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

December 10, 2008

8 Good Christmas Poems for Adults and Teenagers With All the Words Online – Verse by Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Others

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 pm
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Many critics agree with the novelist Reynolds Price that John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” is “the supreme Christmas poem in the English language.” But other good Christmas poems are shorter or less insistently religious or were written after the 17th century.

One problem with finding them is that many poems on the Internet are plagiarized, misattributed or inaccurately reproduced. Another is that some books that contain holiday–themed poems may disappear from library and bookstore shelves well before Dec. 25.

Here are some of the best Christmas poems for teenagers and adults and where to find their full texts from trustworthy online or other sources:

1. “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman” by Emily Dickinson. This brief Nativity poem has just 40 words, divided into 8 lines of iambic trimeter. It casts Jesus as a gentle Savior who was nonetheless strong enough that he “leveled” a road to Bethlehem that would otherwise have been “A rugged Billion Miles –” from his “little Fellowmen.” Full text online at
www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19309.

2. “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The author of “Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride” wrote this poem not long after his wife died and his son suffered severe wounds fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Written in iambic tetrameter, it is better known today by the title “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In the poem speaker despairs and sees “no peace on earth” until pealing Christmas bells remind him that “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”
Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16819. Five stanzas are used as a hymn you can hear at Cyberhymnal www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/h/iheardtb.htm.

3. “Christmas Trees: A Christmas Circular Letter” by Robert Frost. A country-dweller debates whether to sell his evergreens to a city sharpie who undervalues them in a wistful poem much longer than Frost’s better-known “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (in itself a good seasonal, though not Christmas, poem) rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/856.html. Some critics see the trees in “Christmas Trees” as a metaphor for poetry, which is similarly undervalued.
Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19307.

4. “Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes” (Seven lines from Act I, Scene I of Hamlet) by William Shakespeare. In the first scene of Hamlet, a character who has seen the Ghost of Hamlet’s father speaks seven lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter (blank verse) that begin: “Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes / Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated.” These lines describe the mysteries of a season “So hallow’d” that, people say, “The bird of dawning singeth all night long.” Though not a free-standing poem, the lines work well on their own and rank among the greatest poetry written about Christmas. Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19317.

5. “Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson. During a Christmas Day storm at sea, a young sailor thinks sentimentally of home: “O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there, /My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair.” This poem has 11 stanzas of four quatrains each that may have special meaning for the families of servicemen and –women overseas. Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19311.

6. “Noël” by Anne Porter. In this poem Advent brings, along with the “customary carols,” the “fresh truth” from children: “They look at us / With their clear eyes / And ask the piercing questions / God alone can answer.” “Noël” springs from the heartfelt Catholicism of Porter, a National Book Award finalist and one of America’s finest religious poets. Full text online at
www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20503 and collected in the author’s recent collection, Living Things.

7. “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rossetti. The Academy of American Poets lists the title of this popular poem as “A Christmas Carol,” but most of us know it as “In the Bleak Midwinter” (that season when “Frosty wind made moan”).
Text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19287. You can listen to the carol at at www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/n/intbleak.htm. And there’s a stanza-by-stanza analysis on Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Bleak_Midwinter (As always, use caution with Wikipedia, which I have linked to here because it includes more analysis of the poem than other easily accessible sites.)

8. “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. This children’s classic has charms that may also seduce adults — its rousing anapestic meter, its “visions of sugarplums,” and its dynamic plot, which ends with St. Nick wishing a “Happy Christmas” to all. Full text online at
www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171924.

And don’t forget …
John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativitywww.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/nativity/index.shtml and E . E. Cummings’s “little tree” www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=176724. I left Milton off the main list because his poem, with 27 stanzas and more than 200 lines, is much longer than all the others. And I omitted Cummings because “little tree” reads more like a poem for children (am I missing something here?). But his poetry enraptured me when I was 13 and may have a similar effect on other teenagers.

If you’ve read any of these poems, which do you like best? To keep this site reasonably faithful to its title, I’ve kept my remarks on these poems brief. But many people might like more information them and, if you can provide it, I’d love to have it in the comments section, where I would be glad to say more about any.

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

 

December 8, 2008

Christmas in Shakespeare? Astound Us With Your Memory, English Majors

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:10 pm
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I’ve been looking for good Christmas poetry and found enough of it that I split the material into two posts: one on the seasonal offerings for children, posted on Saturday, and a one on the possibilities for teenagers and adults, which will appear Wednesday, Dec. 10.

The biggest surprise was that I came across a wonderful passage in Shakespeare that I’d be tempted to use on my Christmas cards if I didn’t already have this year’s batch. How I could have forgotten this one is a mystery given that I’ve read it or heard it many times on film or on stage — unless the explanation is that I majored in political science was reading Che Guevara’s diary when I could have been rereading some of the plays.

