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When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer (Golden Kite Honors) Hardcover – November 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 2-4–Long has taken a portion of Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" and used it as a text for a picture-book story. His lush, realistic, single- and double-page paintings illuminate the tale of a boy who is taken to an academic lecture, becomes bored, and walks out alone to look at the night sky. Line drawings by Long's two sons accompany the text of the poem: "When I heard the learn'd astronomer;/When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;/When I was shown the charts and the diagrams,/to add, divide, and measure them…How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;/Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,/In the mystical moist night-air,/and from time to time,/Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars." Whitman's words, like the pictured astronomy lecture, are not well suited to young readers. A far better introduction to the poet, designed for children old enough to begin to understand his work, is Jonathan Levin's wonderful Poetry for Young People: Walt Whitman (Sterling, 1997).–Kathleen Whalin, York Public Library, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* K-Gr. 3. When last we saw Long's gorgeous acrylic paintings, they were singing backup for Madonna in Mr. Peabody's Apples (2003). Now the artist turns his attention to another era's brash individualist. Unlike this season's biography of Walt Whitman by Barbara Kerley, reviewed on p.577, Long's story-in-images makes a fine introduction for very young children. His interpretation of Whitman's eight-line rebuke of stuffy pragmatism tells a familiar story: A little boy obsessed with outer space has been dragged to an astronomy lecture. Unable to make sense of the speaker's pontifications, the fidgety youngster takes his toy rocket ship outside, where he marvels at the "perfect silence of the stars, casting a decisive vote for creative speculation over chilly analysis." The painterly artwork, as controlled as the logical, grown-up world it portrays, gets its own injection of childlike wonder through playful doodles contributed by Long's two children, and it's so convincingly reproduced that many scribble-wary librarians will do a double take. Although the brooding tone of both the poem and the art makes this a less carefree entree to transcendentalism than D. B. Johnson's Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (1999), children will easily relate to the boy's crushing boredom, while adults will smile at the parents' overzealous efforts to nourish his passions. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 4
  • Series: Golden Kite Honors
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689863977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689863974
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 0.4 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By C. G. Hale on December 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I wish I had this book when I was teaching 19th-century American literature to college freshmen. I bought a few weeks ago and have been reading it to my daughters--the oldest is 5. She loves the art, and so do I. Tonight, out of the blue, she recited most of the poem to me over dinner--we had never before worked on memorizing this or any other poem, but I had mentioned to her that this would be a good poem to memorize. Looks like she agreed. I'm forever grateful to Loren Long for giving Walt to my daughter at such an early age.

I can't seem to understand the negativity expressed by some of the other reviewers. To call this poem anti-intellectual doesn't make much sense to me. It does, however, make sense to balance intellectual inquiry with the wonder and appreciation afforded by observation. The reviewer who mentions sharing his telescope ought to agree, since the children who peer through it clearly are excited by wonder--otherwise, why not just Google "Saturn" and find even better images? Gazing up at the sky--whether with the eye or through a telescope--excited the imagination, and there's something to be said for contemplating the stars in silence. What astronomer hasn't?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Detzner on April 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
My twin daughters were riveted by this book when they were just over three-years-old. They returned to it again and again. It had a quiet, solemn quality that I thought might go over their heads, but it seemed like the opposite was true. There was a lovely synthesis of poetry and image that gave this staying power. It's time to get a copy again to see how they respond. But I'd avoid hypothetical statements of "most children won't understand...(blah, blah, blah). Try 'em, and maybe they'll show you something unexpected.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By B. Songy on August 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have purchased this book for all of my extended family members. Loren Long's portraits are, consciously or subconsciously, the answer to most of what ails humanity...ignore pretense, sometimes parents will unintentionally lead you astray, question everything, don't be easily impressed, don't control or be controlled, ignore the masses, listen to your body, inspire change, FEEL!, bridge the seen and unseen, reflect, the truth is out there, the smallest light is most easily seen in darkness. And most importantly, reciprocity in flight. It's all there for those who see and feel with their hearts rather than their eyes and hands.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K. Carson on September 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a gorgeous book: beautiful old poem and rich new illustrations that interpret it in a new and lovely way. Reading this through a child's eyes fits.

The discussion in the comments here is interesting. For the record, I'm a science teacher. I love science. I appreciate science. I hope to spark some of my passion for technical inquiry to my daughter. I disagree this poem or visual interpretation as anti-intellectual or discouraging to young scholars. Quite the contrary, this book inspires me to step back from my (very important and valuable) charts and equations and bask in the wonder of the universe. It is that sense of wonder, that artistic truth, that inspired me to delve into the sciences in the first place. Hooray for that.

I feel so strongly about both the beauty and the significance of this book that it chokes me up every time I read it to my daughter.

More importantly, my daughter (~2) loves the book for the illustrations. Perhaps she does not yet fully understand what an astronomer is, but she already knows what the stars are, and she can already ask questions and seek knowledge, so she already gets the most important parts -- and isn't that the entire point of the poem? Two is probably on the young end of readership for this book. I look forward to more years of sharing "When I Heard..." with my daughter. I highly recommend it for your family, too, whether you dub yourself an artist or a scientist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. Fenwick on July 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Too often we underestimate a child's ability to appreciate quality. We fail to expose them to literature and art worth respecting and assume they can only enjoy the easy and the gawdy. Illustrator Loren Long is the father of two boys and he knows better. His illustrations are wonderful and he knows that children are capable of appreciating the honesty and humor of the little boy who leaves an astronomer's lecture to gaze in "perfect silence at the stars." To underscore the idea that children can participate in so-called adult matters, his sons offer a bit of their own artistic interpretation to this book. What better way to allow children the pleasure of appreciating quality than to introduce them to the illustrations of Loren Long and the poetry of Walt Whitman. This is a special book!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Esme R. Codell on March 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I respectfully disagree with the other reviews. I have seen a lot of children dragged to lectures and other broccoli-like occasions depicted in this book. I don't feel this book or this poem is anti-intellectual or out-of-date, in fact, I think it is very timely in view of the current competitive ethos of advancing/preparing children, where we push children to absorb information and to excel academically, but don't always give children the chance to experience and appreciate things on their own terms. What I do think is anti-intellectual is discouraging an illustrator from interpreting a poem in her own way. I'm glad Walt Whitman is being presented and celebrated for a new age. This book is nice presented to young audiences in combination with Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley.
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