Books by Donald Hall

Donald Hall has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry for The One Day (1989), the Lenore Marshall Award for The Happy Man (1987), the 1990 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America for Old and


A CARNIVAL OF LOSSES by Donald Hall
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: July 10, 2018

"There's much to enjoy in these exuberant 'notes.'"
A joyful, wistful celebration of poetry, poets, and a poet's life. Read full book review >
ESSAYS AFTER EIGHTY by Donald Hall
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Dec. 2, 2014

"That sense of joy infuses these gentle essays. 'Old age sits in a chair,' writes Hall, 'writing a little and diminishing.' For the author, writing has been, and continues to be, his passionate revenge against diminishing."
The writing life at age 85. Read full book review >
CHRISTMAS AT EAGLE POND by Donald Hall
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 20, 2012

"The sweet remembrances of a time gone by when life was a bit slower and Christmas was not so stressful."
A brief, charming tale of one boy's Christmas. Read full book review >
UNPACKING THE BOXES by Donald Hall
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 20, 2008

"Splendid, poignant prose."
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Hall (White Apples and Taste of Stone, 2006, etc.) applies his magical way with language to a history of self. Read full book review >
THE BEST DAY THE WORST DAY by Donald Hall
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 10, 2005

"A moving tribute, unsparingly honest. The harrowing close is almost unreadable."
Intimate, excruciating memoir of the life and death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, by prolific author Hall. Read full book review >
WILLOW TEMPLE by Donald Hall
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 7, 2003

"Understated lyricism very much in what William Carlos Williams (whom Hall often resembles) called the 'American grain.' Moving and memorable."
The tug of kinship and the human frailties that undermine traditional family solidarity and values figure prominently in this interesting collection by the poet and memoirist (Life Work, 1993, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 11, 1999

Hall (The Oxford Book of Children's Verse in America, 1985, etc.), offers up a chestnut-flavored alternative for younger readers, matching roughly contemporary illustrations to one or two selections from each of 57 American poets. To the usual suspects—Eugene Field's "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," Emily Dickinson's "I'm nobody, who are you?" and even Carl Sandburg's "Fog"—he adds more recent works from the likes of Jack Prelutsky, Gary Soto, Sandra Cisneros, and Janet S. Wong; he also includes three poems attributed somewhat baldly to an "Anonymous Native American." The art comprises a gallery of American illustration, from crude 18th-century woodcuts, through Jessie Willcox Smith, to Marcia Brown and the Dillons. Writing that "poetry is most poetry when it makes noise," Hall recommends these verses for reading aloud and memorization, exhorting parents and children to appreciate how they "preserve a moment of the American past." A safe collection, seldom veering from the canon. (index) (Poetry. 9-11) Read full book review >
THE MILKMAN'S BOY by Donald Hall
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Based on Hall's own family's dairy business at the turn of the century, this nostalgic New England narrative joins his The Ox-Cart Man (1979) in harkening back to a slower time and celebrating farm and family. Before pasteurization, when milk was delivered directly to doorsteps via horse and wagon, young Paul observes his father and brothers at work—the work of holding on to traditional values in the face of modernization, as well as the physical work of carrying milk and capping bottles. When the youngest, Elzira, contracts undulant fever (but not from their raw milk), Paul's father decides to get a pasteurizing machine, balancing continuity and change. Shed's sleepy, light-dappled paintings freeze in time a series of moments in one family's history. Adults with fond memories of glass-bottled milk delivery may appreciate this more than children of the computer age; just as young readers cannot imagine a time before television, they may fail to comprehend milk before cartons and grocery stores, a fact that could appropriately land this old-fashioned intergenerational story in the hands of social-studies teachers. (Picture book. 7-9) Read full book review >
OLD HOME DAY by Donald Hall
FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Hall (When Willard Met Babe Ruth, p. 374, etc.) traces the history of Blackwater Pond, a small New England settlement, from its geological formation to a vision of its bicentennial celebration in August 1999. The town swells with farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries; by the beginning of the 20th century, people are moving out. In 1899, New Hampshire's governor creates Old Home Day (or Old Home Week, as explained in the afterword), a holiday meant to bring people back for a visit. Hall's lyrical book is a thorough history of the waxing, waning, and potential rebirth of America's small towns, and while adults may treasure it for nostalgic reasons, children may find it slow and, in some places, confusing. Family names are mentioned without enough details to make the lineages stick; what should be poetry reads more like genealogical records. Some events need factual moorings, e.g., the Civil War is never named, only referred to poetically: ``When Johnny Reb fired on Fort Sumter . . . '' is a clue not all readers will grasp. The ten thousand years between the ``first people'' and trappers sending pelts to London and Paris are simply noted as ``later.'' McCully's watercolors make time's passing more tangible. In the end, however, this book and all its many charms are better suited to older readers. (Picture book. 9+) Read full book review >
WHEN WILLARD MET BABE RUTH by Donald Hall
FICTION
Released: March 1, 1996

