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

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?

Liz