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!