June 4, 2012
A Visit to William Blake's Inn
Poems for Innocent and Experienced
By Nancy Willard
Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Harcourt Brace, 1981
A Visit to William Blake’s Inn has the rare honor of being the recipient of both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor, and for good reason. The fifteen poems and epilogue tell the tale of a child’s stay at William Blake’s inn, where dragons bake the bread and angels make the beds. While there, he meets Blake’s famous Tiger, as well as the King of Cats, the Marmalade Man and Blake himself, among many others. Willard’s poems owe themselves to Blake in structure and style, but the whimsical imagery and gentle, absurd humor are original and entirely beguiling. These are not simple, nursery rhymes but real poems with pleasingly complex meters. Yet, what could be a frustrating challenge to young readers is rendered playful fun as Blake takes his guests on a tour of the Milky Way and the Wise Cow eats a cloud on buttered bread. There is just enough non-sense sprinkled throughout (hints of Edward Lear and T.S. Eliot) to keep any child entertained. Even more importantly, it is a wonderful and playful introduction to a more sophisticated poetic form for older readers. Alice and Martin Provensen's odd and delicate gauche illustrations are the perfect counterpoint to Willard's poems, encouraging the reader to fully engage and believe in William Blake's magical inn and very much want to visit themselves.