Posted in Poetry News

New Songs for Old – by Piu DasGupta

New Songs for Old! Re-inventing Nursery Rhymes.

Nursery rhymes – we all know and love them.  Who didn’t grow up with ditties like Hey Diddle Diddle, Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, or Humpty Dumpty?  They’re part of the furniture of the nursery of childhood.

What is less well known is that many of these rhymes – some hundreds of years old – have themes and subject matter of a decidedly adult nature.  One theory about Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, for example, is that the rhyme refers to Queen Mary I of England, the “silver bells and cockle shells” referencing the instruments of torture that she used to convert recalcitrant Protestants to Catholicism.  Other rhymes have somewhat dubious content – like the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, with her multitude of children who could only be dealt with by a sound smacking and sending off to bed.  As a child growing up in Kolkata, India, I remember being mildly frightened by rhymes such as this, as well as bemused by the very English world they created: Dr Foster getting drenched in Gloucester, the Grand Old Duke of York marching his men up and down the hill.

These rhymes are known and loved by generations of children.  They form part of our collective childhood memory.  But memory is a living thing, not a mausoleum.  It should be added to, if we’re to have dynamic and not fossilized childhoods.  Modern nursery rhymes are diverse and inclusive: Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie, which gave Canadian children a whole body of nursery rhymes referencing their own landscape; or Jane Newberry’s gorgeously illustrated, interactive book of rhymes for young children, Big Green Crocodile, shortlisted for the 2021 CLiPPA award.

For older children, fractured and re-worked nursery rhymes provide a rich source for honing critical and analytical skills, for questioning clichés and exploring history.  In my poem What Are Little Girls Made Of?, for example, gender stereotypes are turned on their heads in a joyous mish-mash, encouraging children to think critically about them, and to explore their individual identity:

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

What are little girls made of?

What are little girls made of?

Swords and roars and dinosaurs

pirates, Death Stars, dragons’ claws

castles, pistols, ragged shirts

bows and arrows, finger-dirt

grubby knees and paint-stained faces

every lack of social graces.

That’s what little girls are made of.

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Ribbons, bows, curly locks

Lady Gaga, sparkly socks

fluffy diaries, friendship bracelets

secret notes in hidden places

cupcakes topped with chocolate sprinkles

fairy wands that wink and twinkle.

That’s what little boys are made of.

But, you say, hang on a mo –

I am a pirate with a bow.

Or actually, I’d rather be

making cupcakes up a tree.

No, I’m a princess with a patch –

Don’t stress, it’s fine to mix and match.

By far the best is to be true

to the bestest person: YOU.

©Piu DasGupta.  First published in The Dirigible Balloon, August 2021

Activities for KS3 pupils based on this poem could include: looking through newspaper and/or magazine articles and cutting out clichéd or recurring descriptions of men and women; are some adjectives considered “male” (handsome, strong) and some “female” (pretty, sweet) – what could be used instead?  Or the children could create their own “fractured” nursery rhymes, replacing key words to turn stereotypes on their heads –

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater

Had a wife and did mistreat her

She waved a wand and winked and eye,

And turned him into pumpkin pie.

Older children and teenagers would enjoy more grown-up nursery rhyme parodies, such as that of This Little Piggy Went to Market in Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (William Morrow, 2006).  For a sample Year 7 lesson plan based on examining gender stereotypes in nursery rhymes and modern media, see the end of this article.

It’s also fascinating to unearth the hidden significance of nursery rhymes, the historical and political roots from which they have been cut loose to float free over the years.  One theory about the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice is that, like Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, it may refer to the martyrs, the Anglican bishops Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, burned at the stake for their Protestant beliefs (and therefore “blind”):

Three blind mice

Paid a high price

The Queen’s beliefs they all three spurned

So at the stake she had them burned,

Those three blind mice.

For many years, the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring of Roses was believed to have its roots in the Great Plague, the “ring” of roses referring to the rosy rash that was one of the symptoms of the Black Death, the “pocketful of posies” the nosegay that was carried to defend against infection, “Atishoo, Atisshoo, we all fall down” referring to a final death.  Although this explanation is now generally disputed by scholars, it does give the rhyme a dark relevance in the context of these pandemic days.

“A nursery rhyme shapes your bones and nerves, and it shapes your mind. They are powerful, nursery rhymes, and immensely old, and not toys, even though they are for children.”  So says a character in Katherine Catmull’s exploration of myth, fable and nursery rhyme, Summer and Bird (Puffin, 2012).  We who read, write and teach nursery rhymes must tread carefully in the magical forest, mindful of their power.  

Piu DasGupta

Piu DasGupta is a British/French/Indian writer based in Paris, France. Although poetry has been a lifelong passion, she turned to writing it quite recently. Her children’s poems have been published to date in magazines such as The Caterpillar, Northern Gravy, and The Dirigible Balloon.  She is on Twitter as @PiuDasGupta1.    

Posted in Poetry News

Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Met University- the Wonders of the Wind

‘Blow Wind Blow’ a celebration. For librarians, teachers, parents and children – Thursday 29th July, 2021.  7pm.

‘Blow Wind Blow’ is a poetic and visual introduction to the many wonders of wind, the third in the ‘Wild Wanderers’ series for younger readers.  Join poet Dom Conlon and illustrator Anastasia Izlesou for this celebration, hosted by the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Met University.  Dom and Anastasia will be in conversation with CLPE’s Charlotte Hacking and Plymouth Grove Primary teacher Sarah Thompson, to discuss how this beautiful book can have an impact in classrooms. 

Children also welcome; there will be a reading of the book and we will also be sharing some creative responses from Plymouth Grove pupils, who have been working with the book.  And we will be laying down a summer writing/drawing challenge for children to respond from home.  To join this free online event please register on Eventbrite.

Posted in Poetry News

CLiPPA Shortlist Announced Today!

HUGE congratulations to all the CLiPPA (CLPE) shortlisted poets, who were announced today!

The fabulous books are:

Slam! You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, chosen by Nikita Gill, Macmillan

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, Penguin

Big Green Crocodile Rhymes to Say and Play, by Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, Otter-Barry Books

On the Move, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker Books

…and my favourite, because it’s by my poet friend (and because it’s stupendous):

A Bright Burst of Colour, Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff, Bloomsbury Education.

Congratulations to all the shortlisters, and good luck for 11th October at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, when the winner is announced!

Posted in Poetry News

Book Chat: Reading With Your Child

The Open University (OU) has launched Book Chat: Reading with your Child, three short films and supporting materials to help parents, families and carers read books conversationally and creatively to children. Working with Macmillan Children’s Books, the films use a selection of their picture books and a poetry collection to support families with reading to different ages of children.

You may have noticed that the poetry collection is The Same Inside, by me, Roger Stevens and Matt Goodfellow, which we are thrilled to see.

The film above is read by Professor Teresa Cremin, who leads the OU’s Reading for Pleasure programme.

If you are an educator, librarian, parent or other person interested in supporting young people develop the reading habit., there is an OU Webinar you may be interested in viewing. The Book Chat crew, Teresa Cremin, Ben Harris and Richard Charlesworth will be joined by the children’s author Smriti Hall (TBC) and Rumenar Atkar, a mum and primary school librarian. The session will include research and practice insights, strategies to enrich informal book talk at home and school, and book recommendations that get everyone talking. The Webinar takes place Tuesday 20 October, 20:00 – 21:00. and can be found here.

Young Writers Poetry Competition!

Young Writers have a new poetry competition, I Have a Dream, words to change the world.

Young people aged 11-18 are invited to write a poem inspired by their hopes, dreams and visions for the future.

Who inspires you? What are your hopes and aspirations for the future? You can write a poem in any style sharing your visions for a better world.

All details here.

Posted in Poetry News

National Poetry Day 2020!

The brilliant thing about National Poetry Day is that it does not need to be covid-cancelled. Poetry lends itself wonderfully to showcasing using an array of online opportunities, and the day will go ahead on October 1st.

This year’s theme is vision – my poem on the subject is below, also available on the NPD website.  I’m very proud to be a National Poetry Day ambassador, and you can see all the ambassadors here with their poems for National Poetry Day, too! 

If you have a poetry event planned for any age, you can add it to the National Poetry Day events calendar.

Don’t forget you can book a poet to do a Zoom or Skype or other online event for National Poetry Day – including me!

Long-Eared Owl


Who Knows?


Who knows what the owl sees
with its yellow planet eyes
shuffling moonlight in its feathers
under aubergine night-skies

who knows where the owl sees
hiding in the clambering trees
interrogating movements
from the doorways of the leaves

who knows how the owl sees
as the scrambled ground protects
the taps of tiny heartbeats
where evening dark collects

who knows who the owl’s seen
when its vision paths its flight
passing like an exhaled breath
until lost inside the night


© Liz Brownlee


Quickie Poetry Ideas for Teachers

Wanting a quick idea to practise using nouns, verbs, and adjectives?

the grass


its forest

Carol Bevitt, Susan Eames, Helen Laycock

I call these tribbles. Ask your class to write a noun, a nature word, on the top of a piece of paper.

