Hist Whist by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. Thanks to Melissa Wiley for the recommendation of this one. I think it was at last Halloween. No, looking at Lissa’s post, I guess it was more than a year ago. Last summer.
Anyway, I remembered and requested it from the library a couple weeks ago. And it sat in the basket for a while and I suspected it was a dud. Then someone brought it to me one day and I read it and… no reaction. Definitely a dud. I guess it’s just not right for my gang. Too scary, I thought.
But then a few more days passed and suddenly it came out again and this time something happened. Someone giggled. And then we started talking about it a bit.
“Why does it say, ‘watch out for the woman with the wart on her nose?'”
“What’s a goblin?”
And I started to hear people reciting lines:
“Hob a nob. Hob a nob.”
“Little twitchy witches.”
“The devil ouch the devil ach the great green dancing devil.”
“At first I thought ‘the devil ooch, the devil ouch, the devil ach’ were the names of the different devils.”
“Why do the kids say “wheeeee” at the end?”
And now we’re all working on memorizing the whole thing.
I love the poem, of course. e.e. cummings is just so delightful. Ghostthings and scuttling eyes and all. But in this one the pictures by Deborah Kogan Ray really make the book. These delightful pictures that imagine a story to the poem, a group of trick-or-treaters dashing through the dark on Halloween. They are so soft and dark; yet rich with suggestion. They could be a little creepy and scary. Yes, even more than a little scary, but it’s all the power of suggestion. Up till that final delightful page when suddenly all the figures of ghosts and witches and mousies and toads and devils are revealed to be cute as a button children holding masks in their hands with laughing chubby faces and smiling eyes. See, it says, not so scary after all. Look again.
Thinking about our ongoing conversation about teaching children to manage fears. We’ve had several great books recently in that vein. And yes I’m a bit surprised at how they have taken to this one. It both entertains the fears and then dismisses them. It takes them seriously and yet not too seriously. There is such playful delight in the language, tingling and itching and hiding. And the pictures really do play along.
This I wouldn’t mind owning a copy of. Funny too how I want to add more poetry but the anthologies so often don’t work for me. I need something like this, that captures my imagination and theirs. Then memorization just kind of happens because we don’t want to let it go. We want to caress the words longer, to have them linger in our brains and on our tongues. And so those caresses are so easily lengthened just a bit until the words just fall into place. Repeat repeat repeat and now I’ve got it down and soon they may too. Organic, not assigned; delight not forced. This works. I just need to find more books like it. More poems that want to worm their way in.
You can read the poem here.
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