This is a 2002 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
High, Linda Oatman. 2001. A Humble Life: Plain Poems. New York: Eerdmans.
Here is a Digital Trailer for A HUMBLE LIFE created by graduate student Amy Fletcher.
Here is a Readers' Guide for A HUMBLE LIFE created by graduate student Audrey Cornelius.
High, Linda Oatman. 2001. A Humble Life: Plain Poems. Ill by Bill Farnsworth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0802852076
Recommended Age Levels: Ages 7 – 12 years old
Summary of Book
A Humble Life: Plain Poems is an anthology of poems by Linda Oatman High depicting a year in the life of the Amish and Mennonite people, as seen from a child's perspective. As readers move through the four seasons, High writes about beautiful, simple moments which make up the year. These moments define the pleasures, traditions, and beliefs of these humble people. Bill Farnswoth's beautiful illustrations for each poem capture the warmth and happiness of the Pennsylvania Dutch peoples.
His illustrations evoke a longing for simpler times when we were better connected to one another, to nature and to the pleasures of simple living.
*2002 Honor Book for Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Poetry
*2002 Great Lakes Book Award
*Named a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People
*Named a finalist for the NAPRA Nautilus Award
Book Review Excerpts
*Publishers Weekly: “Set in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, A Humble Life: Plain Poems by Linda Oatman High chronicles the simple life of the area's Mennonite and Amish people in works like "Brand New Lamb" and "Barn Raising Day"....Bill Farnsworth's exquisite oil-on-linen illustrations bring the setting to life.”
*School Library Journal: “The words may be easy to read, the images common, but the seamless meshing of words and illustrations creates anything but "plain poems." Can't visit an Amish village? This book is a highly recommended substitute.”
*Booklist: “Each two- to three-verse poem is accompanied by a lovely oil painting, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell in its demonstration of the artist's delight in people, but with softer edges, richer colors, and lots of play with light. Together, the poems and the paintings offer a quiet, pleasurable reading experience that conveys some of the values of the people who live in Pennsylvania Dutch country.”
Questions to Ask Before Reading
*Read the title of the book with the children, A Humble Life: Plain Poems. Ask the children who they think this book will be about. What time period do they think these poems are set in? Point to the cover art and look for clues as to what subject the poems will focus on. Discuss why the author would subtitle her work “Plain Poems.”
*A Humble Life: Plain Poems is a collection of poems set in the perspective of the Amish and Mennonite children from the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Have the children brainstorm what they know about the Amish and Mennonite people. What type of beliefs do they think the Amish and Mennonite people have? How do the think these beliefs affect what they do and how they live? What expectations do the children have regarding what the poems in High's book will be about?
*Linda Oatman High structures her poems around the seasons of the year and focuses many of her poems on farm life. Talk about life on a farm with the children. Ask the children what kind of activities they would expect to do on a farm? How would life and work on the farm change with the seasons? What kinds of things do they think the author will write about regarding the rituals and traditions of farm life? Compare their list with the topics High addresses in her poems.
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
“A Humble Life” - Give each child a line of text from the poem. Have the children recite the first stanza together, “A humble life/ is mine,” and then each child recites their line individually. This could be representative of how these poems each express but one moment in a child's life, but each child in each poem is different. They all share the beauty of their communal “humble life.” However, they each experience their unique way of living daily as individuals in small moments of joy. They live as a united people as they live their individual lives.
“Fishing In The Creek” - Dress simply and bring a simple fishing pole (a stick with a string on it). Pantomime the actions of fishing as you recite the poem. You can make a fishing pole for each child using small wooden dowels and string and have them pantomime the actions of the poem with you as you read it too.
“Sowing Seeds” - Line several children up in straight rows like a plowed field at the start of Spring. Each of these children could have a simple prop to represent a type of seed, such as a packet of seeds or a picture of a vegetable pinned to their shirt. One child can represent a rooster, and the rest of the children can act as farmers. Choose a narrator, the teacher could do this part or an older child, to recite the poem. Have the children act out the activities of the text as the poem is recited. The seeds could stretch toward the sky as they grow, the rooster can crow, and the farmers could go through the actions of planting and caring for the field.
“Come Summer” - This poem is filled with beautiful color imagery. Have the children identify the colors used in the poem and then decide how they want to represent each of these color. While you read the poem have the children share their color representation as it occurs. They could use art or dance to represent the color and how it affects the mood of the poem.
Follow Up Activities
*The poems “Sowing Seeds” and “Corn” talk about food crops and the life cycle of plants we rely on for food. Learn about the life cycle of plants, using the corn plant as your example, and learn about the parts of plants, the different stages of growth, and the role plants play in feeding us. At the end of the unit you can shuck, cook, season and eat ears of corn just like in the poem “Corn.”
*Using vivid imagery, High takes us through the various seasons of the year. Learn about why we have seasons. How are the seasons different from one another? Look for clues in High's poems. Lean about the geography of Pennsylvania, where it is on the globe and what the landscape is like. Talk about how this affects the kind of climate they have and the way they experience the four seasons.
*The poem “Come Winter” talks about the art of quilting. Find a book about different quilt patterns or find some online. Pick one pattern you like or create one from your own imagination. Then create your own quilt block. If you don't want to sew an actual fabric block, you can draw and color one with crayons and colored pencils, or you can cut out pieces of colored paper and piece them together into your pattern using glue or tape. If you are doing this with a class you can put all of the blocks together to make a quilt.
*Linda Oatman High uses small moments from the daily life of children to write her poetry in this book. Think about a small moment in your life that has meaning to you. Try writing your own poem using this moment as your subject. What does this moment reveal about your life and your world view?
Social Studies and History:
Linda Oatman High's poems aren't just about the Amish people. She says that her poems are about all of the “plain” people from the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Amish and Mennonite. Learn about the history, differences, and similarities between these two groups of people. Read through High's poems and see if each poem is specific to one group or another.
Related Web Sites
*Linda Oatman High's Website:
(This is a great website to learn more about the author and to find more of her books.)
*American Experience documentary, The Amish:
(This website links to a beautifully done documentary on the Amish people done by PBS's American Experience. It also contains links to additional information and discussion guides for educators.)
*The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center:
(Located in Ohio, this center is dedicated to sharing the history and beliefs of the Amish and the Mennonites with all people.)
*Pennsylvania Dutch Country in Lancaster County:
(Learn more about the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch country where High sets her poems. This is the homepage to the area's towns, villages, activities, and people.)
*----. 2010. The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
*Stevick, Richard A. 2007. Growing up Amish: The Teenage Years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
*Weaver-Zercher, David L. 2001. The Amish In The American Imagination. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
*Good, Phyllis P. 2000. Amish Children. Ill by Jerry Irwin. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books.
*Scott, Stephen and Kenneth Pellman. 1999. Living Without Electricity. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books.