Category Archives: Poetry

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming
Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Two Hoots

Television writer/producer Chris Harris teams up with Greeenaway medal winner, Lane Smith in this riotous book of nonsense verse.
The first thing I should say, actually, it’s the second, is, take no notice of the title: Harris is telling enormous porkies; the only non-rhyming offerings are those made deliberately so.
In all there are over one hundred zany compositions, most of which will make you want to laugh out loud; almost all of which are illustrated; and every one of which is imbued with a sense of playfulness.

There’s wordplay in abundance: here’s the briefest entitled The Gecko, ‘If ever I find myself holding a gecko … / I’ll lecko.

Typography is used to effect, for instance when ‘d’ and ‘b’ have a showdown in The Duel ending up as ‘p’ and ‘q’. There are riddles, parodies of nursery rhymes, and, perhaps surprisingly – but then everything is pretty surprising in this book – some introspective verses: ‘I’m shy on the outside, but inside my head? / I’m not at all shy – I’m outgoing instead.’ …

The downright irreverent appears too: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by … / Since then I’ve been completely lost. / Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost!

Author and illustrator even have a go at one another (possibly on account of Smith’s Alphabet Book visuals)

‘I must confess I don’t like my poems’ illustrator. They told me, “Lane is great!” but man, I really think I hate her!’ Harris rails (he can’t even get Smith’s gender right). But Smith counters with this portrait …

One poem that particularly spoke to the teacher part of me was The Secret of My Art reminding us of all the dangers of appearing to know about, or judge, children’s art. Here it is:

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my teacher declared.
“This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my father declared.
“Your talents will carry you far!’

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my mother declared.
“What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well maybe it is a beautiful whale …
But I was trying to draw a guitar.

A brilliant collaboration and definitely a sure-fire winner for those who already love poetry, but perhaps more importantly, for those who claim to hate it. A sterling successor to the likes of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Dr Seuss.Every classroom and home needs a copy.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake
Michael Rosen and Kevin Waldron
Puffin Books

I can’t possibly imagine how many times I shared Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake poem from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here during my time as a primary teacher; it was certainly the most requested poem with countless classes and always an ideal offering to have at the ready when working in an advisory capacity. So to learn it was to be published in picture book format with Kevin Waldron supplying the illustrations was very exciting.
The poem itself is sheer genius telling of a little boy who just cannot get out of his mind the scrumptious chocolate cake he’s sampled earlier in the day and, knowing that there’s a considerable chunk still downstairs, cannot resist its temptation.
He creeps out of bed (ensuring he misses the creaky floorboard outside his parents’ bedroom) and downstairs into the kitchen. There, in the cupboard, is the object of his desire …

Out it comes and he notices there just happen to be some crumbs, and that the cake itself needs a spot of tidying up …

until things get just a tad out of control …

Such are the agonising details  used to relate the whole experience, that we’re right in that child’s head as he’s overwhelmed by desire, and we’re desperately wanting him not to get caught – which of course he does, although not until the following morning.
Oh dear, the embarrassment, the humiliation …

Kevin Waldron brilliantly captures all the subterfuge, the suspense and the final priceless denouement in his deliciously funny scenes, every one of which will leave you spluttering with delight.
If the whole thing doesn’t get your taste buds all a-tingling, then nothing will.

Origami, Poems and Pictures

Origami, Poems and Pictures
Nosy Crow
This truly beautiful book is published in collaboration with the British Museum and its publication coincides with the Museum’s Hokusai exhibition, Beyond the Great Wave. That picture is just one of the thirteen (all belonging to The British Museum) featured in this celebration of three Japanese arts and crafts: origami, haiku poetry and painting (all but one are woodblock prints) and with it the delights begin. Making the paper boat (after reading the associated haiku and pondering upon The Great Wave picture, I’d suggest) is one of the easier (1st level) projects. I already knew how to make that so passed on to something else at the same level to get my hand in: I chose the frog …

really because I already love the accompanying Bashō haiku:
the old pond,
a frog jumps in –
the sound of water.

before proceeding to something challenging. For my origami frog I used ordinary paper cut to a square and on the thick side;

but included at the back of the book is a pad of 50 sheets patterned on one side, plain on the other, which are the ideal size and weight for the projects.
Each of the projects is graded and there is a mix of each of the three levels of difficulty, the third level requiring considerable dexterity, not to mention patience. I absolutely loved the graceful crane and the dragonfly.
You’re guaranteed many hours of pleasure from this absorbing and stunning book; and should you require some further instruction with the origami, there’s a QR code on the index page which provides a link to step-by-step ‘How to’ videos.

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All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

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All Aboard the London Bus / No, Nancy, No!

All Aboard the London Bus
Patricia Toht and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s hard to resist the opening invitation of this book:
Come! / Board the double-decker bus / and see the London sights with us. / Any time, hop off. /Explore! / Then climb back on and ride some more.’ With its welcome aboard greeting in five languages, we’re off and heading for Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.
From there, it’s on to Westminster Abbey with its amazing ceilings and tombstones and statues galore.

Big Ben is the next stop and then comes the London Eye so beautifully described as ‘A bracelet that hangs off the Arm of the Thames, / its pods filled with people, all dangle like gems.’ Then after pausing to look at the river itself snaking through a host of landmarks, the family heads for Trafalgar Square. Here readers are offered a busy ‘Seek and Find’ spread while they too pause for breath,

before heading via Speaker’s Corner down onto the tube and thence to Piccadilly Circus where they emerge into a sudden downpour. Seemingly there’s only one thing to do: stop for tea and a browse in a famous toyshop for a while.
The British Museum, Tate Modern and the Globe are some of the other destinations once family members have dried off; and no London visit would be complete without seeing Tower Bridge and the Tower itself so that is their final stop. Phew! It’s certainly been an exhausting day especially for the little ones. The adults are very brave to undertake such a huge itinerary in a single outing and still leave the bus with smiles on their faces.
Essentially a sequence of poems in celebration of London: you can either take the whole tour in one sitting or, take things more slowly just dipping into or revisiting favourite landmarks. No matter which way, Sam Usher’s gently humorous illustrations, whether the focus be a famous London site or its visitors,

are sheer delight.
It’s clear from this celebratory book that London means a lot to both author and artist.

