Poetry

If Not for the Cat

Book cover: ‘If Not for the Cat'
Author(s): 
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrator(s): 
Ted Rand
ISBN: 
60 596 775
Copyright: 
2004
Publisher: 
Harper Collins
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
40 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This is what a picture book should be. A perfect pairing of beautiful text and beautiful illustrations.

I love haiku and Jack Prelutsky's verses are beautiful examples of the form. I love poems that linger, that take up residence in your heart and resonate long after the book is closed. The title poem has made a nest in my ear and sings to me while I'm doing the dishes:

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

It has something of the simplicity and weight that I find so pleasing in William Carlos Williams. And several others are beginning to work their way in as well. Like this one about the kangaroo:

Safe inside my pouch
Sleeps the future of my kind--
Delicate and frail.

Nor am I the only one. After only two or three readings my three-year old remembers and recites quite a few lines herself. I have found her picking up the book on her own, flipping through the pages, and reciting what she remembers.

Each poem is in the voice of a different animal and Prelutsky's genius is in the personality of the different voices, hard to convey in a so short a form as haiku. I love the way he captures the slow sloth, the hive mind of the ants, (humorously followed immediately by the ant eater), and the threatening presence of the snake and the skunk.

Especially memorable are the rounded polysyllables of the jellyfish:

Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate,
Gelatinously.

Ted Rand's paintings are a lovely match, each one has a very different tone, well suited to the paired poem. My favorite is definitely the dark, moody one of the moth drawing close to a candle. Though the bright hummingbird hovering near festive orange nasturtiums is also right up there.

Review Date: 
6-5-2009
Reviewed by: 

Into Deep Eternity

An introduction to Emily Dickinson
Book cover: 'Into Deep Eternity: An introduction to Emily Dickinson'
Author(s): 
Martha O'Keefe
Copyright: 
2001
Publisher: 
Hedge School
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
111 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This volume contains two books "Emily's Book" and "Mary's Book" - both written for relatives of the author who were interested in learning more about Emily Dickinson. Martha O'Keefe has been studying Emily Dickinson and learning to love her and her works for sixty years. She has also written a 400 page work comparing Emily Dickinson with St. John of the Cross.

The first, "Emily's Book", was written for the author's niece as a gift for her 13th birthday. Naturally, this is an excellent place for young people to start understanding Emily Dickinson and perhaps get their first taste of "real poetry." Even as an adult poetry neophyte, I found this book both helpful and enjoyable. It consists mostly of examples of Dickinson's poetry along with the author's paraphrases of what they mean. The introduction provides some helpful general hints for understanding poetry.

Why study Emily Dickinson? The author explains in the Introduction: "One of the first traits that these poems reveal is the great love the poet had for God's creation. Many people in Emily Dickinson's time ... thought that it might be more noble to 'turn away from the world.' She wouldn't do it. She loved what God had made. I think the love was a great part of the strength and holiness of this poet. She loved life and she loved beauty, but she also knew a great deal of sadness, both in her own life and in the lives of the people who were all around her. She doesn't turn aawy from the problem. It is a part of many of her poems. She faced the sadness and also the many mysteries of life with courage. The world is full of mystery and wonder, and she pondered it all." (Emily's Book, pg. 1)

The second half, "Mary's Book", was written for the author's sister-in-law and other relatives who had asked her to share her love of Emily Dickinson. Because it was written for a mature audience, it is, naturally, more complex than "Emily's Book". In addition to sampling her poetry with helpful explanations and paraphrasings, Martha O'Keefe provides many insights into Emily Dickinson's life, faith, intellect and influences upon her work. It is really lovely to read these passages from an author who at one point describes Emily Dickinson as "my poet". Here is one sample of the poetry...

A poor - torn heart - a tattered heart -
That sat it down to rest -
Nor noticed that the Ebbing Day
Flowed silver to the West -
Nor noticed Night did soft descend -
Nor Constellation burn -
Intent upon the vision
Of latitudes unknown.

The angels - happening that way
This dusty heart espied -
Tenderly took it up from toil
And carried it to God -
There - sandals for the Barefoot -
There - gathered from the gales -
Do the blue havens by the hand
Lead the wandering Sails. (Emily Dickinson, P78)

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
7-1-03
Reviewed by: 

The Angel's Alphabet

Book cover: 'The Angel's Alphabet'
Author(s): 
Hilda Van Stockum
Copyright: 
1940
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
57 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

A charming book of religious poems for young children - one for each letter of the alphabet. The simple, rhyming poems have been favorites with my little ones and provide a nice introduction to the Saints and Angels, Our Lady, God's love for us, important virtues... Some titles include: C is for Cherubim, F is for Father, G is for Gabriel, L is for Lamb of God, M is for Saint Michael, O is for Obedience, Q is for Queen of the Angels. We've used this book and the Harp and Laurel Wreath for most of our poetry memorization as recommended for the early grades in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

The Harp and the Laurel Wreath

Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum
Book cover: 'The Harp and the Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum'
Copyright: 
1999
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
493 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

At the rate Laura Berquist is going, homeschoolers are going to need an extra shelf just for her books. Her first, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, has already become a classic in its own right. And now Berquist has another book that requires a place in your home: The Harp and The Laurel Wreath. The author begins with the premise that early exposure to poetry encourages a love of the true and the beautiful; memorization of poetry trains the intellect and the imagination; and all of this is good for the soul. Berquist recognized, however, that some homeschoolers may neglect poetry and other fine arts in favor of the "basics". So, she chose over 200 of the most beautiful poems and prose selections in Western Literature, added wonderfully helpful instructor's materials, including discussion questions (with answers), definitions, and indices, and ended up with a work so eminently usable that even the most time-pressed homeschoolers can include poetry in their curriculum.

Her choice of poems is flawless. She has included all those listed in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, and leans heavily on the classics, as you would expect (Shakespeare, Browning, Keats, Longfellow), but rounds it out with a variety of other authors and poems (including my mother's favorite, High Flight: "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth....") In addition to poetry, there are "Selections to Memorize": great works of prose such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Patrick Henry's famous oration. and "Selections for Dictation". She's organized the book according to the stages in the classical curriculum: Grammatical, Dialectical, or Rhetorical. There's even a section for "The Early Years", with lots of favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson and others, as well as a page of Bible verses. And to make this section even more appealing to the littlest homeschoolers, the font is larger there than in the rest of the book.

If this book is a starting point for you, then you'll want to add additional anthologies. To really infuse a love of poetry in your children, and to have a broad enough range of poems for reading aloud as well as memorization, you need work by children's poets such as Dorothy Aldis and Christina Rossetti. In addition, consider purchasing a beautifully illustrated version of Stevenson's Leaves from a Child's Garden of Verses, such as the one by Donna Green (even though many of the poems are reprinted in The Harp and Laurel Wreath), as well as a more eclectic volume such as "Talking Like the Rain" (X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy).

But even if you already have dozens of volumes of poetry, you need this book. Berquist understands the true purpose of education, she knows what homeschooling moms need, and she knows how to put it all together in an attractive package. Start building another shelf!

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

There's a rather serious typographical error on page 128 of the first edition which I'd like to bring to your attention. Under The Preamble to the Constitution the phrase

UPDATE: (2/23/2000) This error has been corrected in the latest reprinting.

Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: