Baxter Basics, Poems for Children by James K Baxter (Steele Roberts Publishers)
How wonderful it is, to have the line that will lead children along the road toward poetic Jerusalem inscribed by the master wordsmith latterly known as Hemi. The poems in this collection date from the early 50s, and were published as The Tree House in 1974. In 1979, Price Milburn produced the poems in separate Baxter Basics booklets in the PM Readalongs series. Steele Roberts brought them together in this modern compendium version in 2008.
What a wonderful way to preserve them, when one’s original school readers become the stuff of half-remembered dreaming. And what a gift to me, as a new librarian at Cannons Creek Library, looking for solid ways to turn kids on to reading and poetry. In a modern world, sometimes vintage turns out to be the most amazing flavour to taste. My familiarity with the poems and affection for the illustrations made it easy to pick up and enthusiastically share.
What do you love about it?
It reminds me of the excitement of learning to read in the days when I did – in the early 1970s. I love the way it introduces unmistakable rhyme schemes that have the kids punching the air to tell me they have noticed them. I love the way its economy of line has met the sort of playful typographic design that leads us to taking exactly the right size bites to best serve each line.
Which poems really hook you?
I like the balance and sway of “I’m A Tree” – ‘I’m a man out walking in the thick green bush; I can’t see the sun, So I push, push, push! / I’m a boy with a banjo, Clever as they come; I pick up my banjo and I strum, strum, strum!’ (And who wouldn’t want to be the boy with the banjo and the fans, as Lynley Dodd sees them.)
Speaking of the illustrations, Dodd’s fine work – along with that of Judith Trevelyan, Dawn Johnston, and Ernest Papps – hark nostalgia now, although only ‘The Firemen’ would have seemed vintage when first published. The renderings of home, town, bush/forest, beach/sea and sparse traffic in uncrowded cities combine with the words to make me feel like the world is my oyster, and that I can transport myself into any form of being from nature, to occupation, to location.
Have you seen children reading it?
This is probably my most-shared poetry book, and it is always well received. The offering of a first line or two is easily transformed by the invitation to turn Baxter’s observations into one’s own.
What three words sum up the book?
Vintage, transformative, classic. (I consider any book capable of turning us into poets via uncluttered example transformative!)
Can you think of a book it is similar to?
Margaret Mahy’s rhyme-alicious “My Wonderful Aunt” shared a similar publishing history, in that it was served up as a compendium of stories after years of being loved as individual readers. There is something quite special about honouring ‘the reader’ – seen so much as a tool by those doing the teaching, but with the capacity to lodge themselves very deeply into the psyches of those making reading revelations with them.
Bee Trudgeon is the Porirua Children’s Librarian Kaitiaki Pukapuka Tamariki. She is a writer, strummer, storyteller, dancer in the dark, film buff, perpetual student, and the mother of a couple of big kids who still love bedtime stories. Often spotted urban long-distance walking wearing headphones and a ukulele, she lives in a haunted house in Cannons Creek, and works wherever there is an audience.
Check out the Poetry Box August challenge here