No, Nancy, No!
Alice Tait
Walker Books
Join Nancy and best friend Roger for an exciting, action-packed visit to London. First stop is Buckingham Palace where Nancy is hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. Her dog however has his eyes on two children, one of whom drops a teddybear. Rather than remain at the palace, Nancy and Roger set off hot on the trail of the bear’s owners. A bus ride takes them to St Paul’s Cathedral

and thereafter various other famous London landmarks. Every time it seems they’re about to catch the teddy losers, Nancy’s proclivity for mischief diverts her attention.
Will they ever catch up with the children they’re chasing; and will Nancy ever get to see the Queen?
There are flaps on every detailed spread helping to move the action forwards as well as a surprise Nelson’s Column pop-up; and guess who cannot resist climbing right up to the top. Fun, fast and with its repeat “No, Nancy, No!” from Roger, fun to share, especially before a visit to London.

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Poetry Parade

Silver
Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
‘ …
It’s lovely to see Carolina Rabei’s enchanting visual interpretation of a de la Mare poem that was a childhood favourite of mine. I still have all the words in my head and often used to visualise a moon wandering silently in those ‘silver shoon’.

The illustrator imbues the whole thing with dreamy magic as she portrays the moon as feline, tiptoeing among the silver fruited tree branches, and then across the ground pursued by two small children and a host of faery folk, past the log-like sleeping dog …

and watched by all manner of nocturnal creatures that all gather in a clearing …

before some of them take a small boat and glide across the water while ‘moveless fish in the water gleam’ and the two children fall fast asleep. AAAHHH! Gorgeous.

Little Lemur Laughing
Joshua Seigal
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I’m always excited to discover new poets and was delighted to receive a collection from rising star, Joshua Seigal. Playful is the name of the game where these poems are concerned: they cover all manner of topics from food (for instance Johnny and The MANGO wherein a boy retires to a warm tub to consume his favourite tea) to Fireworks; Seagulls to Stickers and Conkers to Colours and Chat. Alliteration abounds – indeed there is a page at the back of the book in which Seigal talks about his use of this in the title poem; there’s a generous sprinkling of concrete poems –

and some, such as Turvy & Topsy are completely bonkers, but went down well with my listeners.
In fact there isn’t a single one that isn’t lots of fun to read aloud to younger primary children. I’d certainly recommend adding this to a KS1 or early years teacher’s collection and buy it for any youngster whom you want to turn on to poetry.

The Fire Horse
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam & Daniil Kharms
The New York Review Children’s Collection
This contains three longish poems, one from each of the authors, all being translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and each having a different illustrator. The title poem has wonderful art by Lydia Popova; Mandelastam’s Two Trams artist, Boris Ender, used a limited (almost exclusively, black, grey and red) colour palette for his superbly stylish portrayal of the two tramcars. The final work, Play portrays verbally and visually three boys absorbed in their imaginary play worlds, the illustrations being done by Vladimir Konashevich.
For me, the book’s illustrations make it worthwhile, showing as they do, Soviet book illustrations from almost a century ago.
For book collectors/art connoisseurs rather than general readers, I’d suggest.

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Where Zebras Go / How to be a Tiger

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Where Zebras Go
Sue Hardy-Dawson
Otter-Barry Books
Let The Weaver of Words, the subject of the opening poem, capture you in her threads and take you on an amazing journey past ghosts, through the fog and out across the plains, embracing en route wildlife in many forms and then leading you towards enchanted fairytale worlds where mermaids sing silent songs, magical boxes wait to be opened and tales you thought familiar are cast anew: ‘So what if he did find my golden ball, I didn’t once mention a kiss. More like I put him gently over the wall. Oh well then – maybe as you suggest, it was the teeniest little kick. Then naturally, I ran and ran, as only really a true princess can, in silly shoes and a dress. I never once dreamed he would follow me – No, Dad.’ (That’s from The Frog Princess, one of a sprinkling of deliciously playful shape poems.)

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Wonderfully inventive, or occasionally re-inventive – Motorway Poem after Night Mail by WH Auden and Ugly Sister Sonnet
Many things will look a little different – ‘I’m the flame in the nettles sting / the fleet snow of goose’s wing. / I’m the feather in grass’s seed / wheaten waves in meadow’s sea.’ – after a few excursions into this amazingly diverse, and surprisingly, Sue Hardy-Dawson’s debut, solo poetry book.
Some cry out to be read aloud – performed perhaps – such as Sludge-Bog Stew and how many times have the teachers among us heard the words of this, which has a title longer than the poem itself …

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Talking of school – think of the visual (2D and 3D) potential of the ‘spiky salamander,’ ‘slithering, skinny snake’, ‘cranky crocodile’ and ‘flippy, floppy frog’ from that swampy, glue-like sludge-bog, or indeed, many of the other poems. Sue herself has illustrated almost all of her poems.
A must get for primary classes and individuals in particular with a taste for the slightly quirky – the latter will, after dipping into this treat of a book, surely become poetry lovers.
For somewhat younger audiences is:
How to be a Tiger
George Szirtes
Otter-Barry Books
Award winning poet Szirtes also takes his readers foraying into fairy tales with a belching princess in The Princess and the Bad King and the tongue-twistingly superb Rumpelstiltskin. Now who knew he has brothers the likes of Dumplingstiltskin, Crumpetstiltskin, Stumblingstiltskin, Jumperstiltskin, Plumplipstiltskin, Crumpledstiltskin, Grumpystiltskin, Chumptripstiltskin, Mumppillstiltskinm Gazumpstiltskin; oh and Billy-ho! Mustn’t overlook him!

