Friday, October 31, 2008

The Gloomy Academic by Louis MacNeice


Sappho and Alcaeus by Alma-Tadema, 1881

The Gloomy Academic
by Louis MacNeice

The Glory that was Greece: put it in a syllabus, grade it

Page by page

To train the mind or even to point a moral

For the present age:

Models of logic and lucidity, dignity, sanity,

The golden mean between opposing ills...

But I can do nothing so useful or so simple;

These dead are dead

And when I should remember the paragons of Hellas

I think instead

Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,

The careless athletes and the fancy boys,

The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics

And the Agora and the noise

Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring

Libations over graves

And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta and lastly

I think of the slaves.

And how one can imagine oneself among them

I do not know;

It was all so unimaginably different

And all so long ago.

Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats


Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another's arms, birds in the trees

- Those dying generations - at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Falling Down is Part of Growing Up

"With each tottering attempt to walk, our bodies learn from the falls what not to do next time. In time we walk without thinking and think without falling, but it is not so much that we have learned how to walk as we have learned not to fall."
To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski page 13

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alexandra Day

Born September 7, 1941 in Cincinnati, Ohio

There are some books and characters, just as there are some people, that are just plain nice. Such is the case with Carl in Alexandra Day's series about a Rottweiler named Carl.

Alexandra Day is the nom de plume of Sandra Darling nee Woodward, born into a large and artistic family in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 7th, 1941. Her grandfather was an architect, her father was a painter and her mother a homemaker. The house was filled, not only with books but also with art supplies of one sort or another and all the girls were encouraged to create. For four years during her childhood, Day and her family lived on a large farm in Kentucky. In addition to being in the country and close to horses (which she loved riding and training), it was also where Day owned her first dog; dog ownership being a near constant in her later life.

Day took her degree in English at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia. Subsequent to obtaining her degree, Day then lived in New York for a period, teaching and also studying drawing at the Art Students' League. On a trip to California in the mid-sixties, Day met Harold Darling, a bookstore and cinema owner.

Alexandra Day and Harold Darling were wed in 1967. Previously married, Harold Darling already had three children. Day and Darling had a further four children (named after favorite authors) as well as a foster child.

In 1970 the Darlings founded a publishing company, Green Tiger Press, in San Diego. Initially their focus was publishing beautiful illustrations from old children's books as postcards, notecards, and bookmarks. From this they evolved into publishing children's books. Though the entire venture was very much a collaborative affair between husband and wife, Day focused substantially on the design and production of their works - a background and skill set that were to provide a strong grounding in her subsequent career evolution as an illustrator.

In 1983, they needed an illustrator for the favorite children's song The Teddy Bears' Picnic. Day decided to turn her hand to this field of endeavor and in 1983 her first book, The Teddy Bears' Picnic was published by Green Tiger Press. It was well received and she followed it the next year as illustrator of Joan Marshall Grant's The Blue Faience Hippopotamus.

Finally, in 1985 came the first of her signature series of books, Good Dog, Carl. Good Dog, Carl and the rest of the books in the series (Carl Goes Shopping, Carl's Christmas, Carl's Afternoon in the Park, Carl's Masquerade, Carl Goes to Daycare, Carl Makes a Scrapbook, Carl Pops Up, Carl's Birthday, Carl's Sleepy Afternoon, Carl's Summer Vacation, Follow Carl and ) feature the adventures of Carl, a large, gentle, intelligent and deeply responsible Rottweiler and a little girl, Madeleine, who is less responsible.

The stories are illustrated in a realistic style though there is a distinct element of fantasy in the plot. Initially, the illustrations were primarily in gouache, then later in oil and the most recent books have been a combination of watercolor and oil. The opening page or two set the scene. Mother (and/or Father) is about to do something; go shopping, talk to a friend, go to a masquerade ball, etc. Mother instructs Carl to look after baby. There then follow a series of miniature adventures, told solely through pictures. Most typically these involve Carl and Madeleine exploring their environment (the Park, the Ball, the Department Store, etc.), having miniature adventures, and making a mess. At the last minute, Carl gets Madeleine back to where she is supposed to be, cleans up the mess in an efficiently dog-like way, and is there waiting when Mother returns and is rewarded with praise from her along the lines of "Good dog, Carl."

So – Little text and beautiful and realistic illustrations. The enduring charm of these books is more than that though. Each of the stories involves a small element of fantasy. For example, Madeline routinely rides around on Carl bareback. A rather improbable feat but it doesn't seem very far from the realm of feasible. It is not a hard stretch for a child to enter into this wonderfully pleasant and exciting world - It could happen and it would be lovely if it did.

