Ready for Spaghetti

Ready for Spaghetti
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

Michael Rosen’s consummate skill at creating rhymes that small children and indeed grown ups find irresistible, is legendary. He knows so well the importance of rhyme, rhythm and repetition in crafting playful compositions as demonstrated in every one of the thirty plus rhymes in this terrific book, joyfully illustrated by Polly Dunbar.

It takes youngsters through the day as they embrace those commonplace routines turning them into opportunities for spontaneous creativity and imaginative play. Whether its looking at a reflection in the mirror, rushily brushily cleaning teeth and whoosh, whoosh, whooshing and sploshy sploosh-ing in the bathroom, breakfasting on an eggy with a plate of bready soldiers, dancing with delight ( sporting a rather over-size pair of shoes), or with a pal perhaps; taking a break to talk to the sun or address a balloon, the delight – mostly – of the child participant is evident in Polly’s picture of same.

These small children, (like those I’ve taught over the years) love to converse with tiny creatures as they do in Bumblebee and Butterfly and Snail. The bumblebee one, the first verse of which is : ‘Bumblebee rumble, / Bumblebee tumble, / Buzzy Bee bumble … / Give me apple crumble!’ takes me back to Russian poet Kornei Chukovsky’s words in his seminal work, From Two to Five wherein he called young children linguistic geniuses.

No matter where you open this book you’ll find words and pictures you will love to share, be that with a class, or at home, at any time and preferably as many times as possible through the day. Don’t miss out on the opportunity: get a copy of this beautiful book. Later on those same children will pick it up and they will delight in reading it aloud to you. They’ll likely want to invent their own songs, and create word pictures and colourful drawings as well.

Smile Out Loud / Marshmallow Clouds

Smile Out Loud
Joseph Coelho and Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

I’m sure that like me, many others have in the past couple of years of mandatory mask wearing in so many places, wondered how to show somebody that we are giving them a smile. Perhaps if I’d had a copy of Smile Out Loud then I could have performed one of Joseph’s 25 ‘happy poems’ poems in a shop or elsewhere. I wonder what the reaction would have been to The Dinosaur way of walking funny, which is to Pull your trousers up / as far as they will go, / stick your bottom out / and walk like a chicken / … But instead of clucking – / … let yourself roar! / Like a dinosaur, / … a roar dinosaur! Then there’s The Ballerina way that involves a turn, a spin, a leap followed by Plié! Plié! Petit / Jeté / flutter and glide / the day away.

I’m always plugging the power of the imagination so I really like Imagination Running Free where the instructions are to tell the audience for a read aloud of this poem to close their eyes and imagine the scenarios presented by Imagine your legs / are two conker trees! Imagination running free. // Imagine your knees / are stripy like bees! / Imagination running free. // Imagine you’re running with / toes wet / legs wooden / knees stripy! I love too how Daniel Gray-Barnett has clearly let his imagination run free for this accompanying illustration. 

There are poems to read and act out in a group, one or two to inspire readers to create poems of their own, a funny one that uses spoonerisms and lots more besides. Certainly you should find something to help cheer up not only yourself but those who hear the tongue-twisters, riddles and giggle inducers. So, get a copy for home or school and spread a little sunshine thanks to Joseph’s words and Daniel’s lively, inclusive illustrations.

Marshmallow Clouds
Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones
Walker Books

Subtitled ‘Poems Inspired by Nature’, this is a dreamlike, often pensive collection of thirty poems, each a beautiful word picture placed under one of four elemental section headings: Fire, Water, Air, Earth and all intended, as Kooser says in his afterword, to “encourage you to run with your own imagination, to enjoy what you come up with.”

Being a tree person I was immediately drawn to Trees, the final four lines of which are:
They don’t ask for much, a good rain now and then,
and what they like most are the sweet smells
of the others, and the warm touch of the light,
and to join the soft singing that goes on and on
.
Beautiful words and equally beautiful art by Richard Jones, whose illustration here reminded me so much of one of the places where I pause to sit on my walk and look up at the surrounding understory.

Tadpole too is a poem I found great delight in reading, having recently watched a pool full /of swimming tadpoles, / the liveliest of all punctuation.

No matter where you open the book though, you will find something that’s a joy to read aloud again, and again; something thoughtful and thought-provoking, something likely to make you look at things around you differently. What more can one ask?

All About Cats / Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes

All About Cats
Frantz Wittkamp (trans. David Henry Wilson), illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Macmillan Children’s Books

As an ailurophobe I wasn’t predisposed to like this book, but on the other hand I’m a poetry lover and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are terrific fun so the positives have it. And David Henry Wilson’s translations from the original German work well too and rhyme well. Do I detect a touch of the Eleanor Farjeons in Cats are … Sleepy?

From the fourteen four-line poems herein we discover a fair bit about cats, their habits and their predilections. They enjoy reading, arithmetic – yes really, painting, making mischief, playing toss with a ball or perhaps a small rodent if they can get their paws on one; and when it comes to food, each one has a favourite – it’s not always fish.
Parent cats show love towards their offspring, working together to keep things sweet between mums and dads. However I definitely disapprove of certain tomcats – those that net butterflies and keep them as pets, whereas the bath routine at the end of the day gets an endorsement from this reviewer, and how wonderfully economical with water they are in Axel’s illustration at least (3 in a tub together.)
But no matter if said moggies are making music or celebrating a birthday with rhubarb juice and fishcakes, or even feeling a tad grumpy if caught in a rain shower, they make the best of the situation, as is evident in Axel’s splendidly droll scenes and tiny vignettes.

To foster a love of language in young children, cat lovers or not, share the rhymes and playful pictures with them: perhaps some of them can come up with own cat capers too.

Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes
Axel Scheffler
Macmillan Children’s Books

This treasury of almost sixty nursery rhymes is linked by eighteen short stories written by Alison Green, the first of which sets the scene by introducing Mother Goose herself. She lays three eggs and it’s to her goslings the rhymes were told and then eventually written down by a wise old heron. (I love that.) It’s also her’s and her goslings’ activities that are related in the stories.

You’ll find lots of your favourites here: I Had a Little Nut Tree,

Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill, The Grand Old Duke of York, Polly (who puts the kettle on), Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, Sing a Song of Sixpence, Hey Diddle Diddle

and lastly some bedtime ones including Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Wee Willie Winkie, still dashing round town in that nightgown.

Every rhyme and story is humorously illustrated in such a way by Axel Scheffler that the wit behind the words is evident. A super present to give a new baby and a book to acquaint preschool children with the richness of nursery rhyme language that sadly, many of them are unfamiliar with.

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending both titles for review.

Stop the Clock! / A Walk Through Nature

Stop the Clock!
Pippa Goodhart and Maria Christania
Tiny Owl

I do so appreciate young Joe’s frustration when everything he does has to be rushed. First it’s mum with a myriad of things on her mind, telling him to hurry up before they set off for school; then the walk itself is done at a run in case they’re late. Worse still, when he gets thoroughly immersed in the art topic Mr Khan has set the class, he’s told to stop and he’s nowhere near finished.

“STOP THE CLOCK!” he cries in sheer frustration. By now everybody else has complied with the instructions, but Joe – and who can blame him – adds his crying sister to his picture, picks it up and walks out. Now this is where readers, especially adults, will have to adopt that willing suspension of disbelief mode, for Joe leaves the school premises and heads to the street where he kneels down and continues drawing.

There is so much to see from ground level: so much to interpret about what’s going on and so many wonderful details to add to that picture of his. He even finds something that his sister must have dropped in the rush to reach school on time. Finally with picture complete to his satisfaction, Joe goes back to the classroom, leaves his picture with the others and gives instructions to the clock to restart.
Come home-time, after a slight pause, four happy people walk home together.

A heartfelt look at the busy lives that most of us live, often trying to do more than one thing at a time and in danger of missing out on those quality, slow moments we all need. In the past two years, the majority of adults at least, have come to appreciate the importance of time to stop and stare. With more and more people now back working full time as well as juggling child care and more, it’s crucial that everyone, young and not so young, has time to appreciate the world around without feeling guilty about doing so.
Author Pippa Goodhart and debut illustrator Maria Christania capture this need so beautifully in this picture book – it’s a wonderful example of how some good things have come from the lockdowns we’ve been subjected to.

Also showing the importance of taking time to appreciate the wonders of the natural world is:

A Walk Through Nature
Libby Walden and Clover Robin
Little Tiger (Caterpillar Books)

Through twelve, two verse poems and beautiful collage style illustrations with some facts tucked away behind flaps and die-cuts that allow readers to glimpse (or sometimes guess) what lies beneath, author Libby Walden and artist Clover Robin take us through the countryside presenting the numerous transformations that take place throughout the year.

No matter where one looks there’s much to wonder at. We visit a field in springtime as the flowers are starting to bloom in their myriad colours; look up high where birds fly seeking nesting places in the trees; stand at the edge of a peaceful pond wherein tadpoles are hatching and baby duckling are learning to swim.

Other habitats we visit are a woodland and a beach in summertime; a forest area and a mountainside through which a river flows in autumn, and, as winter arrives, swallows taking flight to warmer climes and foxes heading to their earths and as day turns to night, the emergence of nocturnal creatures ‘neath the silvery stars.

Containing a wealth of nature-related vocabulary, both gently educative and awe inspiring, this immersive book, now in paperback is a lovely introduction to nature poetry and nature itself.

Polka Dot Poems

Polka Dot Poems
Zaro Weil, illustrated by Lucy Wynne
Troika

Among Zaro Weil’s 100 nature haiku you’ll meet all manner of weird and wonderful beasties large and small from all over the world as well as flora of many sorts and other inanimate natural things too. I encountered several creatures that are new to me, one of which is the Fossa

another is Zebra duiker ( an antelope residing in the rainforests of the western coasts of Africa) ‘ black-striped / best mates / meander under /green canopy of /gold-striped / sun ‘.

Equally worthy of our attention though is this common or garden oh so bountiful Thistle ‘seeds for birds / leaves for bugs / fluff for nests / nectar-spiked / flowered // giving plant’.

Another is Spider – ‘smart / spinning your own paths / criss-crossing the cosmos / thin thread / by / thin thread’.

