Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

James Carter: Favourite Children’s Poetry Books

James Carter is the 15th poet in my series of children’s poets asked to choose 5-8 favourite poetry books, one of which had to be his own, and one of which could be an adult collection. James is an award-winning children’s poet, non-fiction and educational writer and INSET provider. He travels all over the UK and abroad with his guitar (that’s Keth) and melodica (that’s Steve) to give very lively.poetry/music performances and workshops. The author of over 16 poetry titles, his poetry/non-fiction picture book, Once Upon A Star (Little Tiger Press) was BooksforKeeps’ Book of the Week March 2018. Spaced Out, an anthology of space poems, edited with Brian Moses, came out earlier this year. James’ website is here.

As 100% of my writing life is spent writing poetry – either as actual poems or non-fiction verse – as a reader I tend to head in other directions, though I often find poetry in the most unexpected places. Such as…

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Best picture book ever. No contest. The writer/illustrator Ian Beck once referred to its ‘strange poetry’ which made me return to it and re-re-re-read this deeply poetic and existential prose. I’m sure the first half of the book ‘The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief…’ has informed every single syllable I’ve written since.

Monkey Do! By Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz

For me, Ahlberg is the godfather of all modern children’s poetry. He is ground zero, The Beatles of children’s verse, and this delight of a poem is soooooo slick, funky, funny, charming and has a real ahhh.. of an ending. My daughter Madeleine would point at the final spread and say ‘That’s me and Mummy.’ Happy 18th, Madeleine!

 

Don’t Put Mustard In The Custard by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake

My eldest daughter Lauren demanded this book be read to her over and over and over and over and over again. It’s easy to see why: no poet writes about childhood with as much charm and insight as Rosen. Nuff said. Fabulously daft too. Blake too brings so much extra mischief and mayhem!

 

Plum by Tony Mitton

Best children’s poetry collection of the last 30 years, this book made me rethink my writing. Exquisitely nostalgia-glazed, this gem never hits a wrong note. This gorgeously crafted lyrical verse is a masterclass in verse for children. Perfectly harmonised by the mighty Peter Bailey’s illustrations. Teachers – get your class performing I Wanna Be A Star and discussing Child Of The Future. Unmissable.

 Orange Silver Sausage by Graham Denton and err me..

Narcissism or too many copies left in the warehouse? I absolutely loved putting this book together with my dear, dear poetry chum, and good egg, Graham Denton. It was my initial idea as I prefer reading free verse to anything else, but Graham brought easily more than 60% of the poems to the table. More than anything, a poem for me has to be a) uber-tight and b) actually say something new,  and every poem in here really delivers. Am I allowed to say it’s my favourite anthology ever as it has such glorious free verse poems from the likes of Carol Ann Duffy, Mary Oliver, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard – but nothing sadly by the bespectacled bard of Luton…?

Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley and Neal Layton

As a reader, comic verse is not my thing at all. BUT John Hegley is the one exception. He has to be the finest comic poet this country has ever produced. A true original. Genuinely LOL. Been to probably 15 of his gigs from 1985 onwards, and this picture book – an ode to the playful creativity of childhood – is perfectly brought to life by the wonder that is Neal Layton. Every EY/KS1 class should have one.

 3 Doz Poems, read/edited by Garrison Keillor

No, it’s not a book. It’s a CD. Everyone should have this in their car / on their iPod / phone / whatever as arguably no-one reads poetry with as much grace and majesty as GK. It’s a brilliant selection of verse too, from Lewis Carroll to Mary Oliver to the greatest living poet, Billy Collins.

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes by Billy Collins

PLEASE don’t be put off by the title. It’s not whatever it may sound like. It’s the finest ‘best of’ by arguably the planet’s finest living poet – wise, erudite, clever and deliciously witty. Trust me – you will buy multiple copies for friends when you read it…

James Carter

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Tony Mitton: Favourite Children’s Poetry Books

Tony Mitton is without doubt one of the best poets writing today for children – his Plum, one of my favourite children’s poetry books, has featured on many of the favourite poetry lists here! Tony was born in Tripoli, South Africa, and lived in North Africa, Germany and Hong Kong as a child as his father was in the British Army. He went to Cambridge, became a primary school teacher and then a Special Needs Support Teacher for primary children in Cambridge. Apart from Plum, his children’s poetry books include my favourite Come into This Poem (atmospheric, full of word play and fun). One of his latest books is a rhyming picture book called Snow Penguin – perfect for Christmas! Tony’s website is here.

Some of my favourite children’s poetry books

Hello there. I’ve taken ‘favourite’ to mean most influential and formative. In my opinion, these are some of the books that most formed my sense of what poetry for children might be. Really, they’re all ‘classics’ now. And to some people they may read as a bit ‘old fashioned’, traditional, if you like. But I believe all the writers and the writing in them achieve excellence. The work is finely crafted and the inner ears of the poets are really well tuned to the sounds of the words, of the language. Some of the editions as pictured may no longer be in print. But most of these books will be available either in newer editions or on 2nd hand websites like Abe Books. Here they are in roughly chronological order, though there’s quite a lot of overlapping in terms of time.

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson:

This is one of the first ‘great’ collections of poems for children published in English. It was first published in 1896. Considering that, the writing is amazingly modern in tone. This is the same Stevenson who wrote ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. The poems in ‘A Child’s Garden’ show how exactly Stevenson remembers his own ‘child’s mind’. In the poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ he takes me back to my own childhood where I played exactly the same kind of game on my bed, using it to arrange my toy soldiers and farm animals. His lyricism in these poems is deftly tuned. ‘Windy Nights’ appears in many anthologies.