Another element of appeal, I suspect, is simply the naughtiness of the adventures. There are no major transgressions but all involve activities that are clearly beyond the pale. Madeline, for example, in one of the stories, ends up taking a swim in the fish tank. I think children thrill to this gentle illicitness.

From a parent's perspective, these are wonderful little stories. They do lend themselves better than many to a board book format, suitable for the very youngest of children and, because there is such minimal text, these books lend themselves to a snuggly read where the parent tells the story based on the picture.

The original idea for Carl came when Day was visiting Zurich, Switzerland and came across a children's book featuring a poodle and a child playing together when the child should have been napping. Inspired by this, she returned to the US with the idea in mind. The poodle morphed into the family's real-life Rottweiler, Toby and the rest is history. Toby has passed, with subsequent family pet Rottweilers Arambarri and Zabala taking up his role as model.

Day has written and illustrated other books than the Carl stories. In particular, there is a series of three Frank and Ernest books (featuring respectively a bear and an elephant) as well as a couple of books about Darby, a special order pup. These have proved popular as well, but I think Day's lasting accomplishment will be judged to be the paradisiacal world of Madeleine and Carl.

Alexandra Day has said, "I think that one of the reasons my illustrations have appealed to people is that they can sense my sincerity. I know that marvels exist which are just outside our ordinary experience, but that at any moment we may turn a corner and encounter one of them. Children also believe this, and because they and I have this conviction in common, we, as creator and audience, make good partners."

I would agree but add that it is not just children that can enjoy the Carl books. As an adult these are tales that help recapture that sense of wonder and possibility that was still so ripe as a child.

Enjoy all of Day's books but do introduce your very youngest to that stalwart and responsible friend, Carl.

Picture Books

Good Dog, Carl written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Highly Recommended

Carl's Afternoon in the Park written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Highly Recommended

Carl's Masquerade written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Highly Recommended

Carl Goes to Daycare written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Recommended

Carl's Birthday written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Recommended

Follow Carl! written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Recommended

The Teddy Bears' Picnic by Jimmy Kennedy and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

Carl Goes Shopping written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

Carl's Christmas written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

Carl's Sleepy Afternoon written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

You're a Good Dog, Carl written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

Carl's Summer Vacation written and illustrated by Alexandra Day Suggested

Not Forgotten edited by Alexandra Day Potential

Hooray for Dogs edited by Alexandra Day Potential

Alexandra Day's Bibliography

The Teddy Bears' Picnic (book and record set) by Jimmy Kennedy and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1983

The Blue Faience Hippopotamus by Joan Marshall Grant and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1984

Good Dog, Carl written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1985

Children of Wonder Volume 1: Helping the Sun by Cooper Edens and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1987

Children of Wonder Volume 2: Helping the Animals by Cooper Edens and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1987

Children of Wonder Volume 3: Helping the Flowers by Cooper Edens and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1987

Children of Wonder Volume 4: Helping the Night by Cooper Edens and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1987

When You Wish upon a Star by Ned Washington and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1987

Frank and Ernest written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1988

Carl Goes Shopping written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1989

Paddy's Pay-Day written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1989

A. B. C. of Fashionable Animals written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1989

Frank and Ernest Play Ball written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1990

Carl's Christmas written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1990

River Parade written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1990

Carl's Afternoon in the Park written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1991

Teddy Bears' Picnic Cookbook by Abigail Darling and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1991

Carl's Masquerade written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1992

Carl Goes to Daycare written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1993

Carl Makes a Scrapbook written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1994

Carl Pops Up written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1994

Frank and Ernest on the Road written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1994

Carl's Birthday written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1995

A Bouquet written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1996

(With Cooper Edens) The Christmas We Moved to the Barn written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1997

Follow Carl! written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1998

Boswell Wide-Awake written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 1999

(With Edens) Darby, the Special-Order Pup written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2000

(With Edens) Special Deliveries written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2001

Puppy Trouble written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2002

Not Forgotten: A Consolation for the Loss of an Animal Friend written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2004

Carl's Sleepy Afternoon written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2005

You're a Good Dog, Carl written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2007

Carl's Summer Vacation written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2008

Hooray for Dogs written and illustrated by Alexandra Day 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Skippery Boo by Earl L. Newton

The Skippery Boo

By Earl L. Newton

I went to bring,

From the rippling spring,

One morning dry and damp,

A brimming pail

Of Adam's ale

For use about the camp;

My happy frame

Did well proclaim

A cheerful bent of mind,

And I hummed a song,

As I loped along,

Of the most enchanting kind.

But my heart stood still,

As I turned the hill,

And the spring came to my view,

For drinking there

Of the potion rare,

Was the terrible Skippery Boo.

He drank his fill

From the flowing rill,

And shook his mighty mane,

Then with his jaws

And his hairy paws,

He ripped a tree in twain.

