Wednesday, 30 July 2008


We have two Literature Read Aloud periods scheduled in our day, with our Science lesson often incorporating Read Alouds from non-fiction books as well. I have just decided to take advantage of the longer (45min) Lit RA in our morning to include some poetry , more frequently and deliberately than we have in the past.

I bought The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist at the trade fair a few weeks ago and we also have RL Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (although our version only has 16 poems - it's a Little Golden Book edition - I am not sure whether this is the complete book or not). The kids love our poetry collections by AA Milne, When We were Very Young and Now We Are Six and I love a collection of Australian poems which I have had since I was a child, called Someone is Flying Balloons. I also have Once Upon a Time, a rather eclectic collection of the favourite poetry of famous kids' authors. My favourite book of poetry for all time, the hilarious Sister Madge's Book of Nuns by Doug MacLeod, also has sat on my shelf since I was in primary school. So I have more than enough collections of poetry to begin with.

My plan is to read a few poems each day and have one repeated each day (probably as the first of the day's set) until we have it memorised. Our first poem for memorisation is "Ducks' Ditty", which comes from none of these collections. It is from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, as composed by the Water Rat. Since we've been watching this on DVD a few times over the last week I have heard both Anna and Joshua using a phrase here or there from the poem in their play. Obviously, just from hearing it aloud on the movie they have already begun to learn it. I think seeing it on the screen has endeared it to their hearts in a way that my reading it at the dinner table several months ago did not, probably due to their age and comprehension. Such is life! Here is a snippet from the book, to show you the poem in its context:

The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else. Since early morning he had been swimming in the river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water. At last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called

“Ducks’ Ditty”

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim –
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above,
Swifts whirl and call –
We are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!

I loved this poem when I first read it, for the lyrical way it presents the everyday doings of the ducks and the onomatopoeic descriptions ("slushy green undergrowth"). The kids love the rhythm and pattern, which is due to the short lines, simple ABCB rhyme and the alliterative use of the [d] sound.

We may just follow this with "Toad's Last Little Song", from the same source, which has a completely different - but no less enjoyable - feel to it. Here it is, again within its context:

At last he got up, locked the door, drew the curtains across the windows, collected all the chairs in the room and arranged them in a semi-circle, and took up his position in front of them, swelling visibly. Then he bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go, with uplifted voice he sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw:

The Toad – came – home!
There was panic in the parlours and bowling in the halls,
There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
When the Toad – came – home!

When the Toad – came – home!
There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
There was chivvying of weasles that fainted on the floor,
When the Toad – came – home!

Bang! Go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the canon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
As the – Hero – comes!

Shout – Hoo-ray!
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animals of whom you’re justly proud,
For it’s Toad’s – great – day!

He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.
Then he heaved a deep sigh; a long, long, long sigh.
Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug, parted his hair in the middle, and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face; and, unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests, who he knew must be assembling in the drawing room.

As an aside from all this business about poetry, this poem provides an example of one of the things I don't like about adaptations. Anna has one of The Wind in the Willows, and it includes both of these poems. The first is pretty much surrounded by the same text, although apparently "it was all in good fun and eventually the Rat left them to get on with his own business." Not quite how the ducks considered the matter in Grahame's original text. The second of these poems is wrenched out of its original placement. Originally, Toad sang to himself and his imagined listeners prior to the banquet held in his honour, at which, and thereafter, he behaves with humble decorum. It was Toad's last hurrah - privately given but never the less heartfelt. Its position in the narrative is a sign that Toad is giving up his bravado. In Anna's adaption, Toad sings his Last Little Song while he is walking in the woods days after the banquet, and he is heard by the animals of the wood. This therefore becomes a sign that the Toad has not learned his lesson, that he is still unrepentant and proud of heart. This gives a very different ending to the two books. Coming from a Christian perspective, one which considers it important that Toad has at last been made aware of his sin and has openly repented, I cannot help but be disappointed with the adaption. Mind you, Anna loves perusing the black-line pictures of the adapted paperback novel, telling the story to herself. The hardback unabridged version, complete with illustrations by Robert Ingpen, is a bit big and unwieldy for that task.

One other collection of poems I have is Doing Bombers off the Jetty! (which, I am proud to say, is named after one of my own childhood poems which is included within it's covers). This book is actually a poetry-writing curriculum by Peter McFarlane and Rory Harris which provides models for writing poetry (often from child authors, like myself) and then gives suggestions for how to teach children to write their own poetry in a similar style. I had almost forgotten I had this book until I checked out my poetry shelves, and just writing this post I am becoming enthusiastic about using ideas from it with my children when they get a bit older. How surprised they will be to see my maiden name under a poem in a real book!

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I love Wind in the Willows!