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare:

This book of poems for children was first published in 1913, but the versions I’ve read have been mostly the 1946 onwards editions with illustrations by one of my favourite illustrators, Edward Ardizzone (the man who later wrote and illustrated the Little Tim books). De La Mare is probably best remembered for his exquisite poem ‘The Listeners’ which many people of my generation recall learning by heart at school in the 1950s and 1960s. Peacock Pie, like Stevenson’s poems (see above) tunes into the mind of a young child, or addresses that mind directly in playful, entertaining ways. Both de la Mare and Stevenson, in my view, strongly influenced the later writers in my list here.

Blackbird Has Spoken by Eleanor Farjeon:

Yes, she wrote the words to that primary school hymn that so many of us sung in assemblies from the 60s onwards. One of my favourite looser-rhythmed children’s poems is her ‘It Was Long Ago’ in which an old woman recalls a very early childhood memory, such as many of us must have. It’s such a poignant poem, strangely full of the mystery of our consciousness, experience and memory, and yet it’s so simply and beautifully put, so gently rendered. Like the two collections above, it’s a little old-fashioned now to many younger readers. And yet it has such strength, such lyrical power. You’ll find some lovely poems if you go hunting in this book. And yes, she wrote ‘Do You Know The Muffin Man?’

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne: I can’t find my copy of ‘When We Were Very Young’, also by Milne. For me the two books are like two volumes of one book and I muddle up which poems come from which book. Milne is most famous as the author and creator of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ that well-known bear. This book is also a piece of the past, where middle class children have nannies and cooks in their homes. But the poems themselves are all gems. Milne, like my other ‘classic’ children’s poets is so expressive when he adopts the voice of his inner child. He’s so convincing. He’s a brilliant lyricist and wields rhythms and rhymes with artistry. And if you want to see illustration at its finest look at the pictures (‘decorations’!) by Ernest H. Shepard, who also defined the looks of Winnie the Pooh and friends for us. Get both of these books and read them if you haven’t already. ‘When We Were Very Young’ is full of golden oldies. ‘Now We Are Six’ is packed with great lyrical writing and very witty too.

Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves:

Not quite as famous as the 3 poets above, James Reeves is just as good and it’s sometimes easy to mistake some of his poems for poems by de la Mare (above) or Charles Causley (below). I’m sure Causley must have read James Reeves to his primary classes in Launceston, Cornwall, at the primary school there. There is a very possible influence on Causley from Reeves, I think, though I’ve no proof. To get a sense of what a master of figurative writing he is, what a magician with rhythm, rhyme, sonorous texture and metaphor, read ‘The Sea’, which starts, ‘The sea is a hungry dog, / Giant and grey.’ My edition of 1994 is a reprint of the 1973 with lovely illustrations by (yes!) Edward Ardizzone (how apt) who also illustrated de la Mare (above). Ardizzone’s work has a rougher texture and line to Shepard’s (of the Milne books). But he’s just as expressive in his own way and responds wonderfully to the heart of the poems. As to Reeves himself, try ‘Stocking and Shirt’ on page 51, for an example of how witty and exact his writing is. It’s like watching Fred Astaire dance. Reeves seems forgotten now, but he’s one of our very best.

A Puffin Quartet of Poets chosen by Eleanor Graham: Here, for Puffin, in 1958, Eleanor Graham created one of the best books of poetry for children ever printed, in my view. I can’t quite call it an anthology, as there are only 4 poets represented. So it’s a kind of sampler for these 4 poets : Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves (both represented above), E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. The latter two poets show themselves to be as strong in their verse writing for children as the former two, now better remembered. Try ‘Sir Smasham Uppe’ by Rieu, and Serraillier’s ‘The Tickle Rhyme’, both often featured in anthologies. This book was on my classroom shelf when I was a class teacher in primary in the 1970s and 1980s.

Collected Poems for Children: Charles Causley (illustrated by John Lawrence)

Well, I shook his hand once and had a brief chat. Later we swapped a couple of letters and cards. I sent him my ‘Big Bad Raps’ (my first verse book for children) about which he was very courteous and complimentary. Causley was the poet who most ‘got me writing’ for children. After half a lifetime of writing as an unpublished ‘adult’ poet, while teaching in primary schools and reading lots of children’s fiction and poetry to my pupils, reading Causley made me realise what and who-for I should be writing. It’s like his writing style gave me permission to write like that when I’d always assumed it was an outmoded voice. The book of my own here (below), Plum, was, in my view, very much inspired by all of the books above, but somehow released by reading Causley’s ‘Figgie Hobbin’ and the other books that followed (most or all of which are contained in this Causley Collected). A lot of Causley’s work is a blend of traditional lyricism and ballad. He manages metre and rhyme adroitly, allowing a slightly conversational ease into those essentially tight forms. His writing for children has a strong adult appeal, also, particularly where he deals with poignancy and the past. ‘My Mother Saw a Dancing Bear’ is an achingly sad poem, about suffering and cruelty to animals, not intended yet inflicted on them. Yet, more playfully, see ‘Colonel Fazackerley’. Could he perhaps be a near relative to E.V.Rieu’s ‘Sir Smasham Uppe’? (above). I wonder if Mr Causley had Eleanor Graham’s book on HIS classroom shelf?

By the way, John Lawrence, Causley’s illustrator here, is the John Lawrence who also later illustrated my verse retelling of Wayland, which won the Clippa Award some few years ago.

Plum by Tony Mitton: I was asked to include one of my own poetry collections in this list, so I choose this one, as it was my first collection of poems for children, published in 1998, just over 20 years ago. In this book, with my editor David Fickling, I tried to compile a choice of my then ‘best’ work across a wide range. Poems long, short, traditional, contemporary, serious, funny, silly and sad. Some lyric, some narrative. Showcasing, at the time, the kinds of writing I was mostly doing for children. It’s still in print today, kept alive by Frances Lincoln, which is nice. I’ve done many other things since. But it’s still the one I’d save if I had to choose just one… I think.

