This week’s summer rerun originally published on April 26, 2013 (my 30th birthday!).


I didn’t sit down and think, “A ha! I have it—the perfect edifying exercise!” It happened on its own one day at lunch, when I picked up A Child’s Garden of Verses and began reading poetry to the girls as they finished their quesadillas.

What happened next surprised me. They asked for another poem, and then another. And the next day at lunch, they wanted me to read to them again. And so it began: we assembled a small library of dinner-table books and began thumbing through one or two of them at each meal.

Mary Oliver. A.A. Milne. Billy Collins. Shel Silverstein. Valerie Worth. Some were written for adults, some for kids, but all of them are lovely, hilarious, sustaining poetry.

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t do this at every meal, or even every day, but when I do grab a book from the shelf, four little eyes light up as the girls wait to see which poem I’ll choose. And when it’s from A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of their very favorites, they often put their forks down and listen closely.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems have a peace to them and feel for all the world as though you’re sprawled in the grass of a Scottish lawn as you listen. He had a sharp memory for the joys of childhood and a knack for choosing the perfect words to describe it. Poems like “Keepsake Mill” move me, while the girls can’t get enough of “The Cow,” “The Lamplighter,” or “My Bed is Like a Boat.” I mean, the man wrote half a dozen poems about bedtime, and every one of them is enchanting!

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing that could improve it, really, are Joanna Isles’s illustrations. Detailed and gorgeous, they show children doing what children do best: playing, inventing, imagining, creating little worlds within their games.

There are a number of editions of this book available, all with different illustrators, but we are all so smitten with Isles’s interpretations that I firmly encourage you, if possible, to track down her edition. We found our copy at Goodwill, and my oldest daughter spent the next day tracking a small orange cat through every single picture in the book. That’s still a great game for us, one that my youngest now loves as well: “Where is the cat in this poem? Can you find him?”

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

A Child’s Garden of Verses is classic children’s poetry at its best, a charming book that would fit right into any library. (Plus, it’s perfect for reading together over peanut-butter sandwiches.)


A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, Joanna Isles (1885, repub. 1995)

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