Poetry Friday: The World is Round by Gertrude Stein

The World is Round  (illustrated by Clement Hurd, North Point Press, 1988) is technically not a poetry book, per se, although its author, Gertrude Stein, might argue otherwise.  I discovered it through a post a friend linked me to on the most excellent blog, Brain Pickings.  Now some of you might wonder how Gertrude Stein came to write a children’s book in the first place, and the story has much to do with the early development of children’s book publishing in the U.S. in the 1930s.  Stein was asked by the youthful start-up publishing company of Young Scott Books (founded in 1938) whose mandate was to publish illustrated childrens’ books to submit a manuscript for their consideration.  Stein submitted The World is Round, a story of a girl named Rose (of course!) and her cousin Willie.  Rose was based on a child who was the daughter of Gertrude Stein’s neighbor in Bilignin, a small farming community located in the French alps.

The World is Round contains the story of Rose and Willie in 32 micro-chapters of the kind of lilting and somewhat nonsensical poetic like prose that is distinctively Stein.   Who cannot help but recognize Stein’s playful existentialism in such lines as “I am a little girl and my name is Rose, Rose is my name./  Why am I a little girl/And why is my name Rose/And when am I a little girl/And when is my name Rose/And where am I little girl/And where is my name Rose … “  Granted, this may not be your child’s cup of tea when it comes to bedtime reading, but sometimes I like to throw in a little twist of lemon to give a bit of complexity to the flavors of narrative one gives to one’s child.  My daughter liked the early chapters of this book, probably because they had to do with dogs, but has not warmed to it much since.  But she doesn’t mind my continuing with this book so I shall go on with it til the end.   As one reviewer said, “It is meant to be read aloud, a little at a time, and the adult who does so will find himself saying, ‘I remember thinking like this,’ and succumbing to the seductive quality of phrases, which will make it probably the most quotable book of the season.’  My edition has a lengthy but informative afterword that also contains information about the illustrator Clement Hurd and the artwork he did for the book.

Poetry Friday this Good Friday is hosted by Robyn at Read Write Howl.

3 Responses to “Poetry Friday: The World is Round by Gertrude Stein”

  1. Myra from GatheringBooks Says:

    Hi Sally, this sounds like something I’d enjoy. I loved Gertrude Stein back in my university years. I shall look for this one. I miss reading her works, as circular and self-annihilating as her prose often is.

  2. Robyn Hood Black Says:

    How interesting, Sally – thanks for sharing! I’d never heard of this. And illustrated by Clement Hurd, too…!

  3. Sally Says:

    I like that wording, Myra — “circular and self-annihilating” — to describe Stein’s prose! Very appropriate. Robyn, if you ever get a chance to check out this particular edition of The World is Round, you’ll find some interesting information about Hurd and Stein.