Well, there’s my list. If you read all that you’ll have a very strong sense of where for me English language poetry for children comes from. And what my strongest early influences were. All the poets there are now dead, except me….. so far. 😉 It’s a very English, UK based list, I know. From the 1980s I began to know the Caribbean poets, of whom John Agard, Grace Nichols and Valerie Bloom were particularly enticing voices. And from America there was the irresistible Shel Silverstein (‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ et al). But those, and others, came later for me. These above were my early and first loves, and strongest, I think, influences on my own writing from the world of poetry for children.

Tony Mitton

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Colin West: Favourite Children’s Poetry

When my children were small they loved the absurdity of Colin West’s poems, and the words in his picture books, and the illustrations for both. In fact, we still have them, we kept all our favourites. Colin studied Graphic Design and Illustration at various art colleges. His first book, a slim volume of nonsense verse, Out of the Blue from Nowhere, was published by Dennis Dobson in 1976 – I am the proud owner of one of these! He went on to write and illustrate some sixty children’s books, and now lives in Sussex and writes and draws for his own amusement, mainly. However, he has published two rather wonderful recent collections The Funniest Stuff and Bonkers Ballads, both of which are stuffed with Colin’s delightful, witty poems and charming colour illustrations.

Thanks Liz, for inviting me to write a little about some of my favourite poetry books for children. I had to leave out so many! But here goes with some real faves …

Custard and Co (Kestrel, 1979)

Hooray for the editor who brought together Ogden Nash and Quentin Blake for this joyful book in 1979. Rarely has such a witty poet been served by such a witty illustrator (or vice versa).

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls (William Collins, 1964)

This anthology (along with its three companion volumes) was a great inspiration to me back in the 1970s. Tomi Ungerer’s lively illustrations bring to vivid life many old and at-the-time-new poems. Cole was a great champion of Shel Silverstein and did much to popularise comic and also “serious” verse.

Stuff and Nonsense (Faber, 1927)

First published in 1927, then reissued with new illustrations by Margaret Wolpe, this book represents Walter de la Mare at his most playful. Words tumble, ever poetic, from his fertile imagination. Not one for avoiding “difficult” words, or even creating his own if they sound right — a stone is described as corusking in a ring — anyone heard of that word?!

Silly Verse for Kids (Dennis Dobson, 1959)

Being born in 1951, I was the perfect age for this book, which was quite unlike else published at the time. Unfortunately, no one bought it for me! Of course, I caught up with it later. The illustrations are far from slick, but no Royal Academician could better them. I  could use all the usual words to describe Spike — madcap, zany, anarchic etc., but in the end, Milligan is Milligan is Milligan, and we are all thankful for that.

Rhymes Without Reason (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1944)

Throughout his life Mervyn Peake wrote nonsense verse (he once said Nonsense is not the opposite of Sense, Nonsense is not the opposite of anything) and in this book he used his considerable painterly skills to illustrate these poems.  Wistful, sad, funny, nonsensical, lyrical — all the things one would expect of Peake.

Alphabicycle Order (Ondt & Gracehopper, 2001)

Christopher Reid’s little gem was published in a limited edition in 2001. Delightful wordplay reaches new heights here and it is accompanied by Sara Fanelli’s charmingly surreal illustrations. So refreshing to see something like this published in this century. (They also collaborated earlier in 1999, in  All Sorts, which is more easily available.)

Ann of Highwood Hall (Cassell, 1964)

Anyone who knows me knows I love the work of Edward Ardizzone, who in his time illustrated much poetry, and here he graces a collection by Robert Graves, whose verses have a timeless quality. The title poem concerns a young girl who escapes domestic violence and lives semi-ghostlike in a grand house. It’s eerie and sad, and perfectly pictured by Ardizzone.

Never Nudge a Budgie (Walker Books, 2015)

I assembled a book of my own poems in 2001, The Big Book of Nonsense, (Random House) and always hoped for a paperback edition. I produced a cut-down version of it with new illustrations, added some new rhymes and Walkers published it in paperback. Some of the poems still make me laugh!

Colin West

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Shauna Darling Robertson: Favourite Children’s Poetry

Shauna Darling Robertson is 12th in my series of children’s poets asked to give a selection of their favourite children’s poetry books. Every poet is allowed 5-8 choices, one of which can be a book of poetry for adults, and one of which has to be their own. Shauna lives in Somerset. Her poems for adults and children have been set to music, performed by actors, displayed on buses, turned into short films, made into comic art, hung on a pub wall and published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Shauna also makes artwork and loves working with other writers, artists, musicians and film-makers to explore and play with poetry in different ways. Her website is here.

I usually try to side-step favourites questions because I find it really hard to narrow things down. So let’s just say that these books are a few, but by no means all, of my favourites. (I’ve deliberately left out books by my poet friends, otherwise things could get a tad awkward – like, Hey, how come you put their book on your list and not mine?).

The Book of Clouds by Juris Kronbergs, illustrator Anete Melece, translators Mara Rozīte and Richard O’Brien (The Emma Press)

This is a gorgeously quirky book with wonderful artwork. Translated from the original Latvian, it’s philosophical, playful and refreshingly original. These poems suggest that clouds have quite a lot in common with us humans and our thoughts and feelings. Then again, sometimes clouds are “summoned to discuss / things that have nothing to do with us.” Quite right too.

A Book of Nonsense by Mervyn Peake (Peter Owen)

Mervyn Peake had an extraordinary imagination, which he expressed in poems, stories, novels and illustrations. I love this collection because it’s both hilarious and deeply thought provoking. It’s also packed with absurd characters and bizarre scenarios, from aunts who live on moss to toast that’s far too full of bread.

