In addition to literature for grown-ups, the Victorians bequeathed us wonderful stories and poems for children. Alice in Wonderland and Peter Rabbit are two such Victorian classics no child should grow up without reading. The poems of Robert Louis Stevenson (best known for Treasure Island) in A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) are no different. Some more well-known titles from this poetry collection include “My Shadow,” “Land of Nod” and “The Swing.”
The Victorians possessed a marvelous talent for capturing the glorious wonder and fantasy of childhood. Somehow, writers like Stevenson, though grown-up themselves, retained the eyes and mind of a child. In A Child’s Garden of Verses the reader can relive with an uncanny vividness young delights such as soaring through the air on a swing or making forts out of furniture, and, most significantly, perceiving nature as a portal to fairyland. And yet Stevenson frames the wonder and wild adventure of youth with the comforting and constant structures of daily domestic routines such as mealtimes and bedtime, the cycles of the sun and moon and the changing of the seasons in soothing, rhythmic rhyme. Stevenson gives children strange and fantastical spaces to explore and familiar, safe spaces to retreat.
A Child’s Garden of Verses is an excellent introduction to classic literature for children of any age (my three-year-old daughter wants me to read it to her every day). It’s also much more interesting for the parent to read than the typical picture book! Many illustrated editions of this poetry collection exist, but two that stand out are Gyo Fujikawa’s and Tasha Tudor’s. The text is the same; only the illustrations are different.
But there’s a caveat. Stevenson was actually an atheist. Look for an upcoming post that explains why I still consider A Child’s Garden of Verses Christian Victorian literature.