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Childcraft: Storytelling and Other Poems

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 in children's books, children's rhymes

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For me this was the Childcraft book. This is where I found the best poems to memorize. This volume was the reason I bought an old set of the encyclopedias. To me these first two volumes were nourishing and homey, like a good spaghetti casserole. (Substitute tater tot hotdish if you live in Minnesota.)

Poems for Everyday

Isn’t it great to think that there are everyday poems, like Melmac dishes, that you can recite or read at almost any time? No special occasion necessary.

The illustrations above and below are by Meg Wohberg who illustrated advertisements for baby-care products in the 1930’s and then worked on over 70 children’s books in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. So her work might look familiar to people of a certain age and even younger.

When Young Melissa Sweeps, illustration by Meg Wohberg

I read these poems without concern for their messages. I’d read “When Young Melissa Sweeps” and want to go grab a broom. I don’t think I ever did it though, being a rather lazy child. But I’m sure some of my understanding of what it meant to be a girl came from these poems.

Yet Gentle Will the Griffin Be
(What Grandpa Told the Children)

The moon? It is a griffin’s egg,
Hatching tomorrow night.
And how the little boys will watch
With shouting and delight
To see him break the shell and stretch
And creep across the sky.
The boys will laugh. The little girls,
I fear, may hide and cry.
Yet gentle will the griffin be,
Most decorous and fat,
And walk up to the Milky Way
And lap it like a cat.

- Vichel Lindsay

So I learned how the world saw little girls but I learned a few vocabulary words, too.

The Popcorn Man, a William Pene du Bois illustrationPoems introduced me to elements of culture I never experienced myself. There were poems about the circus, the popcorn man, streetcars, and the sea. There was even one about telegraphs — a little outdated for the 1961 edition of Childcraft — but I knew what telegraphs were because I watched Westerns on TV.

I think everyone my age remembers a bit of such poems as “When the Frost Is on the Pumpkin.” Many of us probably wondered what a shock of corn was when we’d read the poem in school in the fall. I’m sure that there’s something more contemporary that has replaced these poems. I know that I never read or heard most of the poems that my father learned in school and would recite to me on long drives. Classic poems like James Whitcomb Riley’s provide a shared experience with other Americans my age.

Humorous Poems

This was the section where I found the best poems for memorizing. These are the poems I can still recite. I was disappointed that one of my favorite poems had no author noted. It must be a “traditional” poem, although I’ve never heard anyone but my sister or me recite it. I love the romanticism and surprise ending.

A Farmer’s Boy

They strolled down the lane together,
The sky was studded with stars.
They reached the gate in silence,
And he lifted down the bars.
She neither smiled or thanked him
Because she knew not how;
For he was just a farmer’s boy
And she was a Jersey cow!

I remember my father bringing home a reel-to-reel tape deck and recording that poem on it. Mom recorded the poem “Eletelephony” which I thought was hilarious. Both the poem and Mom’s voice coming out of a machine sent me into fits of giggles.

The famous “Purple Cow” poem is also in this collection. I’m so sorry it caused Gelett Burgess, the author, so much grief.

Storytelling and Ballads

The Potatoes' DanceSometimes the illustrations really made the poem. That was the case for “The Potatoes Dance,” I thought. The illustrator’s taters were so much better than dull old Mr. Potato Head. Samuel Armstrong gave those spuds life. I had dreams about those potatoes. The burnt matchstick legs scared me.

In my previous post I told you that my sister and I had competitions for who could memorize more poems. Since she was eight years older, I had a real challenge. I have a fond memory of sitting in the back of the neighbor’s station wagon waiting for fireworks to begin and my sister telling us a story she made up about Squidgicum-Squees. She got the idea from “The Raggedy Man” which was too long for me to memorize. It took up two entire pages!

I was talking with my younger husband about how exciting it’s been to re-read all these poems. I then discovered that he had never heard of The Song of Hiawatha. How can a man who frequently drives Hiawatha Avenue, has been to both Gitche Gumee and Nokomis lakes, has probably walked past the Longfellow House at Minnehaha Park, not know this poem? I thought all native Minnesotans would have been forced to read it at some time or other. I guess not. Or not any more.

After I read him the poem tonight I might try to memorize The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. It should be a task made easier by Loreena McKennitt’s rendition as a song, although she leaves out several verses. Her song makes me cry. The poem is just lyrically satisfying and a good Gothic tale.

I’ll end with another favorite from the humorous poems section.
Jonathan Bing poem illustration

A New Song to Sing about Jonathan Bing

O jonathan Bing, O Bingathon Jon
Forgets where he’s going an thinks he has gone.
He wears his false teeth on the top of his head,
And always stands up when he’s sleeping in bed.

O Jonathon Bing has a curious way
Of trying to walk into yesterday.
“If I end with my breakfast and start with my tea,
I ought to be able to do it,” says he.

O Jonathan Bing is a miser, they say,
For he likes to save trouble and put it away.
“If I never get up in the morning,” he said,
“I shall save all the trouble of going to bed!”

