefully my little one will share my taste for books. (His taste for books seems to be literally the TASTE of them, so far! :D)

    (And thanks for the comment the other day – first real, non-spam comment on my blog EVER!)


    Comment by Just some girl | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  6. I want this book. It would be great at the daycare. Or with K and B. Or in my classroom in the future. Ooh, the possibilities.

    Comment by Angela | January 3, 2007 | Reply

  7. This book sounds great!

    You can tell Haley that I’m still thinking about cute Sock Monkey Mary.

    Comment by Lady M | January 4, 2007 | Reply

  8. Gotta’ check that book out, thanks! I think I’d like to try that Meme, sounds like fun.

    Comment by Mamacita Tina | January 4, 2007 | Reply

  9. OMG! I am SO EXCITED! I hadn’t checked in with your blog in a couple of days and now there you are! Yay!!!

    I’m honored, Mary P! Join on in!!!

    I love kid’s poems. Much better than grown up poems in my humble thought.

    Comment by Sassy Student | January 4, 2007 | Reply

  10. Ok, this is a way fun idea, so I’m going to play, too. Yay for books!

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | January 4, 2007 | Reply

  11. You can’t always judge a book by its cover! 😉
    I might have to try this one! My daughter is 8 but loves poems and my son is trying to learn to read…when I find books that he actually wants to read!
    Thanks, Mary P!

    Comment by LoryKC | January 11, 2007 | Reply

  12. Mamacita pointed me over here for this review. I’m going to look into this. Thanks!

    Comment by Jennifer, Snapshot | February 19, 2007 | Reply

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