FICTION

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost

illus. by Rebecca Gibbon. 40p. bibliog. photos. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Oct. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-9407-7.
COPY ISBN
Gr 3–5—Bober's picture-book biography is narrated by Frost's oldest daughter, Lesley, and based upon her childhood journal. It begins with the family's return home from two years in England, where they had lived so Frost could concentrate on writing poetry instead of farming. "Papa had the courage to trust his own feelings and know what he had to do. He made a reckless choice," says the teen, quoting the first verse of "The Road Not Taken." As she waits with her mother and siblings in New York's Grand Central Terminal for the train to New Hampshire, her father visits the publisher of a book of his poetry that his wife saw reviewed in the New Republic. Lesley recalls her childhood at Derry Farm, where her papa raised chickens and sold their eggs; took his family on all-day Sunday picnics; and, with his wife, homeschooled the children. Reading and memorizing poetry were highly stressed in the Frost household, as was the purchase of books. ("Papa thought that any book worth reading twice was worth owning.") Bober has captured the poet's personality, his love for family, and the inner strength that allowed him to follow his dreams. Indeed, he returns to the station with a contract for two books-the beginning of his successful writing career. An author's note offers further biographical information. Photos, quotations, a short bibliography, and a dozen of Frost's poems are appended. Charming, detailed folk-art-style watercolor paintings add to the appeal of this readable introduction to a great American poet.—Susan Scheps, formerly at Shaker Public Library, OH
The author of A Restless Spirit (rev. 8/81; revised ed., rev. 3/92) draws on that fuller biography for a picture book focused on the pivotal years (1900 - 12) when Frost lived in Derry, New Hampshire, where four of his children were born. As Bober notes, she has adapted much of this narrative from a journal Frost's oldest daughter Lesley kept from the ages of six to ten. Lesley's memories are of a happy childhood amid an idyllic sort of farming, with regular family picnics and reading by the fire; struggles with poverty are barely suggested ("instead of buying desserts, we bought books"). Skillfully, Bober introduces Frost's idiosyncrasies along with his gifts ("Papa did things his way. He decided to milk his cow at midnight"; "Papa could hear the melody in a sentence") and frequently incorporates lines from Frost's poems. Gibbon's acrylic, pencil, and watercolor art has the flavor of Barbara Cooney's period illustrations, though Gibbon's are rendered more freely, capturing the era's essence more precisely than its details and the characters' prevailing cheerfulness rather than their deeper emotions. End matter includes an author's note, family photos, quotes from Frost on poetry, and a dozen iconic poems inspired by those Derry years. A fine introduction to a poet readers are sure to meet again. joanna rudge long

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