New & Collected Poems for Children by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber)

I’ve always loved Carol Ann Duffy’s poems for adults but it was a while before I discovered her children’s poems. When I did, it was a revelation. These poems are complex and varied and intelligent and spirited and musical and touching and technically excellent and they gave me permission to try to write the kinds of poems for children I really wanted to write, the kind that don’t talk down to anyone and instead consider children as the sharp thinkers and deep feelers they are.

A Children’s Treasury of Milligan: Classic Stories and Poems by Spike Milligan (Virgin Books)

Spike’s a master at writing poems which, on the surface, seem light and funny, but dig deeper and there are some complex observations and ideas there. He’s also rebel and questions things that need to be questioned – but in a gentle way, not aggressively. And, while he’s famous for his zany humour, some of his writing is incredibly sad and tender too.

Everything On It: Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein (Particular Books)

I would love to have met Shel, but sadly he’s no longer with us. He strikes me as an adult who could think like a child. Not childish, but child-like. He really knew how to inhabit a child’s perspective.  His poems are boundlessly playful and I love the way he combines them with his own artwork so that they dance a dance together in tandem, rather than starting with a poem and then illustrating it.

Just one favourite poetry book for adults to choose? Oh boy, now that’s tough. There are so many, but I’m going to go with…

Velocities by Stephen Dobyns (Penguin)

I love, love, love the American poet Stephen Dobyns but not many people in the UK know him so I’m on a one-woman mission to change that! When I do poetry performances I often read out one of his poems. This book includes one of my all-time favourites, called How To Like It. It’s about getting older and dealing with life’s changes and longings, and it had such a big impact on me that I copied the whole thing out (it’s quite long) in marker pen across my kitchen wall where it stayed for several years (it was a permanent marker). I loved having it up there because it became a real talking point every time friends came over (or the plumber).

And one of my own – well that’s easy since right now I only have one book of children’s poems (though I’m working on the second).

Saturdays at the Imaginarium by Shauna Darling Robertson (Troika)

My first book of poems for children will be published in spring/summer 2020. The writer Mark Twain said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” That’s kind of the focus of the book. It’s about championing the imagination, celebrating creative thinking, saying yes to curiosity (which I don’t believe kills cats) and revelling in the pleasure of looking at things ever so slightly slant. It’s also about daring to think for yourself – even if that means standing out from the crowd and feeling a bit different.

Shauna Darling Robertson

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Philip Gross: Favourite Poetry Books

Number 11 in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is award winning poet, Philip Gross. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. The first book I read of Philip’s was Manifold Manor and I became an instant fan. Until recently he was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. He is a Quaker, and that special relationship between words and silence informs much of what he writes; poetry for adults and for children. Off Road To Everywhere, illustrated by Jonathan Gross, was the winner of the CLiPPA (CLPE) poetry award 2011. His new book, Dark Sky Park, Poems from the Edge of Nature illustrated by Jesse Hodgson (Otter-Barry) is available here, and was also shortlisted for a CLiPPA  2019. His website is here.

This selection comes from the particular angle that is me. I guess everything here is a crossing point on the (supposed) border between children’s and adult poetry.

Charles Causley, Figgie Hobbin (1970)

This was the book that made it possible for me to write poetry for young people. Causley was a poet who wrote adult poems that could be intriguing to young people in the way that folk tales are… and, in this book, children’s poems that make adults stop and think –  deceptively easy to read, with a strangeness that lasts. 

T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)

I’m not worried that much of the world these poems have such fun with is far away back in another century. Even writing from ten years ago is ancient history when you’re nine years old. What matters is the irresistible larkiness of the language, that makes yoy feel part of its world by sheer rhythms and richness of words. 

Helen Dunmore, Secrets (1994)

Such is the sadly late Helen Dunmore’s reputation as a novelist for adults and children, and as an adult poet, that it’s easy to overlook this slim, superb and subtle contribution to children’s poetry. It seems even more valuable now in this extraverted age as a reminder that young people have a right to rich interior lives.

Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, The Rattle Bag (1982)

The radical thing about this anthology, compiled by two great poets, was that it has no apparent order, no mission to instruct us or promote a particular style. They simply chose their favourite poems, mixed them up together and opened the doors to people of all ages, saying, Poetry is all of this, and more. Welcome in. 

Philip Gross, Manifold Manor (1989)

Some books come as a surprise even to their own writer, with the feeling that they’ve stumbled into an unsuspected small world and are simply discovering it. This was one of those. Incidentally it is a set of writing prompts and models, an invitation to join in, and a celebration of how our imaginations are haunted by real history. 

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Matt Goodfellow: My Favourite Poetry Books

Tenth in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is Matt Goodfellow. One of my favourite writing companions, Matt and I have written two books together, with Roger Stevens. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. Matt is a poet and National Poetry Day Ambassador. His most recent collections are The Same Inside (Macmillan 2018), and Be the Change, Poems to Help You Save the World, written with me and Roger Stevens. His solo collection is Chicken on the Roof  illustrated by Hanna Asen (Otter Barry 2018). He visits schools, libraries and festivals to deliver high-energy, fun-filled poetry performances and workshops. Matt’s website is here.

Some of Matt’s Favourite Children’s Poetry Books:

Wallpapering the Cat by Jan Dean (Macmillan). Jan is a stupendously brilliant writer, up there with the very, very best. Funny, clever, thoughtful, playful, weird and honest, this is a collection that showcases her poetic talents. Seek it out – and anything else she has ever written.

