I picked up a copy of this book in a local charity bookshop. I was attracted by the cover - with Ernest H Shephard’s wonderful illustrations - and the book brought back childhood memories. When I got home the first thing I did was read all the poems in the book, and in my head I could hear my mother’s voice reading me some of the poems – one of her favourites, Buckingham Palace, ends each stanza with Says Alice and starts every verse with :
They’re changing guards at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Christopher Robin Milne was author A A Milne’s son, who had the unique honour of becoming a character in both Milne’s poetry and prose. Christopher Robin’s toys inspired Winnie the Pooh characters including Eeyore the donkey, Kanga, Piglet and Tigger.
Lines and Squares
My mother obviously liked some poems in the book better than others, for whilst many have resonance some ring no bells at all. Looking over the poems I can see that the ones she enjoyed reading aloud to us all had a strong rhythm.
In the poem Line and Squares the narrator – the pictures show a small child - talks of walking in all the squares on London streets to avoid the bears
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines in the street.
Whilst I do not remember the poem itself, I do remember childhood walks where I would be very careful not to step on lines or cracks in the pavement, knowing that if I did the bears would get me...
Children do, of course, know best, in particular James, James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree who
Took great care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
In the poem Disobedience James tells his mother she must never go down to the end of the town without him. It is the adult not the child who is disobedient in this poem, with dire consequences. The last verse states at the top (Now then, very softly) – the idea being that everyone should join in the telling of the final verse. It is the first verse in shortened form, with James’s name reduced to initials, care of becoming c/o and asterisks after the M for mother – all useful devices for helping children and adults remember the verse in full.
When We Were Very Young
Having finished this review I am passing When We Were Very Young on to my mother who mislaid the copy of the book she read to us from, the copy she had when she was young, inscribed with her maiden name in a child’s handwriting.
I would recommend this book for children and for adults who still have something of the child in them. Do have a closer look at the picture below - a link to When We Were Very Young on amazon.co.uk. This is the version of the book I have just read, with pictures on the cover from the poems Happiness, Hoppity, Knights and Ladies, Nursery Chairs,Teddy Bear, The Dormouse and the Doctor and The King’s Breakfast.