As you know, we are currently doing an informal Year 0 since Alex is in Kindergarten. One of the topics I’ve been so excited to broach with my kiddos is poetry. As suggested, we began Term I with Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. The kids seemed… tolerant… of the poems. Sometimes they expressed enjoyment, but mostly the words seemed to wash over them and- as Alex is too young to require narration- I’d just let it lie. I knew the words, the rhythm and some of the images were working their way into his mind…
Term II brought us A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The children did not connect *at all* with the poems in this book. I’d find one that seemed really delightful and would read it several times over a few days hoping for a spark of interest- nuthin’.
Well, I deviated from the recommended Year 0 selections for Term III. But, as a dear friend reminded me when I dithered about using an ‘unapproved’ book, this is *our* education we’re giving to *our* children. It’s ok to make a substitution to include a selection that is particularly meaningful to us.
And so we began Term III Poetry using Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know what others think of this poetry collection as far as meeting dear Charlotte’s criteria for living books. It is written by a single author who is passionate about his subjects. But his tone is markedly different from the other poetry we’ve read. It’s… saucy. It’s clever. It explores the magic of the everyday and reveals the character of children in a way I haven’t seen in any other poetry.
But my favorite- my absolute favorite- thing about the poems in WTSE is the way they promote the endless possibilities that are available to us in life.
Consider the poem my kiddos are memorizing this Term:
If you’re a dreamer, come in.
If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean buyer
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire.
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!
Ok folks, when I read this poem to Alex and Fae, their eyes grew round as saucers and they held stock-still. My whispery, conspiratal delivery invited them into to the world Silverstein has created that delights in children and understands both their wonder of the world and their sometimes less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s been only a few weeks and we reread this poem every day. The kids enjoy it so much, that even Fae- who is TWO- almost has it memorized. She recites it to me before she falls to sleep at night.
A few days later, we read this selection:
Listen to the Mustn’ts
Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the dont’s.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, and then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child, anything can be.
This is poetry to inspire and to amuse. Yesterday, we read The Farmer and the Queen:
“She’s coming,” the farmer said to the owl.
“Oh, what shall I, what shall I do?
Shall I bow when she comes?
Shall I twiddle my thumbs?”
The owl asked, “Who?”
“The Queen, the Queen, the royal Queen,
She’ll pass the farm today.
Shall I salute?” he asked the horse.
The horse said, “Nay.”
“Shall I give her a gift?” he asked the wren.
“A lovely memento for her to keep?
An egg or a peach or an ear of corn?”
The wren said, “Cheap.”
“But should I curtsy or should I cheer?
Oh, here’s her carriage now.
What should I do?” he asked the dog.
The dog said, “Bow.”
And so he did, and so she passed,
Oh, tra lala lala,
“She smiled, she did!” he told the sheep.
The sheep said, “Bah.”
Alex is IN LOVE with this poem. He asked me to read it to him about eight times yesterday. He does all the animal responses (in funny voices, of course) while I read the main text.
And this is what makes me love WTSE most of all. My kids are anxious to hear the next poem. They are engaged with the images, the stories, the ideas. They are having a conversation with Silverstein himself and are sharing a view of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to any poetry we will read in the future.
My kids beg for poetry. That’s pretty awesome.