NEW YORK – Beginning work a few years ago on her latest book, an anthology of poems for young people, Caroline Kennedy found herself looking through one of her mother’s scrapbooks. She burst into laughter, she says, as she came across a poem that her brother John, as a youngster, had picked out and copied as a gift to their poetry-loving mom.
“Willie with a thirst for gore, Nailed his sister to the door,” went the poem, by an unknown author. “Mother said with humor quaint, ‘Careful, Willie, don’t scratch the paint!’”
The poem “brought back memories of our relationship,” Kennedy told a bookstore audience last week. “I laughed so hard.”
But for Kennedy, now 55 and a mother of three grown children, there’s a deeper meaning to that irreverent ditty. Poetry was a central part of her home life growing up. She and John regularly copied out and illustrated poems for their mother, Jackie, upon birthdays and Mother’s Days. Sometimes, they’d recite them too, “if we were feeling competitive.” And at family gatherings, there were frequent challenges to recite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous (and famously lengthy) “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Only Uncle Ted, it seems, was able to recite it in its entirety.
Now, with her 10th book, Kennedy wants to share with young readers the love for the written word that she feels her poetry-filled childhood helped instill in her. Hence the title: “Poems to Learn By Heart.”
“It was a combination of remembering my own childhood and thinking about gifts I’d been given,” she said. “And working in schools and seeing the role that poetry can play in kids’ lives.”
It’s also an effort to promote literacy.
“Fourteen percent of American adults can’t read,” she says. “It’s a slow-motion disaster.”
She believes poetry can help.
“Kids need a way in,” she says, “and reading needs to be fun. Poetry can give them that — with the current emphasis on poetry slams, and these other open mic events. That’s actually why I think poetry has a chance.”
Kennedy’s current book — a collection of poems from various authors, with introductions by her to each section, and vivid illustrations by John J Muth — is her fourth to focus on poetry. Her earlier books, especially “The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” have been huge sellers.
The show will not go on for fleas stopped cold
BERLIN – An entire troupe of performing fleas has fallen victim to the freezing temperatures currently gripping Germany.
Flea circus director Robert Birk says he was shocked to find all of his 300 fleas dead inside their transport box Wednesday morning.
The circus immediately scrambled to find and train a new batch so it could fulfill its engagements at an open-air fair in the western town of Mechernich-Kommern.
Michael Faber, who organizes the fair, told The Associated Press that an insect expert at a nearby university was able to provide 50 fleas in time for the first show Sunday.
Faber says he hopes they’ll “get through this without any more fatalities.”
Birk said it was the first time his circus had lost all of its fleas to the cold in one go.