Do you know which passage I’m thinking of? It’s not a free-standing poem – not one of the sonnets, in other words – but it’s entirely appropriate to the season. I’m throwing this one out there because there may be other Christmas-card–worthy lines by Shakespeare that I’ve forgotten or never known. If you can point them out in a comment, you may help people still casting about for these.

[As usual when reading poetry on the Internet, I’ve been struck by how much of it is misquoted, misattributed or plagiarized. So the Dec. 10 post will list more than a half dozen good Christmas poems for adults or teenagers with a brief commentary on each and links to trustworthy sites that have posted the full texts. Poetry may be a genteel art, but when it comes to online verse, it’s a jungle out there, and on Wednesday I will don my leopard-skin Tarzan suit and try to clear a path to the safer vines.]

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

December 7, 2008

Good Christmas Poems for Children With All the Words Online

Filed under: Children's Books,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:01 pm
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Christmas has inspired more good poems than any other holiday. But many of the seasonal children’s poems on the Internet are insipid, badly written or otherwise not worth learning. (Do you really want to introduce your child to poem built on the theme of “stupid presents I didn’t like”?) And that doesn’t count all the poems that are plagiarized, misattributed or inaccurately reproduced.

Here are some of the best holiday or Christmas poems for young children and where to find their full texts from trustworthy online or other sources. As always, use caution with Wikipedia, listed here because it provides more background on “The Goose Is Getting Fat” than other sites:

For Toddlers, Preschoolers and Others (Ages 8 and Under)
“A Visit From St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). No poem has had more influence on children’s fantasies of Christmas than “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Even children too young to understand all the words are often captivated by its rousing anapestic meter, its “visions of sugarplums,” and its exciting plot, which ends with St. Nicholas wishing a “Happy Christmas” to all as he departs. Full text online at
www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171924.

“Christmas Is Coming, The Goose Is Getting Fat.” Few American children today may know the tune that goes with the folk rhyme beginning: “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. / Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.” But the words stand on their own and appear in many poetry collections. You can ask toddlers and preschoolers to add gestures, such as dropping a penny into a hat, so this is a great poem for the Webcam. And the nature of folk rhymes is that they change over time, so you can vary the words with a spotless conscience. (“Please put a penny in your mother’s hat.”) If you’d like to charm the grandparents at a holiday gathering, ask your child to go around the room and hold out a hat for a penny after reciting a variation that includes her name: “Please put a penny in Samantha’s [or “your nephew’s” or “your grandchild’s”] hat.” Full text online at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Is_Coming.

“December.” Young children who are reading on their own may enjoy “December” in John Updike’s A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $17.95), a Caldecott Honor book beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. This quiet, lovely poem has a first-grade reading level and takes a thoughtful view of the season in short, rhyming, iambic lines. Full text in the Holiday House book holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=978082341445

Five other short winter, Christmas, or holiday poems appear in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House, 248 pp., $22.99, ages 9 and under), an excellent collection selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. The book includes all the words to Langston Hughes’s 3-line “Winter Moon” (“How thin and sharp is the moon tonight!”) and to Aileen Fisher’s 8-line “Merry Christmas” (“I saw on the snow / when I tried on my skis”). It also has a 15-line excerpt from David McCord’s “A Christmas Package” (“My stocking’s where / He’ll see it – there!”) and all the words to “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” The Random House Book of Poetry for Children is available from online and other booksellers, and I found a copy a few days ago in the children’s poetry section of a large Barnes & Noble stores.

A post on good Christmas or holiday poems for older children, teenagers and adults will appear later this week.

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

December 4, 2008

‘Unplug the Christmas Machine’ – How to Explain to Children Why You Plan to Give Them Fewer Gifts This Holiday Season

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:00 pm
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“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents.”

Do publishers have a sense of irony? You might wonder after seeing all the double-digit price tags on books about how to simplify your holidays. So here’s an alternative: Head for the library and look for Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season (Harper, 208 pp., $12.95, paperback), a field manual for the walking wounded in the annual holiday battle that advertisers and others wage for your soul and wallet.

This book grew out of workshops that authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli began to lead in the late 1970s, and some of its material reflects the ideas of that era. But many of its suggestions are evergreen, and the advice never gives you the sense, as Martha Stewart’s does, that the glue gun can be a lethal weapon. A typical passage in the first edition tells how to ease your family into a celebration less focused on gifts:

“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents. Be clear about what they can expect. Second, explain to children who are old enough to understand why it’s important to you to minimize gifts. Finally, give your children something else to look forward to, like a special trip or family activity. Focus on what they will be getting, not on what they won’t.”

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

November 29, 2008

A Good Christmas Story for Children — ‘Father Christmas and the Donkey’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:02 am
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A holiday tale broadcast on the BCC has an enduring appeal

Father Christmas and the Donkey. By Elizabeth Clark. Illustrated by Jan Ormerod. Viking, 32 pp., varied prices. Ages 2 and up.

By Janice HaraydaFather Christmas and the Donkey (Picture Puffin)

The story of the birth of Christ is at once poignant and joyful, and great Christmas stories – including Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – reflect both aspects. One of the rare picture books that does this is the exquisite Father Christmas and the Donkey.

A donkey – old, lame and abandoned – finds his life transformed by helping Father Christmas deliver the last of his gifts in this timeless fable. The plot could have devolved into treacle. But Elizabeth Clark invests the story with real feeling by showing, in the subtlest of ways, how the old donkey yearns to be needed: “The sack was heavy, but donkey’s back was strong, and though his leg was stiff, it was wonderful how little it hurt.” And Jan Ormerod’s pictures enhance the deft blend of realism and magic that helps to make the story so appealing. Ormerod begins by using mainly tones of blue, gray, black and white accented with silver. As the donkey’s life begins to change, she adds others until full color appears in the last page.

More than a decade ago, the BBC broadcast Father Christmas and the Donkey, and it has had a well-deserved afterlife. Like The Polar Express, this is a picture book that many children will enjoy long after they have started reading longer works of fiction.

Published: 1993. Father Christmas and the Donkey first appeared in the collection Twilight and Fireside.

Furthermore: Elizabeth Clark (1875–1972) was a well-known author, storyteller and lecturer in Britain and the United States. In the 1920s she was a broadcaster on the BBC Children’s Hour program. Born in Australia, Jan Ormerod www.harpercollins.com/authors/17930/Jan_Ormerod/index.aspx?authorID=17930 is a well-known illustrator of children’s books. Her first book, Sunshine, won the Australian Picture Book of the Year Award and other honors. She lives in England.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com/

September 30, 2008

A Rosh Hashanah Tradition Worth Adapting

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:17 pm
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Elizabeth St. James recalls a Rosh Hashanah tradition worth adapting in Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays (Andrews McMeel, 1998):

“Many years ago in parts of Europe there was a custom at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which could expand our present-day ideas about giving.

“A village elder went from house to house with a bag full of coins. Those who could afford to contribute put coins in the bag; those who were poor and needed help took coins out of the bag. No distinction was made between those who put in and those who took out. This practice insured that no one in the community suffered, and it was done in a manner that maintained the dignity of all.

“What a beautifully simple idea. Give to those in need. Take only when you’re in need.”

St. James suggests adapting this tradition by donating blood, arranging to have fresh fruits or vegetables delivered to someone every month for a year, or giving a gift certificate for car repair, home maintenance, or another service a financially strapped family might not be able to afford. She offers more ideas like these in Simplify Your Christmas.

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

September 20, 2008

Books About Halloween for Children Who Are Learning to Read

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:11 pm
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Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown?: An “A Is for Amber” Book. By Paula Danziger. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Putnam, 48 pp., $13.99. Ages 4–8, younger for reading aloud.

Grandmas Trick-or-Treat: An “I Can Read” Book. Story and pictures by Emily Arnold McCully. HarperCollins, 48 pp., varied prices. Ages 4–8, younger for reading aloud.

By Janice Harayda

Early readers — illustrated books for children who are starting to read on their own — often fail for the same reason that many picture books do: An author-illustrator draws better than he or she writes or vice versa. Or, if the words and pictures come from different people, the writer and artist are mismatched.

The late Paula Danziger’s popular books about the elementary-school student Amber Brown owe much of their success to Tony Ross’s entertaining pictures. Ross’s line drawings resemble those of his countryman Quentin Blake in their ability to evoke many moods in a believable way. And the sure-footedness of his pictures may help to explain why Danziger was able to spin off the “A Is for Amber” early-readers series from her orginal chapter books about Amber Brown.

The chapter books follow the upbeat, pun-loving Amber as she deals with events such as her best friend’s move to another state and the divorce and new loves of her parents. And the early readers are, in effect, an extended prequel to them. Along with the chapter books, these easier books offer a welcome alternative to Barbara Park’s novels about Junie B. Jones, who at times acts like a charter member of the Future Sociopaths of America. Amber has high spirits that she expresses without the unrepentant nastiness that characterizes much of Junie’s behavior.

But I was at first confused by the early reader Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown?, which I picked up after having enjoyed several of the chapter books. Why does Amber notice, as she prepares Pumpkin Day at school, that her mother and father haven’t been getting along? Have her divorced parents gotten back together? Why is Justin, her best friend who has supposedly moved away, decorating pumpkins with her? And why does Ross’s art look different?