With fear and dread

To camp I sped,

For my trusty .30 bore,

Then turned about

With daring shout,

And sought the spring once more;

But though my feet

With speed were fleet,

As o'er the glade I flew,

No sign was there

On earth, in air,

Of the slippery Skippery Boo.

To left and right

I strained my sight,

To find where he had gone,

Among the pines

I sought for signs,

But found not a single one.

To East and West

I turned my quest,

But all to no avail,

No trace I found

On gorse or ground,

Of his departing trail.

And then aloft

My gaze I doffed,

And there in the hazy blue,

On the topmost spine

Of the tallest pine,

Hung the fabulous Skippery Boo.

Oh, the Skippery Boo

Is a fanciful zoo:

A mermaid and a bat,

A grizzly hare

And a webfoot bear,

A goof and a bumble-cat.

He can fell an oak

With a single stroke,

Or shatter a mountain side,

Then lightly rise

To the azure skies,

And light as a zephyr ride.

My heart he fills

With terror's chills,

Oh, don't know what I'd do,

If some dark night,

In broad daylight,

I should meet a Skippery Boo.

A poison flows

From his warty toes,

And the grass where he shall tread,

Shall wilt and fade

At evening's shade,

And tomorrow shall be dead.

And who shall walk

Where he shall stalk,

O'er valley, hill or plain,

Shall die, 'tis said,

Of illness dread,

And a terrible dark-green pain.

So as you wade

This vale of shade,

And jog life's journey through,

At day, at night,

Be it dark or light,

Watch out for the Skippery Boo.

The Happy Family by John Ciardi

The Happy Family

by John Ciardi

Before the children say goodnight,

Mother, Father, stop and think:

Have you screwed their heads on tight?

Have you washed their ears with ink?

Have you said and done and thought

All the earnest parents should?

Have you beaten them as you ought:

Have you begged them to be good?

And above all - when you start

Out the door and douse the light -

Think, be certain, search your heart:

Have you screwed their heads on tight?

If they sneeze when they're asleep,

Will their little heads come off?

If they just breathe very deep?

If - especially - they cough?

Should - alas! - the little dears

Lose a little head or two,

Have you inked their little ears:

Girls' ears pink and boys' ears blue?

Children's heads are very loose.

Mother, Father, screw them tight.

If you feel uncertain use

A monkey wrench, but do it right.

If a head should come unscrewed

You will know that you have failed.

Doubtful cases should be glued.

Stubborn cases should be nailed.

Then when all your darlings go

Sweetly screaming off to bed,

Mother, Father, you may know

Angels guard each little head.

Come the morning you will find

One by one each little head

Fill of gentle thoughts and kind,

Sweetly screaming to be fed.

The Song of Mr. Toad by Kenneth Grahame

The Song of Mr. Toad

by Kenneth Grahame

The world has held great Heroes,

As history-books have showed;

But never a name to go down to fame

Compared with that of Toad

The clever men at Oxford

Know all that there is to be knowed.

But they none of them knew one half as much

As intelligent Mr. Toad!

The animals sat in the Ark and cried,

Their tears in torrents flowed.

Who was it said, "There's land ahead?"

Encouraging Mr. Toad!

The Army all saluted

As they marched along the road.

Was it the King? Or Kitchener?

No. It was Mr. Toad!

The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting

Sat at the window and sewed.

She cried, "Look! who's that handsome man?"

They answered, "Mr. Toad."

On the Ning Nang Nong by Spike Milligan

On the Ning Nang Nong

By Spike Milligan

On the Ning Nang Nong

Where the Cows go Bong!

And the monkeys all say BOO!

There's a Nong Nang Ning

Where the trees go Ping!

And the tea pots Jibber Jabber Joo.

On the Nong Ning Nang

All the mice go Clang

And you just can't catch 'em when they do!

So its Ning Nang Nong!

Cows go Bong!

Nong Nang Ning !

Trees go Ping !

Nong Ning Nang !

The mice go Clang!

What a noisy place to belong

Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

The Panther by Ogden Nash

The Panther

By Ogden Nash

The panther is like a leopard,

Except it hasn't been peppered.

Should you behold a panther crouch,

Prepare to say Ouch.

Better yet, if called by a panther,

Don't anther.

The Pobble Who Has No Toes by Edward Lear

The Pobble Who Has No Toes

By Edward Lear

The Pobble who has no toes

Had once as many as we;

When they said, 'Some day you may lose them all;'--

He replied, -- 'Fish fiddle de-dee!'

And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink,

Lavender water tinged with pink,

For she said, 'The World in general knows

There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!'

The Pobble who has no toes,

Swam across the Bristol Channel;

But before he set out he wrapped his nose,

In a piece of scarlet flannel.

For his Aunt Jobiska said, 'No harm

'Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;

'And it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes

'Are safe, -- provided he minds his nose.'

The Pobble swam fast and well

And when boats or ships came near him

He tinkedly-binkledy-winkled a bell

So that all the world could hear him.

And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,

When they saw him nearing the further side,--

'He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska's

'Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!'

But before he touched the shore,

The shore of the Bristol Channel,

A sea-green Porpoise carried away

His wrapper of scarlet flannel.

And when he came to observe his feet

Formerly garnished with toes so neat

His face at once became forlorn

On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew

From that dark day to the present,

Whoso had taken the Pobble's toes,

In a manner so far from pleasant.

Whether the shrimps or crawfish gray,

Or crafty Mermaids stole them away --

Nobody knew; and nobody knows

How the Pebble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes

Was placed in a friendly Bark,

And they rowed him back, and carried him up,

To his Aunt Jobiska's Park.

And she made him a feast at his earnest wish

Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish;--

And she said,-- 'It's a fact the whole world knows,

'That Pebbles are happier without their toes.'

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar,

"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

"What a beautiful Pussy you are,

"You are,

"You are!

"What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!

"How charmingly sweet you sing!

"O let us be married! too long we have tarried!

"But what shall we do for a ring?"

They sailed away for a year and a day,

To the land where the Bong-tree grows,

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,

With a ring at the end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one schilling

"Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

Calico Pie by Edward Lear

Calico Pie

by Edward Lear

Calico Pie,

The little birds fly

Down to the calico tree,

Their wings were blue,

And they sang "Tilly-loo!"

Till away they flew,--

And they never came back to me!

They never came back!

They never came back!

They never came back to me!

Calico Jam,

The little Fish swam

Over the syllabub sea.

He took off his hat,

To the Sole and the Sprat,

And the Willeby-wat,--

But he never came back to me!

He never came back!

He never came back!

He never came back to me!

Calico Ban,

The little Mice ran,

To be ready in time for tea,

Flippity flup,

They drank it all up,

And danced in the cup,--

But they never came back to me!

They never came back!

They never came back!

They never came back to me!

Calico Drum,

The grasshoppers come,

The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,

Over the ground,

Around and round,

With a hop and a bound,--

But they never came back!

They never came back!

They never came back!

They never came back to me!

The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll

The Lobster Quadrille

By Lewis Carroll

"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail,

"There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!

They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the

"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be

When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out
to sea!"

But the snail replied, "Too far, too far!" and gave a look

Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join
the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join
the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join
the dance.

"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.

"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.

The further off from England the nearer is to France-

Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the

The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

The Walrus and the Carpenter

by Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,

Shining with all his might;

He did his very best to make

The billows smooth and bright--

And this was odd, because it was

The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,

Because she thought the sun

Had got no business to be there

After the day was done--

"It's very rude of him," she said,

"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,

The sands were dry as dry.

You could not see a cloud, because

No cloud was in the sky;

No birds were flying overhead--

There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter

Were walking close at hand;

They wept like anything to see

Such quantities of sand--

"If this were only cleared away,"

They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops

Swept it for half a year,

Do you suppose," the Walrus said,

"That they could get it clear?"

"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,

And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"

The Walrus did beseech.

"A Pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,

Along the briny beach;

We cannot do with more than four,

To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,

But never a word he said;

The eldest Oyster winked his eye,

And shook his heavy head--

Meaning to say he did not choose

To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,

All eager for the treat;

Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,

Their shoes were clean and neat--

And this was odd, because, you know,

They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,

And yet another four;

And thick and fast they came at last,

And more, and more, and more--

All hopping through the frothy waves,

And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter

Walked on a mile or so,

And then they rested on a rock

Conveniently low--

And all the little Oysters stood

And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --

Of cabbages -- and kings --

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,

"Before we have our chat;

For some of us are out of breath,

And all of us are fat!"

"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.

They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,

"Is what we chiefly need;

Pepper and vinegar besides

Are very good indeed--

Now, if you're ready, Oysters dear,

We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,

Turning a little blue.

"After such kindness, that would be

A dismal thing to do!"

"The night is fine," the Walrus said.

"Do you admire the view?"

"It was so kind of you to come!

And you are very nice!"

The Carpenter said nothing but,

"Cut us another slice.

I wish you were not quite so deaf--

I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,

"To play them such a trick.

After we've brought them out so far,

And made them trot so quick!"

The Carpenter said nothing but,

"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said;

"I deeply sympathize."

With sobs and tears he sorted out

Those of the largest size,

Holding his pocket-handkerchief

Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,

"You've had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?"

But answer came there none--

And this was scarcely odd, because

They'd eaten every one.