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(Think of what you might do with that one in the classroom … )
In addition there are seasonal poems, poems such as You Have a Body and The Leaping Hare that cry out to be dramatised,; and Spelling Your Name: ‘Here’s your name and how to spell it. See it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it! – a gift for creative early years teachers, and much much more. And, Tim Archbold’s delightfully scribble-style, smudgy illustrations further add to the delights herein.
In fact, the whole thing is packed with learning adventures just waiting to be embarked upon … What are you waiting for?

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Jellicle Cats

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Jellicle Cats
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber
In the fourth of his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats visual interpretations, Arthur Robins renders the jellicle Cats as total pleasure-loving felines cavorting ‘neath the Jellicle Moon, clad in all their jazzy gear, having first had a sneaky practice of their ‘airs and graces’ while waiting for that lunar object to illuminate their revels.

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These black and white beauties take their preparations seriously for: ‘Until the Jellicle Moon appears/ They make their toilette and take their repose:

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Note the Parisian perfume – just one of the numerous enchanting details that make Arthur Robins’ illustrations such tremendous fun.
Mornings and afternoons are mostly for repose and ‘Reserving their terpsichorean powers’ for the much-anticipated moonlight dancing, adverse weather permitting, that is …

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Every one of Robins’ spreads will surely bring a smile to readers and listeners who will delight in the revelry and the action inherent in each scene be it indoors or out.
If you want to encourage young children to become poetry lovers, then share this with them and then cavort like those Jellicle Cats.

A Rocketful of Space Poems / Things To Do

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A Rocketful of Space Poems
John Foster and Korky Paul
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Reputed anthologist , John Foster has compiled a book of twenty-six poems on the ever- popular space theme. Four are Foster’s own work and there are three from Eric Finney. Supposing went down well with my audience as did Judith Nicholls’ A Space Odyssey with its fun alliterative opening ‘Percival Pettigrew packed his pyjamas / and parted for Pluto, pausing at Mars.
Many of the poems are, I think, newly penned. If you use this collection in a primary school, children can have great fun inventing additions to the items for sale at Greasy Peter Pluto’s Fast Food Superstore – a good starting point for some imaginative writing of their own; ditto Robert Scotellaro’s Garage Sale in Outer Space and David Harmer’s Inter-galactic Squibble-ball, the Official Rules.
Old favourites are here as well: there’s Richard Edwards’ Asteroid Dog and Max Fatchen’s ‘Jump Over the Moon?the Cow Declared, to name but two.
Korky Paul’s weird and wacky visuals further add to the overall humorous feel and every spread is enclosed within a galactic-themed border …

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Cool endpapers too from pupils of Rockwell Nursery & Infant School.
Add this one to your primary classroom collection or topic box.

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Things To Do
Elaine Magliaro and Catia Chien
Chronicle Books
Erstwhile primary school teacher and now children’s poet, Elaine Magliaro, has written a short poetic sequence focusing on the small things and moments that occupy the thoughts of young children in their everyday lives from Dawn until the Moon brightens the night sky. If you’re Birds you can ‘Stretch out your wings/ on the brightening sky/ Morning’s upon us. / Get ready to fly!

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If you’re a Honeybee ‘Flit among flowers/ Sip nectar for hours / Be yellow and fuzzy. / Stay busy. / For hours.
Other natural world focuses are an Acorn, a Snail, the Sun and Sky, Rain, an Orb Spider, and Crickets and some made objects – Boots, an Eraser and Scissors …

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This lovely picture book, with Elaine Magliaro’s vivid verbal imagery and Catia Chien’s textured, acrylic illustrations, very much reflects that way of being in the present moment, very young children exhibit when we allow them to follow their own interests, as well as being reflective of the natural poets or ‘versifiers’ – ‘avid creator(s) of word rhythms and rhymes’ that Kornei Chukovsky called them, in his famous From Two to Five, ‘pouring forth verse to express their exhilaration.’
One to add to the home, or primary school, bookshelf.

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Don’t forget 14th Feb.

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The Land of Nod

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The Land of Nod
Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Hunter
Flying Eye Books
An altogether contemporary feel has been given to a classic Robert Louis Stevenson children’s poem through the fantastical artistry of illustrator Robert Hunter.
Herein we meet an injured boy who spends his days indoors at home with nothing but his toys for companions.

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Come night though, he’s transported beyond the confines of his room to a dream world, illuminated in eerie hues, predominantly of pinks and blues, where the familiar objects of the day – his toys, books and other ephemera from his bedroom- are transmogrified into the surreal.

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Every illustration provokes curiosity and speculation, and could lead to much additional storying

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from a new generation of young listeners whose parents will know the poem only by its words, or perhaps through Brian Wildsmith’s interpretation in A Child’s Garden of Verses.

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Time for a Poem

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Jelly Boots Smelly Boots
Michael Rosen and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I’m not sure who has more fun when it comes to Michael Rosen and poetry – the author or the children who read or listen to, his offerings. For this collection of over seventy rhymes, wordplays and musings including a sprinkling of ‘dustbin poems’ he has a new illustrator in the wonderful David Tazzyman; and as always it’s a cause for celebration. Rosen has the unfailing knack of drawing children in to his language meanderings and showing them what pleasures poetry has to offer. Try ‘Question Mark’ for starters …

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or Mm? which begins thus: ‘Can you cancan on a can?/ Can you carwheel on a cart? / Will you whistle in the wind? ? Have you heard it in your heart?

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I suspect this is going to be another of those collections where an adult chooses a poem, reads it to a class or group and is immediately asked for another and another and … Enough said! Try it and see.

