The Music of Literature

Our journey through children’s literature has taken us along the road to metaphor, down the lane to lullabies, past flying books to fables, folktales, and myths. We’ve met heroes and meditated on sacred writing; peeked at fantasy and shook hands with fiction, even met pirates who messed with O!

Now it’s time for a symphony! For the music of literature is poetry. Poems often are rhythm in words. Babies know and understand natural rhythm: whether it be a heartbeat or beating spoons on a table. Children feel rhythm in play: jump rope, bouncing balls and

Poetry has a power to evoke emotions beyond its meaning or use. There is great music in its pitch and rhyme, fresh imagination, intense feelings, and joy with words.

Read poems to children, don’t explain their meaning unless asked, just let the words speak to you and the child. Soon, they will grow up to discover new poetry for themselves.

Here are four poems to think about and discover.


                                                                 Source: Playbuzz

“La Belle Dame sans Merci” By John Keats

This fantasy of a “beautiful woman without mercy” is nearly two hundred years old.
See what emotions it evokes for you.
Is it a knight’s fantasy? A dying wish? Or both?

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,                 O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?                                     So haggard, and so woe-begone?

The sedge has wither’d from the lake,                The squirrel’s granary is full,

And no birds sing.                                                      And the harvest’s done.




I see a lily on thy brow,                                              I met a lady in the meads,

With anguish moist and fever dew,                       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

And on thy cheeks a fading rose                             Her hair was long, her foot was light,

Fast withereth too.                                                      And her eyes were wild.



I made a garland for her head,                                 I set her on my pacing steed,

And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;                   And nothing else saw all day long.

She look’d at me as she did love,                            For sidelong would she bend and sing

And made sweet moan.                                              A faery’s song



She found me roots of relish sweet,                       She took me to her elfin grot,

And honey wild, and manna dew,                           And there she wept and sigh’d full sore,

And sure in language strange she said                  And there I shut her wild wild eyes

“I love thee true.”                                                       With kisses four.



And there she lulled me asleep,                             I saw pale kings and princes too,

And there I dream’d—Ah! Woe betide!               Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

The latest dream I ever dream’d                            They cried, “La Belle Dame san Merci

On the cold hill side.                                                  Hath thee in thrall!”



I saw their starved lips in the gloam,                   And this is why I sojourn here,

With horrid warning gaped wide,                          Alone and palely loitering,

And I awoke, and found me here,                    Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,

On the cold hill’s side.                                              And no birds sing.



                                                    Source: Thoughts Adrift

 “Books Fall Open” By David McCord
A love song to books. Simple, hopeful, direct.

Books fall open,
you fall in,
delighted where
you’ve never been;
hear voices not once
heard before,
reach world on world
through door on door;
find unexpected
keys to things
locked up behind

What might you be,
perhaps become,
because one book
is somewhere? Some
wise delver into
wisdom, wit,
and wherewithal
has written it,

True books will venture,
dare you out,
whisper secrets,
maybe shout
across the gloom
to you in need,
who hanker for
a book to read.



                                                             Source: Public Domain Pictures

“The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky” (What the little girl said) By Vachel Lindsay
Discover this one and you’ll never see the moon the same way again!


                                                         Source: Peanut Butter Hair

“Lost” By Carl Sandburg
Tell school-age children to shut their eyes. Then, read this. They can feel it.

We’ll continue with the music next time.


On His Own, On Their Way, and On a Mission

Fiction is such a rich field, I’d like to continue to showcase three more stories. All of them have a common thread: the sea.


Source: Author Photo/Wikipedia

Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1940)

Mafata, the twelve year old son of a chieftain, was afraid of the sea. One day, he decided to conquer his fear so, he set out to the islands in his canoe with his only companion, Uri, his dog. A furious storm cast him on a remote island where cannibals came to make their sacrifices. Without help, Mafata managed to build shelter, get food, make clothing, and weapons. At the end of his journey, he returned home triumphant. Armstrong Sperry drew this story from a Polynesian legend from his great grandfather. The author lived in the South Seas for a time, giving his story an authentic background. He not only wrote, but illustrated the book.

