Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

The Owl and the Pussycat (A Singable Book and all the Fix-ins)

Posted on: December 18, 2009

Edward Lear was a poet of nonsense.  My favorite of his poems, “The Owl and the Pussycat,” makes a lot of sense to me.

When  I “Sing Books with Emily,” the kids love it, too.

One of my favorite illustrations is by Jan Brett:

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Owl and the Pussycat
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Jan Brett
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

Jan Brett’s pictures realize the poem in wonderful ways.  The illustrations are colorfully gorgeous and beautifully detailed.  Brett has gone to great lengths to research and authentically bring the story to life, setting the action in Martinique.  She describes her work on O&P in a “news notes” article found on her website: http://www.janbrett.com/newsnotes/owl_newsnotes2.htm.

Besides the story of the Owl and the Pussycat, she has created a second love story that takes place along the bottom of each page, depicting a butterfly fish following the pea green boat, teaming up with exotic fishy friends to free a companion who is trapped in a bowl on the pussycat’s lap.

OK, HOLD THE PRESSES
This section is added after initially writing the post.  I still LOVE Jan Brett’s illustration, but I’ve had something of a revelation.  My husband came home today (12/17/2009) with a bag full of books for our children which he bought at a charity used-book sale.  In the middle of the bag was this:

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Owl and the Pussycat
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by James Marshall
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

I snatched it up like any greedy singer of Singable Books would do.  Luckily, neither one of my children got their eyes on it first.  Just seeing the cover, I immediately fell in love.  I cannot wait to learn more about James Marshall, but to begin with, his illustration of O&P is brilliant, wacky and outrageously delicious.

Just looking at the pictures makes me WANT TO SING and SING and show these wonderful scenes!  The Owl and the Pussycat go to sea in a beautiful pea green ocean liner called the SS Dorabella.  The Pussycat is running late from so much primping (see the Owl holding out his pocket watch in a picture before the title page) and takes so much luggage on the trip that they need an extra wagon just to haul it to the boat.  When the Pussycat proposes to the Owl, she dips him like at the end of a romantic dance.  And, when they dance by the light of the moon, a band in a row-boat provides the music.  OH the JOY and HILARITY!

It turns out that this book was the beloved James Marshall’s last work.  What a wonderful catalogue he left behind.  This is an O&P to cherish and share and sing over and over.

A highlight for any adult is the afterward written lovingly by Maurice Sendak about his friend and fellow perfectionist James Marshall.

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Other nice illustrations of  include:

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Owl and the Pussycat
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Anne Mortimer
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

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Owl and the Pussycat
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

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Owl and the Pussycat
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Dale Maxey
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909
I’ve not been able to locate this physical book or an image of the cover.  But I’ll keep trying as Dale Maxey is one of my favorite illustrators.

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The Owl and the Pussycat (Hilary Knight’s)

Words by Edward Lear
Words Adapted by Hilary Knight
Music by Douglas Colby
Illustrated by Hilary Knight

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Owl and the Pussycat

Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Anne Wilson
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat and Calico Pie
(About Owl and the Pussycat)
(About CALICO PIE)
Poems by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists
Illustrated by Irma Wilde
Sing “O&P” along with Emily: 

http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

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This poem is frequently included in anthologies of children’s poetry, including:

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The song first appeared with Edward Lear’s own illustrations in,

Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets
Words by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Edward Lear

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p. 175

Random House Book of Poetry for Children
(A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today’s Child)
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Arnold Lobel

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p. 34

A Child’s Book of Poems
Words and Tunes by Various Artists
Illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa

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p. 94

Read-Aloud Poems for Young People
Words and Tunes by Various Artists
Edited by Glorya Hale
Illustrated by Various Artists

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A Children’s Treasury of Poems
Words and Tunes of Various Artists
Illustrated by Linda Bleck

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Poetry for Young People: Edward Lear

Edited by Edward Mendelson
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
(Singable Poems include: “The Owl and the Pussycat” and “Calico Pie”)

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The Lobster Quadrille (and Other Poems for Children)
Edited by Lucy Simon
Illustrated by Susan Bennett
CD: Carly & Lucy Simon Sing Songs for Children
Calico Pie (Edward Lear)
The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)

Each of these anthologies contains 15-500+ poems, but notice that each artist chooses to use the Owl and the Pussycat in the book’s cover art.  The poem is clearly beloved.  But, the vivid images, clear language and poetic structure give this poem only part of its appeal.  This poem is a love story filled with adventure, suspense, and resourceful characters who beat the odds, rise above social constraints, and joyously make their dreams come true…together.

