For some of us, a love of the written word began in childhood, possibly with the popular Golden Books and series like the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mysteries. There were also Trixie Belden books (among my favorites) and classics of children’s literature such as Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Sawyer, Robin Hood, and Alice in Wonderland, along with more recent “classics,” including Charlotte’s Web, the Harry Potter books, and poems by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.
Back in the days of my own childhood, my one of my favorite books was a collection of poems by Eugene Field. (Anyone remember his "Wynken, Bylnken, and Nod"?) This was the book with which my mother taught me how to read when I was four years old, during the summer I was in bed with what the doctors diagnosed as “polio fever.” From that summer on, I loved books and became a devoted reader. When I was in third grade, I found a book in our classroom library titled Ellen Tebbits (a 1951 children’s novel by Beverly Cleary). The story tells about the adventures of a little girl named Ellen Tebbits and her friend Austine. The book has been called “pure nostalgic Americana” by children’s lit expert Anita Silvey and, although I doubt if it’s read very much anymore, I must have read it at least five or six times.
The importance of literacy and books in children’s development is clear but, sadly, children in many parts of the world grow up without books. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine our own childhoods without the literature that ignited our imaginations, taught us about people and life in other countries, excited and delighted us, supported good habits and values, and introduced us to poetry. Today’s e-book technologies (the Internet, Kindles, and Nooks) bring fast and easy electronic access to books, but there are no real page turns, no dog-earred corners, no scent or feel of paper, and reading electronically can be a bit like buying pre-made coffee or wine in cardboard boxes. Don’t get me wrong: the technologies have many plusses, but still I like to think that actual books will always have a place in young readers’ lives. For me, there’s nothing quite as special as the look and feel of a book in my hands, and I still treasure the books I read as a child, many of which hold pride of place on shelves in my home.
This week’s prompt asks you to think about books you enjoyed as a child and to write a poem about one of those books (a chapter book, a picture book, or a collection of children’s verse).
Things to Think About:
- What were some of the books you loved as a child? (Make a list.)
- What was your favorite childhood book? How many times did you read it?
- Why did you love about that book?
- Who was the main character?
- What did the main character teach you?
- What feelings did the book and the main character inspire in you?
- Is the book still popular today? Why or why not?
- What memories of your childhood does your favorite book call to mind?
- When you think of your favorite childhood book, what people do you remember? (What are the connections?)
- In what way or ways is your favorite childhood book a metaphor for your youth?
Every poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment—subtlety (and that doesn’t mean obscurity) is necessary for a poem to succeed. Be wary of overstatement. Don’t tell too much—leave room for your readers to fill in some gaps. Sometimes what you don’t write is as important as what you commit to words.
After Writing, Things to Consider:
- Does your first line (or first thought) invite the reader into your poem?
- Have you used sounds effectively?
- Are there unnecessary words that you might delete such as superfluous adjectives?
- Do you bring the poem to closure with a confident “punch?”
- Might you have concluded the poem sooner than you did? (Remember that a poem usually suffers when you “tie it up in a neat package” at the end.)
A Note to Readers
While a lot of poetry activity stops during the summer and a number of journals are closed to submissions, there are many print journals that do read during June, July, and August. If you’re looking for places to send your poems this summer, be sure to visit poet Diane Lockward’s blog (Blogalicious) for a comprehensive list, complete with links. Thanks, Diane, for this great resource!
Click title to order Diane's most recent poetry collection, Temptation by Water.