Read to Your Baby Every Day / Hickory Dickory Dock

Read to Your Baby Every Day
edited by Rachel Williams, illustrated by Chloe Giordano
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Editor Rachel Williams has chosen thirty classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes, favourite nursery songs along with the occasional action rhyme for this collection for adult carers to share with babies.

Chloe Giordana has crafted beautiful, intricately detailed sewn accompaniments to the words using a mix of stitching and fabrics that are hand-dyed.

It’s never and I mean never, too soon to introduce babies to rhymes and songs; there’s absolutely no better way not only to bond with a little one, but it’s proven that exposure to the world around through spoken words, rhymes and songs gives young children a head start in education, and not only with respect to language learning and communication skills.

This lovely collection will introduce tinies to the likes of Hey, Diddle Diddle, Hickory Dickory Dock, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, Humpty Dumpty

and Little Miss Muffet along with Row, Row Row Your Boat, Hush Little Baby and I’m a Little Teapot,

and even both in English and French Are you sleeping?

A lovely gift to give a new parent.

Hickory Dickory Dock
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

A favourite rhyme with all the nursery classes I ever taught is this one that’s now given the ‘Sing along with me!’ format characterised by sturdy sliders and peep-holes. However in addition to singing the song, little ones will love watching the escapades of the mice as the clock strikes one, then two, then three

and finally four, and discovering that by four o’clock there’s not just one but four mice tucked up in cosy beds ready for some shut-eye, having escaped the clutches of the moggy character that has been eyeing them during the past three hours.

Yu-hsuan Huang’s illustrations are a delight with plenty to interest child and adult as they share the book or perhaps listen to the recording from the scanned QR code.

The Big Beyond

The Big Beyond
James Carter and Aaron Cushley
Caterpillar Books

Using rhyming couplets, Poet James Carter blasts readers off in a rocket and whizzes them into deep space and backwards into history, to early stargazers and their telescopes.

We read of early attempts at flight in kites, balloons, gliders and aeroplanes, pausing in 1957 to watch Sputnik 1 orbiting, and in 1969  to see ‘Saturn Five’ rocket blast off and the lunar module from which two men emerged onto the moon’s surface.

We’re reminded of the various roles of satellites, spacecraft (sending home information), probes (exploring Mars), and crafts to land (air testing, soil sampling and more).
James’ final future suggestion is likely to tempt young readers’ rockets … will head through the atmosphere. We’ll need an astronaut (or two_ / so what do you think? / Could it be YOU?

In like fashion to his previous Once upon a Star the author concludes his whistle-stop historic foray with an acrostic – ROCKETS this time – that provides additional pointers for possible investigation by small space enthusiasts.

Cool endpapers and some enticing art by Aaron Cushley complete this package tour of the cosmos.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones
Walker Books

Young children certainly, are innately curious, constantly sensing, observing, investigating, relating, questioning, thinking, communicating and loving. In so doing they create theories that explain how and why our world works. This propensity can sadly, start to wane as they move further up the education system.
With this collection Paul B. Janeczko  counters this fact, helping to nurture (or re-awaken) that natural curiosity in those who encounter his wonderful selection of poems.

Essentially it is a kind of instruction manual for such diverse topics as being mole-like, toasting marshmallows, distinguishing between goblins and elves, being a tree in winter, making a snow angel

and playing jacks – not a game one sees children playing much now.

The order may at first glance seem random but it certainly isn’t – far from it: great care has been taken in arranging this selection and there’s a contents page to start, which begins with Charles Ghigna’s How to Build a Poem – an observation on the power of the right words in just the right order: ‘ … words like ladders / we can climb, / with words that like / to take their time, // words that hammer, words that nail, / words that saw, / words that sail, / words that whisper, / words that wail.
A perfect opening that as the final lines say, ‘words that leave us / wanting more.’

There’s an equally perfect concluding poem too: April Halprin Wayland’s – How To Pay Attention: ‘Close this book. / Look.’

In between are some thirty other golden nuggets, mainly contemporary although a few such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing from the 19th century are also included. I recall as a young child sitting on my garden swing chanting , ‘How do you like to go up in a swing, // Up in the air so blue?’ as I kicked my legs.

It’s absolutely impossible for me to chose a favourite, I liked every one; but some of my favourites on this reading (ask me another time and it will perhaps be different) are: J. Patrick Lewis’ How to Tell a Camel (for its sheer playfulness);

How to Catch a Poem (Irene Latham);

Ralph Fletcher’s How to Make a Snow Angel : ‘Go alone or with a best friend. / Find a patch of unbroken snow. // Walk on tiptoes. Step backwards / Into your very last footprints.// Slowly sit back onto the snow. / Absolutely do not use your hands..’ … ‘Stretch. Float. Fly!’

And I was especially pleased to find Nikki Grimes’ A Lesson from the Deaf- a poem on using sign language.

I could enthuse at length about this book but in conclusion, I absolutely love its eclectic nature.