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You can also find the poem in the wonderful anthology by Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, “Julie Andrew’s Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies.”

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p. 112

Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies
Words and Tunes by Various Artists
Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
Illustrated by James McMullan

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“O&P” is also notably included in “Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems,” p. 18-19

Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems
Words and Tunes by Various Artists
Edited by John Hollander
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

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I was fascinated to find how many times this poem has been set to music.

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Igor Stravinsky wrote a musical setting.

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A thrillingly sung setting can be found on “Tom Herman, Music for Voice,” an album of music written by Tom Herman, performed by the fabulously charming soparano Rebecca Luker.

Musical settings by Williams Mathias in his song cycle “Learsongs,”

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Learsongs
Poems by Edward Lear
Cover Illustrations by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by William Mathias
This work has musical settings of 5 Edward Lear poems:
Calico Pie, The Duck and the Kangaroo, The Owl and the Pussycat,  Uncle Arly, The Pelican Chorus
Product description here: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780193374683.do

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You can hear the song cycle on this CD,

Cor Ieuenctid Sir Benfro with Pembrokeshire Youth Choir, Learsongs
The only place I found for purchase of this CD online is iTunes:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/id202545727

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A musical setting by Victor Hely-Hutchinson found on Track 1 of:
classic children's songs 2006
Classic Children’s Songs
Produced by Just Accord Music, 2006

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I also like the version by Dory Previn

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For the purpose of enjoying this Singable Book with kids, however, I’d go with a tune written by Janene Ping and harmonized, arranged and sung by Lorraine Nelson Wolf on her album “Come Follow Me.”

This setting is whimsical, simple, and easy to sing.  On the album, she sings only the first verse, but after a few listens, you will be able to sing each verse of the poem using the same melody.

You can sing this tune along with me here: Sing “O&P” along with Emily: http://soundcloud.com/singbookswithemily/o-p-eleg-061909

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The poem first appeared in Lear’s 1871 book “Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets.”

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A list of 12 articles about this poem online:
http://www.helium.com/knowledge/173777-poetry-analysis-the-owl-and-the-pussycat-by-edward-lear
(This URL points to a list of 12 little articles, examining everything from poetic structure to personal family memories)

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Edwar Lear was quite a character himself!  Stricken with health problems, including epilepsy, Lear rose above such difficulties to create works for laughter and joy in repressive 19th century Victorian society.  He was an artist as well as writer, illustrating many of his poems and equally famous limericks.  The drawing at the top of this post is Lear’s own for the Owl and the Pussycat when the Owl sang to a small guitar in their beautiful pea green boat.

For further study, a great place to begin is
http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/index.html
This terrific site contains a wealth of material from and about Edward Lear.


Edward Lear (1812-1888)

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August 2013, children’s author/singer/songwriter Julia Donaldson tells the Telegraph Newspaper:

Lear’s writings were almost always inspired by actual children. His best known poem, The Owl and the Pussy-cat, was written for the daughter of friends, three-year-old Janet Symonds. ‘Their little girl is unwell – & all is sad,’ Lear wrote in his diary, so he made up a ‘picture poem’ for her.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10257895/Julia-Donaldson-on-how-Edward-Lears-poems-influenced-her.html

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THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT
Poem by Edward Lear
Musical Settings by Various Artists

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

**********************

I was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington in the late 80’s/early 90’s and enjoyed visiting a restaurant called “The Runcible Spoon.”


http://www.runciblespoonrestaurant.com/

Somehow, “The Owl and the Pussycat” was not a literary fixture of my childhood, so it wasn’t until I had children and stumbled on Edward Lear’s poem (and later, the song!) that I finally figured out what the restaurant was named for and why an owl and a cat were on the sign!

