Clarence Michael James Dennis (known as Clarrie or Den), was born in South Australia in 1876. Along with the likes of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, he went on to become was of Australia's most well known and best loved poets and writers. For many, Dennis' works epitomised the Australian way of life, and captured the Australian spirit. Dennis had literally thousands of poems and stories published, but is perhaps most famous for The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke and The Moods of Ginger Mick.
In 1917, Dennis published a book entitled The Glugs of Gosh, which is described by Middlemiss on his outstanding website as a mixture of satire and fantasy masquerading as a book for children. However, in 1921 Dennis wrote A Book for Kids, purely for kids, containing numerous verses and two stories - The Boy Who Rode Into The Sunset and The Little Red House. Though full of sheer nonesense with clumsy drawings by the author himself, the book was highly acclaimed by its child readers and said to have exploded onto the children's book scene. Dennis' already well established name enabled Angus & Robertson to take a chance in producing it and was well rewarded for the effort, with many new editions printed over the years. At the time of the first printing there was some dispute over the use of the word 'kids' as such a term was not in common use as it is today, hence the change of title in 1935 to Roundabout.
In McLaren's Talking About C.J. Dennis, there is mention of the end papers of the book. apparently the publisher Robertson wrote to Dennis asking him to include a rhyme to promote the good care and handling of books. Robertson was said to be delighted with Dennis' response, which begins with -
A very charming gentleman, as old as he could be,
stared a while, and glared a while, and then he said to me:
"Read your books, and heed your books, and put your books away,
for you will surely need your books upon a later day...
And ends with -
This very charming gentleman said, "Hum," and "Hoity, Toit!
A book is not a building block, a cushion or a qoit.
Soil your books and spoil your books? Is that the thing to do?
Gammon, sir! and Spinach, sir! and Fiddle-faddle, too!"
He blinked so quick, and thumped his stick, then gave me such a stare.
And he said, "Mark - me - boy!
Books - need - CARE!"
Apparently Dennis (who signed off as 'Den' on his illustrations), was said to have been at his happiest when writing A Book for Kids and truly enjoyed the experience. Below are excerpts from some of the verses showing his humour and light heartedness.
From The Band
Hey, there! Listen awhile! Listen awhile, and come.
Down the street there are marching feet, and I hear the beat of a drum.
Bim! Boom!! Out of the room! Pick up your hat and fly!
Isn't it grand? The band! The band! The band is marching by!...
From The Traveller
As I rode in to Burrumbeet,
I met a man with funny feet;
And, when I paused to ask him why
His feet were strange, he rolled his eye
And said the rain would spoil the wheat;
So I rode on to Burrumbeet...
And from my favourite The Spotted Heifers
Mr Jeremiah Jeffers owned pair of spotted heifers
These he sold for two pounds ten to Mr. Robert Raymond Wren
Who reared them in the lucerne paddocks owned by Mr. Martin Maddox
And sold them when they grew to cows to Mr. Donald David Dowse...
This poem is quite long and goes on to tell the tale of Lucy Loo who 'was much too pale and much too slight to be a very pleasant sight'! But upon seeing the butter 'stocked by Mr. Roland Rutter, she said "I'll have a pound of that." She had it and thenceforth grew fat"'!
C. J. Dennis Publications for Children
1917, The Glugs of Gosh, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW.
1921, A Book for Kids, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW (rep. 1958, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1970)
1935, Roundabout, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW - A reissue of A Book for Kids, but with five less poems.
1991, Hist!, Walter McVitty Books, Montville, Qld.
- This book comes from a poem that first appeared in A Book for Kids. It has been reproduced here with illustrations, in the form of linocuts, by reknown Australian artist Peter Gouldthorpe.
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