Richard Jones has done a terrific job illustrating each poem so as to leave room for the words to breathe on the page, never overwhelming them but also inviting readers to look closely at his work too with its textures and patterns and admire his carefully chosen colours.

A must have book for all poetry lovers and those who want to encourage children to become so. These are poems to read, read aloud, savour, consider, share, enthuse about and thereafter to look, look and look again.

Perfectly Peculiar Pets

Perfectly Peculiar Pets
Elli Woollard, illustrated by Anja Boretzki
Bloomsbury Chlldren’s Books

This is an alphabet of rhyming verse wherein readers encounter twenty six of the most unlikely creatures you’d (n)ever imagine keeping as pets.

There are huge ones such as the killer whale – kept to the neighbours’ consternation, in a garden pond and the Elephant: ‘My elephant’s a perfect pet. / Nothing can improve her. / As when my room is full of junk / Her trunk’s a brilliant hoover.
With an untidy partner such as mine, this pet is one I’d certainly like to have around. And come to think of it the creature featured in R is for Rhino would come in extremely useful when it comes to finding somewhere to put all the items of clothing a certain person leaves around.

At the opposite end of the size-spectrum is S for Slugs. I definitely would not consider trying the suggestions put forward here: ‘Can you smuggle six slugs in / your sweater / And stroke all their lovely soft slime / Then juggle the slugs, and jiggle the slugs. / Maybe all six at a time? Can you snuggle six slugs in your duvet, / And lie next to them all / night through.
Now while not having anything against the little creatures other than the fact that they’re a menace in the garden, I most definitely do not ‘adore them’, would never ‘bow down before them’. And as for uttering the final ‘ewwwwwwwwwww!’, so long as they keep off my plants, there’s no need to say that.

Playful, rhythmic and often gigglishly silly, there’s sure to be a pet poem or several for every young child in this assortment of Elli’s. Her final offering is an invitation to her readers to try writing their own poem – it’s issued first in rhyme and then followed by a helpful prose explanation on how children might have a go, and some of the tools they might use in so doing.

Anja Boretzki’s inclusive black and white, textured illustrations capture the humour of the verses, adding to the fun.

A Year of Nature Poems

A Year of Nature Poems
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd
Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s the perfect book to start off 2019 and give us all something to look forward to other than the doom and gloom that issues forth whenever one turns on the TV or radio news and current affairs.

Award-winning performance poet Joseph Coelho has penned twelve poems about the natural world, one for every month of the year. Each is introduced with a brief prose paragraph to set the scene, and beautifully illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd in folk art style.

Joe is one for creating powerful images in his writing and it’s certainly so here.

There are reflective poems, several of which seemingly stem from the author’s own childhood, one such is April. ‘ When there was electricity in the sunset / I’d lay in the sky-hug of our balcony hammock / and swing. The rain was always welcome / each drop a cold thrill/ that relaxed and washed away.’

Reflective too and exquisitely expressed is his account of creating a pond and its visitation by mayflies in May.
‘They’re quick to shed their awkwardness. / The dead pond, I couldn’t bring myself to fill-in, / explodes into an exultation / of fairy dust / and angel light / of dancing tears / and sparkling goodbyes / as wild life fills / the hole we dug.’

In its final verse February laments the decline in amphibian numbers but before that we’re treated to a lyrical description of frogspawn: ‘Soft pond jewels are forming / in sunlit forest pools. // Expectation and hope / balled-up in clear jelly. Frog-baby crèche.’

Many of us as youngsters indulged in a spot of scrumping but my partner has never grown out of this activity and still enjoys liberating apparently unwanted fruit as summer gives way to autumn. So, I was amused to read Joe’s fruitful account of childhood exploits of so doing in his August poem.

You can almost smell smoke so vivid is the description of leaf fall and the autumnal hues enjoyed by a young Joseph with his mother one October: ‘The leaves were piled / bonfire high / whizzing russets, shooting oranges, exploding yellows /that she scooped in armfuls / and cascaded over me / in a dry-leaf firework display / of love.’

A year as seen through Joe Coelho’s poems offers a terrific sensory awakening to put us all in mindful mode, and perhaps inspire children to pen their own responses to the beauty of the natural world.

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree
selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
Nosy Crow

Wow! this huge, weighty volume is most definitely something to celebrate. Containing 366 nature poems, one for every day of the year, the collaboration between publishers Nosy Crow and the National Trust is a veritable treasure trove.

Fiona Waters wonderfully thoughtful compilation includes something for all tastes and all moods: there are poems, chants, songs and rhymes including a fair sprinkling from the great anon.

Each month contains a mix of the familiar including timeless classics, and a wealth of new offerings to delight and enchant.

185 poets are presented, both contemporary and from past times, mainly from UK based and American poets including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, William Blake from the UK; and Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, my very favourite poet Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings from the US. Alongside are more modern offerings from Charles Causley, Carol Ann Duffy, Richard Edwards, John Agard, Tony Mitton,

Philip Gross, Benjamin Zephaniah to name but a few and from the USA: Aileen Fisher, Jack Prelutsky, David McCord and Myra Cohn Livingstone.

