Forest has a Song, by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley

Forest has a Song is a delight, a book of poetry that follows a child’s relationship with the nearby forest through a year, from winter around to winter again. The mood changes from poem to poem, as does the style. The watercolour illustrations depict sometimes only the girl and her dog exploring the woods, and sometimes her brother and parents as well. My favourites were “Song”, from which the title of the book is taken, “Farewell”, the final poem, and oddly, “Bone Pile”, in which she contemplates the last skeletal remains of some forest animal.

Literacy Tip: Reading poetry and nursery rhymes to babies is a fun and easy way to help babies learn the sounds and rhythms of language, even before they begin to use words themselves. There are many rhyming books that have simple, bouncing rhymes and bright pictures. Remember Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop or the Berenstains’ Inside, Outside, Upside Down? Traditional nursery rhymes are another source of poetry for young children. Sheree Fitch is known for her poetry for older kids, but she has also written books for babies, such as Kisses, Kisses, Baby-O. Ook’s favourite poetry to read to children, even babies, is by A.A. Milne. His two books of children’s poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, are also available in one volume as The World of Christopher Robin. Even when children don’t know what the words mean, the sounds are beautiful, and as they grow older listening to the poetry, they begin to learn new words from the context.

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A.A. Milne: The World of Christopher Robin

April is poetry month, and at the library, we’re making our poetry evening an annual event. This is a time for poetry lovers of all ages to come together and share their favourite poems. Ook will probably be having a representative read from one of his favourite poets, A. A. Milne.

Milne, of course, is the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. (Banish all thoughts of Disney from your minds and come to the library to sign out the REAL Pooh.) He also wrote two books of poetry for children, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. These have been published in one volume as The World of Christopher Robin, a companion to The World of Pooh, which contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

Milne wrote to be read aloud to children, and you should do so. Don’t wait until they’re in school. Start with your wee ones. Even if the meaning of the words is lost on them, even if they’re not saying anything but, “Muhmuhmuhbah,” themselves yet, the rhythm of language and the patterns of the words are sinking deep into those tiny brains, preparing them for when they start to talk. Poetry is one of the most enjoyable ways I can think of to share time and language with your baby. Milne is a master. No missed rhythms or awkwardly-forced rhymes here to make your tongue stumble (except for comic effect).

These aren’t sleepy little lullabies either. Some capture beautifully a child’s perspective on the world. Some do so with affectionate irony. Some tell stories. All paint wonderful word-pictures in imaginations young and old, complemented by Ernest H. Shepard’s line drawings.

The library board has recently purchased a copy of The World of Christopher Robin. We don’t have it on our shelves yet, but it should be here (it is hoped) by our poetry evening. And if not, Ook will make sure someone brings a copy from home. The hard part will be deciding which poem to read.