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Childcraft: Poems of Early Childhood

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009 in children's books

I grew up with the orange set of Childcraft encylopedias. I’m not sure what edition that was but a few years ago I purchased a 1960 set with tan covers. I bought it for the poems and probably paid about five dollars. I’ve seen a 1948 orange set on eBay for $75. That set probably has the “Little Black Sambo” story which was removed from later editions.

I loved the first two books in Childcraft set, especially after I could read on my own. I had very little reading material since our town’s library had only a single short bookshelf for the primary grades and I whipped through that pretty quickly. The words of Angelo Patri, the editor for Poems of Early Childhood, are still true.

You can give a child very little that he can keep as his own. You can give him a good book. There is no finer gift within your power.

The volume begins with Mother Goose stories which have always confused me. Why would you want to keep your wife in a pumpkin shell? Did Peter carve it like a Jack-o-lantern? Why would Jack’s crown be fixed with vinegar and brown paper? But I loved the repetition and symmetry (or lack thereof) in “There was a Crooked Man” even though I had no idea what a stile could be.

Photo of artwork by Mary RoytAfter Mother Goose, there are poems by others with names you’ll recognize, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, and others who you might not. I especially enjoyed poems by Christina Rossetti and Walter de la Mare. And I had no idea that a poem I had recited to me often because of my curly hair — “There was a little girl — was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. That’s the same guy who wrote The Song of Hiawatha.

Mix a Pancake

Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan;

Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake—
Catch it if you can.

– Christina Rossetti

30daysI don’t think there’s a single poem in this collection that was copyrighted after 1945. I do hope that the current edition has kept some of these lovely old poems. Maybe not the ones that are terribly sexist, but the others. And I’d like them to correct a few poems that I remember with different words than are printed here. The poem for remembering the number of days in a month should end with “except February in fine, each leap year twenty-nine.” I fervently believe this even though “in fine” makes no sense.

The photo above of Mary Middling and her pig is from an illustration by Mary Royt. I find it sad that this artist hasn’t garnered a Wikipedia entry yet. I love the look on that pig. Eloise Wilkin was another of the illustrators. She created the most innocent looking little girls.
duel-crop And it was Roger Duvoisin who did that terribly cute illustration of the gingham dog and the calico cat.

I would lose myself in the poems and illustrations in this book. It was a favorite of mine and of my older sister. In fact, we used to have poem competitions to see who could recite the most. We loved to run through then entirety of “The House that Jack Built.” It’s probably something we should go apologize to our mother for.

I have to leave you with one more poem. This is a new favorite and not one that I remember from childhood.

Funny Animals

The kangaroo said to her son,
“I wish you would get down and run.
We don’t have a car
And I’ve packed you so far —
Now try out your legs, just for fun.”

Said the bear, with a growl, “I refuse
My company manners to use.
I’ve saved them so long
That I get them on wrong,
But I can be quite nice when I choose.”

Said the donkey, “They jeer me a lot.
Something funny about me I’ve got.
I bray and, of course,
I’m not built like a horse.
But still, I’m a donkey — so what?”

– Elizabeth Newell

OK, just one more. I think I need to memorize this one and bring it out next spring to amaze my friends or annoy my husband.

The Willow Cats

They call them pussy willows,
but there’s no cat to see
Except the little furry toes
That stick out on the tree.

I think that very long ago,
When I was just born new,
There must have been whole pussycats,
Where just the toes stick through—

And every spring it worries me,
I cannot ever find
Those willow cats that ran away
And left their toes behind!

– Margaret Widdemer

MORE on the Childcraft collection:
Poems of Early Childhood
Storytelling and Other Poems
Folk and Fairy Tales
Animal Friends and Adventures
Life in Many Lands
Great Men and Famous Deeds
Exploring the World Around Us
Creative Play and Hobbies
Art for Children

  1. WOW what a flashback! I had some version of this as well — the polka dot kitty with plaid puppy illustration just brought it all back…

  2. […] of childhood. This volume made me feel like a lazy dullard. MORE on the Childcraft collection: Poems of Early Childhood Storytelling and Other Poems Folk and Fairy Tales Animal Friends and Adventures Life in Many Lands […]

