Why? Well, talk about poems that age well! Not all of them, perhaps, especially if you have an unabridged edition, but who else has written the perfect swing poem or the perfect shadow poem? "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,/And what can be the use of him is more than I can see...." But my favorite is Stevenson's galloping description of "Windy Nights" (which really must be read out loud! See Alice and Martin Provenson's illustration, right.):
Whenever the moon and the stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night, when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he,
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.
There's a great deal of artistry in that poem; take just one line, "Whenever the trees are crying aloud." Or consider this line from another poem, "The moon has a face like the clock in the hall." What a metaphor!
Now, when I read old-fashioned books to kids or simply read them historical fiction, I deal with the difference in customs and language by saying up front, "This book was written a long time ago, so some of the words are a little different." (Or, "This story takes place a long time ago," etc.) Then I explain any out-of-date customs or words along the way as needed.
This post was actually prompted by the recent publication of an all-new, unabridged edition of A Child's Garden of Verses, with illustrations by Barbara McClintock, author-illustrator of books like Adele and Simon and The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle. There have been numerous editions of Stevenson's poetry collection published over the years, but let's see how McClintock's new volume stacks up against a handful of classic versions.
Barbara McClintock—The artist's preference for stories set in the 19th century makes her the perfect pick for illustrating Stevenson's poems, which were first published in 1885. Though they are certainly dressed in old-fashioned clothing, her children are energetic and real, not frozen in good-child poses, as one might expect in paintings evoking this era. We are reminded that little girls in pinafores and petticoats could be just as engaged and mischievous as their modern-day counterparts. In addition to numerous spot illustrations, McClintock gives us several full-page illustrations, e.g., showing us the snowy day from "Wintertime," the garden of verses itself opposite the title page, or the "Block City." If you don't yet own an edition of these poems, McClintock's new book would be a great starting point.
Alice and Martin Provensen (out of print)—This is the version I grew up with, and I swiped the tattered volume from my mother a few years ago. (Okay, I did ask, and she said yes!) As in their Newbery Award and Caldecott Honor-winning book, Nancy Willard's A Visit to William Blake's Inn, the Provensens include a rich array of illustrations like this one, which accompanies the poem, "Looking Forward":
When I am grown to man's estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.
I think it's worth setting your child up with definitions of "estate" and "meddle" so that they can catch the humor! (Though they might even grasp it without the definitions.)
Gyo Fujikawa—Did you know that Fujikawa used to work for Disney? I'm rather fond of her ABC book, her Mother Goose, and her version of Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. With Fujikawa, you usually get one page of black-and-white art alternated with one page of color artwork, back and forth throughout the book. Her children are noticeably sweet, yet don't quite cross the line into saccharine territory. Many of them are characterized by a certain wistfulness. They look a little old-fashioned, but at least mid-20th century. Fujikawa also did a good job of giving us a multicultural cast of kids. I especially like her illustration for "Bed in Summer," which shows a little African American girl kneeling on her bed in her nightgown, looking longingly out the window. Look, too, for Fujikawa's art for "My Shadow," in which a child and his dog and cat make really long shadows together.
Brian Wildsmith—This illustrator's version is a terrific departure from the other, more traditional editions. If you've never seen Wildsmith's style, take a look at his marvelous sun (right)! The image accompanies Stevenson's poem, "Summer Sun," which begins:
Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven without repose.
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.
Wildsmith is not a pastel kind of guy; his art is redolent with bright color and loose, thick lines that give these poems a whole new feel.
Tasha Tudor (out of print)—Tudor's artwork is famously sweet, but her style is well suited to the poems. Unlike Wildsmith, Tudor is a pastel kind of gal.
Jesse Wilcox Smith (out of print)—Another sweet rendition, with plenty of pastel colors. Perhaps you've seen Smith's artwork available as posters and prints. Here's a piece that accompanies the poem, "At the Seaside," to give you the idea. (See below right.)
