By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Charles Ghigna, better known as Father Goose, leads children on adventures. “I like to take kids on journeys of imagination and then return them to their own world,” he said.
His timeless poems and stories celebrate the wonder and magic of life through a child’s eyes. Children can’t help but delight in his vibrant, playful lyrics that paint pictures of animals and nature. Ghigna has written more than 5,000 poems and published more than 50 children’s books for Random House, Disney, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster and other publishers.
Ghigna, 64, writes in his “tree house,” the attic of his 1927 English Tudor home on West Linwood Drive where he has lived with his wife, Debra, for nearly 35 years.
“Something magical happens when you write,” he tells the elementary students he speaks to. “Writing a book is like a magic carpet to travel country and world, but what I like best is being here [in Homewood], sleeping in my own bed.”
“You can write about anything and everything,” he tells students, “There is no limit!” He energetically asks them for ideas for poem titles and has them fill in the blanks for rhymes.
Ghigna wrote a poem especially for Bugsy, the newly named caterpillar at Homewood Central Park, and presented it to winners Robert Hill, Celie Jackson, Ella Grace Ivey and Kaylin Rezekat at We Love Homewood Day in May.
As he tells the kids, Ghigna’s writing is inspired by all he sees—clouds, daddy long legs on the porch, children he meets, everything. It was specifically his son, Chip, who renewed his spirit as a writer and got him into his career in children’s poetry and literature.
“I wanted my son to see nature—not just clouds but flying ships and bunnies,” he said. Father and son would take turns creating couplets (two lines that rhyme) about what they saw outside in a game they called “ping pong rhymes.”
One of his first books, Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose, was inspired by things he and Chip, a 2007 Homewood High School graduate, did together. As Chip grew up in Homewood, his interest in both art and sports inspired A Fury of Motion: Poems for Boys. While in the stands at Chip’s sports games and practices, Ghigna wrote some of Score! 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire as he tried to think of way to motivate kids to follow their dreams. Score! received the National Parenting Honor Award and has been adopted by school systems as part of their character education programs with principals reading a poem-a-day from it during their morning announcements.
Before Chip was born, Ghigna had become burnt out on writing. A former high school English and college-level creative writing teacher, he had been serving as poet-in-residence at the Alabama School of Fine Arts a since 1974. He had written poetry since he was a kid, but it was Harper’s, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal and other adult literary publications.
When he and Debra found out they were expecting a baby boy in 1988, Ghigna discovered there weren’t many books of poetry for boys on the market and began writing some of his own. “It was like the floodgates opened up,” he said. “My love of language returned.”
He started by writing for children’s magazines such as Cricket, Highlights for Children and Ranger Rick, and in 1992 he got a four-book contract with Walt Disney Company.
He adopted the name Father Goose when kids and teachers began calling him that during his visits to their schools. They liked calling him Father Goose because it was easier to say and spell than Ghigna.
Ghigna’s best writing comes in the morning and late at night, but as his list of Ghigna’s publications attests, he writes all day, often using the afternoons to make revisions. He has more ideas for books and poems than he has time to write. He usually has three or four new book projects going on at once.
While most of his work is for children, Ghigna does write some for adults. His wife saved love poems he had written for her over the years and later published them in Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Redbook and other women’s magazines and as the book Love Poems. He posts poems like “Be still in the world” on his adult poetry blog, bald-ego.blogspot.com.
Still, it is stories for children that Ghigna is inspired to write each day as he looks out the window of his tree house and as he takes his daily two-mile hike along Kenilworth Drive, Ridge Road and Roseland Drive.
“I like to think of my poems as little celebrations of childhood that help young readers find the wonder and joy in the world around them,” he said. “I also hope my humorous poems help tickle the funny bone of their imaginations.“ If the wonder-eyed look and giggles of the elementary school kids he speaks to are any indication, Father Goose does just what he hopes to do.