Where John Keats Meets Chris Raschka . . .

h1 April 25th, 2017 by jules

“For nothing would he do / But scribble poetry …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


It’s National Poetry Month, and I’m specifically marking it today—though I hope you celebrate it year-round by reading poetry no matter the month—with the beautiful A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats (Candlewick, March 2017). Keats evidently wrote this poem in a letter to his young sister, Fanny, while he was visiting Scotland, and now it’s in picture-book form, illustrated by the one, the only Chris Raschka. (Ezra Jack Keats also illustrated this back in ’65 as The Naughty Boy, published by Viking Press.)

“When John Keats was just twenty-two,” Raschka writes in the book’s closing Illustrator’s Note, “he decided to get out of London and go for a walk. … Arrived in the hills of Scotland, he wrote a letter to his sister. … And at the end of traveling twenty miles through the mountains he wrote …: ‘We have walked through a beautiful country to Kirkcudbright—at which place I will write you a song about myself.’ This is where his poem sits in the letter — a poem he did not think much of and which does not really have a title.” Raschka adds:

John Keats is remembered as one of the greatest romantic artists of all time …. He can also be remembered as a loving brother, who wanted to make his sister laugh with a funny little rhyme ….

Divided into four verses, each of which begins with “There was a naughty boy, / A naughty boy was he,” it’s a poem that celebrates mischief, curiosity, and the wondering of wandering — when we “choose / To follow one’s nose.” The language is playful (“He often would / Hurly burly / Get up early …”) and begs to be read aloud.

Raschka, whose endpapers here are worth the price of admission alone, has much fun with the text and plays with perspective in vivid ways all throughout the book. With arrows and bold lines accentuating the poem’s devotion to wandering and travel, the illustrations pop off the page, the starred Kirkus review calling them “visually boisterous.” Warm colors and riotous energy are the name of the game; this book sings.

Here’s one more illustration for you to enjoy. …


“To the mountains / And fountains /
And ghostes / And Postes / And witches / And ditches …”

(Click to enlarge spread)

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A SONG ABOUT MYSELF. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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