The Grandmere of Contemporary Children’s Poetry, Myra Cohn Livingston, was born on this day. Let’s pause to honor her amazing legacy.
Myra Cohn Livingston was born on August 17, 1926 in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and worked as a professional French horn musician, reviewed books for Los Angeles newspapers, and served as a personal secretary to singer Dinah Shore and later to violinist Jascha Heifetz. She published her first book of poetry for children, Whispers and Other Poems, in 1958 and continued to write, teach, and mentor other poets until her death on August 23, 1996, in Los Angeles, California. She was married and had three children.
Although Myra Cohn Livingston is well known for her work as a poet and anthologist, she also had a tremendous impact on the entire field of children’s poetry. In particular, she was a senior extension lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles for over twenty years and mentored many of the next generation of children’s poets, including Janet Wong, Kristine O’Connell George, Deborah Chandra, Ann Whitford Paul, April Halprin Wayland, Madeleine Comora, Sonya Sones, Joan Bransfield Graham, Tony Johnston, Alice Schertle, Monica Gunning, Karen B. Winnick, Anita Wintz, among others. (Thanks, Lee! Whom am I still missing?)
Livingston’s numerous awards include: Texas Institute of Letters award, Parent’s Choice Award, National Jewish Book Award, and the University of Minnesota Kerlan Award, among many others. She was also the recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her entire body of work.
Called the “poet’s poet,” Myra Cohn Livingston’s writing is characterized by its elegance and sensitivity and its devotion to form and structure. Although many of her 50+ books are now out of print, they may still be on the library’s shelves. She was a pioneer in the creation of thematic anthologies that gathered poems together on current single topics such as holidays, animals, and seasons. These include topical collections of her own original poetry such as:
A Circle of Seasons (Holiday House 1982)
Sky Songs (Holiday House 1984)
Celebrations (Holiday House 1985)
Earth Songs (Holiday House 1986)
Sea Songs (Holiday House 1986)
Space Songs (Holiday House 1988)
Up in the Air (Holiday House 1989)
Birthday Poems (Holiday House 1989)
Festivals (Holiday House 1996)
This year Holiday House is publishing one of Livingston’s early poems in a lovely new picture book format illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. The book features one poem, “Calendar,” from Wide Awake and Other Poems which first appeared in 1959. Each line of the poem appears in an oversize font on a double page spread featuring Ezra Jack Keats-like collages. The effect is an inviting walk through the year highlighting moments familiar and appealing to many young children.
by Myra Cohn Livingston
March blows off
the winter ice,
April makes the
May is hopscotch lines.
deep blue swimming,
Picnics are July,
September whistles by.
for roller skates,
the best because
and Santa Claus.
[Note that the poet’s birthday is in August!]
Kudos to Holiday House for featuring Livingston’s lyrical poetry in a new release, particularly since so many of her gems are sadly out of print.
In addition to her own poetry, Livingston compiled several other anthologies with poems by many different poets. These include:
Easter Poems (Holiday House 1985)
Thanksgiving Poems (Holiday House 1985)
Poems for Jewish Holidays (Holiday House 1986)
Valentine Poems (Holiday House 1987)
Poems for Mothers (Holiday House 1988)
Poems for Fathers (Holiday House 1989)
If You Ever Meet a Whale (Holiday House 1992)
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Poems About Small Things (HarperCollins 1994)
These wonderful collections are examples of what poetry anthologies are all about. Children may enjoy assembling their own collections centered around a favorite theme or topic.
Finally, Myra Cohn Livingston also authored several important professional resources for adults who work with children including The Child As Poet: Myth Or Reality? (Horn Book 1984), Climb Into The Bell Tower: Essays On Poetry (Harper 1990), and Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry (Harper 1991), a book suitable for young people who aspire to be writers, too. For more about Livingston and many of the other poets she nurtured, check out Poetry People; A Practical Guide To Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).
Picture credit: www.theweeweb.co.uk