In this chapter, “Drums,” Mafata uses his knowledge to make a new canoe, cooks food, makes a raft, and plans to hunt. His name means “boy who was afraid.” His resourcefulness and upbringing helped him to be independent. Mafata confronts a Hammerhead shark. What happens next was an act of Mafata’s faithfulness. Call it Courage is the 1941 Newberry medal winner.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
A Selection

Photo credit: Mark B. Gutterworth

The ship was the Hispaniola. The crew: Captain Smollett, Mr. Arrow, Mr. Trelawney,
Doctor Livesey, the squire, the parrot, Hawkins, and the ship’s hands, not to mention Long John Silver.
The drama, the adventure, the mystery of this action-packed story! Read it, mates.
It’s great fun.
And talking about great fun, it would have been great fun for Mr. Sperry to have met
Mr. Stevenson! They both lived in the South Seas.

 Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1943)
“Salt-Water Tea”



Another Newberry winner (1944) is Esther Forbes’ story. Johnny, a silversmith apprentice, suffers an accident that cripples his hand. Heartbroken over needing to give up a trade that he loved, he finds work as a courier for a patriotic newspaper. The year is 1773; the place, Boston. Johnny becomes a messenger for the Sons of Liberty.

The title to the chapter hints at Johnny’s role, along with his friend, Rab, with fulfilling a mission, nothing short of revolution.

These stories challenge us to go beyond ourselves. Because of them, we believe in achieving great accomplishments.

Courage, adventure, revolution—all life-changing events for anyone, but for a boy, especially so. Discover and rediscover these children’s classics.

Let’s Pretend!

I’m back from vacation so, let’s move on to a genre with many titles: the invention of truth, a vicarious experience that entertains, well-crafted imagination—in other words, fiction.

We parents, teachers, and librarians guide children to stories of adventure, thrills, problem-solving, sports, modern heroes, pets, and school life, according to their tastes. Along the way, children become aware of quality and the importance of how a good story should resemble life. After all, even invented truth needs to be credible.

With fiction, experienced young readers grow up to be adults prepared to read great classic novels such as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Great Gatsby,
The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, A Passage to India,
and The Sun also Rises. That’s our goal as teachers and guides. All of us, adult and child, are enriched and transformed by great literature. There are three classics, two fairly known and one obscure, that I’d like you to read, if you haven’t already.


Impunity Jane by Rumer Godden is the story of a British china doll. The doll was called Impunity by the shop woman who sold her to Effie, her first owner, for she could escape without harm. Effie simply called her Jane. Effie’s grandma carried Jane home in her top pocket. Impunity Jane had a great time seeing the world. Dolls have thoughts and feelings and, like people, speak. Yet, no one can hear them. Jane had many little girl owners through the years, but she met her match when she met Gideon, a boy who put her in his pocket. Together, Impunity and Gideon become partners and Ms. Godden deftly creates a scene where Impunity Jane earns her name.

 By the Great Horn Spoon! “Saved by a Whisker” by Sid Fleischman


Take the 1849 California Gold Rush, add a teen boy plus his aunt’s butler, throw in adventure and comedy and you have Sid Fleischman’s story about how Jack Flagg, the teen, went out to San Francisco with Praiseworthy, his aunt’s butler, to gain fortune for his impoverished aunt. Opportunity knocks in a strange way and once you read this book, you’ll understand the chapter title, “Saved by a Whisker.” The setting is authentic.






From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg introduces us to a little brother and a bossy, big sister and how they settled on running away to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Written in the mid-60’s, Claudia and Jamie do homework of a different kind—figuring out how to be on their own without getting caught or getting homesick while solving the mystery of what became of one of Michelangelo’s lost art.

So many wonderful inventions to dive into. We can visit so many stories.
Until next time, I wish you happy travels.

Who Knew How Important a Vowel Could Be?

Let’s continue to explore fantasy and I certainly hope you’re doing just that—whether it’s with The Adventure of Pinocchio or The Magic Fishbone, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
The Hobbit, Watership Down
(one of my favorites) or (how I love) the late Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, part of his Discworld series.

Enter James Thurber. His zany world includes catering to Princess Lenore and making a hero out of Walter Mitty. Today, let’s talk about the very funny and very poignant story, The Wonderful O. Let me whet your appetite.

 The Wonderful O

Littlejack, a pirate, met Black in a tavern near the sea. Littlejack’s goal: to find an island rich with jewels, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. He teams up with Black to hunt for treasure. Their ship was the Aeiu. The island they sailed to was Ooroo. It was Black who hated O—he lost his mother at sea (she was stuck in a porthole, they couldn’t pull her in, so they had to push her out.)