Father William by Lewis Carroll

Father William

by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,

"And your hair has become very white;

And yet you incessantly stand on your head--

Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,

"I feared it might injure the brain;

But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,

Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,

And have grown most uncommonly fat;

Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door--

Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his gray locks,

"I kept all my limbs very supple

By the use of this ointment -- one shilling the box --

Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak

For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--

Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw

Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose

That your eye was as steady as ever;

Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose--

What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"

Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!

Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?

Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs!"

Susan Cooper

Born May 23, 1935 in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England

Whether you "enjoy" the genre of fantasy or not, it is the genre in which children frequently encounter a world where the boundaries between Good and Evil are most clearly delineated and where the eternal struggle is painted most clearly. It is ironic that that should be so because as we grow, age, and sometimes become wiser, one of the skins of childhood that we shed is that clear certainty of where Good lies and where Evil lurks. Unless we think deeply and reflectively, it often seems that a world of clear light becomes befogged with shades of grey. We return to fantasy to capture that clarity; where we can know the good guys from the bad and where we can carry moral certitude as a "strange device".

Along with other noted practitioners such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alan Garner, and latterly J.K. Rowling, Susan Cooper is one of the premier practitioners of storytelling in the realm of Good and Evil. Like these others, she has mined the languages and legend of the British Isles for her images and atmosphere in her five book Dark Is Rising series. Fortunately, and it is one of the distinctive features of her writing, Cooper is not a preacher or a simplifier. She acknowledges Good and Evil and the quest of her characters to understand these two extremes and their desire to discover on which side they will stand their ground. But she is also an apostle of the ambiguous and a priestess of the Golden Mean. Things are not always what they appear in her books and it is that ambiguity and uncertainty that imparts a tension, thrill and veracity that sometimes is absent elsewhere.

The quest to understand Good and Evil shows up early in our cultural heritage, the continuing navigation between the Us and the Them, between the Light by the fire and the Darkness out there. The roots of moderation are nearly as deep, with the Greeks (of course) already counseling that "Moderation is best" (Cleobulus) and that we should pursue "Nothing in excess" (Aristotle). In fact, even before the philosophers, the very first storytellers are speaking this counsel. Homer has Menelaus (brother of Agamemnon) in the Iliad say "I would disapprove of another hospitable man who was excessive in friendship, as of one excessive in hate. In all things balance is better."

Cooper's achievement in The Dark is Rising series is to treat serious themes seriously but deftly. She is a powerful writer who engages, almost regardless of theme or topic, and she has a near perfect pitch for dealing with themes of moral exploration and self-discovery for young readers. In dealing with serious issues, she exposes herself to criticisms of one sort or another - too ambiguous, too nuanced, too magical, etc. I would argue that Cooper is just what bright young children need - someone that helps them engage, not in some pedantic way, but at an emotional as well as intellectual level, with the conundrums of life. She is a catalyst to deeper thinking. One of the things that I enjoy about her writing is that while, as an author, she always counsels against the extremes that lead to bad actions from good intentions, she also does not fall into the fatal trap of moral equivalence - the argument that all actions are equally good/bad.

Born in 1935 in Buckinghamshire, England, Cooper was a young girl through the six years of World War II and she has identified this period as a significant influence on her thinking and writing. Her father worked for the famed Great Western Railway and was a lover of music and drawing while her mother was a teacher and a reader of poetry. Cooper was drawn to books early on but also to other aspects of story-telling including theatrical productions and BBC radio dramatizations. She took her degree at Oxford University where she was able to attend lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Graduating from Oxford, Cooper initially pursued a career in journalism back when it was really a profession. She worked for The Sunday Times for seven years, learning the journalist's craft of tight prose, getting to the point, working against deadlines, etc. While at the Times, she worked for a period under the editorship of Ian Fleming of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and James Bond fame.

In 1963 Cooper married an MIT professor with three children (she was to later have two children of her own as well) and moved to the USA. She has resided in the US ever since, though her books are all set in Britain. Cooper's first marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Cooper continued her career in journalism, producing a body of columns commenting on the points of commonality and distinction between Britain and the US. These essays were collected together and published as her third book, Behind the Golden Curtain: A View of the USA in 1965.

Cooper's first book, Mandrake, an adult science fiction dystopia, was published in 1964, a year after her move to the USA. In 1965 she published her second book and what was to be the first in the five books in The Dark is Rising series, Over Sea, Under Stone. The other books in the series are The Dark is Rising (1973), Greenwitch (1974), The Grey King (1975) and Silver on the Tree (1977). Each book, from Over Sea, Under Stone onwards, has been very well received, in terms of popularity, in critical terms and in terms of awards. The Grey King, viewed by some as the best in the series, won the Newbery Medal in 1976.

