A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 20:

  • Happy birthday Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn, Tamsen) and Mary Hoffman (Amazing Grace, Princess Grace).
  • It’s the birth date of Dinah Craik (1826-1887), The Little Lame Prince.
  • Best birthday wishes to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, opened on this day in 1912. Read The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott and The Fenway Foul-Up by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Mark Meyers.
  • In 1916, the Chicago Cubs play their first game in Weegham Park, now called Wrigley Field. Read The Story of the Chicago Cubs by Tyler Omoth.
  • Billie Holiday records the haunting anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” in 1939. Read Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

For Poetry Month, we’ve looked at some great poets—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jack Prelutsky, and Joyce Sidman—and some individual volumes like Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog. I’d like to conclude the festivities of this month by celebrating one of the twentieth century’s finest poets for children, Valerie Worth.

After graduating from Swarthmore College, Worth moved to Clinton, New York, and met fellow author and artist Natalie Babbitt. Babbitt is one of those dually talented creators who can both write and draw. While penning her classic novels such as Tuck Everlasting, she began contributing simple line drawings to Worth’s poetry volumes, beginning with Small Poems, published in 1972. In 1994 all of Worth’s small poem volumes were pulled together in a glorious edition, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. If you do not own this gem, run—don’t walk—to your nearest book store. For any poetry library, I would list it as one of the first volumes any family should buy.

Everything about this volume is understated; it sports an elegant and simple design. Even the table of contents is rendered without a capital letter. Worth brings her love of nature that began in her childhood in Pennsylvania to each offering. She looks at common animals, plants, and objects through her particular poetic lens: “Under a maple tree/The dog lies down/Lolls his limp/Tongue, yawns/Rests his long chin/Carefully between/Front paws.” In this poem she has completely captured my dog Lancelot lying near me on the floor! In Worth’s free verse, every word counts. Everything is stripped to bare minimum so that the text creates exquisite and simple “word pictures.”

Many of the poems can be used at various times of the year, such as ones about pumpkins or Christmas lights. For Earth Day on April 22, Worth’s poetry provides a simple yet effective way for children to look at all creatures great and small. Like Haiku, the poems naturally encourage children to try their own free verse forms and to explore their world through poetry.

Shortly before her death in 1994, Valerie Worth wrote an essay for Children’s Books and Their Creators about her own goals and dreams as a poet. She writes, “[I’m] trying to catch hold of things and put them into poems; poems that would somehow express the essential qualities of an object or an experience, so that somebody else could read what I’d written and think, ‘Yes, that’s right. I’ve seen that myself.’ So many poets have done this for me. I’ve tried to do the same for others, especially children, who are encountering so much for the first time and are responding to what they see so directly and intensely.”

Now years later, her poetry still helps children and adults see the world around them in fresh language and striking images. After reading a poem by Worth, I often find myself thinking “Yes, that’s right. I’ve seen that myself.”

Here’s a page from All the Small Poems and Fourteen More:

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Originally posted April 20, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Nature, Seasons
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for All the Small Poems and Fourteen More
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COMMENTS

  1. That’s exactly how it feels when you read a Valerie Worth poem. PEACOCK AND OTHER POEMS, published after Worth’s death, is also inspiring. As a writer, I especially like the poem “pencil.”

    Thanks for this great post, Anita!

  2. Gail Terp says:

    My personal favorite is Safety Pin, with Dinosaur close behind. I’ve used Valerie Worth’s poems with students for years.

    safety pin

    Closed, it sleeps
    On its side
    Quietly,
    The silver
    Image
    Of some
    Small fish;

    Opened, it snaps
    It’s tail out
    Like a thin
    Shrimp, and looks
    At the sharp
    Point with a
    Surprised eye.

  3. Jory Hearst says:

    I am running to my nearest bookstore to get myself a copy! (I’ve never even heard of this book before, so thanks Anita!)

  4. One of my favorite volumes!

  5. Dianne says:

    I do love Valerie Worth! Thanks for this wonderful essay on her work.

  6. G. Perry says:

    I ordered this book but just couldn’t wait I picked up a copy at the library. I am absolutely delighted!

    I will add this to my night table, where a few select comfort books reside.

    The Flag Pole ring clangs in the night.

    Clanging, clanging, the clanging of Childhood.

    Wind in trees. Sleep lad, sleep.

    G. Perry

  7. Anita says:

    Gordon: I’m glad you found this book — and that you cherish it.

  8. Judy Freeman says:

    I love zinnias in summer because Valerie Worth’s poem made me appreciate them so much more. Her small poems capture the essence of so many things–safety pins, even. One way to use some of the poems with kids is to pick several that don’t mention the name of the object being described in the body of the poem. Read them aloud and see if kids can identify the subject. It’s fun, too, to pick poems for which you have physical props–a safety pin, a marble, a magnet, an asparagus spear, even, and, come to think of it, I know I have a flamingo beany baby in one of my props boxes somewhere–and put them in a story apron (like the fabulous one I have from mimismotifs.com) or a magic box, basket, or interesting container. Take them out before/during/after each poem, as you deem most effective. Kids love this to bits. Anita, you have the most exquisite taste in books. Each day at your site is a little reunion with our best book friends.

  9. Anita says:

    Judy: Thanks for your comments on Valerie Worth’s poetry — and for the idead about how to use them.

  10. Joyce Sidman says:

    My absolute favorite poetry book in the whole wide world! I use it every year in the classroom. My favorite poem is “Tiger”: “Black rays roar / From the centers / Of his eyes.” It’s also fun to read kids “Dandelions” without telling them the title, and have them guess what it’s about using the metaphors as clues.

  11. Joyce Sidman says:

    OK, I just noticed Judy Freeman does the same thing!!

  12. Anita says:

    Now that is what I call great minds thinking alike — Joyce and Judy!

  13. I’ve been enjoying all of the Book-a_Day columns, but this one in particular spoke to my heart. I am a huge fan of Valerie Worth’s poetry and am relieved her collections have stayed in print for new generations to discover.

  14. Suzi W. says:

    ooh, lovely! I’m charged to increase the children’s collection at my new library job–I will put this on the list right away! And I love reading the comments.

    Happy Easter 2014!

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