Among the inanimate yet brought to life through words is something we’ve all experienced countless times – the coming of a new day: Light ‘oh! / I remember you / morning sun-great / all a-whirl / through my window’.

In stark contrast using the same number of syllables is this contemplation of a Goblin shark, ‘ancient living fish/ your sword mouth/ parts water/ swims through/ millions of years’. Who would not be awed by this ferocious creature sometimes called a ‘living fossil’?

Again, using just seventeen syllables each time, Zaro draws attention to things ever present in our lives such as Pebble ‘so many pebbles / so many years / quietly crunching / underfoot’ and Moon – ‘palest puff / in / just-night sky / that you? // of course / I spy your / crescent wisp’.

No matter where they open this book young readers will find something to delight in; something of which Zaro in her wonderful words has captured its very essence, while Lucy Wynne brings out the gentle humour and playfulness of the writing in her gorgeous illustrations.

Don’t miss the extras – there’s a concluding section of ‘amazing facts about some of the weird and wonderful creatures’ including the Patagonian mara, the Venezuelan poodle moth and the star-nosed mole – wonderful creatures all.

When Poems Fall from the Sky

When Poems Fall from the Sky
Zara Weil, Illustrated by Junli Song
ZaZa Kids

During the past year and a half a great many of us have found that walking in nature has both uplifted and calmed us: when we’ve so badly needed a boost, nature has been there for us inviting us to slow right down or stop and let the flora and fauna work their magic. As we read this treasure of a book, Zara Weil reminds us of those sights and sounds and introduces the joys of many others in this mix of poems, rhymes, haiku, raps, story poems and short plays, that were inspired by Kew Gardens where the poet spent time fairly recently; and having worked in the Kew herbarium on a gap year I can totally understand how Kew made her feel.

It’s clear that the poet observes with all her senses as she gently nudges and occasionally urges readers to see things differently, to discover new ways to look, feel and listen. She helps us to fine tune our ears to the various voices of nature that she has heard including that of a Butterfly’s Song, various birds such as a nightingale, and the Jay that acts its part along with Oak in That’s what friends are for – what delight this would give children taking on those roles in a read aloud, and a wonderful learning experience too.

The same is true of another ‘Mother Nature Production’ Oh Happy Day – a fig and wasp play that is a celebration of the amazing pollination partnership between wasps and fig trees.

It’s impossible to choose an utmost favourite in this collection but as a life-long lover of trees I was struck by the way Zaro captures their wonder and their ability to hold memories in Tree’s Story; ‘for who else still breathing / has been a part of long ago / who else / holds it written in / rings of memory / for anyone to read / in the far future ‘ – in those lines too (and throughout) is a reminder of our interconnectedness.

For its sheer exuberance and sheer delight in playful language, I absolutely relished Bug Parade with its ten quintillion minibeasts – ‘They whizzed by all zipping / glittering then flittering / diving and gliding / whoops sometimes colliding’. Brilliant!

Certainly a poem to make you laugh and perhaps, dance; but there are also poems to move you within, others to make you care and to think deeply.

Surely though, every one is a demonstration of the fact that in nature there is SO much to cherish and to wonder at; it’s as though nature itself has been given voice herein to give hope, to guide us ever to watch, to listen and to remember our role as guardians and stewards of our awesome planet.

Thoughtfully and beautifully illustrated by Junli Song, this is a must have book to cherish and return to over and over.

At the Height of the Moon

At the Height of the Moon
edited by Annette Roeder, Alison Baverstock and Matt Cunningham
Prestel

This book draws on artistic and literary traditions from all parts of the world, going back centuries to offer children a pre-bedtime experience that presents works of art alongside poems and short pieces of fiction including the occasional rather eerie folktale.
There are six thematic sections: Twilight, Dreamland, Moonlit Menagerie, Creepy Crawlies and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Minds Ablaze and, Midnight and Magic.

The editors have clearly cast their literary nets far and wide including recent poems from Simon Armitage whose To Do List is set opposite Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare which I think if I looked at it for too long, would give me a nightmare, James Carter’s The ReallyReallyReallyTrulyTrueTruth About … Teddy Bears which faces The Bear Family, for me, a much more alluring painting by Alexej von Jowlensky,

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Nature Trail, about wildlife in his garden, and Wendy Cope’s Huff set opposite Paul Klee’s The Goldfish. Then there are others that go way, way back: Sappho’s Fragment V1 ’Nightingale, herald of spring / With a voice of longing …’ ; Shakespeare is represented by lines from The Tempest beginning ‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.’ It’s good to see Australian Judith Wright’s Rainforest sharing a page with that.

Two of my favourite poets that I first came across way back when I was at school, are here to my delight; there’s Robert Frost’s After Apple Picking, and Edward Thomas’ The Owl, beneath which is a well known anonymous owl poem.

(There are seven anon. pieces including a somewhat scary fairy tale from the early Mansi hunting people and another fairy tale from Siberia.)

Among the artists’ reproductions are works from Vincent van Gogh, Henri Rousseau’s Carnival Evening, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, Georgia O’Keefe’s A White Camelia and in the same story, Ladder to the Moon. Not all the art will be to any one reader’s taste, though I’m sure everyone will come across images both verbal and visual that they will treasure (although the entire selection is rather Eurocentric and could have been rather more inclusive): I came across some delights new to me including Linda Wolfsgruber’s A Lullaby for Bruno juxtaposed with an extract from Alice in Wonderland wherein the White Rabbit speaks.

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet
James Carter and Alisa Kosareva
Little Tiger

‘Beneath our feet / way deep and down / are beasts asleep / in the cold, dark ground … / They’re skeletons now … they’re fossils, bones. / They’re silent, still; / in a prison of stone.’
Poet James Carter then invites us to dig down deep, visit the various layers of the Earth while also being a time traveller able to meet all kinds of exciting creatures on our prehistoric adventure.

First come the trilobites, erstwhile crawlers on the ocean floor. Next come the scary-looking pointy-toothed metoposaurus, a fish-eater somewhat resembling a crocodile. None the less, I wouldn’t fancy a face-to-face encounter. More to my liking is the Meganeuropsis, the biggest ever bug, buzzing around – an early giant dragonfly this.

Next are the dinosaurs be they the herbivores such as Diplodocus; the bones crunchers such as T.Rex and the winged Archaeopteryx that may have been able to take to the air on its feathery appendages.
Moving north to chilly climes of everlasting winter lived herds of wooly mammoths with heir super-thick coats and ginormous tusks.

All these beasties have become extinct, wiped out on account of earthquakes, floods, disease, comets maybe, or even the poisonous lava of volcanoes.

All this information has been unearthed thanks to the work of palaeontologists investigating fossil evidence and now as James reminds us in the final part of his rhyming narrative, we can see some of these fossils in a museum; or perhaps find our own by taking a spade and digging deep.

The last spread is a kind of visual timeline of our prehistoric adventure showing all the creatures mentioned in the text.

The countless young dinosaur lovers will relish this time-travelling foray into Earth’s ancient past with James’ lyrical descriptions that really bring the creatures back to life, and illustrations by Alisa Kosareva, whose magical, dramatic scenes of all those mentioned in the text and more, are superbly imagined.

Yapping Away

Yapping Away
Joshua Seigal, illustrated by Sarah Horne
Bloomsbury Education

There are playful poems aplenty in 2020 winner of the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, Joshua Seigal’s latest poetry collection; it’s wonderfully witty and cleverly creative to boot. As ever, he uses the 3Rs crucial to making children readers, and assuredly they have that same effect when it comes to making them poetry enthusiasts as well.

I absolutely love the surprise element in many of Joshua’s poems: there’s the sudden change of heart in New Baby wherein the older sibling moves from ‘You grumble and gripe / and you grizzle all day. / I hate you, new baby / so please go away.’ in the first verse to the final ‘I know Mummy loves you / and Daddy does too. / I love you, new baby! / You’re lovely! It’s true!

Then there’s the passionate Did I Ever Tell You … wherein the author pours his heart out as he continues ‘ … how much I love you? // I love you more / that the yawn / of the morning sun. ‘ … There are more verses in similar vein until the final ‘You / are / my // – – – – – !’ Can you guess the object of the love?

There are also some smashing shape poems: here’s one 

and others with terrific word play, Shapes being one.

However not everything is playful: anything but is the decidedly pensive Drawing My Grandma. I love too, the thought-provoking Inside with its circularity; Sad in which the speaker is unaccountably so feeling, is another, it conveys an emotion that strikes us all from time to time.

As does that summed up in The Grouchy Song: I’m reminded of that one whenever I listen to the news these days. And if the suggestions proffered therein don’t work sufficiently then I’ll quickly turn to Magic! for an antidote. 

I could go on and mention pretty much every single one of the almost 50 poems in this smashing book but better I leave you with Joshua’s words to embark on The Reading Journey something you’ll do if you get hold of a copy of your own and ‘Embark in the dark / on a sparkling adventure. / Glide on the tide / to the rhythm of words. ‘ …

I must mention too, Sarah Horne’s drawings that are appropriately quirky and a delight in themselves.

There’s no doubt that youngsters will feel inspired to take up Joshua’s “Let’s Get Writing!’ invitation that comes after the poems; he gives some helpful poetry starters there, though there are plenty offered by his poems themselves – that’s so long as said children have turned down this Invitation:

If you want children to find delight in language, poetry in particular., this book is a MUST.

Caterpillar Cake

Caterpillar Cake
Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Krina Patel-Sage
Otter-Barry Books

This is performance poet Matt Goodfellow’s second poetry book and it’s aimed at younger children. Embracing a wide range of topics in his sixteen poems – playing on the beach, space, wild animals, play, movement,

school related things – a visit from the school photographer, a classroom carpet session for instance, as well as things related to the natural world. Here are the opening verse and the final one of My Shell: ‘there is a shell / alone on a beach / over the sand-dunes / out of my reach // we’ll sing of the sun / and the salt and the sea / together forever / just my shell and me’.