Almost all the poems are familiar to me (no surprise as I have compiled over 30 books of poetry) but I’ve also discovered some new gems such as Adelaide Crapsey’s November Night:
Listen … / With faint dry sound, / Like steps of passing ghosts, / The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees / And fall.
And Snow Toward Evening by Melville Cane:
Suddenly the sky turned gray, / The day, / Which had been bitter and chill, / Grew soft and still. / Quietly. / From some invisible blossoming tree / Millions of petals cool and white / Drifted and blew, / Lifted and flew, / Fell with the falling night.

Frann Preston-Gannon has done an amazing job with her art work: helping to reflect the beauty of the natural world and the changing seasons she provides a fine complement to the poems.

I found this beautifully bound, utterly enthralling book waiting for me on my recent return from India; I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since, rediscovering old favourites and unearthing some fresh treasures. I suspect I shall continue to do so for a long time yet. It’s an ideal family book, a must for every school and a perfect way to start or end the day (or both).

Come on teachers – what about a poem a day with your class: Fiona has done all the hard work for you.

Dark Sky Park

Dark Sky Park
Philip Gross illustrated by Jesse Hodgson
Otter-Barry Books

To say this book is extraordinary is no exaggeration.

Crafted with consummate skill every one of the poems is a gem, not least those that make up the four Tardigrade Sagas. There are, so Philip Gross tells us in a note, over 1000 tardigrade species; they’ve been on earth for 500 million years and are known also as water bears or moss piglets.
Tardigrade in its Element begins thus: ‘This is the kingdom of the Water Bear. / To enter here, you have to shrink / and slow down, down. / A day is one tick of the clock, one blink // of the sun’s eye.’

In Tardigrade in the Cambrian Era we learn: ‘I was there from the off – / the sound of life revving up all over. / This was, oh, a cool half billion years ago.’ Amazing, tiny eight-legged creatures, who can but marvel at such small wonders less than ½ mm. long? Here’s Tardigrade in Focus: ‘OK, so you imagine it: something / a thousand times your size – // a medium village, maybe, or a cloud / with an enquiring mind – // stops. Bends down very close … / Gets out its magnifying glass // and looks at you.’

In complete contrast very recent happenings are powerfully evoked in Aleppo Cat. Herein Gross describes a cat’s wanderings in the ruined city: ‘ First, months / of flash, thud, shudder. // then the wailing … // Months , // that’s half a young cat’s life’ … ‘Where the bread smells came from … // Gone. //And where the fish man // tossed the bones. // Gone. // Where the children chased her // with fierce cuddles, too young // to know their strength. // Gone.’
I have Syrian friends who came from that city a couple of years back with their two young children; this one made me shudder.

There’s humour too however, as in Extreme Aunt who ‘set off to school // with her four huskies, mush, mush! // to outrun the polar bears’; remembered as being ‘poised // on the diving board, the top, //with the wind in her hair. // She had to go further, further and it seems, // too far.’ Now she’s vanished and presently there’s a submarine searching for her.

There’s an Extreme Uncle and Extreme Dining too, if you’re fond of things in the extreme: the latter, a French establishment boasts ‘Pick our Own. // The whole garden’s underwater, a mangrove swamp. // You pay your money, you get your canoe, // (in the shadows, dark ripples and a sluggish // splash … ) your Swiss Army knife and harpoon.’ … Seemingly ‘It’s true // what the menu says: Our food’s so fresh // it bites. Eat it before it eats you’.
I think I’ll give this place a miss; it definitely doesn’t sit well with my vegetarian sensibilities.

Instead I’ll head over to The Extreme Music Festival and perhaps listen to The Storm Harp: ‘Tune up the mountain to the pitch // of music. Set each blade quivering. // Turn up the wind // until the hillside shudders like an animal // shrugging its pelt to scratch an itch.’ // Hear its sigh. Bring on the bad maraccas / of the slipping scree. The landslide starts.’

So vivid, as is, Moon Music: ‘She longed for night. // Now she sits with heavy // curtains open just a chink – a slant, a glint, a cool spark // in the darkened room, // hears how light pings // a prism off the mirror’s edge, // her glass of water tinkling // at its wink.’ Awesome.

Gross invites children in a footnote, to imagine their own kinds of extreme music noting, “The fantastical answers may turn out to say a lot about a real place, or person”.

This is a book to make its readers wonder, imagine, look, look and look again, listen and then wonder more. Gross’s poetic voice is enormously enriching, sometimes challenging, but always accessible.

Illustrator Jesse Hodgson has done a fine job illuminating many of the poems; her inky drawings are on occasion funny, beautiful, arresting or even downright scary,

sinister even.

If you want children to be tuned in to the magic and music of language, and who doesn’t, then this treasure trove is your book.