Over the years, Cooper has demonstrated a remarkable range of authorial talent across the thirty books she has written. In addition to the five Dark is Rising series, she has, as noted, published collections of essays (her own with Behind the Golden Curtain, and of others with her collection of J.B. Prietley essays which she edited as Essays of Five Decades), a biography (J.B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author), juvenile historical fiction which was also semi-autobiographical (Dawn of Fear), further children's fantasy but for younger readers, Broadway plays, retellings of British Isles folklore (such as The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale and The Selkie Tale), and humorous fantasy for independent readers (The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monster). She has also turned her hand to television screenplays. It was through her work in theater and television that Cooper met her second husband, Hume Cronyn.

For all the versatility and range of writing achievement, Cooper's reputation is firmly tied to the success and effectiveness of the fantasy series The Dark is Rising. The seed for the first book was planted when the publisher Ernest Benn offered a prize for a family adventure story in the vein of Edith Nesbit. Cooper was taken with this idea (it "offered the irresistible combination of a challenge, a deadline, and money, and I dived at it in delight.") but soon left the prize behind as her own work headed in its own direction. A character she created in the first chapter, Merriman Lyon (a modern day uncle of the three protagonist children but in actuality Merlin from the King Arthur legends), hijacked her reality-based story. According to Cooper, "Merry took over. He led the book out of realism, to myth-haunted layers of story that took me way past a 'family adventure' and way past my deadline. Now I was no longer writing for a deadline or money. I was writing for me, or perhaps for the child I once was and in part still am."

Over Sea, Under Stone tells the story of three children, on holiday in Cornwall with their uncle. They discover an ancient map which in turn leads them to the Holy Grail which in turn plunges them into the struggle Good and Evil. Over Sea, Under Stone was rejected by more than twenty publishers before finally being accepted and published by Jonathan Cape. In the subsequent books, Uncle Merriman Lyon returns with a different cast of characters. The protagonist is Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son. His journey of self-discovery and then crusade against the Dark forms the backbone of the rest of the series.

Cooper's childhood was closely bound not only to the quintessentially English county of Buckinghamshire but also to the Celtic fringe of Britain with summer holidays in Cornwall and a grandmother from North Wales and where her parents lived for the last twenty-five years of their lives. It is the rich tapestry of England and darker Celtic myths that so enriches the Dark is Rising series. Natalie Babbitt (author of the wonderful fantasy Tuck Everlasting) reviewed The Grey King in the New York Times Book Review and concluded "It is useless to try to recreate the subtleties of Susan Cooper's plotting and language. Enough to say that this volume, like those preceding it, is brimful of mythic elements and is beautifully told." Indeed.

If you have access to The Horn Book Magazine, there is a wonderful article in the May/June 2008 edition by Susan Cooper, Unriddling the World, which well repays an attentive read. The following are snippets from that essay. These can in no way substitute for the pleasure and insight of the full article, but like hors d'oeuvres, they might whet the appetite.

Writers of my kind try to unriddle the world through fantasy. In the childhood of mankind, this was the job of myth. Once we human beings began to think, we tried to make sense of this beautiful puzzling perilous place we live in, and so we began to invent stories. . .

In all cultures of the earth the myths developed, to deal with the five great mysteries that we still try to understand today: life, death, time, good, and evil. The myths are the archetypal stories, the basis for everything that's come after them. You learned about them in grade school: all the earliest beliefs, that great splendid stew of Greek and Roman, Norse and Celtic, Apollo and Zeus and Venus and Mars and Thor and Loki, and on, and on. And you were taught to use the word mythical to mean unreal. But though myth, like its grandchild fantasy, may not be real, it is true.

Today's educated adult doesn't give a great deal of thought to the myths. He or she may have religious beliefs, depending on faith rather than on reason, but in general prefer fact to metaphor. The last two hundred years have seen such an explosion of discovery and knowledge that we've come to feel science and technology will solve all the riddles, in the end. Problem-solving and unriddling, however, are not quite the same thing. . . .

. . . If you ask yourself rational straightforward questions about a story or an image, you can find yourself facing a blank wall. A storyteller has to be irrational, indirect, in order to help young readers cope with this eternally puzzling world – because facts alone are not going to resolve the riddles for them, not without the help of the imagination.

. . . The riddle of good and evil is at the heart of nearly all the fantasy novels read by children not only in this middle range, but on into adolescence; we aren't thinking about sex all the time even when we're sixteen. These are times when story is particularly valuable, to stretch the muscles of the imagination. It teaches without intending to. God forbid that it should be consciously didactic; a lot of the Victorians wrote perfectly terrible didactic books that must have bored children rigid. But inevitably in writing fantasy we show good, we show evil, we show the powers of each – and, I suppose, we show how to choose. And the young reader is paying attention simply because he – or she – is, like us, inside the story. He's more completely inside this kind of story than an adult can be. It's not that we lose touch with our imaginations when we grow up, but by then experience has hardened our opinions, assumptions, beliefs, and to some extent they get in the way. The young reader hasn't any of these; he's still looking, questing. And inside the story, the quest of the hero is a metaphor for the reader's quest for adulthood.

