Here at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’re all about friendships — including our new Friendship Project. We’re also all about inviting friends (especially poet friends) to come with us to work next Wednesday, July 18, Take Your Poet to Work Day. So we have a lot in common with the unnamed boy who enlarges the party in May I Bring A Friend? by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers and illustrated by Beni Montresor.
De Regniers wrote more than fifty books and worked at Scholastic as the first editor of its Lucky Book Club. In an interview with Bookology magazine, she said, “Mondays are reserved for my own writing. I’ve trained all my friends not to call me on Mondays.” Her first book, The Giant Story (currently out of print), was illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Illustrator Beni Montresor was Italian, best-known for his work designing sets and costumes for opera. The opera aesthetic appears in this story when the lions come for Halloween wearing masks.
I usually choose books with the shiny gold Caldecott Medal, the one for best illustrations, because so much of the story is conveyed in the pictures. This story is no exception.
May I Bring a Friend? begins with an unnamed boy who has received an invitation to join the King and Queen for tea on Sunday. Who is this boy? Why does he get special invitations from monarchs? Why are the King and Queen such animal lovers? These questions are not answered. Sometimes, especially on a hot summer day, it’s fun to just play.
The boy says he’d like to bring a friend, and the King and Queen respond, “My dear, my dear, / Any friend of our friend / Is welcome here.” So the boy brings a giraffe, and as the days of the week unfold, he brings more and more animals. (Did you know Friday is Apple Pie Day? Aren’t you happier knowing that?)
When, on Tuesday, the boy wants to bring more than one friend, the Queen and King reply, “The more friends / you bring, the better.” So the boy brings monkeys. It’s a little chaotic because the monkeys eat all the food, but the King doesn’t blast the boy on Twitter. The Queen doesn’t sneak a photo of the monkeys swinging on the tapestries, add a mean hashtag, and post it on Facebook. They simply, graciously invite the boy to come again the following day.
And the boy, ever polite, asks to bring more friends. The monarchs say yes every time. When the boy brings an elephant and finds there is no place for it to sit, the king and queen and boy sit on the elephant instead.
Most of the books I’ve chosen for the Children’s Book Club tell stories in prose. This one is a prose poem. The rhyming pattern follows the days of the week, and it has repetition in its form, but it’s not exactly the same every time. Will the extra coda that happened on Wednesday happen again on Thursday? Part of the fun is turning the page to find out.
The King and Queen
Sent a man with a horn
To ask me to come
On Wednesday morn
In a similar way, when the boy responds to each day’s invitation, sometimes he says, “So I brought my friend…,” and then he says, “So I brought more friends…,” and later he says, “So I came and brought my friends.” The last day, Saturday, the day that is different, has completely different words: “So what is why…” Yet there are ellipses every time.
Books that rhyme — even when they stray from the formula — are more easily memorized. And when children memorize a book, they feel like they are reading it even before they master phonics and all its exceptions. It’s a key part of the learning process, to getting those words and rhythms to settle deep in your bones.
Much of the fun of this book is noticing the King and Queen’s expressions. Sometimes you see love. Sometimes welcome. Sometimes shock. Sometimes fear. At one point the Queen looks decidedly nonplussed. In between the boy’s visits, they do things like catch butterflies together or jointly wrap a ball of yarn. They should write a book titled “How to Live Happily Ever After.”
Like all good guests, the boy reciprocates the monarchs’ invitation. At the end of the book he invites the King and Queen to tea with him and his friends at the one place that can accommodate them all, the City Zoo.
Three birds are pictured outside this happy menagerie. They are looking in at the Queen and King and the boy, all hugging around a small table set for tea. Above them fly flags that say things like “Hurrah!” and “Hugs and Kisses for our King!” and “Hurray for the Lovely Queen!” It would be so easy for the birds to come inside and join the friendship party. Perhaps they are waiting for an invitation.
The next Children’s Book Club will meet Friday, August 10. We’ll read Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro