6.18.2010

Reading Matters

There's a beautiful little bed of lavender in my brother's garden, so I've picked off a few stalks to put near my pillow. Eva, my charming and bossy three-year old niece, propped a monkey near my bed, so he has been put to work holding the lavender. One of the nicest things about long plane trips like the one to LA is that I can catch up on reading, in this case, at least six back issues of the New York Review of Books. I still had a few left over, and stacked them by my bed for night reading.

Eva had other ideas. In rapid succession, she came to see me with one book after another, requesting that I read Today is Monday, by Eric Carle (one of the best illustrators), Maisy Goes Shopping, by Lucy Cousins (one of a new series for me, but apparently Maisy has a show on Nick Jr. so I'm way behind the times) and one of my absolute favorites, Tickle, Tickle by Helen Oxenbury. I remember reading Oxenbury's books to my own children (We especially loved Say Goodnight...and I can still hear their responses: "Again? Again? Again!" And mine: "Okay! Enough! Goodnight!") Her drawings of babies are enchanting.

But then Eva returned with a book she told me her grandmother had read to her mother when she was a little girl, Morning is a Little Child. These are poems by Joan Walsh Anglund, published in 1969 and dedicated to the Robert F. Kennedy children whose father was assassinated in 1968. The illustrations are light and lyrical. I missed this book, when it came out, as I was probably slouching sullenly around with Catcher in the Rye, or Franny and Zooey.

So I read to Eva:

"Shall we have a cup of tea
and a currant bun?
Shall we dance beside the sea
after work is done?"

And then I read....
"A little train
rides through the grass
upon a silver rail.
It's just an engine
and caboose.
The trainman's name
is
'snail.'"

Then we turned to:
"I stay within my garden small,
I do not wander past my wall,
but sometimes, when the moon is late,
I wonder what's beyond my gate."

By this time Eva was mouthing the words with me, even anticipating many of them. I suddenly remembered reading one of my favorite books, when I was a child, Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses". I memorized many of those poems. Going back to read a few (ah, the beauty of the Internet--everything available at my fingertips, except, of course, for the musty smell of the brittle old paper, the leather of the binding, the warmth of my blankets and the satin edge of its binding...) I could hear how one of the things that mesmerized me was their musical quality, the easy rhythms and the reliable rhymes. What a pleasure such simple poetry used to be. And still is! I'm going to have to buy a copy of this book for Eva. The New York Review of Books can wait for another day.

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

25 comments:

acornmoon said...

What a very beautiful book.

Daniel Spirer said...

Hi Dominique,
I tried to post a comment before but I'm not sure it went through May be just as well but I'm trying again now that I've actually remembered the right password. Mimi Goldfarb, who of late has been contacting me sporadically (don't know if you remember her), mentioned that she had seen something about you and a book. So I googled you and lo and behold you're famous! And recently you were right in my neighborhood (Porter Square Cambridge---the only area I'm famous in). Anyway just thought I would say hi and that you don't look any older than when I first saw you in 10th grade! I'm on FB and I have a blog: www.spirerjewelers.blogspot.com if you'd like to touch bases. Nice to see you're doing so well. Danny Spirer

Melanie said...

I have fond memories of knowing exactly what that RLS poem meant.

Dominique said...

Hi Danny! How wonderful to hear from you! I wish I had known I was in your neighborhood, and will look up your blog (facebook eludes me). I still wear the three-ringed silver cuff you gave me in high school. And hello to Mimi as well. Thank you for writing...Melanie, yes, to be honest, there are still days when I relive that memory! d

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

"Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by......"

How I love Stevenson. Even more fun to read it with a
charming and bossy" three year old!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I forgot. I recently wrote about Slow Love. I hope you saw it... I adored the book. On many levels.

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Oh what a lucky girl, that Eva! But it sounds like you are having just as much fun...love hearing of the rapport between the two of you!

Judith Ross said...

Thank you for reminding me of my own copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses." I remember particularly enjoying a poem in there about going up in a swing... the words are just on the tip of my tongue. And I think I may yet have my copy somewhere. I can see the brown cover w/black line drawing and the duct tape holding the spine together.

Thanks for the memory!

Town and Country Mom said...

"I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me " and "I love to go up in the swing so high . . ." are surely the first verses I learned, read to me by my grandmother. I read to my own children years later, and I fretted that RLS verse would be lost on my tv-watching, computer savvy brood, but they were just as enthralled as I was. I look forward to reading to the next generation.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

A delightful post... and it's great to be finding verse and coziness in CA! Have a wonderful weekend ;)

Lotusphx said...

