Poetry collected for the young masses


January 13, 1995|By Ellen Creager | Ellen Creager,Knight-Ridder News Service

"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln's wise words of the Gettysburg Address were not merely a speech, they were poetry. Our nation at its best is defined by such eloquence: "Come, ye thankful people come . . . ," "Mine eyes have seen the glory . . . ," "I've got a mule, her name is Sal . . ."

"Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry," collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Peter Fiore (Simon & Schuster, $19.95), is a juicy, sentimental compilation of historical poetry, words and lyrics from the Pilgrims to the present. Perhaps because Mr. Hopkins is a poet himself, his choices are as crisp and brilliant as colored leaves.

Each of nine sections has a succinct introduction, which gives children a good context for the memorable words of such authors as Walt Whitman: "Oh, Captain, my captain . . . " and from the inscription of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . " and from Gwendolyn Brooks: "We real cool. We/ Left school."

This is basic cultural literacy for every child ages 8-14.

"Lifelines: A Poetry Anthology Patterned on the Stages of Life," selected by Leonard Marcus (Dutton, $15.99), tries the same thing on a smaller scale -- poems about our life stages from childhood to old age. The poems themselves are mostly classic and wonderful. The question is, will anyone under the age of 25 have sufficient life experience to grasp the poignancy in most of these poems? As an adult, I am profoundly moved by Donald Justice's "Men at Forty": "They are more fathers than sons themselves now/Something is filling them, something/That is like the twilight sound . . . "

But, hey, I'm 39. I doubt if a 10-year-old will feel the same lump in the throat at middle-age premonitions of mortality. Still, it's never too early to give children words worth reading. Ages 12-99.

"Earth, Sky and Beyond: A Journey Through Space," by Jean-Pierre Verdet, illustrated by Pierre Bon (Lodestar, $13.99), tries to give the reader some idea of the magnitude of the universe. It's a tough job for this small book! We start on Earth, then travel out, out, out, past the moon, sun, planets and then to that vast, strange and lonely neighborhood beyond, where nebulae hang out on street corners and the temperature is so cold even your earmuffs wouldn't keep you warm. After this trip, Earth looks pretty cozy. Ages 7-13.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.