Evidence of Elephants by Gerard Benson (Viking). This book contains one of my all-time favourite poems, ‘River Song’ – you can find footage of Gerard reading it aloud in his fabulous voice here. By all accounts a brilliant story-teller, actor and all-round good egg, as well as poet, it is a big sadness of mine that I’ll never get to meet the great man.

Snollygoster and other poems by Helen Dunmore (Scholastic). Helen Dunmore’s death was a huge loss for poetry. I first started reading her poems when I was just starting to dabble with writing my own – and this book was one I read over and over again. She was a beautifully gifted writer.

I Had a Little Cat by Charles Causley (Macmillan). Causley wrote so many brilliant poems over the course of his career and this book has got them all! Not really much more to say other than if you are interested in poetry for children, this is one of the important foundation stones you must have in your collection.

If You Could See Laughter (Salt). I love this book. Mandy has such an interestingly elegant way with words and a unique viewpoint on the world. It was immediately clear to me when I first read this book that here was somebody with a special talent. Having met her quite a few times, I can also confirm she is as splendid a person as she is a writer!

Plum by Tony Mitton (Barn Owl Books). To put it simply, I think Tony Mitton is a genius. I recommend you read anything that has his name on it!

Black Country by Liz Berry (Chatto & Windus). This book, written for adults, was recommended to me by my good friend, poet Dom Conlon. Dom has excellent taste and the second I dipped my toe into this rich collection I knew I was going to love it.

Chicken on the Roof by Matt Goodfellow (Otter Barry). I s’pose I better also recommend one by me! This is my most recent solo collection. I hope on reading it you’d find simplicity, depth, sadness, silliness, laughter, warmth and love. Lofty ambitions, eh?

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Justin Coe: Favourite Poetry Books

Justin Coe is not only a lovely chap, he is a poet, writer and spoken word theatre creator, specialising in work for young audiences. He has taken his act all over the world, including to a sitting room made entirely out of newspaper. He’s the author of  The Dictionary of Dads illustrated by Steve Wells (Otter-Barry Books, published May 2017). 

Justin Coe – My Favourite Books

Daft as a Doughnut by Adrian Mitchell (Orchard Books). I fell in love with Adrian Mitchell when I read his poem “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people”.  His children’s poetry is full of gentleness and joy. I often take this book on my travels to schools, sometimes I just need to wrap my hands around a piece of Adrian Mitchell’s heart!

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (Bloomsbury).  A story about a boy who is initially confused by poetry, but when he begins to write about his relationship with his dog, he discovers a whole new way of expressing his feelings.  This book introduced me to verse novels, but to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever read one as simple and as satisfying as this.

On My Way to School I Saw A Dinosaur by Roger Stevens (A&C Black). This is a funny and poignant book of poems aimed at young readers, loosely following a child through their year at school in Frog Class. I’m a big fan of Roger Stevens’ work for children.

I like This Poem edited by Kaye Webb (Puffin). Not being a prolific reader as a child, I was quietly devastated to receive this poetry anthology as a Christmas present. I would much rather my Aunty had given me a fun pack of Curly Wurlys. However, even then I found something to enjoy… in particular “From a Railway Carriage” by Robert Louis Stevenson. 40 years later, I still own this book, so it’s certainly lasted longer than the chocolate would have.  (Today’s Aunties take note though, for the contemporary “Justin”, how about I Don’t Like Poetry by Joshua Seigal instead?)

A Kid in my Class by Rachel Rooney (Otter-Barry) My daughter is 11 and, like me at her age, not a great fan of reading. But when I introduced her to Kid in My Class, she loved it. With a poem for every member of the class (including the hamster), this is an easy to grasp concept that will encourage more children to the world of poetry. I get the same thrill reading Rachel Rooney as I do when I listen to Suzanne Vega’s songs, both have a pinpoint poetic precision I really admire.

For the adult bookA Lover Sings, Selected Lyrics, Billy Bragg. (Faber and Faber). Performers like Attila The Stockbroker, Benjamin Zephaniah and John Hegley re-ignited my passion for poetry that had very nearly died an analysing death in the classroom. But, before I discovered these guys, there was Billy Bragg. These days, I enjoy all sorts of poems. but no words have had a bigger impact on me than those of the Bard of Barking.

I had already been performing for twenty years before The Dictionary of Dads (Otter-Barry ) an A – Z of different Dad characters, was published, so I’m delighted it’s now on its second print and doing well. I’m looking forward to the seeing the sequel The Magic of Mums which is out in February next year.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Pie Corbett: Favourite Poetry Books

Seventh in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is Pie Corbett. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. Pie is an English educational trainer, writer, author, anthologist and poet who has written over two hundred books. He is now best known for creating Talk for Writing which is a teaching programme that supports children as storytellers and writers. Pie is a wonderful and dedicated supporter of children’s writing and children’s poets.

Favourite Poetry books

The Magic Box by Kit Wright brings together all of his beautifully crafted poems for children. He is just at home being funny as he is when dealing with deeper emotions. It contains his classic poem ‘The Magic Box’ which always works as a catalyst for children’s writing. A must for every Key Stage 2 classroom.

Manifold Manor by Philip Gross is one of the finest poetry books written for children in the last 50 years. Each poem is a game and invites children into writing. Wonderfully crafted and richly imagined. Enter the Manor and play.

Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes is an anthology of poems with extensive notes about teaching writing. As a teacher, this book helped me to understand how to teach children to closely observe the truth of experience and use words to capture and preserve their lives. Read this alongside his powerful Collected Poems for Children.

Collected Poems for Children by Charles Causley is rich with wonderful pickings. No one else writes quite like Causley, the master balladeer whose poems sound as if they are ancient folk songs sprung his own mythical world.

England – poems from a school edited by Kate Clanchy contains poems by secondary children from one school in a ‘challenging’ area. It shows just what should be bread and butter in every English department. This is the real thing – beautifully evocative poetry and should inspire every teacher.