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Topsy Turvy Animals
Wes Magee and Tracey Tucker
QED
A plethora of animals pursuing unlikely pastimes are presented by poet Wes Magee in this crazy rhyming world where there are somersaulting tigers, stilt-walking meerkats, a cartwheeling moose and a pair of macaws that must be tired of life judging by where they’ve chosen to perform their ablutions …

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And this poor cat is the unexpected recipient of a very large splat …

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Tracey Tucker animates all this madness and more with riotous, appropriately garish scenes in a variety of settings – icy, sandy, rocky, mountainous, jungly and grassy.
The main messages children will pick up here are: that language is fun; and that if you give full rein to your imagination, anything can happen …

If like me, you believe that nursery rhymes should form the bedrock upon which a child can build a love of poetry, then this beautifully produced book may be of interest.

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Classic Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Dorothy M.Wheeler
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Time was that the 29 rhymes contained herein were known by almost all young children starting school or a nursery class; sadly, that’s not so nowadays.
Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell has written the foreword for this centenary publication of rhymes with art work  by Dorothy M. Wheeler whose claims to fame include being the illustrator of some of Enid Blyton’s books such as The Magic Faraway Tree. Her highly detailed watercolour illustrations for this book evoke a bygone era …

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when the rhymes were learned on a mother’s or grandmother’s knee and perhaps sung around a family piano. (The second part of the book contains music for each rhyme.)

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster / Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies

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Adder, Bluebell, Lobster
Chrissie Gittins, illustrated by Paul Bommer
Otter-Barry Books
I was intrigued by the title of this collection of “Wild Poems’ from Chrissie Gittins and delighted by the explanation for its choice. The author was inspired by the list of natural world words that were left out of the most recent (2015) edition of Oxford Junior Dictionary and replaced with 21st century terms So, this is Chrissie’s offering as part of the protest against their omission that was endorsed by almost 30 authors intent on the laudable aim to send a “tremendous cultural signal and message of support for natural childhood”.
The poems are arranged alphabetically with almost every letter represented, the exceptions being E, J, K, Q, U, X, Y and Z and every one is a treat for the ears and eyes. For A in addition to the snake of the title we have Allotment, which describes a wonderfully wet time: here are the first few lines: “When it rains the soil sighs deeply, / the leaves of the purple sprouting broccoli giggle as rivulets tickle their veins,/ rainbow chard reaches out to catch droplets in its wrinkles ,/ the strawberries smile – their redness becomes redder, their sweetness sweeter,/ broad beans swell inside their emerald pods/ waiting to be picked.
What a splendid evocation of a downpour: and it’s vertically presented for extra effect.
For B there’s Bluebell, Blackberry – such a tasty treat with its wordplay –and its ‘luscious globules’ and ‘purple dribbles’; and the superbly bossy Beetroot shown in Bommer’s line drawing wielding a pot of red juice capable of causing ‘a red Niagara Falls’.

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The fastest animal on land, the Cheetah races in and across the spread – ‘made for flight’ as one of the Cs and then we have a run of flora – Dandelion, Fern, Fungi – two species – and Gorse. I have to say I was shocked at some of the omissions; how can a dictionary for the young not have Hamster – surely a favourite pet, the majestic Heronrigid as a cement pterodactyl’, Ivy, Lark, Lavender? All these and the many others herein are essential parts of childhood – Newt, Poppy, Violet, Willow, Wren. Oh my goodness, I got more and more sad and angry as I continued reading; but thank goodness for Chrissie Gittins’ wild and wonderful, sometimes wacky words; and she’s ably abetted by artist Paul Bommer with those stark black and white illustrations – some funny …

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some beautiful …
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and all apposite, on almost every spread. I have a feeling this will be read to extinction/destruction fairly fast; it’s such a tongue-tingling assortment of poetic forms and fanciful phrases: what a way to ‘turn sows’ ears into a silk purse’.
A must have for all primary classrooms, for the family bookshelf and for anyone who loves words, the natural world, and those who, like me and the creators of this book are eager to help play a part in saving from extinction, these names from nature. Long may they reign and remain…

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Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies
John Dougherty illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones
Otter-Barry Books
This is a debut foray into poetry collection created by the author of the popular Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series of stories, John Dougherty, whose humour is evident in each and every offering. Many of the preoccupations of school children, most notably school and what happens therein are featured and in some instances superbly sent up in his verses. Take for example The Alliterative Alligator who: ‘lurks languidly, looking like a lazy log/ by the bank, beneath the blue/ wavy waters, waiting, wanting,/ hunting hungrily but unhurriedly,/ seeking something satisfyingly savoury.’ This is cleverly juxtaposed with an impatient Alligator that –and who can blame it – ‘hates the crime/ Of bending words to force a rhyme.’ (I hope those responsible for the current Primary English curriculum are listening.) And I absolutely love his Note to an English Teacher, an oh-so-telling offering comparing a poem with a hamster. You’ll need a copy of this splendid collection to relish this one yourself (relish, if like me you are party to, and hate, what’s currently served up in many classrooms in the name of English. Teachers feature quite frequently in one way or another by the way.
Slow Reader provides a view of what reading might look like to one such (you have to read each line backwards) and I have to say, it makes about as much, or as little sense, as a phonic book for beginners. Don’t you just love Tom Morgan-Jones’ visual representation of same?

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Not all the poems are school-themed however: there are natural world poems, Seeds being one; another is this Lonely Haiku: ‘Bare autumn branches/ The emptiness of lost leaves/ The long wait for spring.’ . There are pets such as Next- Door’s Cat, a creature with ‘attitude’ and ‘fat cattitude’, Dogs, some of which are liked, others definitely not; and poems about faces, food-related verses and an exciting lunar ‘Countdown’. I think if I had to choose a favourite, it’s Sail Away Between the Pages that includes this; ‘Their words are not enough to name the blessings/ that they bring/ The wonder of their pictures or the songs their poems/ sing./ And their prose by any other name would have/ as many flavours/ So I can’t think of a better thing to do/ Than sail away between the pages.’ (of the books read).Good on you, John Dougherty. If you want to turn children on to poetry, then grab a copy of this and share it; buy a copy or more and give it; which ever – JUST DO IT!
And I’m interested to read at the back of the book, that its author now lives in Gloucestershire and is an ex-primary teacher.