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Edward Lear created the word “Runcible Spoon.”  He uses the word in a couple of his poems and when he wrote it, the word was truly “nonsense,” in that he didn’t mean a kind of spoon in particular when he called it “runcible.”  He seems to have made up the word just for fun.  The word has come to mean something like a “spork,”  a utensil that has the bowl of a spoon with 3 or 4 stubby tines on the end.  My children’s school gives out runcible spoons in the lunch room!

An interesting Wikipedia article about “The Owl and the Pussycat,” here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Owl_and_the_Pussycat

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I ran across this depiction of The Owl and the Pussycat by Charles Addams.

They (the pea-green boat and the small guitar) are included in a print called “Boats to NYC” that was printed on the cover of the New York Times Weekend Section on October 26, 1984.

Link to this print’s page on the Charles Addams website:
http://charlesaddams.com/print-gallery10.shtml

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Addendum 3/19/2013

My daughter Eloise interpreted Owl and the Pussycat in a picture she made:

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EPG O&P 2013 03 blog
The Owl and the Pussycat
Art by Eloise Pauline Gleichenhaus (March 2013)

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Addendum 1/4/2014

THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT is one of my personal all-time favorite songs in the Sing Books repertoire.  It’s very exciting that songwriter/ author/playwright Julia Donaldson decided to add a chapter to the story!

further adventures of owl and the pussycat
The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat
Music by Julia Donaldson
Words  by Julia Donaldson
Original Poem by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

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 Related Posts

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Singable Warm Beverage (Hot Chocolate and The Owl and Pussycat)

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY THEME, A SINGABLE PICTURE BOOK (JUST FOR FUN)
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/addams-family-theme-song-a-singable-picture-book-just-for-fun/

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HALLOWEEN

A list of spooky, fun, funny and evocative songs for our favorite October Holiday
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/halloween-singable-picture-books-ooooooooeeeeeeeee/

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HILARY KNIGHT

The fabulous Illustrator of Eloise and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle has created a bookshelf of Singable Picture Books!
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/a-few-favorite-singable-books-part-101-by-hilary-knight/

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JAMES MARSHALL

The Whimsical, Wacky, Wallop of Singable Picture Books by James Marshall
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/the-wonderful-world-of-james-marshall/

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THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, A SINGABLE PICTURE BOOK AND ALL THE FIX-INS

https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/the-owl-and-the-pussycat-a-singable-book-and-all-the-fix-ins/

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POETRY SINGABLE POETRY IN COMPILATIONS

An list of  singable poems from compilations of poetry for children
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/singable-poetry-a-list-of-poems-that-can-be-sung-from-illustrated-compilations-of-poetry-and-singable-picture-books/

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POETRY, SINGABLE POETRY IN INDIVIDUALLY ILLUSTRATED SINGABLE PICTURE BOOKS
A list of individually illustrated poems that have been set to music and can be sung
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/poems-individually-illustrated-spb/

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FAVORITE SINGABLES ON PINTEREST
Of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of choices, this list onPinterest displays the top blockbuster favorite Singable Picture Books that we warble together at Sing Books visits:
http://pinterest.com/singbooksemily/

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EDWARD LEAR

A list of books with musical settings of, and illustrating Singable Picture Book versions of, Edward Lear’s poems:
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/singable-picture-book-spotlight-1302011-edward-lear-and-william-mathias-learsongs/

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THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE OWL AND THE PUSSY-CAT, BY JULIA DONALDSON, A SINGABLE PICTURE BOOK:
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/the-further-adventures-of-the-owl-and-the-pussy-cat-a-singable-picture-book/

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Eloise’s Homage to Singable Picture Books We Love to Sing Together
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/eloises-homage-to-singable-picture-books-we-love-to-sing-together/

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SBWE GALLERY OF KID’S ART
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/praise-portraits-from-friends-of-sbwe/

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MARTHA GRAHAM QUOTE (MY FRIEND JILL AND ELOISE’S BUNNY ART)
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/something-martha-graham-said-and-my-friend-jill/

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