Friday, June 6, 2008

Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems

Here is a children’s poetry book just right for summer reading:

Written by Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Clarion, 2001

I am sure that children who have camped out with their parents or gone away to summer camp will relate to the poems in this book. But a child doesn’t have to spend a summer vacation camping in order to appreciate Kristine O’Connell George’s book Toasting Marshmallows. In this collection, George uses the voice of a young girl to “tell” the book’s poems--poems that take readers into the outdoors and help them experience the wonder and peacefulness of nature through her eyes.

This collection of camping poems begins with the girl’s family setting up camp. Tent, a concrete poem written in the shape of tent, is where the books begins.

From Tent

Smooth dirt.
No rocks or roots.
Next, sharp stakes, poles,
Strong nylon rope. Shake, snap.

In addition to Tent, the girl tells about/the following things:

  • a sleeping bag in which she is “a caterpillar/in a cozy cloth cocoon”
  • an abandoned cabin with a “dirt floor carpeted in damp green moss”
  • a bait shop with “faded snapshots/of folks with the fish/they caught at this lake”
  • a cave that “breathes icy and ancient/measuring time with slow drips”
  • an old truck whose “chrome grille is a shy, wistful grin”

The book also includes poems about animals a camper might typically encounter while out in the wild: a doe, a chipmunk, a moose, an owl, as well as smaller creatures--an annoying mosquito and gray spiders “spinning silver/looping silky lines/through smoky wisps/of campfire, coffee steam/and early morning mist.”

Not all the poems are about animals and things…there are poems about the girl’s camping experiences and her communing with nature. She tells of sitting around the campfire, toasting marshmallows, spending time alone in a field, going fishing, rowing a boat out to an island with her mother, wading through a hillside of wild mustard, going for a walk in the forest, skipping rocks on a river, and sleeping outside under the stars.

From Sleeping Outside,

Small me,
still wide awake
under a wide starred sky,
almost--almost--feeling the earth

It is evident that the young girl has enjoyed her time spent camping with her family. In the final poem, Flannel, the girl speaks about her plaid camping shirt that still holds the scents and reminders of her wonderful vacation.

From Flannel

I keep it hidden
in my bottom drawer--
where no one will find it
and wash away
my memories.

The thirty poems in Toasting Marshmallows evoke the sights, sounds, and experiences of a summer camping trip well. The tone is quiet and respectful of nature--just like the young girl narrator.

Kate Kiesler’s oil paintings complement George’s text beautifully. The night scenes really transport one to the country where many more stars are visible in the dark sky. Text and art pair well to take readers on this “virtual’ camping trip.


Click here to read my review of two other books of summer poems: Douglas Florian’s Summersaults and Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems.


At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Marge Piercy entitled More Than Enough.

Sarah Reinhard has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't even like summer (too hot, way too hot), but I love these books. I'll have to reread Toasting Marshmallows right before we go to camp this summer!

Elaine Magliaro said...


It was beastly here on Sunday, June 8th--so hot and humid. It's supposed to be like this for another couple of days. I wilt in this kind of weather.

My husband and I used to go camping in summer a lot when we were younger. Have a great time on your camping trip!

Anonymous said...

We usually sing "Koombaya my love, Koooombaya" around a camp fire until it goes out and then we all fall asleep on the sand. Beautiful nights.


Anonymous said...

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