Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sometimes I think I'm overdoing it just a bit.  I mean, how many serious-ish nonfiction books do kids really want to read?  I rationalize my filled-to-the-brim-with-books household by telling myself that I pick out books and leave them lying around, available, in case curiosity motivates one or two or all of my children to pick it up and read it. I also let them choose plenty of books on their own; they are not left to my nerdy selections.

Papa Is a Poet is long and wordy and serious, so it is definitely in that last category.  Bober tells the story of Robert Frost--as told from the perspective of Lesley, one of his daughters.  She tells us, the reader, of the day they returned from a two year, poetry-writing stint in England, when her father saw at a newsstand a published collection of his works, North of Boston.  He was surprised! Frost hadn't been told by any American publisher of its creation, but was overjoyed to have met success on this side of the Atlantic.

Lesley thinks back to simpler times, before her family sold their farm to raise the funds to go to England.  They lived on a farm, and Robert Frost was a poultry farmer.  Theirs was a nature-filled childhood, with streams and flowers and trees and each other to play in and around and with. Robert and his wife home schooled their children, and their life was full of books.  Their days were "ordinary but meaningful. The cupboard was often bare, yet life was filled to the brim."

Poetry--playing with words, finding the humor or beauty in simple things, and creating metaphors--ran through his veins, but he felt that it wasn't an acceptable pastime for a father of a large family.  He felt he was a "disappointing failure" in the eyes of neighbors and family, so they sold the farm and moved. They flipped a coin to decide where to go. The coin landed on heads, so they went to England--if it had landed on tails, they'd have gone to Vancouver. Choosing to be a full-time poet was a crazy, almost reckless decision, but he did it. And look, he did it so very well.

Why tell this story, read this book to young girls and boys like Lorelei (age 7)?

  1. Robert Frost is one of the greatest American poets, and now she has a little background, a little context to the lesson she'll soon get from a teacher. She'll know he was a dad and had kids and made up little rhymes for his family, and maybe...maybe his poetry will be not be so intimidating.
  2. I don't love how Bober sprinkles in Frost's poetry.  I think she feels obligated to, and I appreciate her attempt. While I don't think it usually works, I love that his most famous lines (see below) are in there, and that Lorelei knows about them and we can talk about them when making choices.
  3. Speaking of choices, I really like that this story is about one man struggling to make a choice--and it's a tough one for a man with poems in his head but mouths to feed.  I'm always telling Lorelei and her brothers that there are lots of choices, but no perfect one, but you have to trust your gut, take a risk, and then give that choice your all. Robert Frost did that.
  4. Personally, poetry didn't make a lot of sense when I was in school.  I realize now how fun it can be, how poets play with words and say things in tricky ways that challenge the reader to think, and I want to introduce that concept to my kids little by little, stanza by stanza.
  5. Their days were "ordinary but meaningful." The book is worth it for just that--a reminder that we don't need lots of gizmos and gadgets.  The simple things, especially when done with humor and appreciation, sure do mean a lot.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Other books on poetry you might want to check out:
Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys (Raczka)
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (Lewis)
Runny Babbit (Silverstein)
And pretty much anything by Dr Suess, of course!

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