PART 5: POETRY TRADITIONAL TALES
This, the final instalment of the Lifeline Library, is in some respects the most important. All too often traditional tales and poetry are used to fill the odd minutes before playtime or dinner, without much thought or any follow-up. This is fine in a way. I am in favour of leaving great works to germinate in the minds of the young, of not questioning or expecting spinoff from every verse or story.
But this does not mean that a good teacher leaves everything to chance, lets the anthology fall open where it will, reads any old story without prior thought. Serendipity can only have a place – occasional, astonishing – in the midst of planning.
Your classes will get more out of traditional tales and poetry if you have chosen what you are going to read, know why you have chosen it, have read it before, and can read it well aloud.
That is why owning collections of Poetry and Traditional Tales, being familiar with their contents, is vital.
Poetry and Traditional Tales have much in common. Both are ancient in lineage; both are delights to the ear: both explore human emotions, often through story. But whereas traditional tales have lived and changed and travelled through place and time, acquiring local variations, different emphases on their journeys, poetry speaks directly to us in a voice that may be either from ages past or of today.
Traditional tales survive because they are about human nature and have much to tell us now about ourselves. Poetry captures the flying thought, the moment’s joy, the vision, and pins it to the page- so that the reader can come along at any time, release it, be illumined by it. The place of both, from the beginning of school to the end, is at the heart of education.
For children, the art of listening to story and poem is vital, for their gift of `creative picturing’ can easily dwindle in the age of television. Traditional tales and poetry are for the ear and the imagination first, the reading eye later on.
I had thought it would be easy to find a welter of delectable collections from which to choose a wide-ranging selection of traditional stories. To my astonishment it was not: many paperback editions (like Raymond Briggs’s Fairy Tale Treasury*) are out of print. Other collections that I had hoped to find (Indian stories for instance) do not exist in paperback. Because I am determined that the selection shall be wide, I am breaking my own rule for your Lifeline Library and including one hardback, Gods and Men (see below).
Gods and Men: Myths and Legends from the World’s Religions
retold by John Bailey, Kenneth McLeish and David Spearman, Oxford, 0 19 278020 4, £5.95
Every teacher today needs a book that explores the stories of dominant and minority cultures in Britain: this one retells creation myths from around the world (Genesis; the Aboriginal ‘Rainbow Snake’, the African ‘Nyame and the Fire Children’), stories of good and evil (the Flood in many forms, Prometheus): stories of heroes and prophets (Rama, Beowulf, Arthur. David). It is unique. If you can possibly afford it you will find it invaluable.
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
ill. George Cruikshank, Puffin, 0 14 03.0052 X, £1.25
It is exceedingly important to read fairy tales aloud from a version that is not just an accompaniment to pretty pictures (the fairy tale picture book has ruined the verbal impact of many a story). This Puffin Grimm, a nineteenth-century translation, is more formal than some modern versions, but good for reading aloud and accompanied by Cruikshank’s famous illustrations that leave the listener’s imagination free.
Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales
ed. Naomi Lewis, Puffin, 0 14 03.0333 2, 95p
Ten of the most famous, best loved Andersen stories (as well-known as any folk tale, yet conceived only in the last century) have been chosen and translated into vivid prose by Naomi Lewis – who adds to them two Andersen tales that are less well-known yet equally deserving of recognition.
*Available in hardback from Hamish Hamilton
A Book of Witches
Ruth Manning-Sanders, Magnet. 041621910 1,95p
Ruth Manning-Sanders is an author whose ‘voice’, when she writes is the voice of an oral storyteller – and whose folk and fairy tales from the world’s vast store are therefore fabulous for reading aloud. This is just one of many volumes – picked for use at Hallowe’en (which comes every year and every year catches us unprepared!).
Listen to this Story: Tales from the West Indies
Grace Hallworth, Magnet, 0 416 58270 2, 55p
Grace Hallworth, a well-known librarian and storyteller from Trinidad, tells ten stories from the West Indies, most of them featuring Anansi, all of them packed full of mischief, cunning, humour and local colour.
In choosing only five poetry paperbacks I have tried to make a statement through them: that poetry is for delight, and that English poetry is a continuing tradition.
This Way Delight
sel. Herbert Read, Faber Fanfare, 0 571 18056 6, £1.50
Herbert Read sensibly places his essay on poetry as an Afterword – where children will read it if they want to. His selection is of poems from the past and present whose authors see clearly, speak precisely, inspire delight. A first rate general anthology.
I Like This Poem
ed. Kaye Webb, Puffin, 0 14 03.1295 1, £1.50
Children do like poems: this amazing collection bears witness to that fact both in the wide selection sent in to Puffin by children (6 to 15) and in the wise, perceptive comments by the children on their favourite poems. This book has probably done more for poetry in schools than any other.
All Sorts of Poems
ed. Ann Thwaite, Magnet, 0 416 89570 0, £1.25
This collection is unusual in that all the poems are modern – written since 1970, few of them well-known. Together they invite the reader to explore familiar territory – snowman, pet-shop, garden, rainy afternoon – in the company of a perceptive, often witty, guide. A treasure trove of living poetry: Roy Fuller, Russell Hoban, Philip Larkin, Brian Lee, Vernon Scannell – but no Ted Hughes.
Charles Causley, Puffin, 0 14 03.1162 9, 75p
It is important, I think, to look in depth at the work of one poet, because only by doing so can you discover the universal significance and power of the single voice singing songs inspired by the life of a circumscribed community. Charles Causley is a Cornishman steeped in the lore of his native land: his poems – lyrical, humorous, wry, absurd – speak to all mankind of human passion, superstition, gaiety, deprivation. A traditional poet with a strong, clear, personal voice.
Mind Your Own Business
Michael Rosen, Lions, 0 00 670959 1, 95p
Not all comment on family life written from the worm’s eye view in jagged lines is poetry! But Michael Rosen in Mind Your Own Business (and Roger McGough who joined forces with Rosen later in You Tell Me for an older audience) have shown that it can be. Humour, day-dreaming, resilience, originality: these attributes of childhood are part of the poet’s vision, too.
Parts 1 (Picture Books), 2 (Learning and Listening 5-7), 3 (First Flings and Classics of Childhood) and 4 (The Novels 8-11) in this series appeared in Books for Keeps 13, 14, 1 5 and 16, respectively. All are available from the SBA, price 85p each including postage.