A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven,
A flint lies in the mud.
A diamond is a brilliant stone,
To catch the world’s desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark,
But a flint holds fire.~ Christina Rossetti
I was reminded of this poem today as I tried to teach my students some of the elements of simple poetry. What a shame as we “teach the test,” we have stopped teaching about beauty. Most of the Reading textbooks chosen these days are filled with informational texts and non-fiction stories. While I love a great article about the life cycle of a frog, I am saddened by the loss of good fiction and poetry in our current textbooks.
When I began teaching, about one hundred years ago, our Readers were filled with engaging stories that captured children’s imaginations and whet their appetites for more reading. The Headway Reading Series was richly filled with wonderful and engaging stories and poems that our Title One students loved. The second grade reader titled, A Flint Holds Fire and contained Rossetti’s poem scattered among other rhymes, fairy, and folk tales, fables and stories gathered from around the world.
I pulled the book off my shelf this morning in preparation for class. The inside cover was filled with names of student’s both remembered and forgotten. Scanning the pages I stopped on a favorite, The Dog Gellert a Welsh tale. I could recall my portable classroom, nicknamed “Little Portable on the Prairie,” and listening to the young voices read the story. It wasn’t difficult for the student’s to comprehend the author’s purpose was a cautionary tale about jumping to conclusions, and understand the loyal dog’s love for his master ( a text to self connection.)
I remember the simpler days when a story was just a story, a Reader was a gateway to a world of fairy tales and poems filled with fanciful imagery, and when learning to read was like striking a flint and creating fire.