Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book #322: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, a Poem by Eugene Field, Illustrated by Johanna Westerman

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Beautiful starlit illustrations accompany the classic bedtime poem by the American poet and literary critic, Eugene Field (1850-1895). In Westerman’s version three children sail off on a wooden shoe over a small town and up to the old moon. They cast their nets of silver and gold to catch the herring fish that live in the sky. Then the children sail back to their bedroom and tumble into bed.

“Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes, / And Nod is a little head, / And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies / Is a wee one’s trundle bed.”

The rhyming text of this poem quietly rocks along using imaginative language to evoke a magical nighttime adventure. Although the poem was written in 1889 the vocabulary does not feel dated. This poem can be found in many children’s poetry anthologies and has been published as a standalone illustrated picture book several times. Westerman’s watercolor illustrations further the magical elements of the poem. The fair-haired, fair-skinned children sail the enormous wooden shoe through the crashing waves of the sky as though it were an ocean. The details in the illustrations are clever, such as the herring fish that dance out of the wall paper. The illustrations are framed with a blue border dotted with stars. 

This is a book my mother used to sing to my brother and me when we were young and I very much wanted to review the copy I remember. Unfortunately, that book is out of print. I promptly checked out every version available from my local library and Westerman’s illustrations won me over. 

Pair this book with others that feature nighttime adventures, such as The Maggie B., and Pajama Pirates or In the Night Kitchen.

The poem has also been put to music and recorded by many artists including Buffy Saint-Marie (who sang the song on Sesame Street), Cass Elliot and the Big Three, and this lovely choral version with music by Joseph Shank. 

I cannot find the exact version of the song my mother used to sing to me (maybe she made it up), but the closet version is the one by Lucy Simon. You might also recognize the more upbeat Dobbie Brothers version. If you’d like to accompany yourself on the guitar (or another instrument), here are the chords (no melody) for the song.

There are several dramatized version. Disney created a SillySymphonies animated version loosely based on the poem in 1938. And if your child is a Barney fan, you might recall seeing this live-action version.

If you live near Washington Park in Denver or the Green in Wellsboro, PA take a field trip to see if you can find the matching statues of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Eugene Field lived in Denver and his house has been relocated to Washington Park near the statue (715 S. Franklin St.). I’m not sure if the house is open for viewing, but it seems the outside of the house is easy to see from the street.


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