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Education: Authors in the Nursery

4 minute read

The two young authors, aged 9 and 11, never got beyond Act I of their romantic comedy about Helena and Charles Arnold, the TV repair man. But their neighbor, Humorist H. Allen Smith, got an idea from their brief script:

Charles: I am here to repair the TV set.

Helena: It is badly broke and will be hard work so would you like to have a hi-ball.

Charles: No but I will take a cup of tea.

Helena: Humf.

Long a “pushover for the literary strivings of small children,” Smith decided to collect other samples and put them into a book. The result: Write Me a Poem, Baby (Little, Brown; $2.95), which tells quite a bit about the forthright world of children. To get his material, Smith culled magazines, wrote teachers, interviewed parents. His literature covers letters, short stories, poems, essays and notes passed in class. He even included the early efforts of some literary lions. At six, for instance, Novelist Jean Stafford wrote an ode to gravel:

Gravel, gravel on the ground, Lying there so safe and sound, Why is it you look so dead? Is it because you have no head?

At seven, T. S. Eliot produced a biography of George Washington which concluded with the memorable line: “And then he died, of corse.” James Thurber began his career with a poem of which only the title is still extant: “My Auntie Margery Albright’s Garden, 185 South 5th Street, Columbus, Ohio.”

Dear Mom . . . Unlike their elders, child writers waste few words. “Great stacks of books,” says Smith, “have been written by people in an effort to explain why Rome fell … yet none of them ever really arrived at a more sensible answer than that contained in a penciled manuscript unearthed in Greenwich, Conn, one day in 1948. It was the work of a nine-year-old boy and follows:


The Downfall of Rome was caused by carelessness.”

A letter from camp can be equally businesslike (“Dear Mom: If we do not write a letter home today we cannot have any lunch—Very Truly Yours Don”). Child authors like to get briskly to the point—whether they are writing a poem,

The autumn days are here You always expect them this time of year,

a literary opinion (“This book gives me more information about penguins than I care to have”), a thank-you note (“Thank you for your nice present. I always wanted a pin cushion, although not very much”), or a get-well verse to teacher

Dear Miss Randall: Sorry you’re sick and Lying in bed. Hope you come back Before you’re dead.

Parents Are No Use. National holidays and heroes are a constant source of inspiration—”Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands.” But so is resentment of a sibling−

I Hate Margaret She’d make a good target . . .

and annoyance with parents. “My ma,” wrote one youngster, “is quite fat, and she hates my bunny. She’s always getting headaches and is quite a nuisance to have around. She always tells me to get out from under her feet when I’m not under her feet at all. My dad never laughs at a joke and is a nuisance to have around. So as I look at it there’s no use for parents.”

Of all literary forms, Smith’s authors seem most at home with the short story. Examples:

¶ By the daughter of a Hollywood producer: “Once upon a time there was a poor family. The mother was poor. The daddy was poor. The children were poor. The butler was poor. The chauffeur was poor. The maid was poor. The gardener was poor. Everybody was poor.”

¶ By a nine-year-old girl: “Once upon a time there was a little girl named Clarise Nancy Imogene Ingrid LaRose. She had no hair and rather large feet. But she was extremely rich and the rest was easy.”

¶ By a small boy: “There was once a merderer with yellow eyes and his wife said to him, If you merder me you will be hung. And he was hung on Tuesday next. Finis.”

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