Kennedy, Caroline comp. Poems to Learn by Heart. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. 2013. New York: Disney Hyperion Books. ISBN 1423108051
Poems to Learn by Heart is a beautiful collection of poems organized by theme. In addition to an overall introduction, each section has an introduction. This collection has something for all ages. While many of the poems are childhood favorites (such as Jane Yolen’s “Homework”) others are far less familiar (like Robert Graves “I’d love to be a Fairy’s child”).
While Kennedy explains the importance, and historical significance, of memorization, some of the selected poems are extremely long for classroom memorization. (Granted, Kennedy wasn’t speaking in terms of classroom memorization in her introduction, but many would likely take it as such due to the nature of modern memorization.) For example, while “Casey at the Bat” has been a long time favorite of mine and I have the story and certain lines (especially the last one) memorized, I would not think of tackling the challenge the whole poem poses to memorization.
Muth’s watercolors are the perfect complement to the selected poems. He doesn’t allow the image to outweigh the words. In fact, on some pages, the majority of the painting is a wash of a single color with some small detail in a contrasting color.
While Kennedy clearly aims this at school aged children (she implies such in both the general introduction and the introduction to school poems), I feel that, especially for the generations that didn’t grow up with “Casey at the Bat,” it can easily appeal to college aged students as well. (For that matter, adults would probably love finding old favorites beside new-to-them verses.)
Liberty by Janet Wong
I pledge acceptance
of the views,
that make us America
To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn
sharing the earth
There are many different places this particular poem could be used in a lesson. I could be civil rights, or the waves of Irish immigration, for that matter it could be speaking of today’s problems. It could be used in a political science class or an English class.
For a different take, it would be a springboard for allowing students to “update” the Pledge of Allegiance. Would they stay true to the spirit of the original, or would they paint the US as a darker place than the Pledge seems to be speaking of?
Kirkus—“As if Kennedy’s rich poetic finds weren’t enough to hook adventurous youngsters, Muth’s shadowy, evocative watercolors render submission inevitable. From the sonorant and strange to the profound and challenging, the poems and paintings collected here are sure to capture readers of any age.”
Kirkus Reviews. May 2013. Vol. 81, No.10. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9781423108054