Evidence of Dragons contains my own poems, many of which arose from writing with, alongside and for children. I hope that any teacher could take this book and find poetic ideas to use as a springboard into children’s own poetic responses.

The Mersey Sound has poems by Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough being playful, political and romantic. It was the book that first gave me the idea that I could write. It is of its time but I am grateful to the poems for helping me begin to find my own writing voice.

© Pie Corbett 2019

 

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Liz Brownlee: Favourite Poetry Books

 

Sixth in the series where I ask people to choose their favourite poetry books. I realised last week that I have a list of poets to ask, but I am not on it. So I have added myself, today! Like everyone else, I can choose 5-8 books, one of which can be an adult collection, one of which must be my own. I may cheat. It’s easier for me than everyone else. 

Here are my choices! These are my sticky poetry books. The ones that have have poetry glue in their pages that keep me reading. The ones I go back to again and again. At least, some of them, the ones not by my close poetry friends whose books are impossible for me to choose between!

One. This is the oldest! The Birds and the Beasts Were There, Animal Poems Selected by William Cole, 1963, The World Publishing Company. William Cole was an American poet and anthologist. The illustrations are fabulous wood cuts by Helen Siegl. The poems have great variety, many I had not heard before, lots to love in here, by poets such as E. V. Rieu. The whole book is delightful.

Two. My second choice is the next oldest; the first book of poems and illustrations by Colin West, Out of the Blue From Nowhere, 1976, Dobson Books Ltd. I don’t think there is another edition of this, so feel very blessed to have this book. I suspect that publishers immediately realised his talent for charming absurdity and humour in both words and illustrations and snapped him up immediately. These are no early, naive beginnings. Colin West clearly sprang out of the blue from nowhere himself and has remained somewhere ever since. Still producing wonderfulness which you can enjoy on Twitter.

Three. In 1999 I went to Canada for a couple of months while my husband was editing a film about grizzly bears, in the mountains. We were in the mountains, as well as the grizzly bears for 6 weeks but then we went to Vancouver for a holiday. I was taken to Vancouver children’s books store. It had an excellent collection of children’s books, and this was one of them. Here I learned to love Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems, and her choices for this collection. The voices in this book are so redolent with the language and culture of the poets, it’s like stepping into a new world and life with each poem. Up with the best, ever. This Same Sky, A collection of Poems from Around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, 1992, Aladdin Paperbacks.

Four. Gerard Benson. An actor, speech lecturer at the Central School for Speech and Drama, Barrow Poet, Quaker… and as I knew him, children’s poet. We met more than yearly for many years for a week’s poetry retreat in the country. Gerard’s poems are perfect. They speak plainly but sing, and every one is rounded for me with his rich and resonant voice. Thank goodness he is still here, in these books. Evidence of Elephants, Poems by Gerard Benson, 1995, Viking.

Five. Tony Mitton. Tony’s poems are a dreamy journey that surround you with a story and bring you along, much like the title of this lovely book. Atmospheric and full of word play and fun. Come into this Poem, Poems by Tony Mitton, 2011, Otter-Barry.

Six. I’m not sure if this book is for adults or children, but it is certainly accessible to both, which I like. The title of this book is the title of my all-time favourite poem – Overheard on a Saltmarsh by Harold Munro. Read as a child, it sent goosebumps up my arms then and still does – and I still don’t really know why. The strangeness of the situation, the speakers, the desire, the danger, the atmosphere? It is a poem that does not leave you. A poem I’m sure every poet would like to write. Overheard on a Saltmarsh, Poets’ Favourite Poems, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, 2003, Picador.

Seven. My last choice of other people’s books. This book is also American but is my favourite anthology of all time. These poems are delicious. The illustrations are perfect, hard to achieve with poetry. They fill each page with excitement, delicacy, place, life and the character of each animal, whilst still leaving space for and enhancing the poems. This is my PERFECT anthology. The Beauty of the Beast, Poems from the Animal Kingdom, selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So, Alfred A Knopf. 

Eight. Serendipitously, today I received my latest book. This is my heart book, the book I’ve always wanted to do. Be the Change, Poems to Help you Save the World, Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow, Roger Stevens, Macmillan. Sustainability poems, with ‘how to help’ tips for young people to feel empowered. It’s out on September 5th.

That’s my lot! There are so many more… but they’ll have to wait until next time. Perhaps a series of choices on particular subjects?

Liz

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Brian Moses’ Favourite Poetry Books

Fifth in the series where I ask children’s poets for their favourite poetry books! They can choose 5-8 books, one of which can be an adult collection, one of which must be their own. This week it’s thank you to wonderful, percussionist and poet and big supporter of all children’s poets and poetry, Brian Moses. Brian published my first ever poem.

A Desert Island Discs invitation from Liz Brownlee but children’s poetry books, not discs. Where to begin? What to select from the vast collection I’ve built up over the years. Well, this is how it stands at the moment.

Late Home by Brian Lee (Kestrel Books imprint of Penguin in 1976)… It’s an evocation of childhood, the sort of childhood that I had. The title poem looks at how time flies when you’re deeply involved in some childhood activity and then suddenly, you’re late, two hours late home.

I wondered just what had happened

To Time, for three hours in June:

If all my life is as happy –

Will it all be over as soon?

Walking On Air by Berlie Doherty (Lions Poetry, 1993) Berlie’s first (& only I think) collection of poetry and like Brian Lee’s book, it looks at childhood. Some classic first lines ‘Playgrounds are such gobby places’, ‘I went to school a day too soon.’ ‘Fishes are stars’. These are lines that intrigue and the poems that follow are wonderful observations. No filler here! A gem of a book.

