Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Metaphorical Musings

The poet in me loves metaphors. For me, the fresh, thoughtful comparison of something ordinary to something surprising involves the ultimate creativity. With metaphor, that comparison is implied rather than directly stated, and that makes it even more thought-provoking as a figure of speech.

For instance, if we describe Aunt Lucy as "the queen of Saturday night Bingo," that brings to mind a vivid mental picture of her--complete with crown, robe, and scepter--turning the drum to mix up all those little balls and then calling out, in her most regal voice, "B-4!" We find that interesting partly because the Bingo hall is about the furthest thing from a palace there could be. So we chuckle at that irony and think of Aunt Lucy in a fun and memorable new way.

Recently I happened on a list of "Quotable Quotations" about reading, and I couldn't help noticing how many of them use metaphor to compare books to other things. Because I have spent so much time reading books with the grandkids over the past eight years, I found these especially interesting, and here, right below one of our typical reading photos, I choose four of them to share with you.

According to a Chinese proverb, "A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket." What a great thought--that printed words are somehow like seeds that take root in fertile little minds. That the vitality of a writer's thoughts is something portable that can be worn on your person and go where you go.

This metaphor suggests that our time spent reading is an investment of sorts, with potential to grow beyond what we can imagine. No wonder Robert Louis Stevenson called his book of kids' poems A Child's Garden of Verses. I still remember "My Shadow" and "The Land of Counterpane," as seeds planted long ago in my own mind. I hope the time I spend with the kids in this little plot of land will someday come to similar fruition.

Garrison Keillor, of Lake Wobegon fame, claims that "A book is a gift you can open again and again." There is nothing children like more than presents. To think of a book as a gift is to acknowledge that it is something given out of love and with no expectation of reciprocity.

But a book is not the kind of thing that will break or run out of battery power. Unique among gifts, it has the potential to be opened numerous times and to offer a richness that only compounds with subsequent readings.

Who could be a better expert on the child audience than the great Walt Disney? "There is more treasure in books," he says, "than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." Books become treasure chests, then, in Disney's view.

This is especially admirable coming from a man who made his fortune in the motion picture industry. But his comment here shows his understanding that, in order to have the movie, there must first be a story. Stories are treasures that we mine or discover with our kiddos when we read.  

For my last metaphor, I look to the great poet Emily Dickinson, who begins one of her poems with these lines: "There is no frigate like a book/To take us lands away." Here, a book becomes a vessel that transports us. It becomes a ship whereby we leave the land we know to sail to places of adventure and imagination.

A garden. A gift. A treasure chest. A ship. A book can be all of these things and more. I dearly love this time when the kids are all still young enough to want to help me plant seeds, unwrap presents, dig for treasure, and sail away.

I will close with a metaphor of my own: Books are boxes of Cracker Jacks. You open them to find things that can be sometimes sweet and sometimes nutty. But one thing is for sure: there is always a prize inside.


  1. There is no such a thing as a bad book if it inspires a child to read. Great post!

  2. How precious the time with those darling grandkids of yours as you make more metaphors!