Poetry Shelf

Three poetry books to share at home or school, three gifts to inspire a love of poetry …

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Stars in Jars
Chrissie Gittins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
It’s difficult to choose a favourite from this star-studded collection of poems. I love the edgy offbeat nature of many of them, for instance the opening one that gives the book its title. It begins thus:
William went up in a rocket/ To see where it would go./ It flew round/ and round/
and round/ the sun,/ and burnt his left big toe.
He goes on to hurt his knees by crash landing in camembert before flying through the Milky Way to catch the trail of stars which he then brings home and puts in jars for safe-keeping.
There are poems on all manner of familiar topics such as friends and families but even here, Chrissie Gittins builds the extraordinary into, for instance, an otherwise fairly conventional fruit-and herb picking grandma with these final words:
my grandma is a fun nun, / and apart from God’s, she’s mine.’
We are treated to powerful images of the natural world in say, The Year is Turning:
Gulls chance the churning sea, / Leaves stack up against the thermal door, / Tips of willows, russet, finger low grey sky,/ The year is drawing in. How’s that for a distillation of an instance of awareness of nature’s changes.
I can’t leave without mentioning the two final poems, first Lullaby. Herein it’s the juxtaposition of images that really packs a punch: Forget about your homework, / forget about that fight, / give it up to the cheesy moon/ and the meteor showers of night.
But it’s all really said in the finale What Does Poetry Do? and I make no apology for quoting the whole thing: ‘It nosedives from the top of the fridge/ into a bowl of rapids, // it crawls along the floor/ and taps you on the knee. // it changes the colour of a room, // it puts great wheezing slices of life/ into bun trays, with or without punctuation. // It manages this all by itself.’
And, it’s fanatastic value too – 130 poems and although of course, some are better than others, there’s not a dud among them. If it doesn’t make you look at seemingly ordinary things in a different way then I’m off to ‘try a lunge at Victoria sponge’.

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Vanishing Trick
Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is a debut collection by Guardian cartoonish, Ros Asquith and she’s peppered it with her own amusing illustrations to add to the appeal though it has plenty of that even without; I love those appropriately presented titles too.
It embraces a wide range of topics from A dream of God to Anthony’s hair (or lack of it in this thought-provoking poem) and there’s a variety of form from the punchy 4-lined Doggerel to 4-pages in the follow your dreams Mohammed & the Whale; and mood – from the playful Things I Like, to the poignant Jo’s House ‘ Was Jo not sad to only hear and feel? / When I was ten I asked her, did she mind?/ She said her searching self made all things real./ She said, “I never think that I am blind.” // She said inside her head the world burned bright./ She said “Inside my mouth bursts sour and sweet./ My ears can hear the birds as they take flight. I feel the turning Earth beneath my feet.”
I don’t know why, but I’m surprised at just how good a book this is.

For a younger audience than the others is

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I Wish I Had a Pirate Hat
Roger Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Herein we have over forty sparky playful rhymes arranged into three sections – Fun Time, School Time not mutually exclusive I hope) and Home Time. The topics – pirates, pets, minibeasts, friends, letters and words, machines and more have immediate child-appeal and young children will love hearing of the ‘all-knowing’ teacher, Miss Moss who pops up in several of the School Time poems. I suspect she, like this reviewer, has a soft spot for the divergent Billy.
Just the thing to spark an interest in poetry beyond nursery rhymes and to get very young children listening carefully to how words are put together to make memorable moments such as in Teatime with Little Rabbit:
Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little cuddle?/ I can feel the beating of your heart.// Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little snuggle/ and a nibble on my raspberry tart?

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