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Charles Ghigna (1946-) - Sidelights

poems review children dogs

Charles Ghigna, sometimes known as Father Goose, is a popular poet for children and adults. Ghigna divides his time between writing poetry and making personal appearances at schools from the elementary level through college. He is equally adept at entertaining the youngest listeners and enlightening adult would-be writers who solicit his advice on creating and publishing books. In the realm of juvenile literature, he is best known for his rhyming books that offer amusing portraits of animals and holidays. In an interview published on his Web site, he said: "Writing, especially for children, is one of the most honorable professions in the world. It is one of the few professions that allows you to dream, that encourages you to dream, and to capture those dreams on paper and to make them come alive in the minds and hearts of others."

Ghigna was born on Long Island but moved to Fort Meyers, Florida as a five-year-old and has lived in the South ever since. In his interviews he describes himself as a happy child who earned notice for his writing skills as early as third grade, when he wrote an essay about a talking freckle on a boy's face. He began keeping a journal as a teen but told no one, so that when he began publishing poetry many years later he seemed like an overnight success. In fact he wrote obsessively for years before seeing any of his work in print, and his first sales were of adult poetry to magazines such as Harper's. Between 1967 and 1993 he worked as a school teacher. Since 1993, "Father Goose" has primarily been a full-time writer.

Ghigna's verse for adults is free-form, but when he writes for children he employs rhyme. His first two books, Good Dogs, Bad Dogs and Good Cats, Bad Cats, are upside-down books. If a reader chooses to read about the good dogs first, the good dogs and their behavior comprise the first half of the book. At the center the reader must turn the book upside down to continue with the other half, depicting the bad dogs. The same form animates the volume about cats. Ghigna's rhymes work in concert with illustrations by David Catrow that literalize the humorous absurdity of such commonplace notions as the ideas that dogs defend those they love and cats always land on their feet. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found both volumes "witty," adding: "By turns slapstick and sophisticated, the humor here will snare adults as well as children."

Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose collects some of the many poems Ghigna has contributed to children's magazines. The collection reveals its author's interests that will find further coverage in future books: animal behavior, holidays, weather, and childhood antics. A Publishers Weekly critic liked the book's "flashes of personality." Riddle Rhymes combines two popular genres of children's literature to "appealing" effect, according to Julie Corsaro in Booklist. By joining the fun of riddles to the playfulness of rhymes, Ghigna has produced "a lighthearted guessing game about everyday objects in a young child's life," noted Pamela K. Bomboy in School Library Journal. The topics covered by Ghigna's riddles include shadows, mirrors, leaves, rainbows, and kites. "And because they are in verse, the riddles are especially fun to read out loud," remarked Campbell Geeslin in the New York Times Book Review.

The holidays offer children's writers ample ideas for picture books, and Ghigna has written two rhyming texts on the subject. Halloween Night: Twenty-One Spooktacular Poems takes a holiday that frightens some youngsters and makes it silly, reassuring children that the goblins and ghosts are made larger by the imagination. Christmas Is Coming!, co-authored with wife Debra Ghigna, describes how a family prepares for the favorite holiday, from readying decorations and buying gifts to packing all away again at the season's end. Shelley Townsend-Hudson in Booklist concluded that the verses and illustrations by Mary O'Keefe Young "reflect the holiday excitement."

Ghigna has also written A Fury of Motion: Poems for Boys, recognizing that boys sometimes have a difficult time enjoying verse. The spare rhymes in this volume aim at a young adult audience, covering such topics as sports, feelings, vacation activities, and even haircuts. In her School Library Journal review of the work, Donna Cardon noted that the poems would be appropriate for the intended age group as well as younger boys. Cardon praised A Fury of Motion as "the perfect book for boys who might not want to advertise the fact that they are reading poetry."

Animal Tracks: Wild Poems to Read Aloud searches through the animal kingdom for silly behavior and word-games that relate to familiar creatures. Some of the poems rely upon puns for their humor, while others describe the animals in question with light verse, easily read or memorized. Carolyn Phelan in Booklist liked the way Ghigna's poems "draw connections between animals and people or things," and Susan Scheps in School Library Journal called the title "charming," with ". . . significant appeal."

In an interview with Tracy Hoffman in Word Museum online, Ghigna commented: "My ideas [for poems] come from everywhere! They pop into my head when I least expect them. Many poem and story ideas come to me while I am driving or mowing or taking a shower! I also do 30-40 school visits each year. Sometimes ideas come to me while I'm around children, especially while I'm playing with my son and his friends. Ideas also come to me while looking out the window of my upstairs office. My son and I often spend time after school jumping on his trampoline. Sometimes after jumping we collapse on the trampoline and lie still looking up at the clouds and watching Mother Nature's movie screen. We always find something new to think about while looking toward the sky. Other ideas for poems and stories also come from memories of my childhood—which still hasn't ended!"

Ghigna once commented: "I hope my poems offer children the opportunity to explore and celebrate the joys of childhood and nature, and to see some of the wondrous ironies all around them. I also hope my humorous poems tickle the funny bone of their imaginations. I usually do not sit down to write a poem with a preconceived 'goal.' I like to enter each poem with a sense of wonderment and discovery. My favorite poems are those that contain little surprises that I did not know were there until I wrote them."

In his spare time, Ghigna enjoys collecting things. In addition to baseball cards, letter openers, and kaleidoscopes, he has a growing collection of geese that fans have sent him over the years in honor of "Father Goose." In an interview published on his Web site, he said of his geese miniatures: "At night when I turn out the lights and go downstairs they sneak around the room and visit each other. . . . Most of the time they are well-behaved."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 1995, Julie Corsaro, review of Riddle Rhymes, p. 562; October 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Mice Are Nice, p. 364; September 1, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Christmas Is Coming!, p. 132; May 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Animal Tracks: Wild Poems to Read Aloud, p. 1560.

New York Times Book Review, April 7, 1996, Campbell Geeslin, review of Riddle Rhymes, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1992, review of Good Cats, Bad Cats and Good Dogs, Bad Dogs, p. 78; September 12, 1994, review of Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose, p. 91; September 27, 1999, review of Animal Trunk: Silly Poems to Read Aloud, p. 103; August 4, 2003, review of Halloween Nights: Twenty-One Spooktacular Poems, p. 78; March 29, 2004, "Earth Day," p. 65.

School Library Journal, September, 1994, Kathleen Whalin, review of Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose, p. 208; November, 1995, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Riddle Rhymes, p. 89; October, 2000, review of Christmas Is Coming!, p. 59; October, 2003, Donna Cardon, review of A Fury of Motion: Poems for Boys, p. 192; April, 2004, Susan Scheps, review of Animal Tracks, p. 132.

Writer's Digest, August, 1999, Brad Crawford, "Charles Ghigna: Our Baseball Coach Made Us Take Ballet," p. 6.

ONLINE

Charles Ghigna Home Page, http://charlesghigna.com/ (June 2, 2004), includes interviews, bibliography, and book reviews.

Ink Spot, http://www.inkspot.com/ (June 2, 2004), interview with Ghigna.

Word Museum, http://www.wordmuseum.com/ (June 2, 2004), Tracy Hoffman, "An Exclusive Interview with Father Goose, Charles Ghigna."

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