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We hear grandmother being firm -- and loving; How Does It Feel To Be Old? By Norma Farber, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. New York: E. P. Dutton, $7.95

Norma Farber's latest book of poems is a moving glimpse into the heart of someone growing old and reflecting on her life. Each of these poems begins with the question of the book's title, posed by a child to her grandmother. At one point, grandmother's answers proclaim the liberty that comes with old age, at which a child is sure to look longingly: How does it feel to be old? Very nice. I don't have to listen to parents' advice. . . Nobody's telling me what to do. If somebody does, I just don't hear.

Mrs. Farber, who was once a concert singer herself, is keenly aware of the qualities of voice she gives to each of grandmother's answers. We hear grandmother being petulant, firm, distracted, wistful, sleepy, philosophical. Most of all, we hear her voice loving -- loving the life she has had, loving the bitter-sweet independence with which she leads her life in the present, loving the granddaughter with whom she is creating enduring bonds in the poems.

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Trina Schart Hyman's fine, strong drawings work intimately with the text. The illustrations (black and white for the present, sepia for the events summoned up in the past) flow like dreams around the poems, giving the pages a visual drama and poetry to intensify the verbal experience of the poems.

Norma Farber is one of the very few poets writing for children today who does not compromise her own voice as a poet or condescendingly underestimate her young audience's capacity to respond to the sophisticated poetical techniques and the mature emotion of her work. Nor does she sermonize or bear a morbid burden through the pages of "How Does It Feel To Be Old?" At the end of the poems, grandmother reminds the child, "Remember the stories I told you, my dear." And, with that, the reader comes to see that these poems are not about the death and loss at all. Their message or moral -- if one can call it that -- is life and the need to cherish it.


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