One of the books that Richard Wilbur wrote for children is Pig in the Spigot, which any lover of words should enjoy, whether you are a child or not. I can see reading it with a child who is well on the way to reading, but when I was homeschooling I often would introduce material “too early,” and that can work, too. If used with a notepad and pencil, I bet I could make this book serve as reading/phonics lessons for at least a week.
One of my favorite elementary school assignments was when the teacher would write a word on the blackboard, and tell us students to make as many more words as we could, using those letters. I always won this contest! Wilbur’s exercise is more stringent, but that only gives him the chance to shows his poet’s skill in imagining the logical ramifications should the words within words become literal.
The illustrator must have had fun coming up with the sometimes-wacky pictures to go with the stories that one can create with this kind of activity. Here are a few of the examples of fun verses that often carry some even deeper implications.
The Devil is at home, as you can see,
In Mandeville, Louisiana, but he
Is often on the road, and in the line
Of work he visits both your town and mine.
Some tiny insects make a seething sound,
And swarm and jitter furiously around,
Which seems to me sufficient explanation
Of why there is a gnat in indignation.
Moms weep when children don’t do as they say.
That’s why there is a sob in disobey.
I just noticed that the mother in this last picture is wearing a cross. There are many other interesting details to be explored in the images, but it’s the language of words that I get excited about. Anything that helps children slow down and pay attention to the details of letters and sounds will help them to be good readers and writers — and spellers!
But I don’t want to sound too pragmatic, even if the level of literacy in the country is dismal. John Holt said that it is not good methods but good books that make good readers, and here is an example of what he was talking about. What makes me happy is the knowledge that good readers will read more because they enjoy it, and if they keep reading good books their inner worlds will grow ever larger. They are more likely to become good writers and thinkers, and maybe they will write some more good books for children that are fun for me to read.