The Year of the Child

Did you know that 1979 had been the International Year of the Child?  I had forgotten that until I came across a book my daughter bought me that year because of my love of poetry.

Book - I Like This Poem

The book is a compilation of poems chosen by children for other children.  When the book was put together in 1979 it was “the only collection of poems in existence, chosen by children”.  Kay Webb, Editor.  I wonder if it still is.

Webb goes on to say that the poems were winnowed from over 1,000 ‘enthusiastic recommendations made by children’.  Of course, many poems were submitted more than once and the most popular, Walter de la Mare, AA Milne, Lewis Carroll, Robert Lewis Stevenson among others, were submitted over and over.

The children were asked when making a submission, to also tell why they liked that particular poem and their responses are telling.

The book is divided into age sections – the 6/7 year olds say things like ‘it makes me laugh’ ‘because it would be funny if that happened’ ‘because I like owls and pussy cats’.  The 8 year olds go a little more into detail ‘because it gives me pictures in my mind’ ‘because we have a cat just like Macavity and he is a thief too’.

An 11 year old commenting on his choice “Pleasant Sounds” by John Clarke says ‘because each little picture in the poem seems to have its special sound.  I think it’s a very comforting poem….I have noticed when I have been saying the lines out loud, there seemed a sound echoing itself later in the line.  Strange – but it could just be imagination’  Great from an 11 year old child.

Do you know Walter de la Mare’s Silver –
“Slowly silently now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way and that, she peers and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees….”

A 13-year-old comments ‘This poem describes moonlight how I imagine it, all slow and silent but with just a bit of movement which is the harvest mouse.”  Isn’t it great that already that child was seeing the beauty in the words and the pictures they created?

And so on through the choices of the 14 and 15 year olds.  Obviously these are more sophisticated choices and include such poems as “Ozymandias” by Shelley, “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare (still one of my all time favourites), “Memorabilia” by Robert Browning and then “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.  Wilfred Owen’s poem would of course, resonate/appeal to teenagers with it’s clever, clever use of words to paint the horror of war.  Our commenting child says “..because it’s beautiful rhythm and the way Owen has used words .. I love the ‘stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ because all the rs really do suggest gunfire, as does ‘stuttering’. ”  Her comment is one of the longest in the book and goes on to say “The poem is so sad and so lovely, and my favourite.  When I am feeling cross with someone, or ill-tempered with the world in general, I read it and it reminds me that some have gone through hell, and perhaps my troubles are smaller than I previously thought.”  Great insight from a 15-year-old girl.

And now 22  32 years later, (thanks Jenny at SkiingMama for the correction) I wonder where all those children are.  I wonder what they have done with those years and what they have become.  No doubt some have become writers and maybe even published writers.  But in any event, early in their lives they became aware of and learned to appreciate well written poetry.  And I hope that some of what they learned in reading the poems has stayed with them through the years, and perhaps given them comfort and guidance when needed.

And I shall leave you today with a poem that was one of my son’s favourites from the time I first recited it to him when he was very young

“There’s a breathless hush on the Close tonight,
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
‘Play up!’ ‘Play up!’ and play the game!”
From Vitae Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt.

My son used to be able to quote all the verses, I wonder if he still can? As a small child he liked the rhythm of the words and so found it easy to learn them.

I really love this little book.  It’s falling apart; pages are loose but it holds many of my favourite verses and I shall keep sticking it together forever – or at least until I am no longer here and my children have to decide what to do with my books and other belongings.

18 responses to “The Year of the Child

  1. Oh, wow. That is a priceless collection Judith. I’m going to check my local library for this one. My son loves to read and I read him a book just before he goes to sleep. This one will develop his love for words. Thank you. I bet it brought you so much wonderful and happy memories with your children when they were young. God bless you and your family always.


    • Well my children were young adults in 1979 but we often would read poems from this little book. I wonder if it is still in print and available. It was published by Penguin Books and the ISBN No is 0 14 03.1295 1. Hope that helps.


  2. I will look at my library for this book. It sounds wonderful.

    I think you mean 32 years later, it caught my eye because I have 22 yr old sisters and they were born in Dec 1988. It would be fun to hear a follow up on those children!


    • Hi Jenny and thanks for the comment. Of course you are right – 32 years and not 22 years.
      The book is a gem but I don’t know if it is still in print. It was published by Penguin Books and the ISBN No is 0 14 03.1295 1. It seems a strange number but hope that it helps when you go to the library..


  3. I would hope they would keep the book and continue passing it down through the generations. It has deep meaning to you.


  4. Examining and parsing poetry from the earliest age possible is a great stimulus for the creation of a questioning and interpretive minds. Critical thinking. Ironic that poetry analysis can lead the development of great scientific minds.


    • I wish I could have shared some of the other comments from those young minds. Thanks for the comment Carl. I hope children still read and examine poetry in schools and homes today. 🙂


  5. jacquelincangro

    Hi Judith, I work at Penguin so I got very intrigued by the subject of your post. Penguin in the UK still publishes this title (not in the US unfortunately). In fact they reissued it in 1999. The same poems are still there but they’ve added new illustrations and a new cover. Poetry is alive and well. 🙂


    • How exciting Jacquelin to hear that it is still in print and available but not in the US. Why would this be? . And to think that you work at Penguin. Are you an editor? 🙂


  6. What does that say about us? (U.S.) Makes one wonder. Thanks for sharing this, Judith.


    • It must have been available when it was published originally. there is a footnote on the frontispiece “Except in the United State of America this book is sold subject to the condition …”. I wonder why it isn’t available now3. 🙂


  7. This post touched my memory and my heart Judith.

    My second child was born in 1979 and I well remember The Year of the Child, but not this book. I see it is still published in a somewhat updated form and that is good news.

    The poem about cricket was one my Dad quoted at times. He was a passionate and skilful cricketer who also taught English and loved words.
    Thanks for the post.


  8. A wonderful post, a priceless book. Poetry was such an important part of my self-expression when I was growing up.


  9. That sounds like a fun book. I’m sorry to hear it’s not in the U.S., though. I think it would be nice if they did a follow up with those kids now to tie in the past and present.


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