Cooper Edens, editor—Have you heard of Green Tiger Press? If I understand correctly, this small California publisher headed by Cooper Edens was bought out ten or fifteen years ago, but you should keep looking for Edens' books. In particular, Edens came up with the brilliant idea of finding a bunch of artwork from the late 1800s and early 1900s for a particular title and using a variety of pieces to illustrate the story, giving the whole thing the feeling of a collage. Look for his Tales from the Brothers Grimm, for example. And of course, A Child's Garden of Verses. The book jacket happens to feature a very nice piece of art from Jesse Wilcox Smith's version of the poems (see below left). It's just really fun to see how different artists handled the subject matter some 75-100 years ago. For instance, an illustration accompanying "The Land of Nod" emphasizes the darker side of the poem with an eerie evocation of Arthur Rackham's work. Think about this stanza, which speaks of the strange and inaccessible dream world:
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
Probably the best meaning of the term "classic" is a book or work of art whose appeal endures across generations. Robert Louis Stevenson's poems certainly fit the bill. Their exuberance, their wordcraft, and their understanding of what it means to be a child continue to resonate in our day. So does much of the marvelous artwork created to accompany the poet's famous collection.
All of these editions are beautiful, only in different ways. If you're an old-fashioned soul and diligently refer to books for kids as "children's literature," possibly in a British accent, I recommend the McClintock or Edens versions. If you're a romantic who gets all "aw shucks" over children and puppies, stick with Fujikawa, Tudor, or Smith. If you're the bold, contemporary type, then Wildsmith's version is the book for you. As for best all round? No bias here, but I'd have to say that the Provensons' book still reigns supreme!
Of course, it's lovely to have so many good choices. As Stevenson puts it in his couplet, "Happy Thought":
The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
Update: Amy L. Vanderwater recommends A Child's Garden of Songs: The Poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson in Song by Ted Jacobs. Visit the Amazon page to listen to music samples.
Speaking of happy, how wonderful to be hosting Poetry Friday during National Poetry Month! Turns out April isn't so cruel, after all. I will add your links below starting Friday morning at around 7:00 Pacific Standard Time, if not earlier. Thank you in advance for your participation—and for your love of poetry!
--Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kid Books reviews Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, a 2011 Newbery Honor Book by Joyce Sidman.
--Brimful Curiosities gives us Rose Fyleman's classic poem, "A Fairy Went A-Marketing," newly illustrated by her daughter in a tiny, fairy-size book.
--I've been really enjoying Greg K's 30 Poets in 30 Days posts in honor of National Poetry Month. Today he's showcasing "If I..." by Brod Bagert, an Earth Day lament about the BP oil spill.
--From Tanita S. Davis, we find this poetic response to the book Mare's War by 11-year-old Zack.
--Tabatha Yeatts shares a feline poem by Dian Duchin Reed, "Holy Cats."
--Carol features Edmund Spenser's poem "Easter" just in time for this coming Sunday.
--Diane Mayr goes all out with A.E. Housman's spring poem, "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now" at Random Noodling; a cat poem from Derek Walcott's book, White Egrets, at Kurious Kitty; and a Walcott quote at Kurious K's Kwotes.
--At Hope Is the Word, Amy reviews Mary Ann Hoberman's book of family poems, Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers.
--Carol Rasco of Reading Is Fundamental posts about jonquils, giving us a jonquil poem by Carl Rakosi, "The Menage."
--Celebrate the second blogiversary of Teaching Authors with Carmela Martino, who's posted an original blogiversary poem by fellow author April Halprin Wayland and a critique giveaway for you aspiring writers!
--David Elzey of Fomagrams offers us a weekly roundup of twitku, the haiku he's been sharing on Twitter. He also refers us to yesterday's Grimmoire, a poetic reinterpretation of a Grimms' fairy tale.
--Elaine Magliaro's original poem "Marshmallow Chicks" at Wild Rose Reader is a light-hearted Easter post. Then at Blue Rose Girls, see further chickness with her mask poem, "Chick Chatter."
--Thanks to Tara of A Teaching Life for posting two poems by Marie Howe, "The Gate" (on video) and "The Copper Beech."