Perfect for reading aloud to young children and once they’re familiar, perhaps those in KS1 could read some to one another. Which ever you do, take time not just to enjoy Matt’s writing but also debuting illustrator Krina Patel-Sage’s inclusive, vibrant digitally created illustrations. So, if your taste is for pebble skimming, a slice of chocolate caterpillar cake, the smashing word play of Kitty Cat, or a gentle River Lullaby at the end of the day, you’ll find it herein.

If you want to engender a love of language, this is definitely one to add to early years settings, KS1 classrooms, and family bookshelves (if you have little ones).

The Language of Cat

The Language of Cat
Rachel Rooney, illustrated by Ellie Jenkins
Otter-Barry Books

This is a reissue of Rachel’s first and award winning collection of poems and what a smasher it is, brilliantly inventive and inviting readers to look at the world and things in it, in an entirely fresh way.

Some such as Post are deliciously droll. Take this wherein a queen, ‘Fed up bored, decided to quit / so used her head and some royal spit. / Flicked through a book, picked a random address : / 5, The High Street, Inverness. / Stuck her face on a card, destination beneath. Does one fancy a swap, Ms Morag Mackeith? / Posted if off, didn’t delay.’ (Sadly however said queen receives no response.)

It’s absolutely impossible to choose favourites, I’m likely to change my mind at each reading of the book but today some I especially enjoyed are Defending the Title which begins ‘I am the word juggler’ and concludes ‘I am the champion’ both of which are entirely applicable to the author.

O the Wonderful shape of an O is a superb example of a shape poem – 


Gravity made me smile: the thought of ‘ripe conkers, bombs, cow dung, / those pencils we lose / from coat pockets, high jumpers / like large kangaroos, / confetti, leaves, litter, a melee of fruit, / all those sticks thrown for puppies / and those footballs we boot.’ all whirling around in space if it weren’t for gravity.

Predictive Text really made me laugh as I’m forever cursing my Mac for changing things I write and need always to be watchful and check blogposts at the last minute (pooing and weeing just now got altered to posting and seeing).
Then there’s Bookmark that strongly appeals to my bookish nature.

Altogether the book’s a testament to the power of language and its versatile nature; there’s something to please all tastes here. Quirky stylised drawings by Ellie Jenkins grace many of the pages.

Beautiful Day! / Take Off Your Brave

Beautiful Day!
Rodoula Pappa and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Cameron Kids

In the company of a small child we experience the seasons’ riches through a sequence of twenty haiku-like poems. Rodoula Pappa’s words are as if spoken by said child, whose activities we follow starting with Spring: ’Beautiful day! / Teach me, too, how to fly, / mother swallow.’ are illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned scenes beautifully crafted as if from Japanese washi paper. 

There’s much to enjoy no matter the season: Summer offers lush peaches, somnolent-sounding music and ‘Among the reeds, / a new galaxy – / fireflies.’ as well as days by the sea.

Come autumn there’s an abundance of busy chipmunks and dahlias bloom prolifically and its time for the wild geese to travel. 

With winter soft snow falls and there are preparations for Christmas, while ‘In the rock’s crack, / deep green, full of light – / winter blossom.’

There’s a feeling of serenity about the entire book; it’s as though the words are asking us to slow down, stand and stare, imbibing the beauty of the natural world so wonderfully depicted, no matter what time of year.

What a lovely starting point for children’s own seasonal reflections this book would make in a primary classroom.

Take Off Your Brave
Nadim, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books

The Russian writer, storyteller and poet Kornei Chukovsky talked of young children as ‘linguistic geniuses’ playful and creative users of language and this book of poems by four year old, Nadim is a wonderful demonstration of this.

Responding to prompts from his mother, with the initial guidance of poetry teacher, Kate Clanchy (who has written an insightful foreword to this book) the little boy shared his thoughts about a variety of things from his feelings on returning home from nursery school, his best friend,

his mum, doing something scary, his wish. To read each of these is to share in something of how a four or five year old sees the world (something that I as a nursery and reception teacher for many years particularly enjoy); there’s no attempt at emulating adult poetry, rather, this is a child’s voice capturing those moments of happiness, joy, love, loneliness, peacefulness, togetherness, hopes, fears and dreams.

‘You always have sad moments / Happy moments / Nice moments / Angry moments // And when you smush those moments together / They make a great feeling / Called: / ABRACADABRADOCUOUS.’

And rest assured everyone has indestructible love to share for ‘Baddies love their baddie friends / Even very baddie ones. // Nothing can make love disappear / Not spells / Not magic / Not mermaids / Not anything. … ‘

Accompanied by Yasmeen Ismail’s illustrations – who better to capture young children being themselves – this is a lovely demonstration that poetry is for everybody.

Being Me

Being Me
Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, illustrated by Victoria Jane Wheeler
Otter-Barry Books

I’ve tended to use picture books to open up discussions about feelings in the classroom, especially with younger children but now this, subtitled “Poems about Thoughts, Worries and Feelings’ is a superb anthology of poems by three accomplished contemporary poets that would definitely work equally well with children from KS1 up.

Speaking directly to youngsters are almost fifty poems focussing on the topics that they care deeply about and unless they have opportunities to talk about how they feel about say, loss or sadness, feelings of isolation can be the result.

One way to counteract such feelings is to take a walk in nature as Matt suggests in Forest Song: ‘there is music in the forest / every leaf a different note / as the wind -conducted branches / play the tune the raindrops wrote // so, walk beneath the canopy / and know that you belong / to the purest ancient melody / as forest sings its song’. I’m sure those words will resonate with all of us after everything that’s happened during the past year when so many of us have found comfort in the natural world.

Another of Matt’s poems talks about those awful butterflies that are the result of first day nerves and how one understanding teacher, Mr Mawhinney made all the difference.


Books are one of my first go to comfort places and Liz’s In the Heart of a Book speaks to the power of story; Here’s part of it : ‘ I found myself a story / with a place in me to store it // I found myself a wide, new world / so set off to explore it //… I found a pool of sadness / and the strength to manage it // … I found place to rest my head // while my worries unplug / I found a curl of comfort / where each word was a hug // … I found a pair of magic wings / and flew into the light

Feeling alone in your sadness? What better place to visit than Laura’s The Land of the Blue to know that feeling sad is OK. The final verse says this: ‘Across the valley it waits for you,/ a place they call The Land of Blue / and going there will help you know / how others feel when they are low.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than the kindness of a Friend as Laura shows here:

Discovering your own kindness within and sharing it with others is equally powerful as the final words in Liz’s Kindness acknowledges ‘and where you give it grows and grows / until one day it overflows

Finally (although I could go on talking about every poem in this book) in Bottled Up Laura highlights how crucial it is to be able to open up about whatever it is that’s troubling you …

Very much in tune with the feelings the three poets have written of are the quirky black and white illustrations by new illustrator Victoria Jane Wheeler; and the book concludes with a note from developmental psychologist Dr Karen Goodall that includes some suggestions as to how an adult might open up a discussion.

A special book that I strongly recommend for both school and home collections.

Coyote’s Soundbite

Coyote’s Soundbite
John Agard and Piet Grobler
Lantana Publishing

Planet Earth is in a terrible state on account of the thoughtless environmental damage caused by human actions. The earth-goddesses call a conference to which every female creature is invited to discuss what should be done.

When he learns that it’s a females only affair, Coyote is disappointed and an impulsive decision sees him borrowing his wife’s blue dress, sandals and bag. Thus attired, he manages to gain admission.

In turn each of the goddesses gives a speech about what they’ve contributed to life,

expressing their disappointment at how humanity has subsequently treated the planet, and then it’s time for questions.

Nothing is forthcoming so Coyote decides to put forward a suggestion, “Excuse me, ladies! / Forgive my interjection, / but from my study of the human breed, / I’ll say a soundbite is what you ladies need!”

Everyone is in total agreement and Coyote returns home.

Imagine his surprise to discover his wife clad in his suit. She explains that she’s just come from a males only earth-gods conference and guess what: she too made a soundbite suggestion, which goes to show that the way ahead is “Earth-lovers of the world unite! / Mother Nature is always right!”

With its diverse selection of mythological characters, John Agard’s engaging rhythmic narrative poem packs a powerful punch as it imparts its crucial environmental message. Brimming over with energy, Piet Grobler’s trademark scribbly, collage style mixed media illustrations are a spirited complement to the text, adding to the impact of this thought-provoking, picture book.

A Poem for Every Spring Day / The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems

Here are two recent poetry collections from Macmillan Children’s Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

A Poem for Every Spring Day
ed. Allie Esiri

This is the third in the seasonal series – almost every one of which is taken from Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year and once again it’s brimming over with poetry to lift your spirits.
Among the offerings herein you’ll certainly find many old favourites – lots took me right back to my days in primary school and even before that when my dad read A.A. Milne and Lewis Carroll aloud to me, as well as unearthing some new treasures.
As with the Autumn and Winter books, there are two poems for each day from 1st March through to the end of May and again Allie provides an introductory paragraph for each of her selections. Most of us associate spring with new life and yes, there are plenty of entries reflecting that aspect of the season but it’s more than just longer days, birdsong and buds opening and A Poem for Every Spring Day reflects this. There are poems commemorating specific occasions such as Rachel Rooney’s First Word (After Helen Keller) where she writes of Helen feeling water flowing from a pump with one hand while the letters for ‘water’ were spelt on her other palm. That moment took place on April 5th.
Another one that is hugely moving and also new to me is Duranka Perera’s Bitter State. The poet is also a doctor living in the UK and native of Sri Lanka where horrendous terrorist attacks took place on 30th March. It begins thus: ‘I was angry when it happened. / I was angry when the numbers continued to rise. / I was angry when bitter tongues lashed old wounds. / I was angry when a dying monument drew more /money than / The dying themselves.’
From John Agard to William Wordsworth, whatever your taste in poetry, there will be plenty to savour in this collection.