Ask them to pass that paper to the child behind them, or at a suitable distance.

The new child then adds an action on the next line.  You can, if you wish, have a pool of verbs for them to draw from on the whiteboard, so obvious verbs are not chosen. This can also be achieved if the first child folds their paper so the noun is not visible.

Then the paper is passed on again to another child who writes the conclusion, based on the first two words. Ask them to use a noun or an adjective and a noun in the last line, and to keep it as short as possible.

Show them these examples to give them the idea:


The Volcano


behind a hand of smoke


Susan Eames, Helen Laycock, Liz Brownlee




into frogs


Sherri Turner, Carol Bevitt, Helen Laycock


A bee

fuzzbuzzes its way

up the lupins


Liz Brownlee, Sherri Turner, Liz Brownlee


Then get them to pass the poems on again to be read out. These little poems give a great feeling of achievement, don’t take long and usually yield excellent results – hope you enjoy them! They can be displayed in many ways and if you choose connected initial nouns can be put together to make into longer poems.

Posted in Poetry News

Gorilla for #EmpathyDay!

Today is #EmpathyDay2020! And so all day there will be posts about Empathy and love. This is an old post from my personal website, .  (Poetry Roundabout is for ALL poets and poetry!).

Gorilla N'Gayla twins Sabine Bresser

The image above was not taken in the wild, it is taken at Bergen Zoo by Sabine Bresser, of N’Gayla, a gorilla who unexpectedly gave birth to twins, one boy, one girl, a very rare event for gorillas.

I chose it because of her incredibly proud and loving smile. She is, reportedly, a happy character.

Gorillas are among my favourite creatures.

To see how gentle they are, watch this short film of a chance encounter two men had with a wild gorilla family in Uganda.


 It says it all, really, doesn’t it?

They are immensely strong but rarely use that strength to do harm.

They live in balance with nature, mainly on flowers and leaves.

They are very endangered.

Here are two quotes by Dian Fossey, from “Gorillas in the Mist”, published in 2000 by Mariner Books.

“The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people”.

“When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future”.

All life is bound together in one huge link of dependency.

Our food, our water, our shelter, and our lives in every country are bound up in cycles, and one link that leaves a chain can have catastrophic effects on the creatures and plants above and below it.

We should be looking to every loss, every creature or plant in trouble, to see how to help them.

We are stripping the planet. We are destroying the very air that sustains us, and the water we drink.

We do not have the knowledge of contact with the earth any more that gives us the careful path to tread in between taking enough and leaving enough, for others, and for the continuance of our species.

Things that the gorilla knows.

We need to take a step back out of our lives and think about what is really important before it is too late.

Where is it all going to end?


Gorilla (for Julia Green)


A gorilla has massive muscles,

and is ominously dark,

can uproot banana trees

and strip the bark,

but his character is subtle,

sensitive and calm,

his power used for warning,

and rarely to harm,

for his colour has been made

from the shadows in the breeze,

his nature from the sunshine

and his food of flowers and leaves.


© Liz Brownlee


If you value gorillas, you may want to help here: WWF.

.Photo © Sabine Bresser

Information from WWF.

Posted in Poetry News

Alliterative Sea Poems, and Jellyfish Craft Project

Today I’m writing an alliterative poem about a jellyfish! Later I will show you how to make a jellyfish to display your own poem  – which doesn’t have to be about a jellyfish, it can be about any undersea creature.

What is alliteration? Alliteration happens when words in the same sentence have the same first letter sound. Sometimes letters within the words have the same sound which doubles up the effect.

I find fine falafels fabulous. Big bangs bring down bombed buildings. I like licking lemon and lime lollies.

Alliteration is often used in poetry, sometimes to suggest an action or sound that helps with the images. It can be used to help with a rhythm, or draw attention to a word or idea.

I have used a little alliteration in the following poem to suggest and establish the rhythm of the sea:


Leafy Sea Dragon


Where meadows of

green sea grass grows,

among the waving

seaweed groves,

the leafy dragon

comes and goes,


attired in leaves

of seaweed green,

among the weeds

he’s barely seen,

entwined and wreathed

with seas between,


and as the dragon

drifts and weaves,

the rhythms

of the sea he breathes,

and none see when

he comes or leaves.


© Liz Brownlee


So – now to write your poem! Every line does not need to have alliteration in it – and you do not need to have every word alliterating. Neither do you need to use rhyme – it is better to use the best words you can, and having to make a rhyme fit can make what you are saying sound awkward or forced if you are not used to doing it.

Read a bit about your animal so you have some ideas of what to write. Look at images of it.

