Book summary: Nancy Willard weaves lovely poetry with the art of Alice and Martin Provensen. The poems, like those of William Blake, are full of whimsical and fantastical elements, and the pictures round out the image painted by words. The journey starts with a dragon that cooks dinner and angels that make beds; our “innocent and experienced travelers” can take a ride in the celestial limousine, cuddle up on a bear’s paw, and chat with a cow eating clouds on buttered toast. The poet himself even makes an appearance, telling the tale of the tailor to the tiger.
My impressions: This book is just lovely and full of whimsy. I have a little experience with Blake’s poetry, and I’ve always liked it; this book is a good homage to his style. I like that the poems vary so much in rhythm and style; you never feel like you’re just reciting song lyrics or falling into a formulaic pattern. I especially love the drawings, which manage to illustrate the poems without taking away too much from the imagination. I think older elementary students can have fun imagining the fantastical creatures and contraptions, even without the pictures.
Citation: Willard, N. (1981). A visit to William Blake’s inn. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company.
“Gr 3 Up – Nancy Willard has written a magical and original collection of metrical verses emanating from “William Blake’s Inn,” habited by Blake’s creatures. Dragons brew and bake, angels wash and shake feather beds, a rabbit shows the rooms, and guests are such as the man in the marmalade hat, the King of Cats and the poetical child-narrator who, for breakfast, is served “Brisket of Basilisk Treat.” Although the poems tell their own story of bedding down and waking up in the magical inn, knowledgeable adults may take pleasure recognizing the elliptical references to Blake’s own poems (” ‘Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,’/said the sunflowers, shining with dew”) or Blake’s rhythms (“William, William, writing late/ by the chill and sooty grate,/ what immortal story can/ make your tiger roar again?”). The poems are rich verbally, seldom labored and happily loony at times. The spell is momentarily broken by the Father William tone of ” ‘I’m terribly cold,’ said the rabbit./ ‘My paws are becoming quite blue.’ ” But overall, Willard’s conception and execution are inspired. She is that rarest jewel among children’s verse writers – a poet never cloying, never cute. The book is doubly to be treasured for the splendid illustrations. Poems and pictures, integrated in spirit, flow into each other across double-page spreads. Sunflowers, a celestial limousine, cats, tigers, rbbits, birds ina gazebo – here, truly, is God’s plenty…”
Neumeyer, P. (December 1981). A Visit to William Blake’s Inn [Review of]. School Library Journal, 28(4), 69.
Library uses: I would highlight this book in April, National Poetry Month. Upper elementary students could participate in a contest to write and illustrate their own poems.