The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems
chosen by Brian Moses

Poet Brian Moses has chosen an assortment of splendidly silly poems for this compilation of over a hundred giggle inducers.
The selection has ten sections, each named with a line from or title of, one of the poems included. Thus for example we have ‘The red ear blows its nose’ from Robert Schechter’s What’s Mine for the first – Silly and Even Sillier Poems.
The teacher part of me wanted to turn next to the Headmaster’s Welcome where among the thirteen I totally loved Brian’s own The School Goalie’s Reasons
The writer/reviewer part of me just had to turn next to the Fantasy and Fairy Tales offerings where there are some terrific four liners including Rachel Rooney’s Epitaph for Humpty Dumpty: ‘ Beneath this wall there lies the shell / Of someone who had talents. / But (as you can probably tell) / One of them wasn’t balance.’ What a great starting point for a bit of epitaph writing in the classroom using a nursery rhyme theme. On the subject of the classroom, in the Funny Poems About Poems section is Joshua Seigal’s terrific I Don’t Like Poetry that offers a smashing lesson on similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia and repetition. An invitation to youngsters to play around with words for sure.
Should your taste be more for pets, dinosaurs, family, space or things spooky, never fear: you’ll find all these covered too.
We all need something to cheer us up at the moment so why not start with this collection: it will long outlast the current pandemic however.

Stars with Flaming Tails

Stars with Flaming Tails
Valerie Bloom, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

How exciting to have a book of new poems from Valerie Bloom after quite a long while; but Stars With Flaming Tails with more than sixty offerings was definitely worth the wait.

Arranged under five headings – Family and Friends, Fun with Forms, Our World, Animals and Unbelievable?, this is a veritable treasure trove of delight encompassing such diverse topics as pancakes and piranhas, the elements, grandparents, siblings, parents,

the ordinary and the extraordinary (though nothing is the former when Valerie works her magic on it).

You’ll laugh, feel saddened, ponder upon, puzzle over, empathise, wonder, and with all your senses aroused, discover many things anew. It’s amazing how totally different moods can be evoked by just four lines; take for instance EclipseA huge space giant saw the sun, / he thought it was a currant bun, / so he took an enormous bite / and turned the daytime into night.

and Dawn – ‘Sunlight pries open / the hands of the mimosa / which all night had been clasped / in prayer.’

On the shortest day of the year, that has also been extremely wet and cheerless, one of the poems that really made me smile ends thus: ‘But all’s well, we’re rich and happy (so I had to beg his pardon), / and he’s charging folk a pound to see the dead giant in the garden.’ Can you guess who the ‘he’ is in this one – hint it’s a character from a traditional tale.

No matter how you’re feeling though, you’ll discover something to suit your mood, or to lift you out of it perhaps. Ken Wilson-Max’s black and white illustrations serve the poems well providing an additional reason to smile wherever you open the book.

Weird Wild & Wonderful

Weird Wild & Wonderful
James Carter, illustrated by Neal Layton
Otter-Barry Books

James Carter’s selection of his own works might be divided into the three sections of its title, but for me, every one of the fifty herein is, in its own way, wonderful.

The first part – ‘Weird’ – contains those poems that their author calls daft or cheeky, or perhaps both. My favourite is Spot the Fairytales (aka Ten Tiny Senryū) or 17 syllable present tense haiku. Here are some examples: Enter if you dare – / three breakfasts; one broken chair. / Off to bed? / Beware … // A cute bird calling / an urgent word of warning – / ‘THE SKY IS FALLING!!’ // … She’s poshed up in bling – / grooving with the future king. / Slipper fits. KERCHING!

Among the daft is a clever shape poem (one of several ) called Lullaby for a Woolly Mammoth that you can sing to the tune of Twinkle, twinkle …

Among the entirely new poems and included in the ‘Wild’ section is The Elephant’s ODE to the DUNG BEETLE. That one really made me laugh and I love Neal Layton’s illustration of same.

Not all the poems are light-hearted though. Anything but is another shape poem Who Cares? … a stark warning against the thoughtless and selfish ways people are harming our precious wildlife.

In the final ‘Wonderful’ part are some of James’ science poems and quiet poems. One of the latter that spoke to me immediately is another new, and timely one – It’s … Kindness. On this particular day I’m also drawn to That’s Poetry, Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? and, School Library!. Here are its first and last verses: Where are doorways made of words? / That open into other worlds? / Welcoming all boys and girls. // SCHOOL LIBRARY // … Tempted? Go on, have a look. / You never know, you might get hooked. / Your whole life changed by just one book … // SCHOOL LIBRARY! Who knows? It just might be this smashing book of poems – there’s something for all tastes therein: it most definitely hooked this reviewer. The book fairy in another of Neal’s terrific illustrations awaits to lure you in.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!
selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Nosy Crow

I love getting poetry anthologies to review, for despite owning a iarge bookcase crammed with books of poems (for both adults and children) and having compiled a fair number of the latter myself, I always make some exciting new discoveries.

What joy then, to have a bumper compilation such as Fiona’s offering, an animal poem for every day of the year, with a stunningly beautiful illustration from Britta gracing every spread.

Name an animal and more than likely you will find it featured somewhere in this collection; and you’ll find a creature (sometimes several) for almost every letter of the alphabet with the notable exceptions of q – this has Tony Chen’s Question: ‘As asphalt and concrete / Replace bushes and trees, / As highways and buildings / Replace marshes and woods, / What will replace / The song of birds?’ , u (there is a poem but it’s an extract from John Bunyan’s Upon a Snail) and x is not represented at all.

Whether your preference is for creatures great or creatures small, feathered, scaled, smooth-skinned or spiney you will be satisfied. Having seen the bird she writes of standing in the rain on my walk yesterday I absolutely loved discovering this new to me poem of Roberta Davis: ‘Perfectly still / in the falling snow / grey heron’

I also heard on that same walk but didn’t see, a Woodpecker, the subject of John Agard’s wonderful poem – another new discovery for me, the first verse of which is ‘Carving / tap/tap / music / out of / tree trunk / keep me / busy / whole day / tap/tap / long ‘

Despite summer now being over for this year, there are still plenty of bees, wasps and other small insects about including the bees that George Szirtes writes of in The Bee’s Knees: ‘Great hairy knees bees have as they squat / in the flowers then push off with a spring, / all six knees pumping and shoving. With so much power they’re soon airborne, resilient, / muscular, adrift. // The bee’s knees. // Brilliant. ‘ And brilliant that surely is. Henceforth I’ll look anew at bees.

There’s more about minibeasts and their knees in Dorothy Aldis’ Singing: ‘Little birds sing with their beaks / In the apple trees; / But little crickets in the grass / Are singing with their knees. ‘

Interestingly October has four wasp poems though I’m less well disposed towards those buzzers as I have a wasps’ nest all a-buzz outside one of the bedroom windows; so I really appreciate the opening lines of Carol Ann Duffy’s The Wasp: ‘Help me to love the wasp, / help me to do that thing – / to admire the raspy buzz / of its wings, to grow fond / of its droning whinge.’

Having spent most of this review talking of creatures small, I should finish with a poem about a large one and a favourite of mine – the subject of another new delight for me; it’s Liz Brownlee’s An Elephant is Born: ‘Night holds them safe / the moon cloud gleams, / deep in the darkness / of soft breath and dreams, // the elephant mother / greets her new son, / with a tender and gentle, / low, soft hum, // strokes his face / the night-left long, / and sings her newborn / elephant song.’

Finally, I must endorse what Nosy Crow’s Louise Bolongaro says in her introduction, ‘Poems and reading “matter” more than ever but so does the natural world. If this book can nurture a love of the animal kingdom, then maybe it will also help create the conservationists of the future.’ If that isn’t a reason to go out and buy a copy to give as well as one to keep, then what is?

Poems to Save the World With

Poems to Save the World With
chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I fell head over heels with Chris Riddell’s Poems to Fall in Love With and now comes this third of his anthologies, published at a particularly challenging time for everyone, whoever and wherever they are. I received my copy on the day the announcement came of restrictions changing AGAIN, which has meant having to revise plans to visit relations with 3 young children. I felt I needed to dive straight into the book to look for some poetic solace, and headed first to the Lockdown section where unsurprisingly I found much that spoke to me immediately. First, Brian Bilson’s Serenity Prayer that begins ‘Send me a slow news day, / A quiet, subdued day, in which nothing much happens of note, / save for the passing of time ’.

Actually, every one is a gem, not least Chris’ own Lockdown that made me well up. In contrast, Roger McGough’s The Perfect Place that opens thus: ’The world is a perfect place to be born into. / Unless of course, you don’t like people / or trees, or stars, or baguettes.’ … and concludes ‘About the baguettes, / that was just me being silly.’ that end really made me chuckle.

New to me but already oft read are Nikita Gill’s Kindness that has four incredible illustrations by Chris and Neil Gaiman’s What You Need to be Warm written originally to support the 2019 UN Refugee Agency winter appeal with these final lines, ‘Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place, / to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say / we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest / season. // You have the right to be here.’

and also from the Everything is Going to be OK section, Rachel Rooney’s Battle Call that will surely spur readers into action.

Among the classical poems Wordsworth’s Travelling ‘This is the spot: how mildy does the sun / Shine in between the fading leaves! The air / In the habitual silence of this wood. / Is more than silent:’ illuminated my woodland walk with my partner the previous day. More than silent it surely was, as our peace was shattered by a very young boy (a modern day Max) out with, I think his dad and , both of whom were howling like wolves for several minutes – stress release I suspect – but very amusing to us in our previously silent wood.

In the same wood on that same walk there’s what I call a troll bridge (made of logs) so I loved finding A.F. Harrold’s wonderful Troll Song made even more so by Chris’ drawings of the troll narrator whose concluding thoughts include, ‘I read a lot of books. They contain other worlds. / For a time I can imagine I’m not living under a bridge.’ Books have certainly been key in keeping this reviewer sane during the challenges of the pandemic.

From the section The Elephant in the Room, is John Donne’s No Man Is an Island that seems even more ironic with this weekend’s announcement of the likelihood of a catastrophic BREXIT no-deal.

In one or more ways, every poem herein helps illuminate the huge challenges we all face, individually and collectively, if we are to make our world a better place for everyone; and what better way to conclude than with Nikita Gill’s uplifting, ‘This is me checking in / sending you the moon as a poem, praying and wishing for us all / a speedy recovery. // And if nothing else, / There will always be poetry/ We will always have poetry.’ from Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

Superbly presented, exquisitely, often intricately, illustrated and enormously uplifting, this is a must for sharing, for giving and for keeping.

