About the Holiday
Sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Poetry Day celebrates one of the world’s oldest and most treasured forms of linguistic expression. On this day we honor the poets who translate physical beauty into words, expose social injustice in heartrending verse, and make us laugh with quirky juxtapositions. To celebrate the holiday, attend a poetry reading, revisit poems from your favorite author or discover a new writer, or pen a poem yourself!
enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings
Written by Matthew Burgess | Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Hello! Welcome to 4 Patchin Place, the home of poet E. E. Cummings! This is where he wrote his poetry on a clackety typewriter, stopping only for tea poured out by the love of his life, Marion Moorehouse. How did he become a poet? That is an interesting story! E. E. was born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His house was full of extended family, a handyman, a maid, and several pets. From an early age he loved to translate the things he saw into words. “His first poem flew out of his mouth when he was only three: “‘Oh, my little / birdie, Oh / with his little / toe, toe, toe!’”
Estlin’s mother wrote down all the poems he told her and made a little book of them, titled “‘Estlin’s Original Poems.’” When he was six, he expressed his love of nature in a poem about trees, and when his mother asked him what else he saw, he “looked around as if his eyes were on tiptoes and when his heart jumped he said another poem: “‘On the chair is sitting / Daddy with his book. / Took it from the bookcase / Beaming in his look.’”
As he grew, Estlin was fascinated by the animals he saw at the circus and in the zoo. He drew pictures of them and wrote about them, using the words he loved so well—and even making up his own words. Estlin had a zest for life and for making life fun for himself and his little sister. During the summers, the family traveled to Joy Farm in New Hampshire, where Estlin swam, milked the cow, rode a donkey, and wandered through the fields and forest. His father had built him a little log cabin in the woods, and in the afternoons Estlin went there to draw and write. At home he also had a special place all his own. In an enormous tree his father built a tree house, complete with stove to keep him warm on cold days.
Estlin had support for his writing at school too. His favorite teacher encouraged him saying, “anything is possible, / as long as you are true to yourself / and never give up, even when the world / seems to say, stop!” From his Uncle George, Estlin received a guide to writing poems. Estlin followed the rules in the book, penning poems nearly every day. When Estlin was 17 he attended Harvard College and began publishing his poems in the school’s magazines. While at Harvard, Estlin realized he had to follow his heart to be happy. He wanted to be like the new artists who were shaping the world—people like Gertrude Stein, Paul Cezanne, and Igor Stravinsky, “artists who were,” he once said, “challenging the way we think and see.”
After he graduated, Estlin returned home, but when he had saved enough money he moved to New York and fell in love with the city immediately. He and his friends took in everything new the city had to offer. Soon, however, the United States entered World War II. On April 17, 1917 Estlin volunteered to be an ambulance driver in France. Before he received his assignment, though, he had time to explore Paris. He was “bowled over by the museums, the ballet, and the colorful, crowded streets.” He enjoyed the city so much he returned often during his lifetime.
During the war, Estlin was mistaken for a spy and sent to prison for several months. After the war he wrote a book about his experiences titled The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings. “The book was published and praised! Estlin was becoming E. E.!” A year later he published his first book of poetry—Tulips & Chimneys. In his poems he experimented with punctuation and using lower case letters instead of capitals.
Through his fanciful typography, E. E. “wanted his reader’s eyes to be on tiptoes too, seeing and reading poetry (inaway) that was new.” But some people didn’t understand or like his poetry; it was too strange and too small, they said. But E. E. knew he had to stay true to himself. He believed that “his poems were new and true” and “were his way of saying YES” to everything he loved. As time went on more and more people began to “see the beauty of E. E.’s poetry, and he became one of the most beloved poets in America.”
E. E. Cummings lived and worked at 4 Patchin Place for almost 40 years, but in his mind he would often return to his childhood home. He “could still see himself as a boy gazing out at the sunset”—a memory that he put into words: who are you,little i / (five or six years old) / peering from some high / window;at the gold / of November sunset / (and feeling:that if day has to become night / this is a beautiful way)”
Simply put, Matthew Burgess’s enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is a biography that will make you smile. Upbeat and full of the wonder and whimsy that influenced Estlin Cummings’ prodigious talent, the story encourages readers to always follow their heart. Burgess’s easy-going, conversational style invites kids along on the journey of Cumming’s life, stopping off at points that resonate with kids—early imaginary play, school, family vacations, home life, college, travel, and ultimate success. Seeing the support Cummings received throughout his life will inspire young readers just starting out on their own roads of discovery.
Kris Di Giacomo’s enchanting illustrations will immediately capture the imagination of readers. The playful quality of Cummings’ personality and poems is mirrored in each spread as a variety of children’s drawings and typography are sprinkled throughout. As six-year-old Estlin composes poems for his mother, he stands on tiptoe in his nightshirt surrounded by toys; he experiences life from rooftop and treetop and gazes into the night from his tree house; New York lights up with fireworks and the lights of Broadway; and his poems spring from the pages in their own inimitable way.
For children interested in writing, biographies, history, the arts, and the life of the imagination, enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is a perfect choice for their home bookshelves.
A chronology of E. E. Cummings’ life, five poems, and an Author’s Note follow the text.
Ages 4 – 9
Enchanted Lion Publishing, 2015 | ISBN 978-1592701711
To learn more about Matthew Burgess, his books, and his poetry, visit his website!
View a gallery of illustration by Kris Di Giacomo on her website!
World Poetry Day Activity
Grow a Poem
A poem often grows in your imagination like a beautiful plant—starting from the seed of an idea, breaking through your consciousness, and growing and blooming into full form. With this craft you can create a unique poem that is also an art piece!
- Printable Leaves Template
- Printable Flower Template
- Wooden dowel, 36-inch-long, ½-inch diameter, available in craft or hardware stores
- Green ribbon, 48 inches long
- Green craft paint
- Green paper for printing leaves (white paper if children would like to color the leaves)
- Colored paper for printing flowers (white paper if children would like to color the flowers)
- Flower pot or box
- Oasis, clay, or dirt
- Hole punch
- Markers or pens for writing words
- Crayons or colored pencils if children are to color leaves and flowers
- Paint the dowel green, let dry
- Print the leaves and flower templates
- Cut out the leaves and flowers
- Punch a hole in the bottom of the leaves or flowers
- Write words, phrases, or full sentences of your poem on the leaf and flower templates
- String the leaves and flowers onto the green ribbon (if you want the poem to read from top to bottom string the words onto the ribbon in order from first to last)
- Attach the ribbon to the bottom of the pole with glue or tape
- Wrap the ribbon around the pole, leaving spaces between the ribbon
- Move the leaves and flowers so they stick out from the pole or look the way you want them to.
- Put oasis or clay in the flower pot or box
- Stick your poem pole in the pot
- Display your poem!
Picture Book Review