  3. […] on the Childcraft collection: Poems of Early Childhood Storytelling and Other Poems Folk and Fairy Tales Animal Friends and Adventures Life in Many Lands […]

  4. […] like DVDs, cell phones, automatic doors, and the Roomba vacuum. MORE on the Childcraft collection: Poems of Early Childhood Storytelling and Other Poems Folk and Fairy Tales Animal Friends and Adventures Life in Many Lands […]

  5. […] is dulled, I think, as we age unless we actively engage it. MORE on the Childcraft collection: Poems of Early Childhood Storytelling and Other Poems Folk and Fairy Tales Animal Friends and Adventures Life in Many Lands […]

  6. I also grew up a 1948 edition of the Childcraft books. My mother bought them the year she graduated from high school and used them to teach in a one room schoolhouse.

    The first two books are still my favorite and my mother’s are in tatters from years of students and then later 7 children.

    I was thrilled to hear that someone loved them as much as we did.

  7. Hello! I was just remembering the poems my Grandmother would read me from her childcraft books, do you know the poem about the old man who stood on his head? Her version was dark red. I’ve been looking everywhere for this poem. If you could share it with me I would greatly appreciate it!

  8. Hello Alice – I had that same dark red version – and I am 60, so probably somewhere near your Grandmother’s age. I believe you are thinking of a poem called “Father William”, or “Old Father William”, although I can’t remember the poet’s name. The verse, I believe, is

    “You are old, Father William”
    the young man said,
    “And your beard is exceedingly white.
    And yet you incessantly stand on your head.
    Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

    There are at least two other verses, and it ends with Old Father William saying

    “I have answered three questions and that is enough,”
    said his Father, “Don’t give yourself airs.”
    “Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs.”

    Hopefully that will be enough for you to find the whole poem.

  9. I am looking for a poem in the Child Craft books about Dilaky dalaki dina niece she was to the empress of china. Does any one know where I can find it?

  10. Helen, that poem appeared in the second Childcraft volume as “A Ballad of China.”

  11. I have a set of Childcraft published in the 30’s. I remember as a child I was about 4 years old reading the nursery rhymes. I was reading them again today.

  12. Childcraft!!
    Have passed on my old set to a friend to use with her grandchildren.
    Sorry now I let them go.
    Loved reading A Ballard of China by Laura E. Richards to my children.
    Thanks, and thanks again.

  13. Our set of encyclopedias burned in a fire. For many years I’ve been searching for replacements They were gray with a stripe (blue? maybe). I think I’ve narrowed it down to early 1960’s. Volume 1 had the nursery rhymes and poetry. Two of my most favorite poems were printed on adjacent pages: “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson and “The Secret” (unknown). Volume #7 (“think and do”? crafts ) had a yellow cover with black drawings on the front. If anyone can help me narrow down my search, please comment.
    I raised my children with the memorized poems, nursery rhymes, and stories (fables, etc) from this encyclopedia, but determined my future grandchildren will have the same illustrations to enjoy as I did years ago.
    I truly believe these volumes are responsible for my love of literature and inspired me to teach high school literature.

  14. They were certainly Childcraft books. I’m not sure which year’s publication had a gray cover. Good luck finding a replacement set. I was thrilled to find mine at a thrift store.

  15. […] * Another nice blog about the volume, here: […]

  16. Thank you for this website. I am looking for a poem that was in Childcraft. It is about a man and woman that travel in their little home on wheels. Can you help me. I loved Childcraft books. I think my younger brother have them. I need to call him too. I just recently FINALLY got a little travel trailer. I’ve always wanted one. I’m 58.

  17. I am looking for a poem from the Childcraft Series from 1954 that had a picture of a little girl and she is telling how she will clean her house when she grows up. This has been on my mind recently and I’d love to see it again. Can you help me?

  18. looking for childcraft volume with rachael field do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue….

  19. I had the orange set. Thanks for the memories. Do you possibly have the Popcorn Man poem? Have been unable to find it. Thx

  20. I”m looking for the poem that ends with: I send them by post, for my friends and relations which need them the most.

  21. I love this poem. You can find it at

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