“O Jonathan Bing! What a way to behave!
And what do you do with the trouble you save?””
“I wrap it up neatly and send it by post
To my friend and relations who need it the most.”

- Beatrice Curtis Brown

I always found it interesting that Jonathan Bing and Old Father William looked like the same man. They were drawn by someone with the initials of RL. For some reason Childcraft didn’t give credits for illustrations.

Thank you for letting me share these with you. It’s been so much fun for me. Although, It does make me feel really old. And I’ve gone a little bit crazy trying to decide which poems are epic enough to warrant italics instead of quotes for their titles.


  1. Thanks, T. J. H., for this wonderful post. I, too, dreamed about those matchstick-limbed potatoes. Cherished books, images resonant for half a century!

  2. […] 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 […]

  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 Great Men and Famous Deeds […]

  4. […] 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 Great Men and Famous Deeds […]

  5. […] 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 Great Men and Famous Deeds […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […] 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 Great Men and Famous Deeds […]

  8. I’m looking for the poem about the little goblin that lost his “silver penny’ just as he crossed the street. “I met a little goblin a semperin’ and a soblin’ along the public way. Said I: Your spirits seem to fail you if I can aught avail you command me sir I pray. Said He: I have lost my penny, my shiny silver penny. For very joy I tost it just as the street I crossed it and now I’ve gone a lost it and oh my heart duth ache. Which Childcraft book is this poem in? 1939 or 1942?

  9. Looking for the story of Aunt Jemima and the ChinaberryTree. a story my dad read to me as a child in the 1950’s

  10. i am looking for the story “A Ballad of China”
    from the Childcraft books. The story of Darling Dilika Dolika Dinah..
    I can remember only parts. My sister would read it to me when I was sick. We use to have to Childcraft books, but, they have been lost over the years. I would appreciate any copy of this particular story if it is possible.
    Thank you.
    Nika Tapia

  11. Nika:
    I haven’t compared the poem as given at this link against my Childcraft, but on a quick reading it sounds as if it is correctly given:

    http: //www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19482

    [I put in a space after http: so that it won’t turn into a live link–dunno how the proprietor here feels about those in her blog comments–so you’ll need to take it back out when you cut and paste the address]

    And–I grew up with an earlier edition of the Childcraft, but that poetry volume was much the same (probably identical, in fact, but with a different cover). I also loved the stories books. . .you could keep all the non-fiction stuff!

  12. Can you help me locate Little Joe Tunney from the child craft collection?

  13. The illustrator whose initials are R.L. was Robert Lawson. All illustrators’ names are listed in the first volume, “Poems of Early Childhood.” If you don’t have it, and would like the list, I can scan it for you.

  14. Thanks for providing me with the illustrator’s name. My 1961 edition provides a list of acknowledgments, but I can’t find a list of illustrators. I’d love to have the list for “Poem” and “Storytelling.”

  15. “Little Joe Tunney” is by Rebecca McCann and appears on page 98 in my edition. I never read the poem because the illustration of Joe being held up by an elephant scared me. I figured that he was a bad boy and I knew enough about bad boys.

    There was a little boy
    And his name was Joe Tunney,
    He had but one failing:
    He tried to be funny.

    He made himself noticed
    IN all public places
    By making load noises
    And terrible faces.

    One day at the circus
    He wouldn’t sit down.
    He stood up and tried
    To perform like a clown.

    The clown said, “All right,
    If you must jump and sing,
    Come out with the show
    And perform in the ring.”

    So out ran young Joe,
    Acting foolish and wild,
    And everyone watched him
    But nobody smiled.

    The actors all watched him
    The band loudly blared,
    In dignified silence
    The animals stared.

    Thought poor little Joe,
    Standing lonely and small,
    “Oh, what shall I do?
    I’m no funny at all!”

    Then the elephant spoke
    In the elephant tongue,
    “I’ll help that boy out —
    After all, he’s so young.”

    And he lifted Joe up
    With his trunk in the air
    And with one mighty sweep
    Put him back in his chair.

    The people all clapped
    And the clowns sheered for Joe,
    And he kept very still
    For the rest of the show.

  16. I also remember “Little Joe Tunney” from my childhood. The poem is so descriptive of the typical class show-off.

  17. Oh, geez, how did I not notice your response! I’ll scan them this week! Apologies!

  18. OK, I’ve scanned it, but I don’t have a place to upload it to–can I e-mail it to you somewhere?

  19. Can’t hark my cry,

    Please send to xteenb at gmail.com. And thank you!

  20. should be on its way–if it doesn’t show up reasonably soon, lemme know and I’ll try again!

  21. An illustration of Maid Marian dressed as a boy in a ChildCraft story of Robin Hood changed my life, the one where he spars with her thinking she is a hooligan. Even at 5 yrs old I found this story to be romantic and dare I say “sexy.” I lost the books but wish I could see the picture again of Marian striding through the forest. Also Balder, King Arthur, and all the beautiful horses in ‘Art for Children.’

