Long ago, when hardly anyone knew how to read or write, people recited stories by heart. They sat around the hearth at night, telling of heroes and monsters, great battles fought, and fortunes made and lost. On feast days, they passed the harp around the room so that everyone could sing a poem. But when the harp reached Caedmon, his thoughts dried up. He opened his mouth and nothing at all came out. It was embarrassing. No wonder he hated poetry. A quiet man who loved tending his cows, Caedmon couldn't recite poetry because he thought he had no stories to tell. Then after one especially upsetting experience, Caedmon stormed home, fell asleep in the barn, and began to dream. That night, everything changed for Caedmon.
With jovial, heartwarming illustrations and beautifully illuminated letters, this tale is based on the true story of Caedmon, the seventh-century cowherd who became known as the first English poet. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
Gr 1-3-Ashby introduces a seventh-century man often called the first English
poet. Caedmon was a cowherd who, ironically, detested poetry. He lived in an
oral society and everyone else seemed capable of storytelling but him. When a
tongue-tied Caedmon left a feast early and went to sleep with his cows, he
dreamed of a man who commanded him to sing about what he knew. He opened his
mouth and the words of his best-known poem, "Caedmon's Hymn," came out. When
he awoke, he told his friend, who deemed it a miracle. He gave up his cows to
live as a monk and to create songs. The text is clear and direct; mercifully,
Ashby makes no attempt to re-create the Old English spoken in Caedmon's time
(other than in a biographical note at the end). She creates a sympathetic
protagonist, a man who is not ambitious but who, when the time is right,
answers his calling. A modern audience might find this calling unusual, but
they will certainly relate to the awkwardness and inadequacy he feels, and
the satisfaction he takes from what is comfortable and familiar to him.
Slavin's acrylic illustrations complement the story, sometimes re-creating
Caedmon's world, sometimes re-creating the look of an ancient manuscript. This
book will appeal to children who like historical fiction, but it will be too
difficult for new readers to tackle on their own.-Kara Schaff Dean, Needham
Public Library, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Though Caedmon is considered the first English poet, one wouldn't know it from
his tongue-tied beginnings. So goes the legend presented in this biographical
picture book. A humble cowherd on the grounds of a Yorkshire abbey, Caedmon
was content to while away the hours with his bovine charges. Like most people
of the time, Caedmon could not read or write ("Only the monks in the big abbey
where Caedmon worked had books"), but, unlike many of his peers, he failed
embarrassingly at reciting stories and poems (such as Beowulf) by heart. One
night, however, he experiences a very special dream and finds himself filled
with joy, wonder and the inspiration to compose and sing a beautiful hymn
(eventually known as "Caedmon's Hymn") about Creation, something the Abbess
and monks praise as a gift from God. His song prompts the Abbess to invite
Caedmon to join the Abbey and to continue composing such songs of praise.
Ashby's (Anne Frank: Young Diarist) accessible tale spends a bit too much
time emphasizing Caedmon's shortcomings and ordinariness, but young readers
will likely find the brief profile of a little-known figure intriguing. Using
textured acrylics, Slavin (Something to Tell the Grandcows) crafts bucolic
scenes of the British countryside and its often gruff-looking inhabitants. His
various portraits of Caedmon feature realistic expressions ranging from
uncomfortably pained to peaceful. A biographical note includes additional
detail, including information about Caedmon's Old English. Ages 5-up. (Feb.)
Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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