January 26, 2006

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The Cow in Apple Time, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Dean Yeagle (Beekman & Hathaway, 2005)

A

Robert Frost’s 1914 poem “The Cow in Apple Time” needs no improvement (not that it’s anyone’s place to muck with it anyway). But it could maybe use some attention and accessibility, so an inventive publisher has set it to cartoons and made it a children’s picture book.

The poem tells of a farmer’s cow who busts through a wall, makes her way to the orchard and gets drunk on the juice of fallen apples. A simple story, but in Frost’s hands it’s deep. (With messages like, I think, nature is bigger than all of us.) And it rhymes.

For my taste the illustrations feel a little too simplistically cartoony for Frost, but if the book introduces poetry to kids of various ages, then so what? In fact the corny bluntness of the drawings makes it so much the easier for the pictures to explain the poem. Such a book is exactly right for hand-holding budding poets as they try to dissect lines like “She runs from tree to tree where lie and sweeten / The windfalls spiked with stubble and worm-eaten.”

It’s easier with pictures.

Lisa Parsons

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