Book Review: Knock At A Star

Knock At A Star:  A Child’s Introduction To Poetry, by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy

From childhood I have been interested in poetry.  Like many children of my generation I wrote silly limericks as as kid [1] and read plenty of poems, and even had to memorize poetry on occasion as well as write it for class.  This book is aimed at the market I was in when I would read Shel Silverstein books (although I did not see any of those included here), and much of the poetry is good, although a great deal of it comes with an obvious social and political agenda on the part of the writers of the book as well.  Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this poetry book even if I am generally fond of poetry aimed at young people [2].  If you are an adult looking to encourage young people to enjoy poetry, there is certainly a lot this book can help out with and the poetry included is general of fine quality.

In terms of its contents, this book of less than 200 pages is divided into four parts.  The first part of the book looks at what poems do:  make one smile, tell stories, send messages, share feelings, help one understand people, and start one wondering.  And, to be sure, the book includes a variety of diverse and generally short poetry designed to illustrate those purposes.  The second part of the book examines what is inside of a poem, specifically images, word music, beats that repeat, likenesses, and wordplay.  Of course, there are quite a few poems that illustrate these qualities of poems as well.  The third part of the book looks at special kinds of poetry that are often popular, namely limericks, takeoffs, songs, show-and-spell poems that where their visual elements are important, finders-keepers poems, as well as haiku.  The fourth and final part of the book consists of ideas for writing one’s own poems, an afterword for adults, and indices of authors, titles, and first lines as well as acknowledgements.  The book rather sensibly moves from seeking to encourage students to read and recognize good poetry to writing it as well.

Again, it is easy to have mixed feelings about this book.  In general, the poems chosen are good ones, but they are (with rare exceptions, like the works of Richard Wright, Lewis Carroll, and William Stafford) not often “great” poems.  In addition, it appears as if many of the poems are chosen to prime certain emotion-based responses on the part of the reader, leading them to subtly downgrade the importance of listening to parents by talking about domestic arguments, or by making children pity nice homeless people (of which there are admittedly some).  Many of the poems focus on creation, something children in general show a great deal of interest in, and a few of them, including Alexander Pope’s clever couplet on the collar of a dog, even hint about larger political matters.  Yet I must admit that in this deeply political age I am not sure I trust the writers of this book to have the best interests of children at heart, especially in the avoidance of moralizing, which is frequently necessary concerning the affairs of this world, and something the authors are reluctant to do, unless it is moralizing for their own social causes.  This is a book to use, in other words, but not to trust.

[1] Although, admittedly, not all of the limericks were silly.  In fact, even as a child I had a rather melancholy sense when it came to poetry, reflecting on the mortality of yummy chickens and the isolation of people watching their Sylvania televisions in Pennsylvania.

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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