She's a marvelous writer - try any of her books but certainly, make sure your eleven to thirteen year olds are exposed to her Dark is Rising books.

Picture Books

The Magician's Boy by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Serena Riglietti Suggested

Independent Reader

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper Highly Recommended

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper Highly Recommended

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper Highly Recommended

The Grey King by Susan Cooper Highly Recommended

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper Recommended

Dawn of Fear by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Margery Gill Suggested

The Boggart by Susan Cooper Suggested

The Boggart and the Monster by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman Suggested

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper Suggested

Green Boy by Susan Cooper Suggested

Victory by Susan Cooper Suggested

The Seeker by Susan Cooper Suggested

Susan Cooper Bibilography

Mandrake written by Susan Cooper 1964

Over Sea, under Stone written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Margery Gill 1965

Behind the Golden Curtain: A View of the U.S.A. written by Susan Cooper 1965

Essays of Five Decades written by Susan Cooper 1968

Dawn of Fear written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Margery Gill 1970

J. B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author written by Susan Cooper 1970

The Dark Is Rising written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Alan E. Cober 1973

Greenwitch written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Lianne Payne 1974

The Grey King written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Michael Heslop 1975

Silver on the Tree written by Susan Cooper 1977

Jethro and the Jumbie written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Ashley Bryan 1979

Foxfire written by Susan Cooper 1980

Seaward written by Susan Cooper 1983

The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Warwick Hutton 1983

The Dollmaker written by Susan Cooper 1984

The Selkie Girl written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Warwick Hutton 1986

Tam Lin written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Warwick Hutton 1991

Matthew's Dragon written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Joseph A. Smith 1991

The Boggart written by Susan Cooper 1992

Danny and the Kings written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Joseph A. Smith 1993

To Dance with the White Dog written by Susan Cooper 1993

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children written by Susan Cooper 1996

The Boggart and the Monster written by Susan Cooper 1997

Don't Read This! and Other Tales of the Unnatural written by Susan Cooper 1998

King of Shadows written by Susan Cooper 1999

Frog written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Jane Browne 2002

Green Boy written by Susan Cooper 2002

The Magician's Boy written by Susan Cooper 2005

Victory written by Susan Cooper 2006

The Seeker written by Susan Cooper 2007

Nonsense Verse

What is nonsense verse? It is easier perhaps to say who were its creators or earliest practitioners: Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. English has always had a form of nonsense verse in the extensive portfolio of tales, jingles, and rhymes that form our Mother Goose (see Pigeon Post essay of July 6, 2008). There are many jingles that remain current in our language and cultural vocabulary about which there is little or no agreement as to what the rhymes actually mean, ipso facto, nonsense poetry.


A pocket full of posies;

ashes! ashes!

we all fall down.

Is this some folk recollection of the 14th century experience of the Bubonic Plague, a vestige of some ancient Druidic rite, or something else entirely? Even though we have lost the original context, this and other currently unfathomable Mother Goose rhymes, likely at one time did make sense - we have simply forgotten what the context was and how to understand it.

Nonsense verse is verse deliberately created to puzzle, amuse and bewilder and the earliest or certainly most prominent practitioner was the estimable Edward Lear. Much of what he created was written to entertain his charges as tutor to the children of the 13th Earl of Derby. Lear published his first collection of nonsense verse in 1846, A Book of Nonsense, which was basically a collection of limericks which he wrote and illustrated. Despite the apparent amateurishness of his sketched illustrations, Lear was actually a lifelong and talented artist and painter. His ornithological paintings were held to be in the same class as Audubon.

The poetic form of limericks existed before Lear but he made it his own in a way rarely seen. Perhaps only Shakespeare is as closely associated with a specific form of poetry, sonnets, as is Lear with his limericks. These limericks in his first publication have the core attribute of nonsense verse - the individual lines are comprehensible but the whole verse is incomprehensible, puzzling, or uses words in an ambiguous way which a child still mastering the language can experience as a light-bulb moment.

There was an Old Man of Peru,

Who never knew what he should do;

So he tore off his hair, and behaved like as bear,

That intrinsic Old Man of Peru.

The mental image of some distinguished old gentleman behaving like a bear is likely to get a laugh from most children. Thrown in is the bonus of trying to figure out how an Old Man of Peru can be intrinsic. Then there are the ones where Lear just makes an improbable situation seem normal.