They arrive at Ooroo and tell the people that they have come for their jewels. The gentle islanders tell them they have no jewels. Black grinned and showed his lower teeth. “Take the town apart,” he cried and the crew did. And so Black overtook the gentle island, and unable to find the treasure, he vowed then and there to rid everything with an “O.” Cnfusin reigned.

He even took the “O”s out of Ooroo and called the island “R.” But, the islanders still had VALOR. That night, the townspeople met in the woods to plan a solution. Their leader was Andreas, a poet. Meanwhile, Black and Littlejack continued their silly escapades to rid the island of O.

Language diminished. The secret meetings continued and Hyde, a sinister lawyer, spied on them. Black ordered more destruction and “Babies often made as much sense as their fathers.” (Told you it was funny.)

Andrea, a beautiful maiden, searched her father’s library for a secret and a spell to confound the pirates. She found an ancient book of magic. At the meeting, Andrea spoke up. “Be not afraid to speak with O’s. We cannot live or speak without HOPE. Hope contains the longest O of all. We mustn’t lose it.” Andrea gave Andreas the book she found in her father’s library, The Enchanted Castle. With it, they formed a plan. Andrea spoke at their next meeting. “There are four words with O. You mustn’t lose them. Find out what they are and use them.”

And the townspeople did. “HOPE is one,” said Andreas. “And LOVE,” said Andrea. “And VALOR, I should think,” the old man said. And then they tried to find the fourth.

You will delighted to discover the meaning behind The Wonderful O.

Next time, we talk about fiction. May your summer reading be meaningful and memorable.

Alice’s Wonderland, Georgie’s Rabbit Hill, and Half Magic’s Reach

Hi there!
In earlier posts we heard Aslan of Narnia and enjoyed visits from Winnie-the-Pooh and
The Ugly Duckling, thanks to my favorite writer and master storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen.

Today we explore the literary fairy tale, fantasy. It is a favorite medium of allegory.
No wonder it is my favorite type of children’s story. In fantasy, we see the pure imagination of Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle that, in mid twentieth century, was made into a film, originally with Rex Harrison and remade by Eddie Murphy.
Fantasy takes reality and extends it. And how we need it in a modern world!

I’d like to introduce two not-so-common stories to discover and share with our children while mentioning one of Andersen’s famous stories.


 Travers, P.L. Mary Poppins Opens the Door. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943.
“The Marble Boy”

With Mary Poppins, Michael and Jane had no ordinary walk. At the lake, the children notice an old man reading Just So Stories, ladies wheeling prams, and children skipping along. Then they notice a statue of a marble boy with his dolphin. It is the mythological figure, Neleus, looking longingly at the water. The Banks children end up having great fun and adventures with their new friend while the people at the lake speak to the marble boy and acting like nothing out of the ordinary is happening! Discover what they found in your library, through Amazon, or in audio in

 Clarke, Pauline. The Return of the Twelves. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962
“The Four Genii”

Marching Wooden Toy Soldiers


Pauline Clarke’s book is a story within a story about famous storytellers! Her book title references what Branwell, the only brother of the Brontë sisters, wrote, History of the Young Men, about the imaginary adventures of wooden soldiers. The book chapter,“The Four Genii” refers to the Brontë children: Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. The protagonist in The Return of the Twelves, Young Max, finds twelve of Branwell’s soldiers in an attic of his Yorkshire home, not far from Haworth, the former Brontë family home. Max’s affection for the soldiers brings them to life; they freeze around others. The soldiers tell Max of the time a century ago when the four genii loved them and imagined wonderful adventures for them.

Talk about peeling an onion! But, great fun to read. Find it on Amazon, in your friendly library, or through Goodreads.


I’ll finally leave you to reread The Nightingale, Hans Christen Andersen’s beautiful story about the sweet and haunting music this bird sings and how it taught wisdom to an emperor.

Fantasy allows us to reach into new worlds so that our sense of wonder can continue.

Next time, I’ll reflect on another fantasy. Until then, may your visits with these stories bring new knowledge, unearthed treasure, and much happiness to your minds and hearts.

