Recently, I carefully packed the Christopher Robin books of my childhood into my suitcase when I went to visit my granddaughters. The older one is three and a half so I though it might be time to introduce her to one of my favorite authors. Was it a good idea? I don’t know yet.
I realised very quickly that she wasn’t ready for the stories so I thought I would try the poetry book, When We Were Very Young. These were very hasty thoughts because, as I have learned from teaching and parenting, a child’s attention must be caught within a minute of proposing something or you will lose their interest and find yourself playing School, Going to Montreal on the Bus or even Lying on the Floor Waving Your Legs in the Air.
So, at random mainly because I was in a hurry and the poem had illustrations of small child hopping, I chose Hoppity. I read it to my small grand-daughter, interrupting myself to ask her if she could hop. She happily obliged and with each chorus, she went flying around the room hoppity hopping. After a couple of minutes she joined in with the rest of the verses (confession: I did coach a bit). As I listened to us I realised how much of the enchantment was the combination of the rhythm and the apparently simple plot.
Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.
If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Alan Alexander Milne
She especially remembered the line: Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere... When she chanted with me there was a hint of sarcasm in that three-year old voice. A few weeks later, she still remembered the chorus.
I realised as I said this poem over and over with her that this was where I learned to write – from A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling. My father read aloud to me on a daily basis – and I was also expected to properly recite poetry to my parents regularly. Good writing starts with the ear, a pleasure in the “mot juste” and the clever construction that hints at an understory.
Even three-year olds are capable of intuiting the back story in good writing. We should honour that by reading good writing to them. I started grade one at the age of five, excited to be on the verge of learning to read. When the first book they gave me was Dick and Jane – I kid you not – I was seriously disappointed. I knew crap writing when I read it and this was in no way as good as the stuff my father read to me.
Next time I spend time with my granddaughter I am going to teach her Disobedience. It starts out:
|James James MorrisonMorrisonWeatherby GeorgeDupreeTookgreatCare of his Mother,Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.
I anticipate with delight the giggling we will indulge in about a three-year old telling his mother how to behave. If she doesn’t get the joke that the title is about the mother, she will some day and that will be another giggle.