With help from the Internet, I sorted it out: I was reading an installment in the six-book prequel about events that occurred before the divorce and Justin’s move, a newer series with simplified color art by Ross instead of the black-and-white drawings of the original. No doubt all of this will be less confusing to children, who will read the early readers first, than it was to me. And Orange You Glad Its Halloween, Amber Brown? has many of the virtues of the chapter books, particularly Amber’s engaging first-person narration. But the added backstory — as in so many prequels — is just padding.

Grandmas Trick-or-Treat comes from an author-illustrator who won the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High Wire, and it may appeal anyone who has wondered: Why do so many children’s books still show grandmothers stereotypically baking cookies? This is the fourth book about a girl named Pip and her two grandmothers, Nan and Sal, whose clashing personalities drive much of the humor in the series. Proper Grandma Nan goes trick-or-treating with Pip in her street clothes — a miniskirt, striped tights, and dangling earrings. Playful Grandma Sal wears a mummy’s costume. But the two women team up to outfox a bully who taunts Pip on Halloween, showing that people with different temperaments can work together.

Neither of these books evokes as much emotion as such superior early readers as Cynthia Rylant’s “Henry and Mudge Ready-to-Read” books oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/. But both come from authors who know how to hold the attention of 4-to-8-year-olds. Intended for children who are starting to read on their own, these books would also work as read-aloud stories for some younger ones.

Best line/picture: Ross’s picture of Amber Brown pretending to be a werewolf with candy corn fangs.

Worst line/picture: Amber’s observation, “It will be a sad Halloween if my parents are not getting along.” A child might have a sad holiday because her parents were fighting, but this comment has little context in the story. Its only emotional authenticity comes from what we know from other books in the series.

Published: 2005 (Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown?) and 2001 (Grandmas Trick-or-Treat).

Furthermore: Read more about Tony Ross here magicpencil.britishcouncil.org/artists/ross/. McCully’s “I Can Read” include the baseball story Grandmas at Bat, another book about nonstereotypical grandmothers www.harpercollinschildrens.com/HarperChildrens/Kids/BookDetail.aspx?isbn13=9780064441933.

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

September 19, 2008

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Orange. Orange Who? Orange You Glad That Halloween Is Coming, Kids? Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews – Halloween Books

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:38 am
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Knock, knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad Halloween is coming, kids? Yes, this is the season when bookstores and libraries roll out their books about trick-or-treating. Tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will consider early readers about the holiday, including Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown?, part of the popular series about the pun-loving Amber Brown, written by Paula Danziger and illustrated by Tony Ross.

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

July 3, 2008

Was George M. Cohan Really ‘Born on the Fourth of July’? Read a Biographer’s Answer and Listen to ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’ Here

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle do or die;

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,

Born on the Fourth of July.

– From George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Boy” (also known as “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”)

George M. Cohan claimed that he, like the Yankee Doodle Boy of his famous song, was born on the Fourth of July in 1878. But it true? In a poorly sourced article on Cohan, Wikipedia says that the composer was born on July 3, 1878. Other sources disagree with the online encyclopedia.

Biographer John McCabe says this in George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway (Doubleday, 1973):

“George Michael Cohan was almost certainly born on July 4, 1878, at 536 Wickenden Street, on Corkie Hill, in Providence, Rhode Island. Until Ward Morehouse discovered the Cohan baptismal certificate which carries a July 3 birthdate, there had never been any doubt that the real live nephew of his Uncle Sam was born on any day other than the Fourth. The baptismal certificate hardly settles the matter. As was not unusual at the time, the birth was not recorded in the civic registry in Providence. There is, however, circumstantial evidence writ large that the July 3 on the baptismal certificate is a clerical error. Cohan’s birthday was always celebrated on the Fourth of July by his parents, Jeremiah (‘Jere’ or ‘Jerry’) and Helen (‘Nellie’) Cohan, and this many years before that date began to have profitable connotations for the Yankee Doodle Dandy. The utter probity of these two remarkable people who early taught their son that a man’s word was his impregnable bond is the strongest proof that Cohan was indeed born on the Fourth.”

Among the other evidence cited by McCabe is that Cohan’s father wrote in his diary on July 3, 1882: “Got a little present for Georgie’s birthday tomorrow.” McCabe adds: “The very casualness of the entry in a book intended for his eyes alone bespeaks its integrity.”

To hear a 1905 audio recording of “Yankee Doodle Boy” sung by tenor Billy Murray, including verses rarely heard today, click on the following link (where you will hear the lines at the top of this post about 40 seconds into the song): www.firstworldwar.com/audio/Billy%20Murray%20-%20Yankee%20Doodle%20Boy.mp3. Cohan wrote “Yankee Doodle Boy” for the 1904 Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones.

You can also hear Cohan’s “Over There” for free in three recordings on the site www.firstworldwar.com/audio/overthere.htm site, including a English-French version by Enrico Caruso. To listen to the Caruso or another “Over There,” you will have to make another click on the site to select which version you want to hear.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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