There was an old person of Ewell,

Who chiefly subsisted on gruel;

But to make it more nice, he inserted some Mice,

Which refreshed that Old Person of Ewell.

Mouse gruel - Mmmhh! A dish likely to appeal to all those of the snips and snails and puppy dog tails persuasion.

Lear's limericks are rich in unusual words which are likely to catch the attention of children still mastering the language and collecting words like shiny pebbles on the shore. Invidious, ombliferous, dolorous, umbrageous, incipient, intrinsic, oracular, mendacious, borascible, ecstatic, whimsical, amiable, globular, incongruous - Lear's people are all uncommonly adjectively enhanced. With ombliferous and borascible, you see what was later to become one of the frequently distinctive marks of nonsense verse - the made up word. Lewis Carroll was particularly prone to this technique of which his Jabberwocky is probably the most well known example and, as incomprehensible as it is, remains ever popular among young children today. Perhaps there is a feeling of relief that the adult is at an equal disadvantage as the child in understanding the poem.


By Lewis Carroll

'TWAS brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought --

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Calloh! Callay!"

He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lear often exploited the wonderful malleability and multiple meanings of the English language in such a way as to make a child think about things in a way differently than they are accustomed to. These forms are known as Wellerisms; for example, '"I see" said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.' An example from Lear would be his The Table and the Chair who go walking about on their four legs.

Both Lear and Carroll later, expanded on the simple limerick and began writing extended poems that told some form of tale but incorporated made up words, logical incongruities, puns and multiple meanings. Some of the more famous include Father William, Jabberwocky, The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Crocodile, and The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll. Lear had Calico Pie, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, The Pobble Who Has No Toes, The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, The Quangle Wangle's Hat, and The Akond of Swat.

More contemporary practitioners of nonsense poetry who appeal to children include Ogden Nash, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Grahame, John Ciardi, or Earl L. Newton.

The gap between good and bad books can be pretty wide. The gulf between good and bad poetry can be larger still. The chasm between good and bad nonsense verse is of a Grand Canyon magnitude.

It is uncommon, outside the works of Edward Lear, to find collections of nonsense verse. More practically, individual poems are often released illustrated by contemporary illustrators. For example, Jan Brett has illustrated Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat, which serves as a wonderful introduction for young children to the pleasures of nonsense verse.

Nonsense verse serves as a great bridge from the rhymes of Mother Goose to fuller poetry later on, while at the same time continuing to cultivate a love of language and the artistic manipulation of words. It also, I think, instills a respect for the fact that not everything, least of all in poetry, is necessarily comprehensible. I am thinking of Longfellow's Excelsior. Another example might be that thrilling final verse of Browning's Childe Roland:

There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met

To view the last of me, a living frame

For one more picture! In a sheet of flame

I saw them and knew them all. And yet

Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,

And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."

I love it, but I don't yet understand it and perhaps being comfortable with both states is a product of an early exposure to nonsense verse.

Attached is a list of stand alone illustrated versions of some nonsense poems, nonsense verse collections as well as some poetry anthologies which include some good nonsense poems. Let us know which nonsense poems your children enjoy.

Picture Books

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and illustrated by Jan Brett
Highly Recommended

"A" Was Once an Apple Pie by Edward Lear and illustrated by Suse MacDonald Recommended

Poetry for Young People by Robert Browning and illustrated by Joel Spector Suggested

The Doubtful Guest written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Suggested

The Object-Lesson written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Suggested

The Gashlycrumb Tinies written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Suggested

The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort and illustrated by G. Brian Karas Suggested

The Quangle Wangle's Hat by Edward Lear and illustrated by Louise Voce Suggested

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and illlustrated by Anne Mortimer Suggested

Poetry for Young People by Edward Lear and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith Suggested

The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash and illustrated by Bridget Starr Taylor Suggested

Ride a Purple Pelican by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Garth Williams Suggested

Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Peter Sis Suggested

Independent Reader

A Book of Nonsense written and illustrated by Edward Lear Highly Recommended

Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Night by Ogden Nash and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger Highly Recommended

Nonsense Verse by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Lorna Hussey Recommended

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch Recommended

Amphigorey written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Recommended

Amphigorey Again written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Recommended

Amphigorey Also written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Recommended

Amphigorey Too written and illustrated by Edward Gorey Recommended

Edward Lear by Edward Lear and edited by Vivien Noakes Recommended

The Best of Ogden Nash by Ogden Nash and edited by Linell Nash Smith Recommended

The Annotated Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Henry Holiday and edited by Martin Gardner Suggested

Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll by Lewis Carroll Suggested

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch Suggested

So Much Nonsense by Edward Lear Suggested