Forget the smoke-filled coffee shop, the microphone on the podium and the beatnicks huddled around their coffees. The real test of a reader's poetic prowess is A.A. Milne, the living room couch and a handful of kids waiting for your renderings of growling bears and timelessl human characters.
It takes an extraordinary book to capture children's attention on the strength of words alone.
It's not that there are no illustrations here, just that each poem has just one or two small, original ink drawings; delightful, but bowing appropriately to the genius of words that can hold children spellbound. For instance, Milne takes a subject like sidewalks and transforms it into the stuff of playacting in Lines and Squares - an irresistible cadence to chant on a walk (or a lumbering gait):
And the masses of bears
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat the sillies who tread on the lines of the street
And I say to them, "BEARS.....
Just look how I'm walking in ALL of the squares!"
As I read I can now recall the precise inflection and finger-shaking combination from Disobedience that it took to elicit giggles from my sisters and me, now working its comedy on my four-year-old son:
James James SAID to his mother, "Mother", he said, said he;
"You Must Never Go Down To The End Of Town If You Don't Go Down With ME!"
When We Were Very Young is a collection of poems for children, about childhood, and for those who wish to remember its special magic view on the world. This book is a beloved tradition in my family, starting with those cozy evenings on my Grandmother's couch as we all snuggled up to hear about the brownie that lives behind the curtain, Jonathan Jo (who had a mouth like an O), the three foxes and Christopher Robin, who couldn't stop his hoppity hop. Your family is sure to find its own traditions in reading these poems to each other, young and old alike.