CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006
Ruth Ashby. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanís Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by R. G. Mitchell Family Books, Willowdale, ON), 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $19.99.
Poets, English-Old English, ca. 450-1100-
Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.
Review by Helen Norrie.
Now Caedmon was a very ordinary kind of man. He liked warm fires in the winter and cool drinks in the summer. The crow of the cock at dawn and the chime of the church bells at twilight. Honeyed apples and smoked ham. Caedmon liked all the things his friends liked.
Only one thing made him different. Caedmon hated poetry.
Caedmon was a real man, a seventh-century cowherd who became known as the first English poet. He wrote his first poem, "Caedmon's Hymn," after a religious experience he had while tending the cows in the cowshed of the abbey where he worked
This picture story book tells the story of Caedmon; how at first he was embarrassed because he could not join in the after-dinner tales of battles and glory because he felt he had nothing to say. Then one night, he receives a vision and is told to praise God for the beauties of the earth around him. The words of his "Caedmon's Hymn" are in his head when he awakes. The monks of the abbey, taking this as a miraculous event, ask Caedmon to leave his cows and join them in the abbey where he continues to compose poetry for many years.
The author of this book, Ruth Ashby, is an American living in Huntington, NY, who has written a number of other books for children. Her prose is at times poetic and certainly makes for a good read-aloud story.
The illustrator, Bill Slavin, is a familiar Canadian artist from Millbrook, ON, who has illustrated more than 50 books for children, including Stanley's Party, by Linda Bailey. His illustrations here are large and colourful, done in earth tones that reflect the pastoral atmosphere of the abbey. There are several ornate capital letters, complete with animals, snakes and figures of men, done in the style of the manuscripts copied by the monks, which would be of interest to young readers.
Caedmonís Song could be an interesting book to introduce a poetry unit or to talk about early English life or language. (The text of Caedmon's hymn is also printed in the "Old English" in which it originally appeared. It appears almost a completely different language.)
Recommended as a read-aloud book for K-1, as an early reader for 2-4 and a reference book for older grades.
Helen Norrie, who reviews children's books for the Winnipeg Free Press, is a former teacher-librarian and instructor in Children's Literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba..
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