Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Monday, January 24, 2005

One of My Favorite Children's Authors-- John Ciardi

I really can't say enough about the late John Ciardi's (che-AHR-dee) poetry for children.

Mr. Rodgers never talked down to children, and John Ciardi never wrote poetry down to them. Yes, he wrote nonsense poetry, but it always has some substance, and sometimes a lot.

His best poetry for children has that timeless quality-- it entertains the children, and evokes a knowing "Ahhh!" from the grandparents. For example, the funny but wise title poem from Ciardi's Fast and Slow ends with a line that will have parents and grandparents smiling at its wisdom. It's one of my favorite poems of all time.

Or one of his poems about the shark (he has several in various books) which contains a line that we love to quote. Speaking of the shark's "one dark thought" -- which is always about eating-- Ciardi writes of the shark: "with his two bright eyes, and his one dark thought/He has only one, but he thinks it a lot."

Even his nonsense poems don't have the sense of triality that I find grating in Dr. Seuss. Even when having fun, Ciardi takes his poetry, and children, very seriously.

Another favorite is Doodle Soup , a collection of poems once again witty and wise. To this day my children (now 28, 24, and 21) love to get out this book when we dine together and read, "When Mummy Slept Late, and Daddy Fixed Breakfast," describing the misadventures of a father's attempts at cooking: "This time I got it right/But what landed on my plate/was between bituminous and anthracite." That poem still gets them howling with laughter, though I don't know why.

There's one about the Ice Cream truck getting stuck at the edge of town, and everyone pitching in to "lighten the load." "It's important to help as much as you can/Especially when it's the ice cream man." And a very wise one about a child's two heads-- one good and one bad. Sounds strange, but expresses a profound understanding of children.

Best of all, for the beginning reader is You Read to Me, I'll Read to You. Every other poem is written in first grade vocabulary. So the parent or grandparent can put the child on his lap, read one poem, and the child can read the next one, and so on through the book. And the poetry is all up to Ciardi's wonderful standard. Indeed, one poem entitled "I Wouldn't," is a tiny masterpiece in my opinion. Written in the most difficult, short lines, but masterfully expressed "The cat sat/on the hall floor/by the mouse house/with the small door--" It goes on that way to a delightful concluding question-- answered by the author in the title.

I really can't recommend these books too highly. They've given my family many hours of delight, as we share these wise, witty, beautiful, funny poems again and again.

You'll want a copy of all three, and they're rarely in stock at the local bookstore. Now that I think about it, it's time I bought them for my grandchildren. Gotta go!

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