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Summer Evening/Unbelievable Summer Truth

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Summer Evening
Walter de la Mare illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
What a glorious evocation of the countryside in summer is this book. Just eight lines penned by one of our best loved poets, have now been made into a glowing portrayal of a group of people delighting in their rural life as the sun slowly sinks over the hills.
We share the red, orange and golden sunset with the Farmer, a woman and two children, a cat and a dog,

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Old Rover in his moss-greened house/ Mumbles a bone, /and barks at a mouse.’
We then see the children following a cat-and-mouse chase as it unfolds inside and out …

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until finally, peace and harmony are restored, the animals all fed and the sun has given way to the moon.
You can almost hear that scintillating shimmering sun and feel that incandescent haze of high summer

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coming off the pages through Caroline Rabei’s scenes in this beautiful synthesis of poetry and pictures.
A ‘must have’ for the family bookshelf and for all early years settings and primary schools.

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The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The summer hols. are over (that really must be a bad dream; they’ve not even started yet: but back to the story). “What did you do this summer?” the teacher – as they always do – asks the young narrator of this crazy tale. Instantly we’re on the beach where the lad, accompanied by his dachshund, finds a treasure map only to have it snatched immediately by a passing magpie. Thus begins a chase which takes boy and dog (and readers) onto a pirate ship …

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and thence into a fast moving adventure involving a giant squid, a submarine …

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a film set with a very helpful actress who assists in the retrieval of the map.

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With the treasure hunt back in full swing so to speak, there follows a trip in a hot air balloon, a foray into the desert, a timely rescue by the boy’s uncle (in his flying machine) who drops his nephew onto a desert island where the pesky magpie (yes, the same one) seizes the map once again.

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Operation map retrieval is thus resumed taking our hero to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and a snowy land populated by yeti.
Yes, in case you are wondering, the boy does finally discover treasure which, after all that, is something of a let down, although it’s not actually THE treasure but hey! the underwater scenes are still pretty wonderful. (Observant readers won’t miss what the boy does.) And that’s not quite the end of this bonkers book; there’s something of a twist in its tale; something that took place a few months earlier … bringing us back full circle to where we began, and I suspect readers back to the start of the book searching for clues of a visual nature, in Benjamin Chaud’s gigglesome, detailed pen-and-ink illustrations.
Another winner from the Cali/Chaud partnership.

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Zim Zam Zoom

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Zim Zam Zoom
James Carter and Nicola Colton
Otter-Barry Books
This corker of a book arrived during the holidays and I had to restrain myself from dashing out into the road, grabbing any child I could find and saying, ‘Come with me and listen.’ ‘Zappy poems to read aloud’ announces the cover by line; and every one of the sixteen included truly is a treat to do so. From fireworks to a farmyard Hullabaloo (do I detect a touch of Charley Causely here?)

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bedtime (with a teddy) to Billy Goats there’s something for all tastes; but I suspect re-reads of them all will be the order of the day. From a performance point of view, I think my favourite has to be Grump, Grump, Grump! (or … The Three Billy Goats Get Rough Rap), with verses such as this:
Says Goat, “Ohh, Trev – you don’t scare me-
cos my bruv’s tough, as you’ll soon see!”
So Goat number 1 trots off to the grass
As Goat number two pops up so fast.
“Yells, Oi, Goatie – off you squeal,
or I’m gonna scoff you as my meal!”
Grump, grump, grump!
If you’re in the mood for something altogether quieter then try this lullaby…

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Or, for maximum audience participation of the silent kind share this …

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I also love Hey, Let’s Go, a once upon a time invitation to participate in some fairytale frolics such as ’Let’s dress up in a riding hood./ Let’s take that shortcut though the wood.// let’s race that wolf to Granny’s door./ Let’s huff and puff that house of straw.
Assuredly, this is a book if ever there was one, to turn children on to poetry. It leads on perfectly from nursery rhymes and deserves a place in every early years setting and on every family bookshelf. So, do what James Carter suggests in his final offering and Take a Poem … 
Nicola Colton ‘s spirited illustrations allow the poems to take centre stage right where they should be – a tricky undertaking, deftly done.

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Skimbleshanks/Patch’s Grand Dog Show

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Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat
T.S.Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber Children’s Books
It’s 11.39, time for the Night Mail train to depart; so it’s all aboard and off we go! Not quite: where is Skimbleshanks?

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The train can’t start without him.
In the nick of time, he appears, the ‘All Clear!’ is given and the train leaves bound for the ‘northern part of the Northern Hemisphere.’ And there’s no doubt about who’s in charge.: ‘From the driver and the guards to the / bagmen playing cards/ He will supervise them all, more or less.’

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Up and down the corridor he paces, patrolling and keeping watch for any bad behaviour on the part of the passengers …

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Those sleeping berths must be kept just spotless with all the amenities in full working order …

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And there are people to meet and greet while all the passengers are fast asleep: that too is Skimble’s job as is summoning the police (that’s at Dumfries)

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or helping passengers to descend (at Gallowgate). All this and more takes place if you join another feline star in Arthur Robins’ third picture book interpretation of verses from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Once again, Robins’ cartoon style visuals are full of deliciously dotty details. No matter if you’re a cat lover (I’m not), a poetry lover (that’s me) or neither, you’ll still find plenty to amuse herein. Share it, shout it or simply enjoy it alone or with others, young or not so young.

