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Caedmon's Song

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though Caedmon is considered the first English poet, one wouldn't know it from his tongue-tied beginnings. So goes the legend presented in this biographical picture book. A humble cowherd on the grounds of a Yorkshire abbey, Caedmon was content to while away the hours with his bovine charges. Like most people of the time, Caedmon could not read or write ("Only the monks in the big abbey where Caedmon worked had books"), but, unlike many of his peers, he failed embarrassingly at reciting stories and poems (such as Beowulf) by heart. One night, however, he experiences a very special dream and finds himself filled with joy, wonder and the inspiration to compose and sing a beautiful hymn (eventually known as "Caedmon's Hymn") about Creation, something the Abbess and monks praise as a gift from God. His song prompts the Abbess to invite Caedmon to join the Abbey and to continue composing such songs of praise. Ashby's (Anne Frank: Young Diarist) accessible tale spends a bit too much time emphasizing Caedmon's shortcomings and ordinariness, but young readers will likely find the brief profile of a little-known figure intriguing. Using textured acrylics, Slavin (Something to Tell the Grandcows) crafts bucolic scenes of the British countryside and its often gruff-looking inhabitants. His various portraits of Caedmon feature realistic expressions ranging from uncomfortably pained to peaceful. A biographical note includes additional detail, including information about Caedmon's Old English. Ages 5-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Ashby takes us back to the days when few people except monks could read or write. People would recite stories around the hearth, then pass the harp to sing a poem. Caedmon, a cowherd at an abbey in northern England, hates poetry because he finds that he cannot recite it. One cold night at a feast on Saint Stephen's Eve, great songs of heroes and monsters are told. But Caedmon's voice fails him again and he storms back outside to the cowshed. Then, in a dream, he is challenged by a young man to sing of what he knows about the beauty of his world. The next day, when he recalls his poem and tells it to the abbess, she calls it a gift from God. He is asked to become a monk. His stories and songs become known and are sung everywhere. Slavin's naturalistic acrylic paintings on single and double-page scenes are meant to emphasize the dramatic aspects of Caedmon's life. Figures have a sculptural quality; most scenes are after sunset with shadows from flickering wood fires. Slavin conveys a sense of the place and those who lived there. To add to the historic setting, he creates illuminated upper case letters reminiscent of those decorated initials in the Book of Kells. The visual narrative incorporates a sense of reverent spirituality. A biographical note fills in the facts behind the story. 2006, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Ages 5 to 9.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-Ashby introduces a seventh-century man often called the first English poet. Caedmon was a cowherd who, ironically, detested poetry. He lived in an oral society and everyone else seemed capable of storytelling but him. When a tongue-tied Caedmon left a feast early and went to sleep with his cows, he dreamed of a man who commanded him to sing about what he knew. He opened his mouth and the words of his best-known poem, "Caedmon's Hymn," came out. When he awoke, he told his friend, who deemed it a miracle. He gave up his cows to live as a monk and to create songs. The text is clear and direct; mercifully, Ashby makes no attempt to re-create the Old English spoken in Caedmon's time (other than in a biographical note at the end). She creates a sympathetic protagonist, a man who is not ambitious but who, when the time is right, answers his calling. A modern audience might find this calling unusual, but they will certainly relate to the awkwardness and inadequacy he feels, and the satisfaction he takes from what is comfortable and familiar to him. Slavin's acrylic illustrations complement the story, sometimes re-creating Caedmon's world, sometimes re-creating the look of an ancient manuscript. This book will appeal to children who like historical fiction, but it will be too difficult for new readers to tackle on their own.-Kara Schaff Dean, Needham Public Library, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ashby embroiders the medieval tale of England's first known poet but lightly, downplaying its religious elements without losing them entirely. Employed as a cowherd at an abbey in northern England, Caedmon "slept with cows, and he ate with cows. Cows were his life." But he "hated poetry," freezing whenever called upon to sing or share a tale. One night, after fleeing a feast in embarrassment, he dreams of a young man who tells him that there is poetry in everyone, and invites him to sing of what he knows. Out bursts the short lyric still known as "Caedmon's Hymn," quoted here in an atypical but reasonably accurate translation. Considered to have a holy gift, Caedmon goes on to become a monk, as well as an esteemed poet. Slavin puts the young cowherd and his associates-bovine and otherwise-in broad, serene landscapes, adding Celtic-patterned initials to the text for flavor. A long afterword fills in further detail, and also contains an Old English version of the song. A bit bland, all in all-but the episode is a significant one in our cultural history, and it's been many a year since any other version of it has been offered for young readers. (Picture book/biography. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802852410
  • Publisher: Eerdmans Pub Co
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 740,704
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 9, 2013

    This is a lovely story of the first English-language poet saint.

    This is a lovely story of the first English-language poet saint.  A story that shows children that you don't have to do heroic deeds, or even to talk about them, to be a truly great person.  Nice illustrations and a good message for children of any age.

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