Words to Live By

Good Shepherd
Source: Bernhard Plockhorst-Good Shephard

This post is for my fellow Christians, Catholic and Protestant. I will not apologize for my beliefs, as the modern world would have it. Instead, I have words to live by.

At some point in a child’s life, they ask the Big Questions: who am I? Who made the earth, sea, and sky? Why am I here?

Our continuing journey through classic literature takes us to a volume of books: essays and poems, drama and splendor, narratives and epics. And what is this volume? For Christians, it is the Bible.

From a child’s viewpoint, the Bible should be introduced and read as a happy encounter with God. And for those interested in helping a child discover the bigger things, there are several classic books for this introduction, The Christ Child by Maud & Miska Petersham, The First Bible and The Book of Books (King James Version, Wilber Owen Sypherd, Editor.) are some examples.

A book that encompasses three major faiths in the US, One God: The Ways We Worship Him by Florence Mary Fitch, helps children know and understand faith. The Tree of Life: Selections from the Literature of the World’s Religions is another example of spiritual knowledge.

There is also a treasury of metaphor in the sacred.
Read Proverbs 4: 10—19 “The Two Paths.”
We see the passage:
“Take fast hold of instruction;
Let her not go:
Keep her;
For she is thy life.”

Instruction is the right path.
It goes on,
“Enter not the path of the wicked,
And go not in the way of evil men.
Avoid it,
Pass not by it;
Turn from it, and pass away.”

The instruction is clear—keep away from what is not good, otherwise you will be lead into darkness.

There is also beautiful poetry about the sacred such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “Give us grace and strength” and Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Lord, purge our eyes to see.”
For lovers of nature, I invite you to read my favorite legend of the saints by Mary Gould Davis, The Truce of the Wolf: a Legend of St. Francis of Assisi.

Sacred literature is a gift to humankind and a rich store of words more than their worth—words that if lived, lead to unending joy!

They Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Being a kid is not easy. You have to learn rules to be accepted and to be polite (no hitting, biting, or spitting!) and that’s just in the first three years. Then, there’s getting along with your family and your playmates and finally, going to school to learn a host of new things, all the while growing up.

It’s a big, scary, world to make your way through. That’s why everyone needs a hero. Heroes are people strong and brave, fearless and wise. At first, they are our parents, and then, through the magic of tales and stories, we get to know people we look up to. Heroes are found in epics, stories larger than life, and in romance, narratives of the European languages.

English Medieval heroes such as Robin Hood, St. George, the Dragon Fighter, and Beowulf the Warrior became famous stories retold by generations in print and film.

Scott Allison’s and George Goethals’ WordPress blog about their book, Heroes: What They Do & Why We Need Them helps explain our need for real and fictional heroes.

They write that we’re drawn to heroes- they care for us, teach us good behavior and become role models, save us when we’re in trouble, inspire us, show us courage and loyalty, solve problems, and teach justice. Thanks Scott and George for that.

Metaphor in epics also holds the minds of the audience. The Iliad is the allegory all life is a battle; The Odyssey, all life is a journey, and the Book of Job, all life is a riddle. Great literature teaches everyone that the most important lesson in life is to be your best self, a hero. Here are two stories to read out loud to older children in and out of the classroom.

King Arthur coat of arms

Yahoo image 7.7.16

Talk about an ordinary kid who didn’t know he was extraordinary. Born to King Uther Pendragon, Arthur is given to a poor man, Sir Ector, and his wife to raise as their own by Merlin of the royal court. What happens next is a series of adventures, battles, and mystical happenings told in the story The Boy’s King Arthur by Sidney Lanier, written in 1917.

And then we have another tale from another land. El Cid (Lord in Muslim) was Spain’s great warrior (El Campeador, the Catholic title) whose name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar. His epic was written in 1140. Rodrigo fought the war of Spain against the Moors (Muslims.) A friend of King Alfonso, El Cid ended up fighting for both Catholics and Muslims over many campaigns. Read The Tale of the Warrior Lord translated by Merriam Sherwood and written in 1930.

El Cid coat of arms

                                  Yahoo image 7.7.16

Heroes – they come as an unassuming boy growing up in Medieval England who, being helpful to his brother, merely pulls a sword from a stone and a defender of truth on both sides of war for the glory of Spain.

We thank them for their valor, service, and altruism.
For all heroes great and small, salute!