Review: Papa Is A Poet By Bober & Gibbon

“A poem is ‘a momentary stay against confusion,’ Frost told us. It is a ‘voyage of discovery’ that ‘begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” And in this charming book, we get a small glimpse into the life and family of that poet, Robert Frost. Adapted from Frost’s oldest daughter’s journal and the author’s biography on Frost, is a short story of the Frost family moving back from a two year stint in England. During the trip, Lesley Frost recalls their life on a New Hampshire farm prior to England, where her father found his poetic voice. Take a little peek into the life and poetry of Robert Frost with Papa Is A Poet by Natalie S. Bober, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, 2013.

I must admit when I got this book from the library, planned to review it, and even up until 5 minutes ago when I checked the publication date – I totally thought this was a new release. I could have sworn I saw it mentioned somewhere recently and it sparked my interest enough to put it on hold. Regardless, it charmed me thoroughly, delighted my daughters and now I share it with you in hopes you will also enjoy it despite our having missed its initial arrival to shelves.

The story is indeed charming. Written from the perspective of Robert Frost’s 15 year old daughter Lesley, we meet the Frosts as they arrive in NYC and await the train that will take them home. They have been living in England for two years and are now returning to New Hampshire with little money and concerns about the future. While walking to the train station, they stop to buy a newspaper and are surprised to see a magazine review of a book of poems by Frost himself! Frost was not aware of any publication deal in the US and had not even been paid yet for publication of two books in England. He situates his wife and four children in Grand Central to rest and wait for the train while he rushes off to talk to the publisher in NYC.

While waiting, Lesley begins to reminisce about their life on a New Hampshire farm before their time in England. She thinks about all the animals they raised and the food they grew. She fondly recalls the things they built together and the way the family did life and school.

And most of all, Lesley remembers the poetry her father dreamed up, spoke, and began to write while farming. Robert Frost found “the core of his writing and the literary direction for his life” on that farm. He taught his children about observing life, reading and memorizing, writing and remembering. Everything he did and said was like a poem in her memories. He “did things his way.”

Lesley adores the simple memories of life on the farm. She is so grateful that her father took that path in life, “the one less traveled” according to her father. The life of a poet.

I really adore this book. It’s rare to find a biography of someone without it really feeling like a biography of someone. I love the way Natalie Bober has written about Frost using just a snapshot of time in his life. She has honed in on a specific span of years and pinpointed it as instrumental in his development as a poet. Using the words and narration of Lesley is an excellent format as it makes it personal and relatable as well.

The illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon are lovely and have a very classic, vintage look to them. They remind me of Alice and Martin Provensen in many ways and a bit of William Dugan thrown in too. I love the flatness of the illustrations and the loose, yet detailed form of the characters and backgrounds. They feel childlike and effortless, but clearly expertly done and charming. Even the color palette has a nostalgic edge to it.

Lastly, the Author’s Note and two spreads of Frost’s poems is a perfect touch in the back. The note gives a good glimpse into more about Robert Frost and how Bober adapted this story. There are a handful of old photos of Frost, the family, and the farm. And I was very delighted to continue turning the page and find some poetry decorated with bits of illustration. It is a brilliant addition and, though the poems may be quite familiar, including them after such a lovely story about Frost himself, you are invited to read them more closely and with more recognition of who and how he wrote them. Truly a joy of a book to read.

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