The Foundational Five: Poetry

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood.” T.S. Eliot 

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As I was pulling out my favorite books and resources on poetry, I became convicted. I’m an idealist. The world of beauty, goodness, well-chosen words and pursuit of truth is the world in which I aspire to invite my children. I love poetry. I’m thrilled that my children share some semblance of that same sentiment. But as with so many other lofty aspirations, I’ve allowed the “necessary” to crowd out the routine enjoyment of our sharing poetry together.

In writing this post, I’ve been reminded… of the wonder of childhood… of the joy found in falling in love with words… of the magic of language.

In the spirit of repentance, I dutifully dug through a shelf crowded with binders, loose papers and workbooks to extract our book used for poetry memorization (more on that later). My children’s responses to the sight of the book were delightful. They clamored to recite long-forgotten verses. They wanted more.

Why poetry?

“Poetry is the liveliest use of language, and nobody knows more instinctively how to take delight in that playfulness than children.”  

Serious Play:  Reading Poetry with Children

Jack and JillHumpty Dumpty, and Sam I Am. Although it may have been years (or decades) since we’ve intentionally invested our time in reading poetry, most of us can recall these childhood rhymes with little to no effort. They’ve been stored deeply within our memories alongside Christmas carols and favorite birthday presents. Memorizing them came at little cost – we loved the words, the rhythm, the beautiful illustrations, and the endless repetition, which provided comfort in a sometimes-unpredictable world.

Poetry invites us into a magical realm where individual words, each which alone have only their assigned meaning, can be arranged in such a way as to result in a thing of beauty… or mystery… or cleverness. To discover and enjoy poetry with our children is to cultivate their love for language.

Poetry can provide a vibrant thread to be woven into the unique fabric of our family culture. When asked, “Who left the door open?” I’ll often get the clever response ”Mr. Nobody.”  “Jonathan Blake” who ate too much cake can serve as a warning for all those consuming too many sweets. “I eat my peas with honey” (the opening to a clever poem taken from Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin) is recited when those particular veggies are served for dinner, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without A Visit from St. Nicholas.

In addition to igniting our children’s love for language and enriching our family life, poetry provides the added benefit of contributing to their intellectual growth.

There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns… By memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. Additionally, because of the nature of poetry, poets are often compelled to stretch our vocabulary, utilizing words and expressions in uniquely sophisticated—but almost always correct—language patterns.”  Andrew Pudewa

We enjoy using A Word Well Spoken… Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (found here) by Andrew Pudewa. This thin spiral-bound book gives simple strategies for memorization and is divided into four sections, each with twenty poems. The level of difficulty and length of the poems increase with each level, beginning with such fun poems as “Ooey Gooey Was a Worm” and ending with “The Hunting of the Dragon” by G.K. Chesterton. Although children may occasionally memorize poems for school assignments, this approach allows a family to enjoy the process together. A few minutes a day (perhaps right before dinner)  2-3 days a week is all the time required. We have also found the companion CD helpful, particularly for young children to listen to during nap time or rides in the car.

Some of our favorite books of poetry:

~Book of Nursery & Mother Goose Rhymes by Marguerite de Angeli

~Mother Goose by Kate Greenaway

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~A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa or Tasha Tudor)

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~The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

~Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book for Young Children by Christina Rossetti

~Animals, Animals by Eric Carle


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~Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill

~The Beauty of the Beast by Jack Prelutsky

~The Complete Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear

~Poetry for Young People by Emily Dickinson (includes fun “riddle” poems from nature)

~Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (especially fun if you’ve shared the music from Cats with them)

Additional resources:

Jim Weiss audio Cds including Famously Funny – A Beloved Collection of Stories & Poems 

Blackstone Audio Cd collection Winnie-the-Pooh 

Dover Publications coloring book of A Child’s Garden of Verses


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When we share the gift of poetry with our children, we are giving them an inheritance of deep love for language. It is a gift to be enjoyed while they are young, appreciated as they grow older, and passed on to future generations.



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First of the Foundational Five: The Bible

 This is the first of what will eventually be five postings on foundational genres of literature for children.  More on the backdrop for those discussions here.

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During our children’s early years, we have the great privilege of introducing the world to them, bit by bit.  As we begin exploring the literature that shapes the minds and souls of our young ones, we’ll start at the very beginning… with the book that introduces the great themes found in all literature…  with the most published and widely read book of all time – the Bible.

There is an increasing acknowledgement, even in secular circles, that Biblical literacy is an important part of a well-rounded education. “The Bible’s influence is impossible to ignore. There are more than a thousand Biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone. John Milton, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, all drew on the Bible, too.  Then there’s Rembrandt, Chagall, da Vinci, who all put the Bible on canvas.  Even the Declaration of Independence alludes to the Bible.” The Bible as Literature (CBS News).

