Years ago I watched a film about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and I found his story very intriguing. I then began to read his books and poetry, and somehow knowing what he had been like made my connection with his writings that much closer. Today's poetry title provides young readers with a wonderful picture of Robert Louis Stevenson's life and his poetry.
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
Poetry Picture book
For ages 7 and up
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5476-0
From a very early age Robert Louis Stevenson spent much of his time in bed. He was a fragile little boy who was often sick, sometimes for months on end. Unable to get out of bed and play as other children did, Robert spent a lot of his time writing letters, reading, and making up stories. He grew to love reading books and writing so much that he gave up studying engineering at university, because he preferred to read and write. Later he gave up being a lawyer because spending his life defending people in court simply was not what he wanted to do. All he really wanted to do was to have adventures and write. Thankfully for us Robert was able to follow his heart. He spent most of his adult life crafting stories and poems that people of all ages still enjoy today.
Many of the poems in this title come from Robert’s book A Child’s Garden of Verses. In this collection, Robert’s love for nature, for simple pleasures, and for journeys of the imagination comes through loud and clear. He seems to understand how children think, and how they perceive the world. For example, in Whole Duty of Children, he talks about how children should behave; how they should always tell the truth, speak when they are spoken to, and behave in a “mannerly way” when they are at the table. At the same time he understands that a child can only do these things “as far as he is able.” Children, like everyone else, cannot be expected to better than their best.
We see Robert’s appreciation for the little joys in life when he tells us about what it is like to dig holes in the sand on a beach, and when he wonders, in the voice of a child, what will happen to the little boats he has made when he puts them in the river and watches them float away. Perhaps the boats will go “A hundred miles or more” and perhaps “Other little children / Shall bring my boats ashore.”
In the poem Travel he tells us how he would like to go to “Parrot islands” and to “Where the Great Wall round China goes.” He would like to see a “knotty crocodile” as it “Lies and blinks in the Nile,” and a place “among the desert sands” where a “deserted city stands.” He hopes when he is grown to travel to this city, where he will look at the pictures on the walls in an empty room “And in a corner find the toys / Of the old Egyptian boys.”
Using his word wizardry Robert Louis Stevenson takes us into the lives, worlds and imagination of children, allowing us to be pirates, to visit a fairy land, to create a world on a bed quilt, and so much more. The collection concludes with his poem Requiem, the words of which appear on his grave, which lies on a mountain on Upolu Island in Samoa.