Friday, February 12, 2010

Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet

Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a PoetCarl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet by Penelope Niven, with poems and prose by Carl Sandburg, illustrated by Marc Nadel, Harcourt Inc., 2003

Poetry was a regular part of read-aloud time when I was a kid. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my sister and parents, listening to my mom read nursery rhymes and poems. I understood that somehow there was a physical pleasure in reading them—the play of consonants and vowels off the teeth and tongue and throat, the satisfaction of rhyming, the cadences of lines and stanzas were clearly things to be enjoyed. Each poem was like a little flash of music or light, with its own distinct rhythm and shape. You could hear that she loved the words, and her love for them showed me how to love them, too.

Carl Sandburg loved words. Apparently he collected them the way other children collect physical objects. He also read just about every book in his school library, and got inspired to do his own writing. And this is why I love reading biographies like this to my kids—to offer to them other peoples’ passions and open up new worlds of possibilities. You can collect words? You can write down the music in your head? You can devote your life to studying snowflakes?

Sandburg was a dreamer, a traveler, a soldier in the Spanish-American war, a newspaper journalist, a gatherer or folk songs, a family man, a poet, writer and historian. This book presents his life to children in categories, covering the wide variety of jobs he had and things he did. Each two-page spread is devoted to a category, with biographical information on one side and an illustration and piece of Sandburg’s poetry or prose on the other side. The watercolor and ink illustrations are very carefully-researched, and are full of his personal possessions and images from his home. The illustration notes at the back of the book are really interesting.

This is not a picture book for very young children, but I think older grade school children would find it very interesting. It is a great combination of pictures, poetry, and life-story-that-reads-like-fiction. Getting a taste of what a creative life looks like is an invaluable tool for anybody at the beginning of their own life.

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