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

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