--At Author Amok, Laura Shovan continues her month of Maryland poets by showcasing Margaret S. Mullins' poem " a poem about "that amazing moment when a child begins to read." ,"
--Heidi Mordhorst is visiting Costa Rica, but she shares this visual poem about a sloth, "Mission Accomplished," and teaches us the term pura vida.
--Mary Lee of A Year of Reading has been presenting a poem a day in honor of National Poetry Month, too. Today's gem is a perhaps controversial found poem spoken by the marvelous Billy Collins.
--For Good Friday, Learning to Let Go (Happy Catholic) features a poignant Edwin Muir Easter poem, "The Killing."
--Sarah of Books, Dogs, and Frogs celebrates spring and Earth Day with an ultra-classic poem, Anacreon's "Spring." She reminds us that every day is an earth day!
--Terry Doherty of Scrub-a-Dub-Tub gives us pointers on creating an Easter Egg hunt with some poetic clues she wrote for her daughter.
--Katie reviews African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley at Secrets & Sharing Soda.
--Jone's students are writing up a storm with her 30 Days = 30 Students project. Today's poem is about writing. Thanks, Jacob!
--Author Sara Lewis Holmes of Read Write Believe presents both ends of the faith spectrum with her Gerard Manley Hopkins/Lyle Lovett duo. I really must quote her great line about Hopkins: He "writes compressed agony like no one else."
--Check out The Miss Rumphius Effect, where you can read "A Shower" by Amy Lowell. April showers; perfect! See also Tricia's list of her Poetry in the Classroom series for National Poetry Month. As a teacher and a poetry person, I've been following these with great interest.
--Barbara of The Write Sisters presents an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, "Thursday."
--Laura Salas shares her original poem, "After the Storm," which is featured in the terrific e-anthology, Poetry Tag Time. I've read this anthology of linked poems and thought it was worth many times the 99-cent purchase price. (I set it up on my PC, since I don't have an e-reader. Very easy!)
--Charles Gigna (Father Goose) is in with an entire new poetry blog! It's called How to Write a Poem, and it's subtitled "Tips on Tapping into the Magic of Your Muse."
--Another National Poetry Month series I've been following is Jama Rattigan's Poetry Potluck at her Alphabet Soup blog. (And not just because I'll be one of the poetry guests before the month is over!) Today's poet is Amy Ludvig Vanderwater with her original poem "Mother Bird's Lullaby" and a recipe for the tricky but rewarding Pineapple Slices from Grandma Vanderwater. Please also look back over the other posts so far this month; they're simply delicious!
--Blythe Woolston joins us with spine poems and a book giveaway: Jacqueline Houtman's The Reinvention of Edison Thomas.
--Author Michelle Markel of The Cat and the Fiddle hosts a poetry Q&A with Joan Bransfield Graham, April Halprin Wayland, and Janet Wong.
--At Poem Farm, poet Amy L. Vanderwater offers us some nature poems of her own, as well as poems from a fifth grade poetry blog project. Amy has been mentoring this class of kids, and it shows. See also her list of links to the poetry lessons she's been posting for National Poetry Month. She's another one whose April poetry celebration I've been following!
--Author Janet Squires of All About the Books introduces us to Canyon, a book of free verse by Eileen Cameron and photographs by Michael Collier paying homage to the way water carves out canyons.
--At Adventures in Daily Living, Suzanne shares "Good Friday in My Heart" by Mary Elizabeth Coolridge.
--Author Robyn Hood Black joins us with an Emily Dickinson poem, "Nature rarer uses yellow...."
--Over at Literate Lives, Karen reviews Bob Raczka's book, Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word.
--There must be something in the lemonade! Jennie of Biblio File is spotlighting Virginia Euwer Wolff's novel in verse, Make Lemonade.
--At The Drift Record, poet Julie Larios shares her poem "Far from Home" and refers us to Gottabook's 30 Poets in 30 Days, where the poem appeared previously.
--And finally, we've got Books 4 Learning with a review of Rhonda Lucas Donald's book of poems, Deep in the Desert.