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

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

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

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?