The Poetry-Drawing Book (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960) was supposed to provide children with a substitute for coloring books, which co-editors William Cole and Julia Colmore believed were “insulting to their imagination and intelligence” with “the banal and badly drawn” pictures. Their volume was designed with a blank page facing each poem, space for a boy or girl to draw whatever ideas the reading of the poem prompted. To facilitate self-expression with pencil, crayons, or watercolors, the book was spiral-bound so that it would lay flat on a table (or the floor). Cole and Colmore argued that this concept would encourage “a child’s innate sense of color and design, and to give free rein to his imagination. At the same time our book functions as an introduction to the magical world of poetry.”
Bill Cole was not an educator, but a journalist, publicity director, publisher, board member of the Poetry Society of America and Poets and Writers, and connoisseur of light verse and knock-knock jokes. The Poetry-Drawing Book was just one of many anthologies he produced for children over his long career.
Cotsen’s collection of manuscripts includes a very special copy of The Poetry-Drawing Book, whose purchase was underwritten several years ago by the Friends of the Princeton University Library. It belonged to Cole and his penciled initials are in the upper-left-hand corner just above the plates the clown is juggling. Cole and Colmore claimed that the book had been “tried out on hundreds of children” and perhaps a few of the “enriching, enlightening, and often hilarious” results were selected to go on the cover.
Cole’s son Rossa grew up to be a professional photographer, but the Cotsen copy of The Poetry-Activity Book does not happen to be filled with the little boy’s drawings. Cole intended it to be a showcase for somewhat older aspiring artists.
There is a drawing by the thirty-one-year old Jules Feiffer, political satirist and illustrator of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
And another by twenty-eight-year old cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, author/illustrator of Who Needs Doughnuts (1973) and Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (2004).
And that’s what happens when you give an artist a blank page…