I find that I am especially drawn to your posts about reading... I loved (LOVED!) the reading room post and now this too! Poems and children together are so wonderful it warms my heart. Thank you for sharing your special moments with us!

mary said...

I still have my childhood book of RLS poems with all of the beautiful illustrations. And what about "The Swing" and "My Shadow"....I'm going to have to go searching in my boxes of books to find it. How wonderful to have a companion to lead you on new adventures. She looks adorable. Joy in a beautiful little package.

Sara said...

Thanks for the wonderful post and memory. I love RLS poems.

Jen said...

My mother used to recite/read "The Swing" by R.L.Stevenson to me every night. As an adult, I found the book in her new house and showed her what I remembered. We ended up reciting it together with identical inflections. Now that I am a mother, I recite this poem to my kids when they are on a swing, usually as a way to let them know when I will be done pushing. They call it the "swing song."

Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful memory and current experience.

vicki archer said...

Thank you for reminding me of the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. I too loved them as a child and had forgotten the beauty and simplicity of these verses. Is there anything better than reading to a child at bed time? I don't think so -unless it is someone reading to me, xv.

Karena said...

The poetry by RLS is so moving. Thank you Dominique for enriching our loves so much!

I am having a lovely Giveaway that I hope you will enter!

Karena
Art by Karena

Megan Baldrige said...

Hi Dominique

I'm Megan Baldrige, formerly Megan Murray, who worked at Esquire for a short while, as Phillip Moffitt's editorial asst (reading the slush pile and picking up drycleaning). Your job with Byron looked glorious, by contrast.
I live in Albuquerque and look forward to seeing you at the marvelous Bookworks on Tuesday. Bravo for Slow Love--great reading. I'm a target reader--in love with my house, house-therapy after divorce,
children out the door--and you've beautifully explained why, after the marriage mourning, came
the pleasure of deciding exactly which color of pink
to paint the kitchen: actually it turned out to be 3 pinks. For the last two years, I have enjoyed the new colors every day. Thanks and I look forward to saying Hi. Megan B

Megan Baldrige said...

Hi Dominique

I'm Megan Baldrige, formerly Megan Murray, who worked at Esquire for a short while, as Phillip Moffitt's editorial asst (reading the slush pile and picking up drycleaning). Your job with Byron looked glorious, by contrast.
I live in Albuquerque and look forward to seeing you at the marvelous Bookworks on Tuesday. Bravo for Slow Love--great reading. I'm a target reader--in love with my house, house-therapy after divorce,
children out the door--and you've beautifully explained why, after the marriage mourning, came
the pleasure of deciding exactly which color of pink
to paint the kitchen: actually it turned out to be 3 pinks. For the last two years, I have enjoyed the new colors every day. Thanks and I look forward to saying Hi. Megan B

Linda Landig Contemporary Artisan Jewelry said...

I am an Elementary School Reading Specialist (retiring in just 4 days!) and the love of rhyme and story your young neice is learning will serve her throughout her life! Books shared in the laps of beloved grown-ups is the most powerful reading lesson in the world. I grew up loving RLS and memorized many of his poems as well. I especially cherish: "How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air show blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasentist thing, ever a child can do." (written from memory--hopefully accurately).

Laura Casey Interiors said...

RLS- one of my favorites. I always love reading your blog.

Nan said...

Children's poetry is a lost art in so many ways...which is sad because it is such a wonderful way for kids to learn the music of language. Thank you for sharing these wonderful poems...I will be sure to bring them into my daughter's world.

Joan said...

I love children's books and read so many out loud to my children as they were growing up. I remember reading somewhere that if you wanted to see some of the best artwork being done, pick up a children's book. So true!

ewix said...

Came to your blog via The House of Edward -- a splendid blog I have followed for ages.

Gosh, the delights of reading to children
and RL Stevenson and his land of counterpane!
I now have a grandson and so will begin the whole cycle all over again........

I'm English and so my children had the advantage of both traditions.

You blog is quite as lovely as one would expect.
I was a long time reader of House and Garden.
All best wishes.

Sally@DivineDistractions said...

I love children's books, and the illustrations of Joan Walsh Anglund were favorites of mine. As a budding artist, I used to redraw her illustrations and practice her style. Seeing the pictures today brings back lovely memories for me..as a child, and as a young mother reading them to my babes. It's a treat to see them now. I'm going to go buy something of hers now that I have two new grandsons. A great tradition to continue.

Tricia Rose said...

From William Blake (the joys of the internet!):

When voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
'Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away,
Till the morning appears in the skies.'

'No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all covered with sheep.'
'Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.'
The little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,
And all the hills echoed.