Poetry for Children

[Caroline Sheridan Norton].  Aunt Carry’s Ballads for Children. By the Honourable Mrs. Norton.  With illustrations by John Absolon.  London:  Joseph Cundall, 1847. Frontispiece and title-page.

Caroline Norton (1808–1878) was a well-known English author and social reformer.  In addition to 11 books of poetry, she published political pamphlets, novels, and plays.  This book, dedicated to her niece, Edith Sheridan, has two long ballads, “Adventures of a Wood Sprite,” and “The Story of Blanche and Brutikin.”  It is illustrated by British watercolorist John Absolon (1815–1895).

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Playtime with the Poets: A Selection of the Best English Poetry for the Use of Children.  By a Lady.  London:  Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1863. Title-page and inscribed page.

The compiler of this anthology of poetry for children is unknown, described only as “a lady.”  The unsigned preface indicates that, in regard to children, she has knowledge of their tastes and capabilities, which few except mothers have time or patience to acquire.  She states that, Two things are essentially required in poetry for children—action and incident, to attract and keep alive their attention, and simplicity and power of language.  Among the 160 poems selected from a wide variety of authors are the following:  “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson, “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” by Robert Browning, and “The Romance of the Swan’s Nest” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  The inscriptions opposite the title-page indicate the success of the selections:  “rebound after long use and travelling 1894,” and “EFG’s favourite Book.”


Christina G.[eorgina] Rossetti.  Sing-Song. A Nursery Rhyme Book.  With one hundred and twenty illustrations by Arthur Hughes, engraved by the Brothers Dalziel.  London:  George Routledge and Sons, 1872.  First edition. Frontispiece and title-page.

Christina Rossetti (1820–1894) was an English poet who wrote romantic and devotional verses and is best known for Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).  Following the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1861, she was considered by many to be the foremost female poet of the era.  She was the sister of poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) and William Michael Rossetti (1829–1919), a writer and critic of the period.  This collection of poems and rhymes about childhood activities, flowers, animals, and seasons also contains some darker poems about death and loss which some critics felt were unsuitable for the audience.  Most, however, have pleasing rhymes that promote learning while playfully entertaining the reader.  The plentiful illustrations by English painter and illustrator Arthur Hughes (1832–1915), engraved by the firm of George and Edward Dalziel, contributed to the success of the book.

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Hallam Tennyson.  Jack and the Bean-Stalk.  English Hexameters.  Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.  London:  Macmillan and Co., 1886. Title-page.

The eldest son of English Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Hallam Tennyson (1852–1928) was the 2nd Baron Tennyson and the second Governor-General of Australia.  His retelling of the tale of Jack and the Bean-Stalk is rendered in a specific kind of verse—the hexameter, which was the standard epic meter in classical Greek and Latin literature.  Tennyson dedicated the book to both his father, in recognition of what this booklet owes to him, and to his nephews.  The book is illustrated with unfinished sketches by Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886), English artist and children’s book illustrator; these were published posthumously by permission of his wife.  The Caldecott Metal for the most distinguished American picture book for children is named in his honor.

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Page three of the document shows an example of poetry written in English hexameter.


Robert Browning.  The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  With illustrations by Kate Greenaway.  Everyman’s Library, Children’s Classics.  New York, Toronto:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Title-page.

The only children’s books actively collected by the Armstrong Browning Library are editions of Robert Browning’s well-known narrative poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin, written as entertainment for an ailing ten-year-old boy.  The Library holds over 150 different editions of this poem or adaptations of the work, illustrated in a wide variety of styles by a multitude of artists.  The most famous Pied Piper illustrations are those created by English children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway (1846–1901) for the edition published in 1888.  The illustrations, reproduced in this 1993 edition, are believed by many to represent Greenaway’s best work.

Cover of the 1888 edition illustrated by Kate Greenaway

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A.[lan] A.[lexander] Milne.  When We Were Very Young.  With decorations by Ernest H. Shepard.  London:  Methuen & Co., 1925.  Ninth edition. Frontispiece and title-page.

Best known for his stories about a boy named Christopher Robin and his teddy bear called Pooh, English author A. A. Milne (1882–1956), also wrote poetry.  In fact, this collection of poems, first published in 1924, preceded Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928).  One of the poems in this collection, called “Teddy Bear,” is about the character who would later become known as Winnie-the-Pooh, although here he is called “Mr. Edward Bear”; “Teddy Bear” originally appeared in Punch magazine in February 1924.  This book is dedicated to Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, and is illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard (1879–1976), a Punch cartoonist who also illustrated Milne’s two Pooh books.

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Poetry for Children