The national pastime gets a bit of much-needed luster from the poet's touch. Young Willard Babson makes the acquaintance of Babe Ruth one day when he and his father pull the young, just-married pitcher's auto out of a New Hampshire ditch. From there, Hall (Lucy's Summer, 1995, etc.) builds a beautiful story about the twining of two lives over 20 years: one a farm boy, rapt in the pleasures of baseball and mesmerized by Ruth's style; the other, ``the best who ever played the game of baseball.'' Hanging over every event is the penumbral melancholy of those years, from the end of the First World War through the middle of the Great Depression—when baseball helped anchor a storm-tossed population. That feeling is enhanced by Moser's nostalgic watercolors, each an achingly sentimental tableau. Hall salts the tale with fine historical tidbits—from the mention of ``Fibber McGee and Molly'' to Al Smith's run for office- -as he moves the story to its emotional climax when Willard's daughter, a baseball fan named Ruth, meets her hero. A heartfelt piece of Americana from two old pros. (Fiction. 7+) Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: April 30, 1995

Gathering fugitive essays, published for the most part over the past ten years, Hall (Life Work, 1993, etc.) constructs a model miscellany. To introduce readers to his preoccupations, Hall opens with a long investigation of the baseball poem ``Casey at the Bat'' and follows with a short paean to trees. He treats poetry, of course, and sport, most often baseball; also history, whether ancient, national, local, or natural. New England's peculiar culture and unique landscape have a particular hold on his imagination. After an intriguing ``tour of the less-read books of Henry Adams,'' Hall considers small-town New Hampshire in a trio of short essays that delicately chart the passage into history of the grammar schools, parlors, and graveyards that formed the horizons of his childhood. With a memoir of the eccentric New England author Robert Francis, Hall segues into a section on poetry. Here he places astute treatments of Marvell, E.A. Robinson, and James Wright, as well as a stirring defense of public funding for the arts. Other pieces include a moving account of how Hall's recent illness has influenced his attitude toward reading. At this point returns diminish somewhat: A piece from the early 1960s on sculptor Henry Moore feels out of place, while profiles of Boston Celtic fixtures Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach—and even an account of meeting Red Sox World Series hero Carlton Fisk—lack verve. But Hall reestablishes his indomitable voice in a concluding quartet of essays, moving from recollections of the magical baseball summer of 1941, through a parable about country stores and a wry discussion of rural real estate, to a fascinating childhood memory of how a Hollywood melodrama about the Spanish Civil War led him to renounce war play. ``I take sentences apart, and put them together again,'' goes Hall's concluding clause here. So he does—and who does it better? Read full book review >
LUCY'S SUMMER by Donald Hall
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1995

If a good picture book is like a good poem, where every word counts, then there isn't a word misplaced in this lyrical book about summer on a New Hampshire farm in 1910. Lucy is seven when her mother opens a millinery shop in the front parlor. She and her sister delight in the ribbons, fruits, and feathers that their mother stocks. During the summer, they travel by horse and wagon to sell hats, accept winter hats to be spruced up, help with staggering amounts of canning, attend a small-town Fourth of July celebration, have their portrait taken by an itinerant photographer. Best of all, Lucy accompanies her mother on a trip to Boston to buy hat supplies. As he did in Lucy's Christmas (1994), Hall has a way of describing a scene in toto and then zooming in on a specific detail. He wraps up a roadside meal succinctly: ``The picnic ended with a custard pie.'' McCurdy's exquisite scratchboard illustrations are animated and detailed; dark backgrounds with finely etched white lines set off clear glowing colors wherever the summer light shines. The book is a best bet—conjuring another time and place with eloquence, humor, and grace. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
LUCY'S CHRISTMAS by Donald Hall
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

It's 1909 in a New Hampshire farming town. Lucy (Hall's mother) has just seen the first changing leaf and figures it's time to start preparing for Christmas (much as retailers would like us to behave today, but then Lucy had to make all her presents). Her folks are also busy getting ready for winter, poring over the new Sears Roebuck catalogue for a kitchen stove. They decide on a Glenwood Kitchen Range—``Queen of the Kitchen.'' The stove arrives only days before St. Nick and is greeted with no less enthusiasm. The church Christmas program is afoot, though, so the girls pry themselves from in front of the warm stove and get back to assembling chains of bright paper and bags of popcorn and ribbon candy to put under the church tree. On Christmas day, the family sleighs to church, where hymns are sung, poetry recited, short plays enacted, and a host of presents unwrapped. Hall's (I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, p. 1129, etc.) poetic touch is found all over the book, and McCurdy's woodcut accompaniments spin the reader back 80 years: You can smell the kerosene from the lamps, sense the deepness of the woods. You just know how the Glenwood will be put to use once the sap starts running. A winner. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
I AM THE DOG, I AM THE CAT by Donald Hall
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

