Form and Content
Piping Down the Valleys Wild derives its title from the introductory poem to Songs of Innocence (1789), by William Blake, the eighteenth century English Romantic poet and engraver. Editor Nancy Larrick could not have chosen a better poem to set the tone and to serve as prelude for her collection for young readers. Just as Blake’s poem emphasizes the musical quality of poetry with his piper, or poet, “Piping songs of pleasant glee” that “Every child may joy to hear,” so Larrick’s selections are generally those that will appeal to the ear. As she states in her introduction, “poetry itself is music,” and perhaps it is for this reason that young readers respond enthusiastically to it, asking to hear a favorite verse again and again. She based this belief on years of working with students and claims that it guided her in choosing the 245 poems in this volume. This enthusiasm for aural elements is evident in examples such as Karla Kuskin’s “Full of the Moon,” with its dogs that “howl and growl” as they “amble, ramble, scramble”; or in Eve Merriam’s “Bam, Bam, Bam,” in which workers “Slam, slam, slam” as they demolish neighborhood houses with pickaxes and wrecking balls.
Piping Down the Valleys Wild is divided into sixteen chapters grouped by subject matter. Each chapter takes its title from a portion of a poem contained within that section: for example, the title of chapter 5, “I saw a spooky witch out riding on her broom,” comes from the poem “October Magic,” by Myra Cohn Livingston; and the title of chapter 13, “I must go down to the seas again . . . ,” is the opening line expressing the adventurous longing that suffuses John Masefield’s poem “Sea-Fever.” Thus, each section offers a satchelful of poems on a particular topic, although the subjects are not always apparent from a quick perusal. While chapter 2, “Sing a song of laughter . . . ,” is obviously about humor, readers will have to look more closely at the poems themselves in chapter 8, “I’ll take the hound with drooping ears . . . ,” and chapter 10, “I found new-born foxes . . . ,” to determine their distinguishing feature. Both seem to be about animals, but closer scrutiny reveals that the first concerns pets or domesticated animals, whereas the second focuses on wild animals and insects.
Other organizational characteristics of the collection include drawings by Ellen Raskin, an author, illustrator, and recipient of...
(The entire section is 601 words.)