Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Laura Mucha: Favourite Poetry Books

Laura Mucha worked as a face painter, studied flying trapeze, philosophy and psychology, and swam in Antarctica before becoming a lawyer. Now she spends most of her time playing with words. She is extraordinary fun to know and I can guarantee that in any room, you will always know where she is by the laughs. Laura’s poetry has been published in books, magazines and newspapers around the world, and she’s performed on BBC Radio, at festivals and in schools. In 2016, she won the Caterpillar Poetry Prize. Laura’s book about Love – Love Factually  is non-fiction, and her debut collection is due out next year. You can read and listen to some of Laura’s poetry here.

Heard It In The Playground by Allan Ahlberg.

I’ve been reading a lot of his picture books lately and wanted to check back in with his poetry so I re-read this collection. Child-centred, witty and technically brilliant. Boom.

Everything All At Once by Steven Camden.

I’ve been reflecting on what makes a good collection recently and have concluded that an original and authentic voice plays a huge role. Steve Camden has that totally nailed. This collection feels like he climbed into the minds of KS3 students and articulated their inner workings via poetry.

Plum by Tony Mitton. A classic. Read it.

Selected Poems for Children by Charles Causley.

Predictive spelling keeps changing his name to Charles Casually – and I wonder whether there’s some truth in that. His poems seem so effortless that it feels like they just popped out of him while he brushed his teeth or washed the dishes. I wonder whether he spoke at all times in perfect metre and rhyme.

A Kid in My Class by Rachel Rooney Rooney is a whizz with words and, as always, combines insight with technical rigour in her most recent collection. Combine her words with Chris Riddell’s illustrations and you have a stonkingly good book.

Where Zebras Go by Sue Hardy-Dawson I don’t understand how Hardy-Dawson’s brain works, but I love it. She creates sketches, doodles and sculpts with words and crafts poems I wish I could write.

The Same Inside: Poems about Empathy and Friendship by Roger Stevens, Liz Brownlee and Matt Goodfellow.

Brilliant poems looking at important themes written by exceptional poets. What’s not to like?

Dear Ugly Sisters by Laura Mucha I’ve read this about 1,526,927 times now and I’m sick of it. It comes out next year but I never want to read it again. Please don’t make me.

Laura Mucha

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Celia Warren: Favourite Poetry Books

Celia Warren has been writing poetry ever since she learned to read, and has been published in hundreds of children’s anthologies. Her collections are all for young children and many of her poems and stories form infant readers in mainstream school reading programmes all over the world. She has compiled two anthologies, The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poems illustrated beautifully by a range of fabulous artists, (Bloomsbury) and A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen (Schofield and Sims). Her latest book is Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles, illustrated by Sean Longcroft, A&C Black. Celia’s website is here.

First, I have to say that I am not keen on the label ‘Children’s Poets’. It seems constrictive to writers and readers alike. Life can be at its most intense when you’re a child, and even if children (or adults) don’t necessarily understand every word or nuance in a line of poetry, they are more than open to the music and emotion of the written and spoken word – be it ‘aimed at’ children or adults. All poetry lovers will return to favourite poems and find new depths or viewpoints each time and, as we grow, so we find more in each poem, young or old. I hope children will read grown-up poetry as well as ‘children’s poetry’, and that grown-ups will never grow too old to enjoy the lightest of ditties.

I have seven shelves of poetry books at home, so it was really hard to choose only a handful of favourites. I have avoided books by my many poet friends as I’d hate to exclude anyone, so my choices are collections and anthologies old and new that I find myself returning to again and again.

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare (1913)

My first choice is a classic book, penned by a poet who certainly appeals to adults and children alike. His lyrical style seems timeless, and my numerous readings of his poetry have, I’m sure, influenced my own writing. Peacock Pie includes one of my favourite poems, Nicholas Nye. (The edition pictured above originally belonged to my mother and has the added delight of emmet’s wonderful illustrations.)

Going to the Fair by Charles Causley (Viking, Penguin, 1994)

It was in my first year at high school that I was introduced to this Cornish poet’s work, and I loved his writing straight away. His lyricism, again, attracts all age-groups. His choice of subject, often turning everyday events into magical moments, has universal appeal, too. I love the way Causley uses questions in many of his poems, leaving the reader to discern possible answers, without their being spelt out. The poet enjoyed wordplay as much as I do, and one of my favourites in this book is Good Morning, Mr Croco-doco-dile.

Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope (Faber & Faber, 1992)

Though Wendy Cope, like the poets above, writes for children, too, one of her collections is my choice for the one book of poetry for grown-ups that I’m allowed. The very title belies the poet’s sense of humour. She is a poet who won’t be labelled or limited by adult expectations and writes with a light touch and a sense of whimsy, although often her poems do have serious undertones, too.

We Animals Would Like a Word with You by John Agard (Random House, 1996)

As a lover of animals, I was bound to notice a title (and cover) as attractive as this! It’s a slim volume, but its short poems have as much to say about humans and the human condition as about animals. It also includes one of my all-time favourite poems A Conference of Cows. Such apparent simplicity, so neatly crafted, and such beautiful sentiments!

There now follow three titles that have a common theme: they encourage children – and grown-ups, too – to read at least one poem every day.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, a poem for every night of the year compiled by Ivan and Mal Jones (Scholastic, 2000)

This first title is likely to be read as much by parents to their children as by children themselves, aimed as it is at younger children. Good Night, Sleep Tight includes a few of my own poems and I particularly love the book as, first, one poem is very much about my son when he was little and, secondly, now that I have just become a granny, I’m sure my daughter will enjoy sharing its contents with her little girl. Thirdly, it includes many favourite classics.

A Poem for Every Day of the Year edited by Allie Esiri (Macmillan, 2017)

The second, Allie Esiri’s collection, is very much a family book. The choice of poems and extracts is diverse – entertaining and thought-provoking, comforting and disquieting, in equal measure. As one who has never developed ‘reading stamina’, I like the ‘short bites’ that poetry offers and the uplifting approach of (at least one) poem a day. Such anthologies also offer ‘tasters’ as they introduce the reader to new names to look out for.

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree selected by Fiona Waters (Nosy Crow, 2018)

The third offers a different twist in that the contents offer a nature poem for every day of the year. They are deliciously illustrated in full colour on every page of this mighty tome. Its size and weight might mean sitting at a table to read it, to avoid crushing young legs! It, too, contains old classics as well as poems by lots of contemporary poets.

Star-gazing by Celia Warren (Collins, 2013)

Finally, I was invited to choose a title of my own and dithered over which to pick. In the end, it was this slim school ‘reader’ that won the day. It is one tiny title in the poetry strand of a huge array of classroom readers in Collins’ Big Cat series.  It is my favourite as I was given a free hand over which poems to choose, and it is probably the nearest I have come to a ‘collected Celia Warren’. It includes many of my personal favourites and, though it may miss out on appearing on bookshop or library shelves, it possibly passes through more children’s hands, by dint of being in a school reading programme, than better known titles in the poetry world. I like to hope that my little book might whet the appetite and stir the hearts of even a handful of children, and inspire them to enjoy a lifetime of poetry reading and the delight it can bring. I wish all readers the joy of that never-ending road …

Celia Warren

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

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

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