In the manner of the insects in Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise (1988, Newbery Medal), a dog and cat express their views on themselves, their world, and each other. Renowned poet Hall's succinct declarations are right on target (``Dog: Making the acquaintance of babies,/I allow them to pull my hair./I do not like it,/but I allow it, for/ I am the dog./Cat: When babies come into the house,/I try to vanish./Babies are crazy!/Babies sit on you''). Hall captures the foibles and idiosyncrasies of both pets, straying only occasionally from witty scrutiny of animal behavior into anthropomorphic projection (``Cat: The dog amuses me''). Moser's candid portraits are equally apt: A baleful, pyramidal, lime-eyed cat glowers over its dish; a wary UPS man peers past weighty boxes at the even weightier Rottweiler; dog and cat snooze in concert while a mouse creeps past. He makes grand compositions of everything from a cat's tail poking ignominiously from beneath a rug to a dog sniffing a hydrant. A delight. Don't forget to enlist a second voice for sharing aloud. (Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
THE FARM SUMMER 1942 by Donald Hall
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 1994

The noted poet and author of Ox-Cart Man describes a nine- year-old's summer on his grandparents' New Hampshire farm while his dad's in the South Pacific and his mother works ``on a secret project...for the war effort.'' Peter flies across the country but ends his journey in a buggy; Hall rounds out an evocatively detailed description of traditional farm life with Peter's reunion with Dad back home in San Francisco. But the chief glory of this beautifully crafted book is Moser's watercolor art, in which the details—from the sun glancing off Peter's freshly ironed shirt to the contrast between the military bearing of a newel post and the more relaxed stance of the uniformed father as he welcomes his son—are statements of pure design as well as singularly pleasing depictions of the warm relationships, wholesome setting, and exquisitely observed farm animals. Nostalgia at its best. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
LIFE WORK by Donald Hall
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 6, 1993

From well-known poet and memoirist Hall (Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, 1992, etc.), a meditation-memoir on the theme of work that becomes something much more when, midway through the writing, the author learns he has cancer. At 63, Hall is mightily productive in poetry, memoir, essay, letter, story, and review, and he sets out to devote part of each working day (for Hall, there are seven of these a week) to writing this book, its title bespeaking its theme. In 1975, we learn, Hall gave up teaching and became a full-time writer, retiring to the farm in Vermont that had once belonged to his grandparents. As the book begins, Hall mourns the recent death of a close friend, preacher, and hard worker; settles on a definition of productive work as a state of ``absorbedness''; touches on history, family, his own literary output, his great love of the work he does, the number of revisions he puts poems through, what time he gets up, what he eats for breakfast and lunch, even when he walks the dog and drops manuscripts off with the typist. A phone call changes the tone of all of this when a routine blood test shows a recurrence of cancer and sends the poet into surgery. A couple of weeks later, facing both chemotherapy and newly diminished odds for living more than another few years, Hall picks up his narrative and—keeps going. Under the deepened shadow of mortality, he writes with eloquent simplicity about the old-fashioned working farm-life of his Vermont grandparents, the declining health of his aging mother, and—with a consummate and moving poise—his father's unhappiness in his own work, and his early death from cancer. History, life, work, art, dedication, love, and courage—all without becoming saccharine or smug or maudlin, in a treasurable small book, poetic in its plainness, about how to live well. (First printing of 25,000) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Aug. 19, 1992

Hall (Here at Eagle Pond, 1990, etc.) has updated his 1977 book of literary gossip—memories, anecdotes, psychoanalytic clues- -beyond the original quartet of subjects: Dylan Thomas, Frost, Eliot, and Pound. He's now included Yvor Winters, Marianne Moore, and Archibald MacLeish as well. (There are two Moore-Hall interviews included too.) Though it is the aged poet whom Hall- -himself aging, no longer the young ancillary and apparatchik—now finds himself most interested in, the memories here are still angled upward: Hall the student or eager interlocutor of the renowned. The MacLeish/Winters chapter is especially forthright in its admission of Hall's hunger for models, no matter the age or station: ``Wanting to be as generous or affable as MacLeish yet wanting to be as rigorous as Winters, I totter from one example to the other, in temperament closer to MacLeish and in aspiration to Winters.'' The Marianne Moore piece is milkier—Moore's fastidious mystery harder to subsume personally. The additions here, then, hardly transfigure (or even much enlarge) the earlier edition—but many of the stories, especially the Pound and Eliot ones, remain honeys. Read full book review >
OX-CART MAN by Donald Hall
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 22, 1979

Plain but pleasingly cadenced, concrete as the list of commodities that makes up much of the text, yet radiating a sense of life's cyclic rhythms, this tells of an early New England farmer going off to Portsmouth market. He sells products the family has raised and grown, sells products they have made from what they raised and grew, then sells the containers (apple barrel, potato bag) the goods were in, and finally sells his ox cart, harness, and ox, before buying some humble household tools and walking home (with "coins still in his pocket") to start again. . . "stitching a new harness for the young ox in the barn." Without Cooney's illustrations—comely and decorous scenes in the manner of early American folk painting—this might seem almost too plain. But she makes a satisfying, full (and eye-filling) experience of the everyday round, as she follows the farmer and his family through the peaceful countryside and the changing seasons—reflecting their unselfconscious accord with nature in her own seamless accord with the text. Read full book review >