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice
A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Mini Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I was already chortling before I’d even finished reading the poet’s note to readers, let alone any of his advice in poetic form.

This book of awesome delight is the combined effort of two terrific talents, illustrator Mini Grey and A.F. Harrold, the writer and it’s patently obvious that they both relished working on its creation. Indeed, I’ve never seen the poet in better form than here.

The result is a collection of unmissable artistry – verbal and visual – advising on all manner of topics both ordinary and extraordinary from breakfast – both its perils and its lack of boredom inducing properties, to Blackbirds and Bananas, Bins even! As well as ‘… Wobble, wobble, wobble, / gobble, gobble, gulp. … ‘ For, Jelly Is Never Wrong’ (not even the cabbage flavoured variety or the marmite kind) I should hasten to say there’s an entire section of ‘Advice mainly relating to food …”.

When next I see her I’m going to share Useful with 7 year old Emmanuelle after her rather pathetic sausage-eating efforts when last she stayed with us. Having persuaded her dad she “really, really wanted” the sausage dish on offer at the restaurant, she refused to eat any of its main constituent. (they were organic and maybe that was the issue). Had I done so prior to the event I’m sure she would have tried this suggestion: ‘You can balance them on your lip / and pretend to have a moustache / in order to amuse your companions. ‘ I don’t’ think she’s ever been lost at sea, thus needing to ‘attract aeroplanes’ or sharks. But you never know …

Even this zany poet doesn’t advise eating that Bin he writes of; that’s to be found among the 4th and final section containing miscellaneous bits and bobs such as Crosses and Knot Knots – see how cleverly Mini has placed her knotty collection around those. Just one example of her wonderful integrating manipulation (often complete with her own witty asides).

I’ve just read Inside the Anthill to my partner as he’s given to lying flat out in fields to investigate these bumps and lumps, though even his ‘scientific zeal’ hasn’t led him to quite such lengths as trying a cake crumb imitation – at six foot I doubt he’d fool even a single ant.

Not all the poems are totally absurd though: there is a fair sprinkling of the quiet poignant and thoughtful too.

Take the unforgettable, Earthsong: that ends with ‘Some of it is poisoned/ and some of it is dying. / Some of it is silent / and some of it is crying. // Some of it is going / and some of it is gone. / Some of it… ‘

No matter where you open this corker of a book, there’ll be something to love and I can’t resist concluding with the revelatory and entirely apt final verse from Inside: ‘Where am I? / I’m inside, / I’m between the covers. / I’m in so deep. / I’m through the paper door. / I’m breathing the air of other worlds. / I’m exploring. / I’m reading // and I can’t hear you any more.’
Now that is what it’s all about …
Get this – it’s a must for home collections, classrooms, libraries – and I’m sure you’ll never look at anything in quite the same way again.

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble
chosen by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon
Bloomsbury Education

Poet, Paul Cookson has brewed up an anthological crucible that’s brimming over with magical poems, over seventy in all. He’s spread his web wide gathering a rich and varied mix of ingredients that includes classics such as Shakespeare’s Over Hill, Over Dale; from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tennyson’s The Kraken and Lewis Carroll’s Dreamland, as well as a host of contemporary poets, established and rising.

I really enjoyed every single one and it’s impossible to select favourites, as it depends on mood as much as anything; but on the day I received my review copy I’d spent at least two hours screaming at my new Macbook which had supposedly had everything migrated from the previous one, but there were lots of things unexpectedly going wrong.

I was greatly amused to find the book opened itself at Stan Cullimore’s Song of the Witches (when their Internet Wasn’t Working) with its opening lines ‘Double, double, click that bubble / We have got computer trouble’. Shame I couldn’t fix it with the poet’s final line ‘Just had to switch it off and on again’ that works so often with computer woes. I suspect Paul himself was using a bit of his ‘Telepathically Magical’ power to cause me to start on that particular page, and no, my answer was not … 3 and I’m still struggling – three days later. A-hah! That’s it!

I know many youngsters who will take great delight in James Carter’s How To Turn Your Teacher Purple! – ‘Heebie Geebie, Hurple Burple / Time To Turn My Teacher … PURPLE!’
I just hope none of them test it out on me though. I definitely wouldn’t countenance being fed with ‘beetroot every hour’ – can’t stand the stuff.

I will certainly avoid doing what the filling of Graham Denton’s four liner did too …

And I’m going to share Matt Goodfellow’s An Example of my Amazing Ability to Make People (Namely my Older Sister) Spontaneously Combust Without Even Touching Them with 5 year old Samuel. It goes like this:
‘I pour away her perfume / scribble in her books / dribble on her mobile phone / and give her dirty looks // pull down all her posters / trample on her clothes / then leg it to my bedroom / and hey presto // she explodes.’
I suspect however that he’s too good natured to try it, but you never know.

Rather than waxing lyrical about the rest of the elements of this marvellous mix, let me just say that Paul serves up a terrific repast here and it’s one to relish whatever the season. Spellbinding it certainly is and I totally love the addition of Eilidh Muldoon’s visual garnishing.

A Poem for Every Autumn Day

A Poem for Every Autumn Day
ed. Allie Esiri
Macmillan Children’s Books

Allie Esiri has selected 61 autumnal poems for this terrific poetry collection to take readers through from 1st September to 30th November.

For this poetry-loving reviewer much of it was a trip down memory lane, some of which, including Christina Rossetti’s Who Has Seen the Wind?, William Blake’s The Tiger, Someone Came Knocking (Walter de la Mare) and Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem took me right back to my primary school days when I learned them by heart.

I’m back in my secondary classroom with my English teacher reading us Edward Thomas’ Digging, Hardy’s Drummer Hodge, Betjeman’s Diary of a Church Mouse and Robert Frost’s The Runaway with that beautiful soft Welsh lilt to her voice.

Then I’m up on the stage in my final year at the same school performing those lines from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Some of my favourite poems are included: there’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 ; and Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken; I can think of no better way to start October than with that.

It’s great to discover new things too.
Surprisingly I’d not comes across John Agard’s terrific poem about bullying, The Hurt Boy and the Birds, beginning ‘The hurt boy talked to the birds / and fed them the crumbs of his heart’ , the final lines of which are, ‘But the hurt boy talked to the birds /and their feathers gave him welcome – // Their wings taught him new ways to become.’

Bang up to date is Michaela Morgan’s Malala: the opening verses  are: ‘A girl with a book. A girl with a book. / That’s what has scared them – / A girl with a book. // They get on to the bus. / They call out my name. They aim. And they fire. / A shot to the brain.’

I was greatly moved by all the war poems chosen for November, and by James Berry’s Benediction, also new to me, that goes like this:
‘Thanks to the ear / that someone may hear // Thanks for seeing / that someone may see // Thanks for feeling / that someone may feel // Thanks for touch / that someone may be touched // Thanks to flowering of white moon / and spreading shawl of black night / holding villages and cities together’

Reminding us of the way smell and taste can bring back long forgotten memories, Crab Apples (Imtiaz Dharker) is another exciting discovery for me: ‘My mother picked crab apples / off the Glasgow apple trees / and pounded them with chillies / to change / her homesickness / into green chutney.’

Much as I really don’t want the summer to end, this treat of a book will assuredly help me feel my way through the shortening daylight hours as I read A Poem for Every Autumn Day.

Butterfly Brain

Butterfly Brain
Laura Dockrill and Gwen Millward
Piccadilly Press

Gwen Millward’s cover for this book is absolutely delightful; don’t be beguiled by this however. What’s inside is a story about a boy dealing with his grief. There’s even a warning on the first page informing readers that what follows is ‘rather strange and gory.’

Time and time again, Gus gets into trouble; he breaks the rules at school, is rude to his teachers, angry towards others and is always leaning back on his chair, taking not one scrap of notice of warnings about injury from those in school or at home whose anger he’s aroused.

Then one day, the inevitable happens …

CRACK! and that crack becomes a large gap through which Gus’s brains with his dreams, understandings, feelings and memories are exposed for all to see.

A butterfly appears – his very own brain butterfly – a guardian guiding light, it says, but that too flies away. There’s only one thing to do.

Out of the window and up into the night sky goes the pyjama clad boy in pursuit.

During their journey Gus learns how important memories are, be they good or bad, including those buried deep within. He revisits long gone, alarming dreams, learning of one that should not be left behind, and discovers the vital importance of the imagination.

Is he ready finally to own the secret and the painful fear of loss?

Enormously moving, forthright, and written in rhyme, this is a truly heart-rendingly incredible book that can speak to everyone, child and adult, through its words (Laura’s) and its powerful pictures (Gwen’s) rendered in mood-invoking hues.

A definite keeper this.

Honey for You, Honey for Me

Honey for You, Honey for Me
collected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Walker Books

I danced around the kitchen and leapt in glee on opening the parcel containing this book from the team that gave us the anthology A Great Big Cuddle.

It’s an absolutely stonking first book of forty nursery rhymes and one of the very best gifts you could give a baby or toddler.

Michael has always been fascinated with nursery rhymes calling them ‘surprising little dramas, full of mysteries and unanswered questions.’ Like this reviewer he’s been an avid collector of books of nursery rhymes and in this new one of his, Michael has put not only popular favourites and playground chants, but also some rhymes that have lain forgotten perhaps for a generation or two.

From cavorting elephants en route from Wibbleton to Wobbleton, wibbly wobbly jelly and frizzle frazzle sausages,

as well as dancing ones summoned into life by a whistling boy, a mop-consuming dog and a ton weight of a giant who’s all a-tremble at the mere sight of a mouse – we know we’ve entered that magical land of topsy turvy where playful language is loved for the sheer delight it offers both to those who hear it and to those who utter it.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations are outstanding, making the characters utterly memorable in a new way, be they of those you might already have met such as the all in black clad Miss Mary Mack and Little Poll Parrot or some delightful revelations that for me were the hiccup remedy …

the hungry frog and for the sheer joy of sharing something delectably new and bouncy to boot, ‘Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, doe, / Give me a pancake and I’ll go. // Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, ditter, / Please to give me a bit of fritter.’

For utter adorableness, Chris’s character illustration that completely stole my heart was The man in the moon.