Lines 1 and 2: Start off your poem naming your animal, saying where it lives. I have chosen a jellyfish because that is the craft I will be doing later, but the jellyfish model can have any poem about any undersea creature attached to it. Perhaps you’d prefer an octopus – and you could make an octopus as easily as a jellyfish – or maybe a dolphin, whale, or other type of fish? These are my first two lines:

Jewelled jellyfish jiving

in the deep, dark waves

You do not need to have all the words alliterative – I could have used the same sound in both lines, but I have used a different sound in line 2. If saying something about your animal sounds better with fewer alliterative words, use the most poetic version!

Line 3 and 4: Tell the reader something else about your creature. This could be what it eats, what it enjoys doing, whether it is active at night or day, or how it is feeling. These are my second two lines:

bobbing in the blueness

all its nights and days

Lines 5 and 6: Use a simile to compare the creature’s habitat or movement to say it is like something else or use a metaphor to say it is something else. If you have chosen a dolphin for example, you might want to say it splashes LIKE a stone skipping water, or it IS a stone skipping splashes through the water. Can you hear the difference between those two descriptions? I think the second metaphor description sounds better. That’s because the rhythm in it suggests the sound of the dolphin jumping through the water. These are my third two lines: 

waving winding tentacles

beneath its water sky

Lines 7 and 8: Using another simile or metaphor, describe your creature’s movement if you haven’t before, or its appearance – using the dolphin example, you might say its skin is like the sun and sea-smoothed sand or is sea and sun-smoothed sand. In this case, I think the simile description sounds better, as it has the better rhythm and sounds more believable. These are my last two lines:

muscles move its bell top

like a lilting lullaby.


That’s the end of your poem!


Here is my whole poem:




Jewelled jellyfish jiving


in the deep, dark waves


bobbing in the blueness


all its nights and days


waving winding tentacles


beneath its water sky


muscles move its bell top


like a lilting lullaby


Next- you can make a jellyfish to display your sea poem. Read all the instructions so you can see how it is made all the way though first – then you will know why you are doing each stage and be able to work out how long to make strings etc.


You will need:

Yogurt pots (clean!)

Buttons or cardboard circles

Scissors, thick needle

Thread, wool, ribbon or parcel ribbon


First of all, choose your yogurt pot. I had two types – and chose the rounder version because it would look more like a jellyfish.

Then you will need a button with large holes – I chose the pink one because it had slits – if you do not have any buttons like this, then cut out a disk of thick cardboard, about an inch in diameter. It does not need to be that large, but larger is easier to cut out!

Next you need to cut lengths of something to make the tentacles of your jelly fish. This could be wool, or string, or thin ribbon… I am using thin, shiny curling ribbon which you can curl using your thumbnail pressed against it along it’s length – there are many videos on the internet showing you how to do this.

If you are making an octopus, you can cut wider pieces of thick paper and curl them to make the octopus tentacles.

When you have cut and made 8 tentacles, thread them through the holes in the button and sellotape them together and then to the top of the button. If it is not possible to thread them through, then sellotape each one to the top of the button. If you have made a cardboard disc, then you can either make a slit in it or you can sellotape each tentacle to the top.

If you are making octopus tentacles, the tentacles need to be sellotaped , equally distanced, around the rim of the yogurt pot.

(I do wish I hadn’t been gardening just before this art challenge, then my nails wouldn’t be all broken and ragged!)

Next you need to thread some ribbon, thin string, wool or embroidery cotton through a large needle with a big eye, and knot it at the end.

Put the end of the ribbon through the loop several times so the knot is big enough not to go all the way through the yogurt pot.

This string will hang your jelly fish from wherever you want to put it, so it needs to be fairly long.

Then push your needle up through one of the holes in the button or cardboard disc from underside to top side. If you holes are quite big you can put a piece of tape on the underside of the button or disc to stop the ribbon or string knot going straight through.

Then pull the ribbon through until the knot catches on the underside.

Then thread the needle through the middle of the underside of the yogurt pot. Pull until the button or disc rests against the bottom of the pot.

It should look like this:

I chose to leave my pot undecorated or painted because I think it looks more like a see-through jellyfish. But you can paint it with poster paint at this stage if you like. Or you can stick pieces of paper onto it in a collage of different colours.

Next you need to write out your poem neatly on a piece of stiff A6 paper – a quarter of the size of A4 paper. Do this in pencil first so you can fill the paper and make sure your words are not squashed.

Rub out the pencil before doing the next stage! (I didn’t!) Push the needle with the ribbon through the poem at the bottom middle, front to back. Pull the ribbon through but leave some ribbon space between the top of the jellyfish model and the bottom of the poem.

