One-Minute Book Reviews

December 12, 2008

A Good Hanukkah Poem for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:50 pm
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Good Christmas poems are easy to find (starting with the standard-bearer, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which is out of copyright and readily available for free on sites like Bartleby www.bartleby.com/248/27.html). But good Hanukkah poems are harder to track down. One of the best I’ve found for children of varied ages — from preschoolers through about 8th grade — is Aileen Fisher’s “Light the Festive Candles,” which appears in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House, 248 pp., $22.99), selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated Arnold Lobel. Fisher explains how and why Jews light the menorah in the poem, which begins: “Light the first of eight tonight — / The farthest candle to the right.” The poem has the strong rhymes, clear language and relatively short lines that children ages 9 and under typically prefer.

“Light the Festive Candles” also has aspects that may appeal to older children. The poem is a Hanukkah sonnet that has 15 lines instead of the usual 14 and an aa bb cc dd ee ff ggg rhyme scheme (instead of, for example, the Shakespearean abab cdcd efef gg). Fisher arranges the lines into 6 couplets and a tercet, a variation on the form known as the couplet sonnet. And she uses the traditional iambic meter only in later lines, such as “The Festival of Lights – well-named.” Sonnet-form variations like these, once taboo, have become common. And adolescents who have learned about sonnets in school might like to compare “Light the Festive Candles” to others such as Robert Frost’s couplet sonnet, “Into My Own.”

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children has more than 500 new and classic poems for children, including the full text of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and other good Christmas poems. First published 25 years ago, this is one of the best all-around poetry collections for children that is widely available in stores and from online booksellers I picked up a copy last week in the children’s-poetry section of a large Barnes & Noble. If you’re looking for a good collection for young children, go thou and do likewise.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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