  22. Thank you so much for ‘The Highwayman.’ Thank you for ALL the ChildCraft pix that were my friends when I was an only child. Very cool!

  23. Can someone please supply the name of the illustrator for “Loveliest of Trees”? Probably my favorite artist but many of the others are neck-and-neck for second and even first place. In fact, if someone has a list of Childcraft illustrators I’d be keen to see it.

    I have a set of Childcraft books cuz me dad sold encyclopedias door-to-door back in the before-time. The encyclopedias are gone but I still have the best of the Childcraft books.

  24. I loved these books as a child.. and have most of the volumes still the volume 1 Poems of Early Childhood is my favorite! I still use it often as an early childhood educator and the illustrations are timeless!

  25. Nika:HOME
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    home » literature
    a dash of the dictionary
    23 OCTOBER 2009 ONE COMMENT
    for Carmen, a poem (that I did not write)

    A Ballad Of China
    Laura E. Richards

    Her Name was Dilliki Dolliki Dinah;
    Niece she was to the Empress of China;
    Fair she was as a morning in May, when Hy Kokolorum stole her away.

    Hy was a wizard, I’d have you know;
    Wicked as weasels and black as a crow;
    Lived in castle a-top a hill;
    Had a panther who’s name was Bill;

    Used to ride him around and around,
    creeping and peeping close to the ground;
    Working mischief wherever he could;
    Nothing about him in anyway good!

    Saw the maiden one midsummer morn,
    (sweetest creature that ever was born!),
    Creeped and peeped in his wizardly way,
    Catched her and snatched her and stole her away!

    All through China arose a cry:
    “Some one has stolen out Dilliki Di!”
    People gathered in every Forum,
    Crying, “it must be Hy Kokolorum!”

    All the Barons in China land,
    Ling the lofty and Bing the Bland,
    Kong the Kingly and Bond the brave,
    Vowed a vow to find and save

    Darling Dilliki Dolliki Dinah
    (niece you know to the empress of china;
    Fair you know as a morning in May),
    Whom Hy Kokolorum had stolen away.

    Now in a kingly, ringly row,
    Round and about the hill they go,
    Ling the lofty, Bing the bland,
    Kong and Bong, and there they stand,

    Weaving a weird and spinning a spell,
    All with intent to quash and quell
    Hy kokolorum, worker of woe,
    Wicked as weasels and black as a crow.

    Dilliki Dinah was weeping her fill,
    When stepped up softly the panther Bill;
    Whispered,” if you will give me a kiss,
    I’ll turn your sorrow into bubbling bliss!”

    she, to animals always kind,
    Said,” No! Really? Well, I dont mind!”
    Dropped a kiss on his nose so pink,
    And-goodness gracious! what do you think?

    He turned into a beautiful Golden King,
    Crown and sceptre and everything!
    Ran the old wizard through and through,
    Saying, ” now there is an end of you!”

    Caught the maiden up in his arms,
    Broke through the net of spells and charms,
    Cried to the barons Bold and Brave,
    “I’ve had the honor to find and save

    Darling Dilliki Dolliki Dinah
    Niece (I learn) to the Empress of china,
    Fair (I swear) as a morning in May
    And she is my queen to this very day!”

  26. Thank you so much for this post! I have been looking for this book for ages but could not remember the name of it. I have just purchased a used copy and can’t wait till it’s delivered. I spent a lot of time with this book growing up. I’m grateful I found your post. Thanks again!

  27. The pictures of Hy Kokolorum in the Childcraft book was downright scary and probably gave many children nightmares.

  28. Loved Childcraft books so much as a child. I’m looking for a poem my mum once read to me that had the words “When the frost is on the Pumpkin” I know longer have the book but would appreciate it if you could tell me where I could find this poem.
    Thank you kindly,
    Laurie Ditchburn

  29. It’s “Punkin” not “Pumpkin” so that’s probably why you couldn’t find it. You can find the entire poem at http://www.bartleby.com/104/10.html. I always like the Riley’s phrase “the rooster’s hallylooyer.” I’m not sure anyone else hears that particular sound from the rooster but it beats cook-a-doodle-do.

  30. Thanks for sharing these great poems. I too have some of the best childhood memories around the poem book from the set. I was in a used bookstore yesterday looking for a copy. Hope I find one.

  31. I remember my father signing your jersey cow poem, but his version went:

    They strolled the lane together
    The sky was studded with stars
    She reached the gate before him
    He lifted for her the bars

    She raised her brown eyes to him
    There was nothing between them now
    For he was just a hired hand
    And she was a jersey cow

    Perhaps another verse . . .

  32. should be singing

  33. the version I am looking for about the Jersey Cow begins with:
    He met her in the meadow, when the sun was sinking down…..

    I am looking for that version..
    Thanks

  34. I wish I knew that one. I wonder if it’s a variation created by someone trying to remember this one.

  35. The pictures of the villain that accompanied the Dilliki Dolliki Dinah poem were downright scary and gave me nightmares as a child. Oooooh! ♣

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