A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy
|A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy|
|Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A wide collection of verses with Irish connections and youthful aspects, but a collection that really frustrated me in its lack of completion and detail.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 64||Date: September 2017|
|Publisher: The O'Brien Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Poetry can come from anywhere, and anything, but this book relies on that which has some link to Irish – a Gaelic twinge here, a bit of the auld country now and again, and an aspect to it that harks back to the source over the sea to the west of us. There's a typical Irish woman's typical cake, which is practically inedible, there is evidence the woman who will be coming round the mountains when she comes was from Erin, and an inciter of workers' strikes and suchlike in America, and there is St Patrick, the Belle of Belfast City, and her southern equivalent, Molly Malone – all presented in exuberant full colour.
But, you know what? For all its fun rhymes and recollections of childhood verse, I almost grew to dislike this book. I did frown when the introduction said the Yeats and the Joyce entries were edited for consumption by the young – why, when we were actually begging for evidence Joyce had ever written child-friendly verse in the first place? But when we got to that Gaelic classic, The Owl and the Pussycat and it's just one verse, I had to more than frown. Has the rest of it been too much in the past? When I found with a quick google that the woman's cake was present in only the chorus form, when the whole song – a group of people convinced it has given them food-poisoning – is both perfectly short, fun and accessible enough, I really wanted more. (More of the verse, that is, not the cake.)
Yes, this poem has been cropped (the Oscar Wilde down to a third, the Grahame to one fifth!), that odd quoted couplet has been thrown on the page in case it sticks (and often it doesn't), and that simple bit of advice (chant On Top of Spaghetti to the tune of On Top of Old Smokey) has been left out – and while we're with the latter, we know who wrote it, and it's neither folkloric nor in the public domain, so give due credit, please. I don't know why the book pulls back from being a full and full-on celebration of Irish verse for the young, when there is evidence aplenty here it could have done so properly. Why has the book shied from informing us as well as presenting the rhymes? Where is the compassion for the verse to show the whole thing? Where is the patriotism when you just cut and cut and cut – and I have it on the most solid evidence that books for this audience have given us unexpurgated Yeats and nothing but Yeats, for what it's worth, and never felt the need to crop the less hit-worthy segments.
I can say little against our illustrator, mind – his style was a little cartoonish and broad for me, but he has the unenviable task of doing one double-page spread to combine however many different verses and segments have been pasted on to it, and he pretty much nails it every time. But a better book would have made sure he needn't have. It would have given us the full poem or song or experience. It would have delighted in presenting the whole thing and not talked down to us with its bowdlerisation. It would have been a full-on holiday in Ireland, when this is a very small postcard selection sent from overseas, with a frank blurred across all we needed to know.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
You can find that full collection of illustrated Yeats for the young here.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy at Amazon.com.
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