BfK’s Poetry 0-13, updating our bestselling Guide of eight years ago, is published in May this year. You’ll find full details on our News page and on the flyer which comes with this issue. Here, though, to give a flavour of what’s on offer, is a selection of notices from the Guide’s reviewing team.
I Saw Esau
Edited by Iona and Peter Opie, ill. Maurice Sendak, Walker, 0 7445 2151 3, £9.99
This version of the Opies’ first book (originally published in 1947) is illustrated with great comic verve by Maurice Sendak, and is full of ‘rhymes that belong to schoolchildren’. As Iona Opie says in the Introduction ‘they pack a punch’. Indeed they do:
‘Oh the grey cat piddled in the white cat’s eye,
The white cat said, “Cor Blimey!”
“I’m sorry, Sir, to piddle in your eye
I didn’t know you was behind me.”’
It seems appropriate that such verse should have headings like ‘Insults’, ‘Teasing’, ‘Nonsense’, ‘Reality’. Child reality? ‘Mother made a seedy cake – / Gave us all the belly ache.’ And it’s revealing to hear how, amongst riotous rudeness, serious lyric can ring more hauntingly:
‘Truth, Truth, nobody’s daughter,
Took off her clothes
And jumped into the water.’
The notes offer some fascinating information, as when the Opies read in the New Yorker a variant of a Warwickshire rhyme they thought obsolete. I Saw Esau is a lovely, funny book.
Michael Rosen’s ABC
Michael Rosen, ill. Bee Willey, Macdonald Young Books, 0 7500 1687 6, £10.99
Charlie Chaplin, Goldilocks, the Gingerbread Man, Humpty Dumpty (who had a headache), Ivan the Terrible, King Kong, the Lady of the Lake, Miss Muffett, Mother Goose, Red Riding Hood and even Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – an unlikely mix if ever there was one – are gathered together in this glorious glut of alliterative nonsense. There are tongue-twisting, vervy variations on original verses such as Yankee Doodle and Jack and Jill. Few will find fault with this fun-packed phantasmagoria which fixes phonology firmly in the forefront of the mind.
Every page is peppered with wondrous words and exciting images whose inspiration is the initial letter featured on each double spread.
Orchard Book of Funny Poems
Compiled by Wendy Cope, ill. Amanda Vesey, Orchard, 1 85213 395 3, £9.99
This anthology contains contemporary poets alongside Keats, Thackeray and Kipling, as well as anonymous poems, all accompanied by colourful and amusing pictures. It displays different types of humour – laughs from nonsense, silly characters, accidents, Kit Wright’s headteacher hiding in the dustbin, Eeyore’s attempt at writing a poem to Christopher Robin that rhymes, and the editor’s own ‘attempt’ at writing one that doesn’t:
‘Writing verse is so much fun,
Cheering as the Summer weather,
Makes you feel alert and bright,
‘Specially when you get it more or less the way you
One in a Million
Chosen by Moira Andrew, Viking, 0 670 84208 7, £7.99; Puffin, 0 14 034936 7, £3.50 pbk
I F I W A S
S Q U A R E
W O U L D Y
O U C O M E
R O U N D T
O S E E M E
Maths can often seem remote from the real world, but Moira Andrew’s collection brings the subject to life with poems about number, shape and pattern, money and shopping, size and comparison, time, days and dates, height, weight and measurement.
Teachers are familiar with using counting rhymes in the classroom and these poems encourage children to think of mathematics as part of both our daily reality and our dreams. An essential for the poetry shelf.
Collected Poems for Children
Charles Causley, ill. John Lawrence, Macmillan, 0 333 62588 9, £15.99
This collection confirms Charles Causley’s place in the canon of children’s poetry. The favourites are all here: ‘I saw a jolly hunter’, ‘What has happened to Lulu?’ ‘Timothy Winters’:
‘comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.’
There are riddles, charms, songs, ballads, stories and spells. Causley interweaves fantasy and reality, traditional and modern themes and is one of the few poets who can create contemporary myths and ballads. These poems demand to be read aloud, to be read quietly to oneself, and to be memorised for pure enjoyment. A book that will delight and absorb children and adults.
James Reeves – Complete Poems for Children
Ill. Edward Ardizzone, Heinemann, 0 434 96917 6, £11.99
James Reeves’s reputation is less than two-thirds of its way through the thirty-year slump which tends to follow the death of a writer, so his verse is easy to underestimate. Often he’s low-key, mannerly and a touch fey with poems like ‘The Grasses’, dating from 1950, reaching back to Stevenson by way of Milne and de la Mare. Consider ‘Little Fan’, though, from the same period:
‘I don’t like the look of little Fan, mother,
I don’t like her looks a little bit.
Her face – well, it’s not exactly different,
But there’s something wrong with it.’
The authentic note of Causley? Later, in his Prefabulous Animile mode, Reeves has a hint of Hughes about him, too – not to mention Dahl and Milligan. Invest in this writer, then. In a decade or so his stock may well rise … not least owing to his association with the glorious line-drawings of Edward Ardizzone.
It’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Edited by Pie Corbett, Blackie, 0 216 94103 2, £8.99; Puffin, 0 14 037180 X, £3.99 pbk
This is great fun – an exuberant celebration of man’s oldest and best friends, combining poems which are funny with poems which are serious, mysterious, inventive and strange, plus one or two longer pieces to add variety. And the index of authors reads like a roll-call of talented writers for children –
Armitage, Berry, Dunmore and Gross,
Sweeney and Harvey and Hurley;
O’Callaghan, Milligan, Gallagher, Mole
Simpson and Rosen and Gurney.
A sure-fire winner with children in junior schools.
Singing Down the Breadfruit
Pauline Stewart, ill. Duncan Smith, Red Fox, 0 09 928821 4, £3.50
‘Duppy live in de sun?
Ghost de a Englan’?
Me no believe ina
neither one a dem!’
Pauline Stewart is a welcome, new voice for children who combines ‘the tropical heat of the Caribbean [with] the fresh spring of an English garden.’ Using free verse and rhyme, writing mostly in standard English, but with a nice line in dialect too, Pauline Stewart provides a delightful mix of everyday life, low key amusements and thoughtful moments. The themes are those of childhood – night terrors, saying goodbye to granny, having a bath, animals, cricket and a sequence of poems reflecting life in the Caribbean. Duncan Smith’s illustrations accompany the poetry well, but I found the cover too full of predictable, almost stereotyped, Caribbean images. A must for every junior classroom.