Nicholas Orme's Fleas, Flies and Friars is a thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of medieval children through their poetry. Orme states in the intrNicholas Orme's Fleas, Flies and Friars is a thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of medieval children through their poetry. Orme states in the introduction that he had two primary criteria when compiling poetry for this book: 1) that it can be shown to have been composed, copied, used by, or aimed at children or teenagers and 2) that it include relevant passages from longer poems and stories, as well as works in Latin or French, that have previously been ignored. His goal in doing so was to, in his own words, help the reader to "learn more about how medieval children grew up, and be able to see beyond the popular perception that they were small adults, living though brief and impoverished childhoods. A medieval childhood could indeed be cut short by disease or distressed by poverty, but while children were alive they shared in a rich culture of songs, sayings, rude-nesses, riddles, tales, and (at the higher levels of society) works of instruction as well."
Fleas, Flies and Friars reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. I am sorry to admit that, prior to reading Medieval Lives, I was one of those individuals that thought the term "dark ages" fitting. Medieval Lives taught me about the richness of the medieval life, and how many things modern Western culture accepts as fact about the middle ages are patently false (just in case you think they believed the world was flat, they didn't.) Orme has expanded upon that understanding to encompass childhood. Much of Orme's content comes from an invaluable source: a collection of school boy notebooks. These teenage boys were encouraged to write verses or songs they knew from childhood, or to make up their own, to then translate into Latin or French. I could not help but laugh at the constancy of teenage attitude: one wrote in the front of his notebook, "Who steals this book should be hanged by the neck; who blames what's here may kiss my rear." Another gem is the list of insults a boy translated into Latin: "Thou stinkest. Thou are a false knave. Thou are worthy to be hanged. His nose is like a shoeing horn. Turd in thy teeth! I shall kill thee with my own knife!" (I simply cannot type, read, or say out loud that "turd in thy teeth" bit without giggling like a school girl.)
Orme does a good job of forewarning the reader of differences in what was acceptable in the middle ages versus modern times, prior to the reader becoming outraged. It would be really easy to get caught up in the violence ('hey, that's child abuse' or 'how could a child do that?') and then totally miss the humor. Orme acknowledges the difference in such a way that it eases the reader into appreciating the poetry for what it was, not what we expect it to be. Likewise, he is quick to point out the dearth in poetry for or about girls (the lecture on how to be a good, godly wife notwithstanding.) This is not a fault of Orme's but of history's. Women probably had just as lively poems, stories, and songs, but women were not formally educated (meaning no school notebooks from girls) and all that oral tradition was lost.
Each of the five parts of Fleas, Flies and Friars starts with an excellent introduction, followed by tons of poetry. Wherever possible, he left the Middle English alone - updating it enough to make it comprehensible to the casual reader, but preserving enough of the original vocabulary to give it a decided "other" feeling. Footnotes abound, clarifying changes in word meaning, defining words that are no longer used, or simply providing contextual understanding. Fleas, Flies and Friars is a wonderful bit of academic-light, making what could have been Heavy History an entertaining insight into the lives of medieval childhood.
So often when I think of my children I think of vibrancy, energy, motion. Sometimes it's dancing, sometimes it's that I'm-too-tired-to-admit-I-need-a-So often when I think of my children I think of vibrancy, energy, motion. Sometimes it's dancing, sometimes it's that I'm-too-tired-to-admit-I-need-a-nap frantic zooming from one thing they shouldn't do (or touch, or put in their mouth) to another. Poetry and children just seem to go together. Children respond with pleasure to the unexpected rhyme, the tap-tap-tapping of an alliterative phrase, or the reassuring rhythm of a familiar meter. In so many ways, kids are poetry - poetry in motion. Most of the the poetry I read to my kids reflects that motion, that high energy. Shel Silverstein. Dr. Seuss. Sandra Boynton.
Then one day in the bookstore, after grabbing the newest Skippyjon Jones and dragging my son away from the trains, this caught my eye:
and I remembered. I remembered the first time I read Robert Frost. The first time I ever read a poem that made me stop; that made me feel the weight of the pauses, the meaning in the silence between words. So it came home with us as well.
That night, we read Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, but we read it slowly. The illustrations by Susan Jeffers really couldn't be more perfect. We savored each of Frost's lines, then asked each other questions about the pictures - looking for the spots of color in the winter blacks, whites, and greys. 'Do you see any more animals?' or 'That owl is beautiful!' I have read this poem, with these illustrations, to my son time and time again, and to his little sister as well. Yet, however many times we read it, it never ceases to amaze me how still they are, and how wonderful it is to have a children's poetry book to reflect that stillness.
Children are poetry in motion. But they are poetry in stillness, too....more
The photo just doesn't do this book justice. It is beautiful in every way a book can be. The book jacket looks like rice paper painted with watercolouThe photo just doesn't do this book justice. It is beautiful in every way a book can be. The book jacket looks like rice paper painted with watercolours and black ink. It feels nice in hand with a good weight and lovely paper. More important, though, is what it contains.
Hoberman and Winston have compiled a vast array of poetry from scientists and naturalists spanning the years. It contains a veritable who's who of famous poets: Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Ogden Nash...I could go on and on. Nestled aside these are new poems from new (or new to me) poets and translations from the likes of Rainer Maria Rilke, Jelaluddin Rumi, Ikkyu Sojun, Wislawa Szymborska or Hans Christian Andersen. The poems are divided into sections, but each poem is treated as its own chapter with footnotes that tie science, nature, art and history to the poem in context. And 44 of the poems are read aloud on the enclosed CD; 28 by the author of the poem.
The Tree That Time Built has become a favorite in our household. It is a pleasure to read for its own merit; it ties into science lessons; the CD of poems is lovely to listen to while doing puzzles, coloring or painting....more