Piping Down the Valleys Wild possesses virtually everything that younger audiences cite as their poetry preferences. In addition to the musical qualities of rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, and other sound effects, many of the poems in the anthology are about familiar experiences. David McCord’s “Kite” speaks of the thrill of flying a kite in different kinds of weather—from sunny to cloudy to dark, windy, and gray. Patricia Hubbell’s “Concrete Mixers” compares the machinery of her poem to ponderous pachyderms that move, bellow, and spray with their trunks as they raise a city. Although it offers unique insights into the ordinary, the language is everyday, never obscure, and easily comprehensible to the urban and suburban audiences for whom Larrick intended her book.
Three sections are devoted to animals, also a favorite topic among children. The verses range from the lighthearted descriptions of a puppy’s antics in Marchette Chute’s “My Dog” to the gentle, poignant, and sometimes humorous characterizations that Carmen Bernos de Gasztold gives her animals as they offer special prayers to God and simultaneously hold up a mirror to human thoughts and wishes. None except those with hearts of stone could fail to be touched by the request of the Old Horse who, with threadbare coat and stiffened legs, asks God for a gentle death after long years of labor.
Another preference to which this collection caters is the strange and fantastic. The poems on people feature characters...
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Because this collection is intended to appeal to a wide array of interests, almost by necessity it will not satisfy everyone. Critics not having a penchant for end rhymes and regular rhythms may find the volume too full of poems that jingle to the ear. Others inclined to favor poetry about contemporary topics or with a social conscience may also be disappointed. For example, African American poets are scarce, and the few represented such as Gwendolyn Brooks barely emit an audible whisper about the experiences of black people in the United States.
These objections, however, are more cavils than criticisms. Nancy Larrick has provided for more specialized interests elsewhere among her numerous collections. Because of its incorporation of photographs and its inclusion of poems selected by more than one hundred youngsters from inner cities and small towns, Larrick’s On City Streets (1968) is a good choice for audiences who want poems about a more contemporary scene. For those who prefer controversial fare, Male and Female Under Eighteen (1973), which Larrick edited with Eve Merriam, contains language and ideas that some people might consider inappropriate for juveniles and young adults. Even so, such collections may become easily dated for readers whose environments and problems are ever-changing. Piping Down the Valleys Wild, however, will continue to have broad appeal. It not only attempts to make poetry as necessary a part of living as speaking or breathing but also is a treasure trove of favorite verses that vary in form, style, and content—all hallmarks of a good anthology.