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There was a time in the not too distant past when schoolchildren were "encouraged" to memorize poetry. Often the poems were ballads, which recount the struggles of everyday folks that led them to heroism (or epic defeat). Most children found this kind of lesson challenging and a bit painful. However, long after the memorizer recited the poem to the teacher and received a grade, often phrases from the poem would linger in the brain. The books listed below are illustrated versions of some of the most popularly assigned poems. The reading of the first line alone might make many older Americans recall the poem. Mention them to your grandmother or grandfather and he or she just might be able to recite you a line or two from them.
"Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayers; illustrated by Christopher Bing: "The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day." The hope that Casey represents to his team and fans provides the suspense in the most famous sports ballad in American literature. There have been numerous picture books illustrating the poem over the past few years. Bing's illustrations, however, stand out for the historical perspective they provide. Reproductions of tickets, programs, newspaper articles and more, garnish the pages and give the reader a feel of being at an actual baseball game during the early 1900s. Bing received a Caldecott honor award for his illustrations.
"The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson: "Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." Thus begins one of the two most often memorized poems on this list ("Casey" being the other). Longfellow's tribute to Revere's warning to others of the British troops' advance stirs the patriot in any reader. The rhythm not only allows for easier memorization but also suggests the drum beats and gun fire in the battle to follow.Thompson's illustrations, though actually hand drawings with computer enhancement, suggest a cross between stained glass and wood block prints. "In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae" by Linda Granfield; illustrated by Janet Wilson: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow." This poem was not only assigned to American students but also those who attended school in McCrae's homeland of Canada. Granfield's book tells how this poem not only recounted the tragedies of World War I but also led to honoring the dead with the symbol of the poppy. The poem is spread out through the book accompanied by post-impressionistic illustrations by Wilson.
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost; illustrated by Susan Jeffers: "Whose woods these are I think I know." Frost's poem is, on the surface, a simple recounting of resting in the woods on a winter's evening. But the depth of this one moment in a life becomes clearer as the lines and the atmosphere of the work lingers in the reader's memory. Jeffers' illustrations recount the feel, look and sounds of this encounter with nature.
"The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Howitt; illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi: "Will you walk into my parlor? said the Spider to the Fly." Often paraphrased as "'step into my parlor!' said the Spider to the Fly," this opening line and the poem that follows served as a warning to many a poem-reciter of the consequences of naivete. DiTerlizzi's illustrations set the action of the poem in the early 1900s. An innocent young fly is set upon by a spider of questionable character. She finally gives in to his flattery, allowing him to literally swoop in for the kill (though all violence is "off-page"). DiTerlizzi won the Caldecott award for the black and white illustrations that bring this poem to life.