Please Mrs Butler by Alan Ahlberg (Puffin 1983) Should be required reading for anyone starting to write poetry. The poems are a master class in how to use rhyme effectively & unexpectedly. ‘Dog in the Playground’ is a perfect read aloud.

The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East. selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, (Aladdin paperbacks, 1998). Couldn’t put it better than Karen Hesse in her introduction: ‘Under the ancient cadences, under the vibrant imagery lies a contemporary tension that flashes to the surface, bringing a strong, Middle Eastern light to shine upon the rubble wrought by today’s conflicts.” One I return to again and again.

Rabbiting On by Kit Wright (Lions, 1978). One of the first poetry books I used in the classroom. ‘Dad, the Cat & the Tree’ & ‘The Party’ (Dave Dirt’s poem) were requested over and over again.

Morning Break & Other Poems by Wes Magee (Cambridge University Press, 1989). Pie Corbett and I were big fans of Wes’s adult poetry collections and were excited when his first two collections for children were published. This is the one for older readers. Some wonderfully spooky stuff and also more sensitive material such as ‘Until Gran Died’ and ‘Tracey’s Tree’.

The Journal of Danny Chaucer (Poet) by Roger Stevens (Dolphin Paperbacks 2002). Must have been one of the first verse novels for children/young adults. Danny’s dreams of girls, guitars and rock ’n’ roll. Was also a radio play for BBC Radio 4 I believe. Great fun.

I was going to choose If I Were In Charge of the World by Judith Viorst too, but Eric Ode bagged that one first.

And I’m supposed to mention one of mine. Think it has to be Lost MagicThe poems that I consider to be the best ones I’ve written over the past 25 years. Published by Macmillan 2016. Believe in what you write, it’s advice I’m always handing out.

Thanks Liz, for making me think.

Brian Moses

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Eric Ode; My Favourite Poetry Books

Today is the fourth in the series where I ask children’s poets what their favourite poetry books are – they choose 5-8 books, one of their own, and they can if they wish choose a book of poems for adults, too. A big British welcome to Eric Ode, American poet and musician and a lovely person as well. 

List some of my favorite (or “favourite”) poetry books? What a fun invitation! Thanks so much, Liz. As Sue Hardy-Dawson did last week, I’m also going to shy away from including any collections from poet friends. Once you start, where do you stop?

1) Small Poems by Valerie Worth is easily my first choice. These are poems I love sharing with students. The observations enter the room quietly. The metaphors are flawless, unexpected, and always good for “Of course!” moments.

2) Is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson too obvious? Well, so be it. I still remember my mother reading from this collection to me. Poems about haylofts and swings and little toy sailboats written with perfect meter, perfect rhyme, and always with a child’s heart.

3) Sing a Song of Popcorn, selected by Mary Michaels White, Eva Moore, Beatrice Schenk De Regniers, and Jan Carr is a beautiful, wide-ranging anthology. The poems are grouped by theme, each section wonderfully illustrated by such notables as Marcia Brown, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel.

I first came upon this collection while teaching elementary school. My copy is dog-eared and page-worn.

4) Judith Viorst’s If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries is a slim collection packed with the sly wit and heartstrings-tugging thoughts for which Viorst is so well known. An especially fun collection for that ages 8 to 11 group.

5) And I suppose Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends is another obvious choice (at least on this side of the pond), but can it be topped? From the opening “Invitation” to the closing “The Search,” I’ve always appreciated how Silverstein could move from the goofiest of themes to the most tender while never letting his collections lose cohesion.

6) The truth is, I don’t often read poetry written for adults. I’ll pick up a collection with optimistic energy from time to time only to wind up feeling beaten and frustrated—like a poet imposter—as I realize I am missing too much of what the poet is sharing. (That says far more about me than the poets, by the way.) And so I am thankful for poets like Billy Collins and titles like Sailing Alone Around the Room, a collection written with the inviting, conversational language that has me curling up into the pages.

7) And I still need to choose one of my own? Then let’s go with my newest collection, Otters, Snails and Tadpole Tails, published by Kane Miller Books and beautifully illustrated by Ruth Harper. I love a walk in a healthy wetland ecosystem and hope this collection helps others find magic there as well.

Peace and joy,

Eric Ode

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Sue Hardy-Dawson; My Favourite Poetry Books

My Favourite Books of Poems

Here is the third in a series where I ask children’s poets what their favourite poetry books are – they must choose 5-8 books, one of their own, and they can if they wish choose a book of poems for adults, too. Welcome this week to lovely Sue Hardy-Dawson!

My house is full of books, far more than my long suffering family think anyone should have. Of those I suspect roughly two thirds are poetry. I thought I would enjoy doing this and I did, but oh dear choosing eight, that was agony. I have many talented poet friends, far more than eight. So I elected not to choose from them, an impossible choice. Instead I’ve gone with poets either dear and departed, or books that had a profound effect on me.

I’m going to start at the very beginning with A A Milne, I’m cheating a bit because I have a book with both When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six in. I might as well because a friend stole my individual copies so I feel exonerated in this. My dad at bedtime used to act out The Dormouse and the Doctor and The King’s Breakfast. I could go on. I loved them the whole experience was so sensory, so loved and cuddly. Definitely the beginning of my lifelong love of poetry.

My next choice is 4 O’CLOCK on Friday. John Foster just somehow put together a wonderful anthology. I could write a whole article on John’s anthologies. I give mention to the First Book, 2nd Book etc series. I love them so.

Manifold Manor, Philip Gross, is my next choice. I love everything about it. Again sensory and there’s something wonderful about Chris Riddell’s understated yet mystical ravens.

