Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And the Green Grass Grew All Around

Schwartz, Alvin. 1992. And the Green Grass Grew All Around: Folk Poetry from Everyone. Ill. by Sue Truesdell. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0060227583

Plot Summary
As this is a collection of rhymes, chants, songs, and sayings, there really is not a plot. Alvin Schwartz began collecting these bits of "folk poetry" and found that some of his "original" creations were actually pieces of other works. Schwartz also learned that children all around the world used rhymes made up (or refurbished) to explain things, make fun of others, or just to be silly. He includes "about three hundred" favorite poems in this book (ix).

Critical Analysis
Many of the poems found in this book are just two or three lines, so reading the 148 pages of text was quickly done. When the poem is sung or chanted to a tune, Schwartz puts the actual musical score in the text as well as the more commonly known song title. Even with the musical chart and reference to the original tune, I was not able to sing some of the poems because I was not familiar with the original score.

Schwartz breaks up his poems into topics (people, food, school, etc) and includes an introductory page for each section. I liked this grouping arrangement because it makes it accessible to the reader. If I'm looking for a poem about work, for example, I can quickly go to that section instead of digging through page after page of poems. (Well, actually, Schwartz only has one poem under the work section, so I would need to find a different source if this one poem did not meet my needs).

Reading these poems aloud (as they originally would be conveyed) encourages children to repeat them or add their own twist to them. I liked how Schwartz added instructions to some of the poems ["Add the right punctuation to this riddle" (90)or "Recite this as you skip rope" (45)]. My daughter's favorite section was "Nonsense" because she enjoyed watching me try to read the words. She mimicked the verses including some of her own nonsense words.

The illustrations in the book help separate the poems and add to the text. The colorless illustrations look like pencil sketches that use shading for color and are scattered all over the pages. I think the book would look better and appeal more to a modern audience with spots of color. One thing that bothered me about the illustrations was the facial expressions that Truesdell used (or rather didn't use). Many of her characters do not have mouths. They have upper lips and mustaches, but I could not tell if they were smiling, frowning or indifferent.

Schwartz also includes in this book an extensive section of notes, sources and bibliography. It is obvious that he did research in compiling the book which adds to the credibility of the poem. Since most of the collection was acquired through oral tradition, it is nice to see that Schwartz took the time to trace back to find out more about the origin. Something interesting that I learned from Schwartz's research was that the saying "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo" is based on a "an ancient way of counting in the Celtic language" (96). Schwartz oftentimes refer the reader to the notes section to find out more about the poem, its original or just trivial information related to the poem.

Review excerpts
BOOKLIST: "Schwartz's scholarship is unobtrusive and stimulating, with detailed notes at the back about sources and variants for any child or adult who's curious to find out more."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "Read this outrageous volume before it is shelved; once the kids discover it, it will always be checked out."

KIRKUS REVIEWS:"It's hard to imagine a child who wouldn't greet this treasure trove with enthusiasm."

Related books:
Cohn, Amy. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. ISBN 0590428683
Cole, Joanna. Best-Loved Folktales of the World. ISBN 0385189494

*Have students perform some of the poems. Allow them to use school appropriate props.
*Create poems that can be sung to popular tunes. (Incorporate the poem's topic into the current unit of study. For example, if studying the Puritans, have students create a poem that shows some aspect of Puritanism in the song).
*Do a speak-around for students to create a poem. One student begins the poem, the next student must add to the poem. Every other student must rhyme, so it incorporates listening and memorization skills.
*For older students, research particular sayings and/or songs to find out the origin, variations over the years and perhaps how the saying or song survived.

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