Friday, February 12, 2016

Surprising but Worthy: The Children's Own Longfellow

The Children's Own Longfellow, poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow illustrated by "some of the best-known artists of the late nineteenth century"

Mater Amabilis suggests Level 3 students study an individual poet each term. I thought about doing a proper poetry study with First Son, but decided instead to read a few books of poetry from selected poets. Rather than setting aside a different time, I incorporated the poetry into our regular poetry reading time during our cultural loop. We read a few books from one poet all together once a term but divide them from each other with other books of poetry, generally aimed at the younger children.

We started the year with Jack Prelutsky, who is silly enough to appeal to First Son but is a man who appreciates poetry of the highest quality as can be seen in the anthologies he edits like The Random House Book of Poetry for Children and Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young.

In the second term, I selected Longfellow. First Son has been working consistently on memorizing Paul Revere's Ride for over a year now. (It's a really long poem!) I thought it would be nice to read some of this other works to complement his memory work. I didn't pre-read the poems, just glanced through a bunch of titles from our library and selected a couple based on illustrations or how the paper felt in my hands. (Totally true confession.)

Originally published in 1908, this little book I found at our library doesn't even list the illustrators of the eight full-color plates, one for each of the selections. The illustrations are wonderful, just what you'd expect from turn of the century artists. The book includes The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Village Blacksmith, a selection from Evangeline, selections from The Song of Hiawatha, The Building of the Ship, The Castle-Builder, Paul Revere's Ride, and The Building of the Long Serpent.

The very first poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, outraged First Daughter (age 9). "Who would put a poem like that in a book for children?" she cried incredulously, and a little teary-eyed, as I confirmed her worst fears of the fates of the captain, his daughter, and the crew. Evangeline was difficult for the younger ones to understand so I would occassionally stop and explain what was happening. They did much better with The Castle-Builder and Paul Revere's Ride, of course.

Despite First Daughter's misgivings, this book is perfect for a Level 3 student. First Son (sixth grade, age 12) didn't struggle as much as the younger children. I loved reading it aloud, too. There's value in giving children the gift of lofty poetic language even if they don't understand every word. There's also value in a parent savoring that same language while reading aloud. This book in hardcover would be a great addition to a family's library.

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