By: McKenna Corey, ARB 2018-2019 NEH Intern
The Historical Textbooks Collection at the ARB contains texts that cover a myriad of subjects: history, science, civic studies, music, writing, mathematics, and more. As I browse the collection, as a literary fanatic, I tend to gravitate towards the literary texts. As I was sorting some books this week, I came across the most endearing poetry collection for children that I wanted to share.
The anthology is titled Under the Tent of the Sky, and it includes poetry that focuses on the animal kingdom. The volume was published in 1937. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of my favorite poets were included in the volume, including William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and even William Shakespeare. It was amazing to me that such prominent poets were included in a collection for children, and I was inspired to flip through the volume.
I was filled with a sense of childlike wonder as I perused the book, reading beautiful short poems about everything from elephants to fairies. All of the works compiled here are full of imagination, and it is evident that John Brewton was heavily influenced by his daughter Betty’s spirit and childhood. The book is dedicated to her, and the foreword reads: “This collection was begun when Betty was four and I was seven or so years younger than I am now. Now that Betty is eleven and I’m, oh, so much older, we are– for this is as much her book as mine– happy to give you this collection of animal poems we have enjoyed together…. We hope you like them.” This book is such a beautiful testament to their relationship, and the bond they shared over these poems.
The poems are curated brilliantly into sections, divided by subject, and complemented with beautiful illustrations. These images, hand drawn by John E. Brewton (who also curated the volume) are positively stunning, and are the perfect companion to the poems. The attention to detail is amazing, and it is apparent that this volume was a labor of love for Brewton. All of the drawings were mesmerizing, and really captured the beauty of the natural world that the poems describe.
Above all else, this poetry collection instills in the reader a renewed love and appreciation for the natural environment. The overall message of the collection is perfectly summarized in the section titled “Hurt No Living Thing,” whose introductory poem by Christina Rossetti reads:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor Moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
No harmless worms that creep
Overall, this anthology introduces children to the beauty of the world around them, and aims to encourage them to be curious and respectful of the fragile natural world. These values are so important to teach young people, as they encourage them to nurture the environment and make the world a more positive and healed environment. The attention to detail in the volume shows Brewton’s passion for this cause, as well as his love for his daughter and the experiences they had reading together. It was such a pleasure to enjoy this book, and indulge my inner child, even just for a little while.
I would highly recommend giving the volume at least a glance, especially the stunning illustrations.
You can find Under the Tent of the Sky: A Collection of Poems About Animals Large and Small here at the ARB: PN6110.A7 B7
To learn more about the Historical Textbook Collection, contact us here at the Archives & Rare Books Library:
Phone: (513) 556-1959