Guaranteed to become a favourite in any household with young children, in nursery and early years settings and with anybody who wants to promote a love of language and art for their own sake (surely, that’s pretty much all of us), this is joyful magic from cover to cover.

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a wonderful new edition of Jackie Morris’ selection of forty nursery rhymes. In her introduction Jackie talks of their crucial importance and vitality in our modern digital world.

Of those included here, some will likely be familiar: there’s Ride a Cock-Horse, Hickory, Dickory Dock, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and Sing a Song of Sixpence, for example;

whereas others – The Hart and the Hare, To the Bat and All the Pretty Little Horses, for example might be new discoveries.

The entire book has a dream-like, timeless quality to it thanks to the exquisite watercolour paintings that grace every spread. It’s virtually impossible to choose a favourite but on this day of writing and sweltering heat, I was drawn to the absolute tranquillity of Baby’s Bed’s a Silver Moon.

There’s humour, the beauty of the natural world, surprises and more; in fact pretty much everything you could wish for in a book that’s an absolute treasure, not just for the very youngest, but for anyone who loves art and language.

Sadly many young children nowadays don’t have that bedrock of nursery rhymes that we nursery and reception class teachers tended to take for granted when little ones began school decades back; but giving a new parent a copy of this stunningly beautiful book might just start a child off on a journey of becoming a lover of words, stories and reading.

The B on your Thumb

The B on your Thumb
Colette Hillier and Tor Freeman
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is a book of 60 poems, each of which aims to help youngsters learn a particular sound, spelling or rule, and each with a Tor Freeman illustration to make readers giggle.

The author passionately believes that ‘even very young children are receptive to the joys of wordplay’. She’s likely read Kornei Chukovsky’s From Two to Five (required reading when I was  studying the role of language in education under Margaret Meek/Spencer at London University Institute of Education). Here Colette’s clever use of wordplay and rhythm will help develop sound/symbol awareness as well as promote thinking skills, and  demonstrates that there’s pleasure aplenty to be derived from the foibles of the English language and its spelling rules.

Having read the author’s look at language right through, this reviewer, an ardent believer and promoter of the crucial importance of context and meaning as key factors in early reading, wonders how young children manage to learn to read the way it is currently taught in most UK schools. However, Colette’s book is full of loopy delights and she does provide meaning of a playful kind in her poems (many of which are nonsense verse) and I love it, especially as a means to help with spelling.

Deliciously daft from cover to cover (apart from the introduction for grown-ups) this volume is divided into four parts entitled First Sounds …

This ‘Enough of Uff’ is a tricky one: ‘Uff, uff. / Do your stuff. / You’re there in every / huff and puff. / But where are you/ when things get tough? / Perhaps you felt you’d / had enough!’

Then come Silent Letters and Secrets that includes these …

Spellings, and Words that Sound the Same.

Here’s an example from Spellings; it’s called The E on Your Shoe: ‘There is an E / on the tip of your shoe. / Just sitting there / with nothing to do. // Now take off your shoe / and what do you know? Another E / on the end of your toe!’

The book concludes with seven lively ideas for ‘Getting the most out of the rhyme’

A definite thumbs up to this one: get it if you’re a primary teacher, a family with young children or somebody who wants to promote the joy of language for its own sake.

Belonging Street / Dear Ugly Sisters and other poems

It’s always exciting to receive new poetry books and these two from Otter-Barry Books are smashers.

Belonging Street
Mandy Coe

In this collection Mandy Coe has written about urban life, wild life and family life, sometimes all of them in the same poem. There’s definitely something for every taste and every mood from story poems, puzzling ones, riddles and those that really touch the emotions.

What Mandy does so well is to help readers to see the beauty and the magic of the everyday world whether she’s writing about Helping Hands:
Grandad’s hands are brown / and rough with oil. / Grandma has a green thumb / potatoes pushing up the soil. // My aunt’s hands are pale, / inked with many colours. / My uncle’s hands are strong. / dusted with sugar and flour. // My stepdad’s hand uncurls / to reveal a coin’s bright shine. / My mother’s strong hands / sew each stitch in time. // And when any of us fall, / these hands will help us stand, / these mending, baking, making, / lending, helping hands.

Or talking of butterflies as in She Belongs to the World:
Drifting through Albania / from mountain tops to forest floor, / she is flutur.
In Norway, / among black pines, a brilliant jewel, / she is sommerfugl’ … ‘Tumbling from the sky, / summer has arrived. / She is Butterfly.’.

And how magical-sounding are these lines from Animals Name the Constellations:
What’s in the stars up above?
asked Tadpole of his father.
It’s Silver Spawn in the Black Pond,
the Lily, Carp and Beaver.
Have they been there long?
Forever my love, forever.

Love Mandy Coe’s illustrations for this poem

And I’m definitely going to try The Rhythm of Sleep if I find myself unable to drop off at night. It would also make a marvellous relaxation ending to a yoga class except that one doesn’t actually want the participants to ‘slip into sleep.’ Not until they get home anyhow.

Dear Ugly Sisters and other poems
Laura Mucha, illustrated by Tania Rex

This is Laura Mucha’s debut collection although readers may have come across her poems through workshops, festivals, anthologies and other places where poetry is celebrated including the Caterpillar Poetry Prize that she was awarded in 2019 for the title poem. Now we have an entire book and that is most certainly something to be celebrated.

Her writing is wide-ranging and there are several other fairytale-related offerings such as Rapunzel, Did You Sleep Well? – a superbly playful take on The Princess and the Pea from the viewpoints of the pea, the prince and the princess; and Three Bears VS Goldilocks where Goldilocks puts her case concluding it thus: ‘ The Three Bears need to drop their charges, or they’’ll be / contested. / Their lodgings are so terrible, that THEY should be / arrested.

Each one fresh and accessible, there are shape poems, haiku, poems constructed for the sheer joy of hearing their words said aloud as in Words That Make Me Smile that starts like this:
Tog, toggle, goggle, wiggle / wriggle, giggle, gnu ‘ and Listening To – an onomatopoeic immersion in birdsong.

You might choose to celebrate Ash’s Birchday, or while reading Dear Key Workers pay tribute (along with the child collaborators) to all those who have contributed so much during the coronavirus pandemic ; or perhaps ponder upon the plight of those children who in 2018 were separated from their parents after so it was said, illegally entering the United States that Laura speaks so movingly of in How Long Until I Can See My Mum?

Whether your penchant is for science, space, nature or things literary you’ll find a poem here, many of them quirkily illustrated by Tania Rex.

Although a lover of Shakespeare I found myself spluttering with delight at Compliments of Shakespeare (inspired by the bard’s insults); and celebrating the joys of reading with the penultimate, rhyming Travel By Book, the final verse of which is: ‘I’ve met many people, I’ve made many friends, / and though I’ve felt sad when I came to the end / of the journey I’d made – I can make it again / with the words of a wonderful book.’

And, what we have here IS a wonderful book. (You can even use the QR code on the back cover on your smartphone for a free audiobook narrated by Laura herself – how fab is that?)

After Dark / A Hatful of Dragons

After Dark
David L. Harrison, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Wordsong (Boyds Mills & Kane)

Poet David Harrison has chosen twenty-one nocturnal creatures large and small with which to populate his book of poems. There are insects, arachnids, amphibians, birds, fish and mammals; and as the poet is from the USA, some may be unfamiliar to readers in the UK. Nonetheless his descriptions are fascinating and closely observed while being presented in a variety of poetic forms mostly unrhymed.

So, let’s meet some of these fauna: first coyotes in The Hunt Is On:
Shhh, listen … / Hear that howling? / Out there in the dark? / Dogs don’t howl, / not like that. // They’re on the hunt. / Better take warning – / Be you mouse or deer, be watchful. / Coyotes are near.

Here’s one about the Luna Moth that uses rhyme; it’s called The Queen:
Like regal monarch of the night / or fairy in the airy light, / richly robed in ermine white, / winged in velvet royal green. // Suitors you have never seen / find you here in words serene. / You’ve much to do before the dawn / so when your fleeting life is gone, / future queens can carry on.

Each animal is realistically captured in Stephanie Laberis’ vivid digital, illustrations and there’s a final spread providing additional factual information about each of the animals so graphically described in Harrison’s riveting poetry.

This book will surely encourage readers to go outside in the dark, observe with all their senses, and perhaps, put pen to paper.

A Hatful of Dragons
Vikram Madan
Wordsong

Vikram Madan’s collection of poems is deliciously daft and embraces a wide range of topics from time machines to twins and their tins, and taxis to tubas.

There are some recurring themes and characters – dragons being a notable example – while each of the rhymes, (which take a wide variety of forms), is hilariously illustrated in offbeat style by the poet himself who, by his own account, has since boyhood had a love of creating cartoons.

It’s pretty near impossible to pick favourites but on this day a couple that particularly tickled my fancy are Permanent Guests (ten aliens and a garden gnome) that have taken up residence in the poet’s shoe – here’s the final throwaway line …

… Except my foot’s still in my shoe

and The Helpful Pet with this opening verse:
We are sitting in a wrangle / Of a knotty, twelve-limbed tangle – / Where we’re starting, where we’re ending / Is a puzzle through and through.

Who wouldn’t want to check out the veracity of the poet”s claim in the sub-title by turning to 13,841,287,201* Nonsense Poems in One! – err, how long have you got? This mad offering contains 12 numbered blanks and a dozen lists each of seven items to insert wherever you feel like.

Now I for one am NOT going to do the maths. I’d rather chortle my way through the other poems or find a class of primary children to introduce to the delights herein. It’s just the kind of book that even those who claim not to like poetry might well change their minds after hearing a couple from Vikram Madan’s gloriously gigglesome gallimaufry.

Once Upon An Atom

Once Upon an Atom
James Carter, illustrated by William Santiago
Little Tiger

James Carter successfully wears several hats: he’s a much loved, award-winning poet, a musician and a non-fiction writer; how he manages to fit in all his performances at schools and festivals too, is pretty amazing.

In this latest book, James fuses his poetry and non-fiction writing, this time to explore some of the really BIG questions that fascinate both children and adults alike; and they’re all of a scientific nature.

Starting with a mention of the Big Bang and tiny atoms, the poet wonders, ‘WHY do leaves turn red and gold? / WHY do fireworks explode. // WHAT are whizzes, bangs expansions? / They’re all CHEMICAL REACTIONS!’
That assertion certainly makes chemistry begin to sound exciting.

Next on the scientific agenda are electricity, followed by gravity,

both aspects of physics – for as we hear, ‘We live on one great universe / and PHYSICS tells us how that works.’

Evolution, medicine come next, followed by my favourite of the sciences – botany, all of which are aspects of BIOLOGY.

The final stanzas talk of the work of scientists, their experimenting and inventing, ending with the exciting thoughts: ‘Now WHO knows what / the FUTURE is? // Find out … / become a SCIENTIST!’ Now there’s a possibility.

On the last spread is one of James’ acrostics entitled It’s all a question of SCIENCE.

A fizzingly, zinging addition to James’ non-fiction poetry series, this one is a clever fusion of playful entertainment and STEM information. With each spread being embellished with William Santiago’s arresting, zippy art, the book becomes a STEAM title that is great to share in the classroom or at home.

It’s Rhyme Time with Big Green Crocodile and Seagull Seagull

Two exciting books that celebrate rhyme and encourage a love of same:

Big Green Crocodile
Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

This collection of original play-rhymes for the very young comes complete with how to ‘act out’ instructions for adult readers aloud. Wearing my foundation stage teacher and advisory teacher for language hats, I know that it’s never too early to start sharing rhymes with little ones, first and foremost for the sheer pleasure they afford, but also for enjoyment of the inherent 3Rs (rhythm, rhyme and repetition) and here’s a book with sixteen new ones to enjoy.

Several of the rhymes feature aspects of the natural world – Five Buzzy Bees, a tree to tap, a Tickle Beetle, fishes, a Big Green Crocodile, while others are about things little ones adore hearing about (or will once you’ve read them a rhyme on the topic) such as monsters, a Wibble-Wobble Clown,

a Moon Rocket a dinosaur (Brontosaurus Ride), and sharing baking and sharing yummy ‘ICE-CREAM, COOKIES / AND CHOCOLATE CAKE!’ when The Queen Comes to Tea.

Whether your children are babies, soon to start reading at school, or somewhere in between, this is for you.

Caroline Rabei’s wonderful illustrations showing enthusiastic young child participants in all the action make this an even more delightful sharing experience for both children and adults.

So, jump up, shout for joy and move that body.

Seagull Seagull
James K. Baxter, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Gecko Press

Opening this book on the page opposite the contents, I read ‘Grasshopper green, / Grasshopper grey, / Why do you sit and fiddle all day? // Grasshopper grey, / Grasshopper Green. / Tell me of the wonderful things that you’ve seen.’
I know that poem I thought to myself and then realised why.
This is a new edition of New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter’s classic poetry – a selection of 20 poems from his book The Tree House, written for his class when he was a primary school teacher. The Tree House first published I think in the 1970s, is a book I had in my collection of poetry books at one time and his poems have been frequently anthologised by people such as myself.

Equally, I can recall reading Jack Frost to some of my classes way back in the 1980/90s. That’s the one that begins, ‘Look out, look out, / Jack Frost’s about! / He’ll nip your ears / And bite your snout!’ How well I remember those lines and my infants shouting it when the frost set in.

The more I read, the more excited I became: it was a real trip down memory lane to come upon Andy Dandy again, as well as meeting again The Old Owl as it sits on the branch of a gum tree telling listeners and readers, ‘There’s nobody here / But the moon and me:’ …
‘I’m as old as old, / And wise as wise, / And I see in the dark / With my great round eyes. // “So hurry and scurry,’ / The old owl said – / Pack up your toys / And get ready for bed.’
What wonderful images these words conjure up: and they surely have for Kieran Rynhart whose lovely illustrations grace the pages of this book.

I have no idea what happened to my copy of The Tree House but I shall most definitely enjoy sharing Seagull Seagull with children at every opportunity.

There’s a Crocodile in the House / The Magic of Mums

Celebrating two smashing new Otter-Barry Books compilations of performance poets writing:

There’s a Crocodile in the House
Paul Cookson, illustrated by Liz Million

It’s great to see another book by performance poet Paul Cookson and it’s full of zany offerings to delight both adult readers aloud and primary school readers. Lots of the poems are absolute musts for classroom audience participation.

Take the very first poem that gives the book its title; it simply bounces along and with children chanting each line after you, it becomes a double bounce every time.

Then what about The Toilet Seat Has Teeth! What fun to have a whole class of 6/7 year olds yelling ‘OW!’ and bouncing up off their seats whenever you read that line, ( nine times by my reckoning).

This one seemed even more hilarious when I read it because the book arrived on the same day we’d had our new Japanese toilet installed. Now it may not have teeth but it does have all kinds of other interesting features.

As does Paul’s giggle-inducing book for not only is there a croc. but there are also such creatures as The T Rex That Rocks, The Warty Hog and The Porky Pine;

not forgetting the riot-rousing Bottoms! – “Bottoms that are twitching / Bottoms that are itching / Bottoms that are slipping / Bottoms that are tipping / Wobble Bottoms / Jelly bottoms / Wriggle bottoms / Smelly bottoms.’. How such a plethora of bottoms wriggled their way into Paul’s hilarious collection is his only to know.

What this erstwhile infant teacher, reviewer knows though is that your class will be reduced to hysterics, not to say any KS1 or nursery teacher that shares it.

I wouldn’t mind betting that Liz Millions had a good giggle creating the smashing illustrations for this cracking book.

The Magic of Mums
Justin Coe, illustrated by Steve Wells

With Mother’s Day coming up on 22 March, this is the ideal time to grab a copy of this super compilation celebrating The Magic of Mums, another terrific read aloud, and I’m pretty sure young readers will find their own particular special mother figure lurking somewhere within its covers: and to make life easier, Justin has penned a poem (or two or even three) for every letter of the alphabet.

So if you think your mum is let’s say, an Anxious Mum, there ‘s a poem ready and waiting; there’s also Action Mum and Adoptive Mum representing A.

Everyone knows how hard their mum works so there’s a One-Hundred- miles-an-Hour Mother as well as this special tribute to a Diamond Mum …

For me the Dad-Mum is also a true diamond: ‘ I know I do not have your mother’s magic. / I just cook the recipes / that keep her in our memories / and try to keep the house / as she would have it. // And because your mum / could never bear / to see you sad, / I do my best to love you / twice as much / for both of us / be both / your mum and dad.’

Not all the mums featured are of the human kind however; there’s Earth Mother, Queen-Bee Mum and the enormously moving Tree Mum too.

Steve Wells captures the spirit of every mum he’s illustrated (and that’s most of them) in his line drawings.

Altogether a super celebration of motherhood in all its shapes and forms for individual reading, or even better, reading aloud to that certain awesome mum, or perhaps Two Mums, for as a little girl narrator of Justin’s poem of that name says, ‘ I have two mums to love me / so there’s two mums I love.’

Poems Aloud

Poems Aloud
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

Joseph Coelho is a performance poet so it’s no surprise that the nineteen poems in this book are first and foremost, intended to be read aloud or performed. Through so doing children can have lots of fun and discover the pure pleasure of spoken words.

There are poems for a range of moods and for each one, Joseph provides a helpful introductory line or so about reading it out loud.

There are some short playful alliterative Tongue Twisters to start with, including the sibilant The Slime Takeover that children will definitely delight in:
‘Slipping, shimmering, stinking slime, / sloppy cerise or shades of scarlet sublime. / It sticks and sucks and spits and spools, snaking slime slumping several school walls./ The slime swells and stretches, and starts to sprout, … ‘

They’ll also relish The Chilly Chilli with its homophones. Here’s the second verse telling how it feels since being ‘shipped to store’:
‘A little chilly chilli / feeling cold and in a knot. / Not a happy, chilly chilli. / In fact, this chilli feels quite ill / like it’s caught the flu. / It flew all this way / packed in a plane / to add heat to otherwise plain food.’
It sounds as though the poet had as much fun composing this as youngsters will when they read it, emphasising the bold words as he suggests.

As I write today the following are my favourites  (although they might well be different on another day): This Bear with its figurative language such as is used in the opening verse:
‘This lumbering bear is old / This lumbering bumbling bear / has shuffled over rugged imagined mountains. / Urged his bulk, slow and strong. / Slow as geography. / Strong as tree growth / through the forests of his mind.’
What a wonderful picture that paints in the reader’s mind even without the splendid illustration.

I love too the short Animals offerings that include Lion: ‘I am meat-licker, / bone-cruncher, / big–meower. / I cat walk with pride. / My mane is a hairdo of envy. / My roar is a rumble of mountains. / My claws, a savannah of pain.‘ Superb!

Next is the fantastically fanciful Something Wondrous, the first line of which urges:
‘Peer from your window in the deep of night.’ You might spy these, for its second verse goes thus:
‘A unicorn nibbles the gold leaf tree, / hobgoblins fist-fight in every flower. Mermaids flop from a luminescing sea. / Earth giants show-off their hidden powers.’ Joseph’s  power with poem creating is certainly not hidden and I really like the use of silhouettes in Daniel Grey-Barnett’s illustration.

The final one of today’s favourites conjures up a place whose sights, sounds and smells I’m familiar with. Even if you’ve never been On the Streets of New Delhi this poem will make readers feel that they’re experiencing the place. Here’s how it begins:
‘On the streets of New Delhi / a small brown dog yawns. / The morning light is golden / on the new streets of barking New Delhi.’
It concludes, thanks to the cumulative nature of the last line of each verse: ‘on the new streets of barking, selling, thrumming, chuckling New Delhi.’
Get hold of this cracking book to discover what causes the thrumming and chuckling referred to. Or you could cheat and look carefully at the action-capturing illustration  below;

but buy the book anyway – it’s a smasher!

The Shortest Day

The Shortest Day
Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
Walker Books

In many cultures light is celebrated as a symbol of continuing life and so it is here.

Many years ago Susan Cooper wrote a poem to perform in recognition of the winter solstice, telling how people used to celebrate the changing year by ‘singing, dancing, / To drive the dark away.’ Candles were lit and homes festooned with evergreens, fires burned all through the night ‘to keep the year alive.’ …

Until ‘the new year’s sunshine blazed awake.’

