When I was ten years old, my cousin Cindy gave me my first poetry books. A major highlight of my childhood summers involved “cousin time” with both her and her sister. Our summer days were filled with childish fun and laughter and some of my fondest memories of growing up include my cousins.
On one summer visit, Cindy gave me her 14 volume collection of orange “Child-Craft” books, published in 1945 by The Quarrie Corporation. I don’t recall why she gave me these books, but some 50 years later, Volume 1-Poems of Early Childhood, and Volume 2-Narrative Poems and Creative Verse, still stand proudly in my poetry book collection.
The pages are well worn and in some places torn and when I open them up and inhale their muskiness, I am transported to my childhood bed, where I spent hours reading aloud “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear:
They went to sea in a sieve, they did;
In a sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a sieve they went to sea…
or “The Sugar-Plum Tree” by Eugene Field
“When I Grow Up” by Rupert Sargent Holland
When I grow up I mean to go
Where all the biggest rivers flow,
And take a ship and sail around
The Seven Seas until I’ve found
Robinson Crusoe’s famous isle,
And there I’ll land and stay a while,
And see how it would feel to be
Lord of an island in the sea…
When I grow up I mean to do
The things I’ve always wanted to;
I don’t see why grown people stay
At home, when they could be away.
Reading these poems again, I better understand how poetry shaped my formative years. I see now how poems instilled a early love for language, how accessible that language was through rhyme, and how the repetition of reading aloud was soothing. I imagined exotic worlds beyond the one out my rural front door, and wonder if my wanderlust ache began in those first readings of poetry.
I never imagined those slim volumes would stay with me through adulthood, or that someday, I would be writing my own poems to understand my place in the world, but I am grateful they were given to me and I am thankful I had the sense to cherish them.
So, as part of my contribution to National Poetry Month, which begins today, I am giving away four books of poems for children. If you are interested in free poetry books, for your kids or your neighbors kids, or your grandchildren (you get the idea), comment on this blog post during April, and include your name, email address (to notify winners) and if you have a childhood poem memory, or a favorite poem you read to a child, or a anything about poetry you love, please feel free to share that too.
My plan is to put the names of everyone who comments in a jar, and then randomly pull out four names at the end of the month. I will then contact each person by email May 1st (so don’t forget to leave your email in the comment section) and ask you where you would like me to mail the book. Just think how fun it will be to open your mail and have a lovely book to share with a child.
The book and shipping will be entirely provided by me in the hope that four more children grow up loving poetry as much as I did. Happy National Poetry Month!