September 29, 2008

Poetry About William Blake, By Nancy Willard


I just stumbled onto Nancy Willard's interesting-sounding book of poems for children by a kind of circuitous route, while researching the illustrators, Alice and Martin Provensen. See, they'd done a sweet and simple version of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses in 1951.

But the illustrations for Willard's 1981 book, A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, seem more like their signature 19th century folk-ish style. [Actually, I can only find the covers; there may not be a single picture in there, who knows?]

Willard reimagined the characters of William Blake's poems as guests at an inn, and wrote her own poems about them, a pretty bold move, which paid off in the form of Newberry and Caldecott medals. [Do illustrators resent having their work defaced by big-ass foil medals? A bold illustrator would work a medal-shaped element into her cover art, you know, just in case.]

We've been working a bit on finding some good poetry for the kid to soak up; this sounds worth a try. Plus, used copies start at a penny.

Buy Willard and Provensens' A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers on Amazon for as little as you'd like. [amazon]


This is a great book -- I have a copy from my childhood. I think it might be a bit too old for your daughter or my four-year-old son, though. Sort of like _Old Possum's Book of Curious Cats_. But there is some great poetry out there for young children, including Shel Silverstein (of course!). Also, if you're not opposed to video, try the "Classical Baby" Poetry edition -- wonderful, evocative illustrations of great poetry.

Oh, this was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still enjoy it. I don't think it's at all too old for a preschool-aged child, though - in fact, I've read it to my 3-year-old a few times (actual Blake, though, we'll hold off for a few more years). My daughter also loves A.A. Milne's classic twosome: "When We Were Very Young" and "And Now We Are Six". Another one we've read from and recommend is a 1977 anthology called "The Poetry Troupe" compiled by Isabel Wilner (also starts from $.01 on Amazon!)

My two-and-a-half year old loves the Ogden Nash Custard the Dragon books, we've ordered some out of print ones from the 1970's, and some of the rhymes crack me up even on the 7,000th read: Belinda and winda. Ha.

Since the Caldecott is an award for picture books you can guess it's pretty heavily illustrated.

The University of Michigan Special Collections Library has a lot of the original art and doll house that was put together for this book. They display it with all the other Hopwood Award winner materials pretty regularly (the Hopwood is an award given to students, and has been won by some heavy-hitters, like Arthur Miller). Unfortunately, they don't seem to have any images online.

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