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Patch’s Grand Dog Show
Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne
Pavilion Books
Loner and slightly strange-looking dog, Patch is passing his time as usual sitting in the park when he hears from the other side of same, a whole lot of woofing, yapping and barking. On investigating he discovers …

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His inquiry, “Can anyone enter?” is met with derision from the other dogs so a downcast Patch goes off to hide himself. But then he has an idea: an idea involving his ball and a special trick. Even then though, the sight of all those seemingly perfect pampered pooches adopting all manner of prize-seeking poses and performing all kinds of clever moves to impress the judges – here are a couple of the former …

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his courage fails him. In the face of such finery, poor Patch feels even more inferior and lonely until he hears an announcement: “AND The Dog The Judge Would Most Like to Take Home IS …
No prizes for guessing which one that is.

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I’m no dog lover, far from it (having been mauled by an Alsatian as a child), but these knitted creatures are delightful. What’s more there are instructions on how to knit a Patch at the back of the book. Do look closely at each illustration and you’ll see how cleverly textured each one is. The artwork itself is likely to be an inspiration for children to create their own woolly scenes.

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Poetry Shelf

Three poetry books to share at home or school, three gifts to inspire a love of poetry …

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Stars in Jars
Chrissie Gittins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
It’s difficult to choose a favourite from this star-studded collection of poems. I love the edgy offbeat nature of many of them, for instance the opening one that gives the book its title. It begins thus:
William went up in a rocket/ To see where it would go./ It flew round/ and round/
and round/ the sun,/ and burnt his left big toe.
He goes on to hurt his knees by crash landing in camembert before flying through the Milky Way to catch the trail of stars which he then brings home and puts in jars for safe-keeping.
There are poems on all manner of familiar topics such as friends and families but even here, Chrissie Gittins builds the extraordinary into, for instance, an otherwise fairly conventional fruit-and herb picking grandma with these final words:
my grandma is a fun nun, / and apart from God’s, she’s mine.’
We are treated to powerful images of the natural world in say, The Year is Turning:
Gulls chance the churning sea, / Leaves stack up against the thermal door, / Tips of willows, russet, finger low grey sky,/ The year is drawing in. How’s that for a distillation of an instance of awareness of nature’s changes.
I can’t leave without mentioning the two final poems, first Lullaby. Herein it’s the juxtaposition of images that really packs a punch: Forget about your homework, / forget about that fight, / give it up to the cheesy moon/ and the meteor showers of night.
But it’s all really said in the finale What Does Poetry Do? and I make no apology for quoting the whole thing: ‘It nosedives from the top of the fridge/ into a bowl of rapids, // it crawls along the floor/ and taps you on the knee. // it changes the colour of a room, // it puts great wheezing slices of life/ into bun trays, with or without punctuation. // It manages this all by itself.’
And, it’s fanatastic value too – 130 poems and although of course, some are better than others, there’s not a dud among them. If it doesn’t make you look at seemingly ordinary things in a different way then I’m off to ‘try a lunge at Victoria sponge’.

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Vanishing Trick
Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is a debut collection by Guardian cartoonish, Ros Asquith and she’s peppered it with her own amusing illustrations to add to the appeal though it has plenty of that even without; I love those appropriately presented titles too.
It embraces a wide range of topics from A dream of God to Anthony’s hair (or lack of it in this thought-provoking poem) and there’s a variety of form from the punchy 4-lined Doggerel to 4-pages in the follow your dreams Mohammed & the Whale; and mood – from the playful Things I Like, to the poignant Jo’s House ‘ Was Jo not sad to only hear and feel? / When I was ten I asked her, did she mind?/ She said her searching self made all things real./ She said, “I never think that I am blind.” // She said inside her head the world burned bright./ She said “Inside my mouth bursts sour and sweet./ My ears can hear the birds as they take flight. I feel the turning Earth beneath my feet.”
I don’t know why, but I’m surprised at just how good a book this is.

For a younger audience than the others is

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I Wish I Had a Pirate Hat
Roger Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Herein we have over forty sparky playful rhymes arranged into three sections – Fun Time, School Time not mutually exclusive I hope) and Home Time. The topics – pirates, pets, minibeasts, friends, letters and words, machines and more have immediate child-appeal and young children will love hearing of the ‘all-knowing’ teacher, Miss Moss who pops up in several of the School Time poems. I suspect she, like this reviewer, has a soft spot for the divergent Billy.
Just the thing to spark an interest in poetry beyond nursery rhymes and to get very young children listening carefully to how words are put together to make memorable moments such as in Teatime with Little Rabbit:
Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little cuddle?/ I can feel the beating of your heart.// Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little snuggle/ and a nibble on my raspberry tart?

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Poetry Bookshelf

If you want something to get your children enthusiastic about poetry then one of these (or all) will surely appeal …

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There’s a Monster in the Garden
David Harmer
Frances Lincoln pbk
This is a new edition from ex-headteacher, Harmer, re-illustrated and with an additional ten poems. Some of the poems feature school in its many aspects but the author covers a wide range of topics. Not schoolish unless you are thinking of Hogwarts or want your teacher to grow donkey’s ears is Harry Hobgoblin’s Superstore that sells all manner of spells, powders and potions; or Frosty Pinchface – what a wonderful name – with his ‘Fingers like icicles poking us to death,/Horrid hoarse whispers chill us to the core.” BRRR! And, if you’re out and about, watch out for Great Gran who is ‘manic on her motor bike.’ – a stunt-woman extraordinaire or that ghosty pirate of old Whitby Dock.
David Harmer is popular as a performance poet and it’s easy to see why. I too have had great fun sharing the contents of this book with primary school children on many occasions. (I did have to have a secret practice of Slick Nick’s Dog Tricks and Pasting Patsy’s Pasty Posters first though).

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Crazy Classrooms
Paul Cookson
Frances Lincoln pbk
This is a funny, schoolcentric collection of over sixty snippets of life all seemingly written by those in the thick of it. There are also some more serious poems such as First Day New Class Blues, Iqbal Doesn’t Really Like School and Mothers’ Day Cards all of which really pack a powerful punch.
All aspects of life in a primary school are covered from The First Day After the Holidays which celebrates what’s good about the start of term, the school photograph – always something of a nightmare in my experience, there’s a humorous look at what teachers wear on their feet (boring socks) and around their necks – The Ties That Blind, a look at the joys (and otherwise) of school trips the playful take on teachers and their subjects – ‘The music teacher with no rhythm – Mister Beet’, ‘The depressing French teacher … Miss Eree’, not forgetting ‘The supply teacher who teachers all the subjects – Miss Ellaneous’ – to name just three of the cast of Twenty Teachers at our School. We also visit the staff room, meet The Office Manager – a vital person in any school, bullies, friends and much more – animate and inanimate.
Every one herein cries out to be read aloud but make sure you don’t leave your copy lying around in a primary classroom; it’s bound to be nicked.

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My Life as a Goldfish
Rachel Rooney
Frances Lincoln pbk
This is the second of Rooney’s collections for children and she is the deserved winner of the CLPE Poetry Prize  Every one herein delights in its own way. Playful or thoughtful? Public or private? Long or short? Rhyming or not rhyming? You’ll find them all here whatever your taste. I’d find it very hard if not impossible to pick a favourite, but some I particularly love are Stone the first couplet of which is‘ Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./Sea remembers river’s winding map.’
Wide Open is also wonderful, managing in just 15 lines to capture much of the magnificence of our cosmos through a ‘magic eye’: an unhatched baby bird within its egg, sun, stars and a nameless planet in the galaxy, the vibrating hairs on the belly of an ant and finally, ‘Yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.’ It makes one shiver and shudder inside. As does, for altogether different reasons, Wolf Girl who having lapped up hot pea soup is ‘curled in the lair of her robes,/howls for her brothers prowling the woods below.’
Then there’s two that (with my teacher’s hat on) really made me laugh Mrs Von Hugh – the teacher so fierce she could scare off the flu; and The Problem with Spelling which beautifully and succinctly sums up just that. And there’s the much more serious Liar wherein we are shown the alarming consequences of telling a single lie. It fed in the dark, grew fat on my shame/as I carried it with me. It whispered my name.
A book to draw readers in and then, I’m sure they’ll find themselves trapped within the covers for many hours relishing what they discover. It’s also one to share with a class and I suspect, like mine, your audiences will keep demanding, “Just one more.”

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The King Cat & Mr Mistoffelees

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The King Cat
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
The feline narrator of this story has had things pretty much his own way for a very long time. He does however provide occasional entertainment and regular nocturnal protective duty for his ‘people’ in return for being left to slumber during the daytime, not to mention a little bit of relaxation therapy proffered by human hands. All in all life couldn’t be better for this – in his own words – GOOD, SUPER CUTE king.
Then one morning without so much as a by your leave, everything changes.

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The rules of the kingdom are upheld no longer.

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Time to reinforce the status quo decides our erstwhile domestic king and before long peace and normality are restored. So why does the realm seem so quiet – too quiet perhaps with the old rules back in place.
Oh! what’s that …

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Maybe some negotiation could work after all …
I love the droll illustrations and straightforward manner of telling of this comic tale of domestic rivalry. Indeed it could well be a metaphor for sibling rivalry with the arrival of a new infant in the household. Don’t forget to look closely at the details in fore- and endpapers for the story really begins and ends thereon.

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Mr. Mistoffelees
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber Children’s Books pbk
We’ve already been treated to Arthur Robins’ hilarious illustrative rendition of Macavity; now it’s the turn of the Mr. Mistoffelees the ‘Original Conjuring Cat’ to take centre stage and that is exactly what he does. In close up we view a performance of his confusion-causing illusions,

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of one kind … and another.
This small black feline character takes us through his whole repertoire of sleights of hand and more,

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while deceiving us all that his sole occupation is mouse-hunting . And as for shyness –well that’s what he’d have us believe but

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we know better.
Even I, with my cat allergy and phobia find this Mr M. totally irresistible, which only goes to prove that he truly is, as Arthur Robins has so admirably shown, ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’.

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The five year old maker of this puppet certainly thought so too.

 

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Over the Hills and Far Away

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Over the Hills and Far Away
Collected by Elizabeth Hammill
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This large volume is most definitely a feast for the ears and the eyes. Containing one hundred and fifty nursery rhymes from all over the world, it ranges as far afield as India, the Caribbean, Ghana, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the four countries of the United Kingdom. Among the voices represented are those from the Inuit, Maori, Native American, Latino and African cultures. The rhymes have been selected by Elizabeth Hammill, one of the co-founders of Seven Stories, the UK National Centre for Children’s Books: www.sevenstories.org.uk
Seventy seven artists have contributed, most often a double spread illustrating one or several rhymes, some of which are well known, others may be new discoveries for you as they were for me. The majority of the artists too, are well known names in the picture book world, but again there are some, such as Laurie Stansfield who are new to me. Her illustration of one tune wonder Tom, ‘he was a piper’s son’ playing atop a windy hill beautifully catches the feeling of a blowy day and the boy’s pleasure in making music.

pets 014 (800x600) Another – to me – new name is Allison Francisco, a young native American Tohono O’odham artist whose two illustrations for spirit songs are sheer magic.

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It is impossible to choose  favourite spreads but among mine are Niamh Sharkey’s depictions of Jumping Joan and Janey Mac,

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Pamela Zararnski’s dreamily gorgeous scene ‘Bed is too small for my tiredness

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and Holly Sterling’s tender depiction of father and daughter as he sings her two lullabies, one African American, the other Maori

 

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and, how marvellous to see John Lawrence’s wonderful London woodcuts.

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Really though I could go through the whole book enthusing, for almost every turn of the page is both visual delight and music to the ear.
Truly a fantastic way to introduce young children to the magic of the spoken word and the riches of artists and illustrators from near and far. It would make a wonderful present for any family with young (or not so young) children and I suggest at least one copy for every primary school library and early years setting. If our government really wants to encourage children’s language and literacy development then what better way to start than by giving every new mother this treasure trove of words and pictures. That, and order a daily dose of this book, rather than phonics for every child from four to seven.

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Poetry Potpourri

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A is Amazing
ed. Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books pbk
There is so much variety in this collection of poems loosely about feelings and moods arranged alphabetically. The good thing – or one of them -about this lovely book is that the arrangement does not serve as it straightjacket, rather it is an imaginative way of presenting and organizing an exciting compilation. Thus we have a traditional Polish rhyme FiZzy to represent Z, Lemn Sissay’s rap-style, The Emperor’s Cat is eXtraordinary for X and Puddle-Wonderful for P. (Oops! Why have they used capitals for its author, e e cummings?) There are poems from all over the world and from a wide range of poets (almost another A to Z – anon to Zephaniah) in a range of styles and voices, mostly contemporary –among them Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, and Wendy Cope, but also Keats and Robert Louis Stevenson. I particularly love the opening poem ‘Unfolding Bud’ showing how a poem gradually unfolds the richness at its heart. And richness there is a-plenty between the covers of this book. Assuredly it’s one to return to over and over, to ponder, to laugh (try Michael Rosen’s GHEAUGHTEIGHPTOUGH Spells Potato), to wonder over and to thrill. There’s something for everyone here and for all times. I can see it being oft used in schools but I hope it’s riches are not confined to PSHE sessions; this small treasure trove deserves much wider celebration than that.
The mainly watercolour illustrations complement but never overwhelm the poetry allowing the words to speak for themselves.
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Interestingly one of the contributors to the above has a brand new collection of his own:
I’m a Little Alien
James Carter
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books pbk
Cleverly arranged, the almost fifty poems herein take readers out into space for encounters with robots, aliens, rockets, the moon, stars and planets and back to earth to meet all manner of creatures large and small as well as other representatives of the natural world and much more, from hats and shoes to mums and friends.
A fun-filled little book to have on hand in infant classrooms and at home, for those odd moments when only a poem will do and it’s a great opportunity to begin to listen to the voice of an individual poet.
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So too, though for a slightly older audience, is the first solo collection from performance poet James Coelho
Werewolf Club Rules
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books pbk
Coelho takes the familiar primary school world and turns it into a place to generate a love of language and a delight in words for their own sake as he presents poems centering on teachers and lessons, pupils, parents and the numerous other items and small events that comprise the school day from getting there to going home. A few are very short – just three or four lines, others such as If all the world were paper, considerably longer and one or two such as Weights on a pole need to be seen on the page but I think it fair to say that all are best served by reading them aloud and there’s not a single dud among them.
The sensations brought out by Halloween’s crumble, the stifling of a child’s creativity in An A* from Miss Coo, the sights, sounds and speed of Skateboarding
are just some of the delights to savour in this exciting debut collection. If the poet continues thus, I can envisage his books becoming firm favourites alongside those of Michael Rosen, Kit Wright, Roger McGough, John Agard and Allan Ahlberg.
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Another book that will foster a love of words and language is:

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A is for Awesome
Dallas Clayton
Walker Books
Though not strictly a poetry book this is a rhyming alphabet packed with alliteration and, as the author/artist says, ‘a book about possibilties’. Thus we have for instance:
C is for CONFIDENT, COOL and COLLECTED
D is for DREAMING things never EXPECTED

It’s also about positiveness
G is For GREATNESS You’re Well on Your Way, L is for Living Life up to its fullest,
P is For PASSION PURSUING what’s Right

Others I really like are:
I is IMAGINE IDEAS all your own
K is for KIDS being Kids (that’s the coolest)
Q is For QUIET to Escape From the Madness
R is For READING But Also For Radness
V is For VALUES And Keeping Them True
W is For WISDOM Both Spoken and Written

Many of the items representing each letter not the ordinary, run-of-the-mill objects found in alphabet books, indeed some had me puzzling over them; and there are lots for every letter each depicted in Clayton’s quirky style. This is definitely not a first ABC but one full of talk potential in school or at home.
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Nature Within, Nature Without

A First Book of Nature
Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld
Walker Books pbk
The “Rrrrruurrrrp. Rrrrruuurp. Rrrrruuup.” of frogs in the pond, the making of compost,

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the sunlight shining through the raindrops in spring; the summertime buzzing of bees in the sleepy sunshine and the trickling tide creeping into rockpools; the floating, swirling leaves of autumn and the silver sea of spiderlings;

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the naked winter trees and the show of stars on a cold night: all these and much, much more can be found in this truly stunning, lyrical book. So accurately does it capture the experiences – visual and aural – of a child’s journey through and interactions with  the seasons, be they in the city, countryside or by the sea that it makes the reader – this one certainly – see, hear and smell those experiences too.

Without a sound the flowers call out.
They shout to insects with their colours, …
Just here is where you’ll
Find the nectar.’

Here, Nicola Davies, (also a zoologist) makes us use our ears to experience, what we usually see.

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Mark Hearld uses a variety of materials and techniques in the illustrations making every page a joy to behold. His ‘Nesting’ has real straw pieces both in the beak of the bird and the nest she’s constructing, and the birds’ plumage is made up of a variety of printed papers;

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beautifully child-like in keeping with the book as whole experience and in its seeming simplicity, not unlike things I’ve watched young children create.
So, read the book, buy the book, share the book,

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give the book; do all of these but most importantly, go outside, preferably with children (or as a child) and LOOK, LISTEN and SMELL the natural world in all its glory. DISCOVER ANEW and WONDER …
There’s a veritable goldmine waiting to be found both within these pages and without …

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