This is a handsome production which gives each poem space to breathe and speak, which I suppose is one of the things we would hope our families would do for us. Uncluttered and unhurried, with the occasional wry and affectionate comment from Swain’s illustrations, it encourages its readers to enjoy and think about each poem.
Hollyer is keen to stress the diversity of families, whether it’s where they come from, how many parents there may be (from single to step), or what can be expected of life within a family. And this extends to her choice of poets. The dust-jacket picks out those familiar to a UK audience – Causley, Rosen, and McGough – but Hollyer’s trawl is wider, including many from the United States and Australia. Some of the poets are better known for adult work than children’s, and some I don’t know at all. But they are all good, and this shows an anthologist who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and painstaking. These virtues shine through the selection and arrangement of the poems, which view the family and its members from a child’s viewpoint in a variety of moods: looking at the special bond between grandparent and child, the ups and downs of brothers and sisters, the strange behaviour of distant relations, and the place of pets. It also contemplates the difficult to imagine worlds of parents who were once children, and children who will one day be parents.
The collection’s perspective is pre-adolescent. This is a time when, for all the occasional awkwardness, discomfort and pain a child may experience, we can hope that the family provides a haven of love, acceptance and support. The anthology supports that hope. Yet it is neither complacent nor sentimental. Its poems are drawn mainly from recent collections, and, although none of them disturbs the young reader by touching on the serious problems there may be within real families, there is a poignant mood to some of the poems: of love hard won in difficult times, and cherished and celebrated.