In addition to classical literature, Biblical references are plentiful in pop culture as well.   Leonard Cohen’s ballad “Hallelujah,” which has been performed by Justin Timberlake on an MTV telethon and K.D. Lang during the 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies, weaves together allusions to King David and Bathsheba as well as Samson and Delilah.   Virtually all aspects of our culture – sports, politics, movies, television, popular literature – are influenced to varying degrees by the Bible.

Good stories provide insight into the answers of life’s fundamental questions such as “Who is God?” and “Who is man?” You can’t get much more foundational than that.  Our views of the world, ourselves, and others are shaped by what we believe to be the answers to those questions.  The Bible answers virtually all of the “big” questions in life – even if the answer is to have faith in that which we do not fully understand.  

Currently, we live in a country where we have endless choices from which we can select children’s Bibles.  A search for “children’s Bibles” on Amazon.com, for example, yields over 31,000 results.  How do we begin to narrow down the plethora of choices? 

Here’s a start:

jesus_storybook_bible

For those who are young or old, those with no Bible knowledge or those who have seminary degrees, I highly recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible (JSBB) by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  This is far from your typical storybook Bible.  Here’s a window into its uniqueness:

 “No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.  The Bible is most of all a Story.  It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure.  It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.   It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!  You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s trueThere are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”

With that as the setting for the greatest of love stories, Sally Lloyd-Jones takes complex theological truths and distills them to their simplest form.  Her approach to writing is based on the premise that “Nothing but excellence should be the standard for children.  The quality of literature should be higher (than that for adults) because the responsibility is greater… A story that takes children seriously uses rich language that invites imagination.”

Throughout the Jesus Storybook Bible, we’re invited into The Great Story through rich language, vivid illustrations, and profound Biblical truth.  Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the JSBB is the way in which Sally Lloyd-Jones masterfully, consistently weaves the heart of the Great Story, the Father coming back for his children, throughout each of the Old Testament stories.  The power and uniqueness of the JSBB are authenticated by the depth and breadth of the ways it is currently being used:

~THEOLOGIANS using it as their Bible study text

~JAPANESE BUSINESS men studying it before work

~CHINESE PROSTITUTES as part of their healing process

~PUBLIC SHOOLS after-school programs in Alabama public schools

~PASTORS using it to help them preach

~ELDERLY PEOPLE reading it in retirement homes

~LITERATURE classes using it as a set text (Calvin College)

~COUPLES using it for their devotions together

~EVANGELISM initiatives using it to introduce Jesus to different faith communities

~COLLEGE STUDENTS using it as their Bible study text

~FOOTNOTES in theological books referencing it

I had the great pleasure of meeting Sally Lloyd-Jones several weeks ago.  Her inscription in our family JSSB speaks to the heart of the gospel:

 “To the Silander Family – This story is for you.”

 And it’s for YOU.

 And it’s for ALL.

 For more information on JSSB, including video clips, free audio downloads, and ordering information, visit here.

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 Another resource that has become a staple in our home library is the The Child’s Story Bible (CSB) by Catherine F. Vos.  The book was a result of her search for a Biblically accurate children’s Bible when her children were young.  After finding only watered-down versions of Bible stories, Vos began writing with the goal of producing a theologically-correct, yet accessible depiction of the Bible for her own children.  Her vision, however, took longer than expected.  The Children’s Story Bible was not completed until she was a grandmother.

 

You could view the CSB as an intermediate version of the JSBB.  Similarly to Sally Lloyd-Jones, Catherine Vos weaves the ultimate theme of the Bible throughout her recounting of the individual stories.  She takes a chronological approach to her telling of Biblical events by grafting complimentary stories from related Biblical passages, and consolidating them into topical chapters.  For example, the Chapter “The End of the Kingdom of Israel” pulls content from II Kings 16,17 and II Chronicles 28.  The chapter “Jesus’ Last Word to His Disciples” assimilates corresponding passages from all four gospels.   


After years of attending in-depth Biblical studies, it was not until I read the CSB with my children that I experienced “a-ha” moments in piecing together individual stories in the Bible.  It reads like a novel, and succeeds in giving an accurate, comprehensive picture of Biblical history.

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 Our young ones have also enjoyed the Read Aloud Bible Stories by Ella K. Lindvall.  There are four volumes in the series, as well as the Parables Jesus Told:  Tell Me Stories.  Each volume contains five stories from the Bible which are written in large print, telling in sing-song fashion the fundamental truths of each story.   Written for pre-schoolers, the narrative paints a picture of the scene and invites the listener to step in and experience the action.

 

The simplicity and directness of these stories speaks powerful truths to the old and young alike.  They are a wonderful addition to the resources mentioned above, and are perfect for new readers who want to read from “their own” Bible.

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There is no greater gift that we can give our children than a winsome invitation into the life-long love story written by the Author of all Hope. 




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