Then bring the needle it out again at the top, back to front.

That’s it! You are ready to hang your alliterative sea poem!

Hope you enjoyed making this poem! You can write a jellyfish poem using any of the poem prompts from any of the crafts I’ve done over the past weeks.

The next craft poetry challenge will be written by the wonderful Sue Hardy-Dawson!

Posted in Poetry News

Funny Poem a Day – Rabbit, by Liz Brownlee

A poem and drawing (bit rough!) by me today – I wrote this for one of the classes in the school for which I am a Reading Patron.




This rabbit has ears

very long, times two,

and eyes, very large

with an all-round view,

a snitch with a twitch and a chew.


He moves with a hop

and a lope and a leap.

and a thump of his

very large lollopy feet,

to seek treats for his big teeth to eat.


And if you should give

him a startle or scare,

where he was he won’t be

for he’s no longer there,

in a dash and a flash of white tail in the air.


© Liz Brownlee



What’s the difference between a  bunny who runs marathons and a bunny who is a clown?

¡ʎuunɟ ʇᴉq ɐ sᴉ ɹǝɥʇo ǝɥʇ puɐ ʎuunq ʇᴉɟ ɐ sᴉ ǝuO


And here’ s a picture of Lola leaping like a bunny!

Posted in Poetry News

National Poetry Day Truth Poem by Sue Hardy-Dawson

Sue Hardy-Dawson (besides being a lovely, lovely person and my dear friend), is a Yorkshire born poet, artist, and illustrator, and is widely published in children’s poetry anthologies. She enjoys visiting schools and has provided workshops for the Prince of Wales Foundation for Children and the Arts. Being dyslexic she takes a special interest in encouraging reluctant readers and writers. Her first solo collection, of illustrated poems, Where Zebras Go (Otter-Barry Books) was long-listed for the North Somerset Teachers’ 2017 Book Award and shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2018. Sue has a new collection of shape poems, Apes to Zebras (Bloomsbury) with Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee, and her second solo collection If I Were Other than Myself (Troika) is due out soon!

The Listening


Somewhere inside rock, tree and root

Earth knows the truth about everything

her own truth

of scents, still sounds

where mole and eagle go

one brushing darkness, the other a sky mouth


her words are water and wind,

creeping frosts, a cool dawn trickling

over mountains

she may shout storms

out at sea breaking coasts

or simmer with sulking fogs choking lanes


but her bones are molten

and her flesh loam, just as her words

are glass runes

on rainbows. She

speaks her truths to the sun

and moon: if you put your ear against soil and stone


you can listen to her     warm   heart       beating

hear the sound of our   Earth   Mother   weeping


© Sue Hardy-Dawson


Thanks, Sue, for this wonderful poem.


Posted in Poetry News

Children’s Poetry Summit Launches Blog for Children’s Poetry Professionals

The Children’s Poetry Summit is a UK network of individuals and organisations actively interested in poetry for children. It provides a regular forum for discussion, information exchange, and sharing of ideas, and a pressure group which campaigns for children’s poetry. Members are children’s poets, publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, organisations and individuals interested in children’s poetry. It was founded by Chris Holifield, who was Poetry Book Society director, and is now director of the T S Eliot Prize, and Gaby Morgan, children’s editor and children’s poetry editor at Macmillan.

They meet a few times a year in London (I am a member), and exchange information and ideas about raising the profile of children’s poetry, creating opportunities on behalf of poetry for children through publishing, bookselling, schools etc.; and of course also support and promote the writing of poetry for children.

They have a new website where you will find fascinating blogs over the year, every Thursday- not just the poets, but publishers, librarians, Forward Arts (who organise National Poetry Day), and every conceivable organisation that helps promote poetry for children, that is also represented on the Summit. Occasionally there will also be guest blogs.

Why not have a look? At the moment there are blogs by Michael Rosen, Cheryl Moskowitz, Brian Moses, Roger Stevens, Laura Mucha, Teresa Cremin, Rachel Rooney, and this weeks blog by Janetta Otter-Barry (links are to blogs, performances or entries on the A-Z of Children’s Poets on this blog).

So – if you don’t follow Poetry Roundabout, please do so if you are interested in everything Children’s Poetry related, and whether you are an adult writer of poetry for children, a young writer of poetry, a fan of children’s poetry, teacher, or an industry professional, please also follow Children’s Poetry Summit which will have a blog every Thursday.

Thanks to Chris Riddell for his lovely artwork which is the Children’s Poetry Summit logo.