My next choice is The Best of Ted Hughes, I fell in love with his Thought Fox when I was fourteen. It’s an indelible memory of a sticky hot June class room from which I escaped into a midnight snowy garden and the hot stink of fox. I confess my copy is stained and has loose pages. It has traveled with me on almost every holiday I’ve ever been on.

My next choice is The Oldest Girl in the World, Carol Anne Duffy. Again wonderfully synaesthetic poetry. It encapsulates myths and fairytales, one I often return to.

My next is a book that I think deserved much more recognition than it got, The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poetry. This is just gorgeous, the full stunning illustrations alone are enough to merit its inclusion. But Celia Warren has created a beautifully balanced collection here. One for all the family to enjoy for years.

My next is To Catch an Elephant, by the late great Bradford Laureate, Gerard Benson. What can I say about these beautiful, fun and poignant poems. I hear his river voice in all of them. If you haven’t come across him it’s well worth a look. His poetry for both adults and children is just joyous.

So these are just a few of the books that I keep by my bed, that I often dip into. I count myself very lucky to do what I do, my child self would never have thought it possible. Where Zebras Go, my first collection, was published by Otter-Barry Books in 2017. But I’m conscious I owe almost all of this to the wonderful legacy of poets I was introduced to by my father, by enthusiastic teachers and by wonderful, kind and talented poet friends who also encouraged and championed me.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Coral Rumble; My Favourite Poetry Books

Here is the second in the series where I’m asking children’s poets what their favourite poetry books are – they must choose one of their own, and they can if they wish choose a book of poems for adults, too. This week, it’s Coral Rumble!

I could list so many books, so I’ve decided to avoid listing any by my personal friends, as I wouldn’t be able to stop! (Not just because they’re my friends, but because they’re all ridiculously talented.) Instead, I’ve thought further afield and back in time; it’s been quite a journey!

I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree (Nosy Crow) Ed Fiona Waters

Hooray, hooray! In 2018 something unusual happened. A publisher spent a lot of money on producing a poetry book that was beautiful and inviting. With full colour illustrations throughout, the richness of text is matched by the extravagance of visual interpretation. What a breath of fresh air! Bravo Nosy Crow!

The Magic Box (Macmillan) Kit Wright

Okay, this might seem a blast from the past, but we’re only travelling back to 2010. Are there many schools where children have not been inspired to write their own version of the famous title poem? Playful language, a light touch, totally delightful.

Grandad’s Tree (Barefoot Books) Ed. Jill Bennett

First published in 2003, this book is bold in its treatment of sad subjects that children need to talk about. With poems from the likes of Grace Nichols, Berlie Doherty and Carl Sandburg, you know you’re in for a treat. ‘Always Remembering Eloise’ by Lindsay MacRae renders me speechless.

The Utter Nutters (Puffin) Brian Patten

I’m going to take you back a little further in time. In 1994 this fantastic collection of Brian’s poems delighted more visual learners, who responded to text and illustration working together. I remain still as fond of this innovative book based on the various wacky neighbours all living on one imagined street.

Something Big Has Been Here (HarperCollins) Jack Prelutsky

We’re still time travelling, this time back to 1990. I love Jack Prelutsky! He’s such a master of scansion; there are no untidy ends to tie. I want to skip through the pages of this book, not in the sense of haste, but in the sense of spirit.

When We Were Very Young (Methuen) A.A. Milne

First published in 1924! I’m not just being sentimental, I just love this book, containing classics like ‘Halfway Down’ and ‘Buckingham Palace’. It’s where my love of words started. On top of that, it’s full of wonderful illustrations by E.H. Shepherd!

And my own book?

Riding a Lion (Troika Books) Coral Rumble

Well, it’s kind of back to the future now, because this book doesn’t yet exist! I think most poets feel that their latest work is their best, and I’m very excited about this collection. Anyway, you can never start marketing too early!

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry, Poetry Book Parade

Bonkers Ballads by Colin West

A fair while ago, although it seems like yesterday, Colin West’s picture books were real favourites with my two children. His poems, found in anthologies, were a favourite with me, too.

Many years later, when I had also become a poet, we met on Facebook – where the author turns out to be every bit as charming and delightful as his work.

You can recognise a Colin West poem even if it is unattributed – probably one of the highest recommendations it is possible to give. They are by turns surreal, nonsensical, entertaining and hilarious, and all are clever and fun.

And the tradition carries on! His latest hysterical, historical book of ‘bonkers ballads’ is populated with mischievous miscreants, including a dispirited spook, a natty knight and a young King Cole. All the ballads make you laugh out loud, and the wonderful full-colour illustrations complement and conflate with the poems to make every page a masterpiece of humorous verse.

You don’t get colour illustrations in a book of modern poetry very often, particularly one guaranteed to tickle your tonsils all the way through.

Available here.

National Poetry Day Release List of Poetry Books to Inspire Children!

.Poetry is booming – and in the case of poetry for children, it should be – Pie Corbett‘s article, below, explains just why!

Here is the entire list of poetry being promoted in the run up to National Poetry Day by the Forward Arts Foundation -congratulations to the children’s poets included!

Jelly Boots, Smelly Boots Rosen/Tazzyman, Bloomsbury children’s:

Reaching the Stars Brownlee/Dean/Morgan, Macmillan:

It’s Not My Fault Stevens/Withrow, Bloomsbury Children’s:

The World’s Greatest Space Cadet James Carter, Bloomsbury Children’s:

Little Lemur Laughing Joshua Seigal, Bloomsbury Children’s:

Overheard in a Tower Block Joseph Coelho, Otter-Barry Books:

A Poem for Every Day of the Year Ed. Allie Esiri, Macmillan:

The Noisy Classroom Ieva Flamingo, The Emma Press:

Moonrise Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury:

Five Nonsense Poems Candlestick Press: