A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers
by Nancy Willard
I would like to kick off April, and its designation as National Poetry Month, with a great lead in poetic picture book for young readers. Here’s one that, in 1981, simultaneously won the coveted Newbery Award and had Caldecott Honor designation as well.
It’s pretty unusual, since it happens quite rarely. But it has happened again!
Not again until 2016, has it reoccurred to show how really rare such occurrences are in the world of picture books.
But, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, had the same effect on the ALSC some 35 years later, winning both the 2016 Newbery Award, plus the additional coup of Caldecott Honor Book Award designation.
Last Stop on Market Street is a book that teaches young readers a transformative wisdom, handed down by a grandmother to her young grandson.
And that insight is to see and hear the world with the heart, rather than merely the eye; to celebrate what we have rather than what we lack; to allow all of our senses to drink in the sights and sounds that may appear, to the youthful, unpracticed eye, a bit of a ho hum, but not so….if one has the practiced eye of the wisdom of age.
It’s a book of generational generosity of spirit, both shared and learned, and it is quite something.
Now, let us return to the Blake book by Nancy Willard, who from her youth was a William Blake devotee. In fact, while writing this very book of poems, she built a six-foot model of the inn described and decorated it with…”moons, suns, stars and prints of Blake’s paintings. It’s said the model, with its residents, stands in her living room.
To add to the delight of this picture book are its artists; the husband/wife team of collaborative artists, Alice and Martin Provensen. How wonderful are these two artists? They’ve been on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book List some nine times!
If your child is unfamiliar with poetry in general, and William Blake, specifically, here is a great book to begin the introductions.
Enter an under the weather seven year old, asking her sitter, a Miss Pratt, for a story with “lions and tigers.” The perfect Blake poem is quoted:
Tyger, Tyger burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
And, marvelously some two days later, a book arrives in the post entitled, ‘Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, with a note from the deceased author, that reads:
Poetry is the best medicine.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Suspicion hovers over Miss Pratt as the sender, but it is denied.
Delving into the book, a young reader is enmeshed in a fifteen poem journey to the inn of Blake that involves a highly imaginative cast of characters, including Blake himself. They are, variously, to name but three, the Rabbit, King of the Cats and The Man in the Marmalade Hat!
I can think of no better journey to the land of poetry, and the prize winning art that accompanies it, than to journey with Nancy Willard and the Provensens in “A Visit to William Blake’s Inn.”
It’s a visit that stays with you more than a chocolate set out on an inn’s pillow as you turn in for the night.
And it’s a lot richer!
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