All this is shown in Carson Ellis’ gorgeous gouache paintings for this festive picture book.

We then move forward in time to see modern people with arms outstretched embracing the rising sun, before moving indoors where their home is decorated with a Christmas tree, an evergreen wreath and a mantelpiece on which stand a menorah and holly; carols are sung and children dance.

Both words and pictures powerfully evoke the changing season of then and now, presenting a superb alternative to the often trashy glitz and sparkle that is part and parcel of the festive season in a 21st century location such as the UK.

(There’s a final author’s note wherein Susan Cooper fills in the background to her poem, after which the poem – originally written for the theatre – is printed again.)

Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year

Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year
edited by Allie Esiri
Macmillan

As with Esiri’s A Poem for Every Day of the Year, and A Poem for Every Night of the Year, this weighty, beautifully produced book is, despite its title, one to get lost in; I certainly did. Having said that it could equally be used daily, or as a book to dip in and out of whenever the reader felt like it. Shakespeare after all, had a wonderful way of creating a whole story in a single sonnet or a few brief couplets.

Covering the sonnets, extracts from the 37 plays and sections of longer poems, all of which are given an introductory paragraph relevant to the particular time of year. For instance, one of my favourite sonnets (116) for November 28th tells of the episcopal register at Worcester containing a note of the bard’s marriage in 1582. As a result not only do we get Shakespeare’s words – the familiar and well-loved, alongside the lesser known – but also insights into his life and times: the light and the dark no less.

Many of us will have learned chunks of Shakespeare by heart often at school, and I found myself going to the Index of Works and looking up first lines and turning to those first; some with voices like that of Judi Dench sounding in my ear.

No matter how you read it or where, school classroom, home or with a group gathered elsewhere, this is an enormously exciting, enriching compilation (love the endpapers) that one hopes will make Shakespeare accessible to a very wide audience.

What an awesome present Shakespeare Every Day of the Year would make at any time.

Mother Goose of Pudding Tale

Mother Goose of Pudding Lane
Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky
Walker Books

How many young children know nursery rhymes in this day and age? During my time as a foundation stage teacher I discovered that when they start school, comparatively few, and of those who did the majority knew only Baa Baa Black Sheep and the first verse of Jack and Jill; yet nursery rhymes are the bedrock of literary language and help in the development of an ear for language rhythms, rhymes and much more. In my early days of teaching reading I used picture book nursery rhymes with beginning readers who soon began to match what they had in their heads with the words printed on the page.

This book, subtitled ‘A small tall tale’ explores in playful fashion possible backstories about Mother Goose and her origins with Raschka’s poetic text suggestion that one Elizabeth Foster who married Isaac Goose was the true Mother Goose persona. He goes on to provide a biographical account of this woman from the time of her courtship, her wedding and raising of a family,

(fourteen children in all and all kinds of animals) weaving into the narrative thematically organised Mother Goose rhymes, and concluding thus: ‘Elizabeth Goose, / As / Mother Goose, / Can still be heard today.’ Would that it were so, and long may her rhymes continue.

Most spreads begin with Raschka’s own words

which are followed by a tradition Mother Goose rhyme that is illustrated with Vladimir Radunsky’s gorgeous, gouache, almost hypnagogic images, while at times there are also childlike pencil scribbles scattered on the page.

Wonderfully playful and silly, its great to read aloud or to read along with and provides a trip down memory lane for adults sharing the book with youngsters.

Refugees

Refugees
Brian Bilston and José Sanabria
Palazzo

Here’s a book to make you think hard no matter what your feelings on the topic.

Two opposing viewpoints on migration and the refugee story are presented in Brian Bilston’s poem Refugees.

The first presents the reaction of separatist-minded individuals – all too many sadly – who think badly of refugees deeming them scroungers and wasters after an easy life in a new country: an attitude I fear in the fractured society of the UK at least, that has been fuelled by the current BREXIT thinking of those advocating our leaving the EU. ‘Go back to your own country’ is what people seeking asylum might be told having risked life and limb to find a safe haven.

Read the other way however,

the poem offers a warm welcome to displaced people needing asylum: understanding, compassion and kindness are the order of the day in this alternative viewpoint.

Now I am totally of the second view and have taught countless children from refugee and asylum seeking families from as far afield as Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Pakistan in schools around London gradually coming to know what traumas the families have undergone. More recently, I have befriended one Syrian family who have come to live in Stroud, the town where I currently spend much of the time.

However I am fortunate – one of the ‘haves’ with my own house, car etc. and have seldom been without anything I have wanted let alone needed, so really who am I to condemn those less fortunate – the ‘have-nots’ let’s say, who have little themselves and fear losing what little they have to others – the outsiders.
It is far less easy to understand the prejudice of the powerful and affluent who prey on those suspicions and fears to serve their own interests.

The dystopian world illustrator José Sanabria creates in his first six spreads where refugees arrive in an armada of hot air balloons and guardians of the ‘anywhere’ homeland are depicted as penguin-like police,

distance the dilemma from any particular reality, giving the reader space to ponder the topic transnationally. Those for the second part show open-armed residents welcoming the newcomers with offerings of food, drink, flowers, toys and more.

This poem has already been included in an anthology of poetry entitled From Syria with Love. Presented as it is now in this superbly illustrated book, Refugees offers a powerful and pertinent message for readers/listeners of all ages from KS1 upwards to adults, some of whom might one hopes, start to question their own attitudes.

No matter what, the book ought to be shared, discussed and pondered upon by all.

Together / Insect Superpowers

Red Reading Hub looks at two interesting, unusual and very different ways of presenting non-fiction:

Together
Isabel Otter and Clover Robin
Caterpillar Books

By means of gorgeous collage style, die cut illustrations and a series of haiku accompanied by factual paragraphs, illustrator Clover Robin and writer Isabel Otter present a nonfiction nature book that looks at animal partnerships in the wild.

Beginning thus: ‘ A vast migration. / Cranes take turns to lead their flock: / The feathered arrow.’ and explaining that when cranes migrate and the leader of the group becomes tired, another takes its turn to lead and so on.

The migrating cranes fly above in turn, a pack of wolves; a herd of chamois deer; and a pod of pilot whales. They then pass above a shark that has its skin kept parasite free by remora fish that get a free lift;

anemones kept clean by goby fish; a badger that works with a honey guide bird; a crocodile that has its teeth cleaned by plovers; a herd of loyal elephants; giraffes with oxpecker birds that help keep down their fleas,

and finally, zebras and ostriches that use their complementary sense organs to alert each other to danger.

At last the cranes reach their winter feeding grounds and their journey is over – for the time being.

A fascinating way of presenting non-fiction that offers youngsters an introduction to an intriguing aspect of animal life.

Insect Superpowers
Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Chronicle Books

Taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending popularity of superheroes, author Kate Messner and illustrator Jillian Nickell present in action-packed, graphic novel format, an alluring array of eighteen insects with extraordinary abilities.

Before plunging readers into the specifics of the various insects’ superpowers, Messner provides an introduction to insect orders and using the Monarch butterfly as her example, shows how biological classification works.

Dramatic illustrations immediately snare the reader’s attention as they confront the bugs one by one starting with in the first FAST & FIERCE chapter, ‘Supersonic Assassin Giant robber fly – more like a supervillian – that uses its venomous spit to paralyse its prey.

Also in this chapter are The Decapitator aka the Asian giant hornet with its painful sting and fierce jaws that often rip bees apart before stealing their larvae and feeding them to their own hornet larvae.

Other chapters feature insects that use mimicry (the ‘Great Imposters’); the ‘Big & Tough’ bugs some of which are among the strongest creatures on earth; then come the ‘Masters of Chemical Weaponry’. I definitely wouldn’t fancy being sprayed by the hot noxious mist that the African bombardier beetle can emit from its abdomen when something bothers it. Yikes!

Further chapters are devoted to ‘Engineers & Architects’ and ‘Amazing Ants’ (although some of the insects in the previous chapter are also ants).

For each insect included there are facts about habitat, size, diet, allies and enemies, and of course, its superpower.

If you have or know children who are into superheroes but have yet to discover the delights of insects, this book that’s all a-buzz with superpowered bugs might just fire up their enthusiasm.

Poems To Fall In Love with

Poems To Fall In Love With
chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’d already fallen in love with a good number of the poems Chris Riddell has included in this superb collection, but finding them here is still as much a joy as discovering the unfamiliar ones he’s chosen.

One of the latter in the first section Love and Friendship is Neil Gaiman’s Locks, inspired by the story of the Three Bears. It begins and ends, ‘We owe it to each other to tell stories.’ Powerful and very moving it was written by Gaiman for his then very young daughter.

Another new one to delight me was A.F.Harrold’s Postcards From The Hedgehog. The prickly writer is Simon and in his second card he writes this: ‘Dear Mum, / Lovely weather today. / I saw a really pretty girl. / Not sure how to approach her. / She makes me really shy / but just all warm inside. / I rolled up into a ball. / Wish you were here. / love Simon.‘

Two cards later we hear how Simon made his approach and what happened. It’s wonderfully droll and really made me laugh.

Another long time favourite of mine, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, is included in the section Let’s Stick Together; I think no collection of poems of love poetry is complete without this one that begins ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediment. Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove:’

This is followed by the less likely The Owl and the Pussy Cat that I’ve adored since my father first started reading to me from a collection of Lear’s nonsense verse even before I started school.

This is a wonderfully eclectic collection of old and new: you’ll find John Donne, Emily Bronte, Blake, Betjeman, Grace Nichols, Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott, even the compiler himself .

Jan Dean’s Tomorrow when you will not wake left me with a huge lump in my throat; Christina Rossetti’s Remember, also in the final section, always has the same effect.

I could continue talking of the delights herein but instead will conclude by mentioning another of my all time favourites, E.E. Cummings’ i carry your heart with me that’s part of Valentine

(Wendy Cope’s poem of that name opens this section).

There’s passion, joy and heartbreak: you’ll shed tears of joy and tears of sadness and you cannot but be wowed by Riddell’s awesome black and white illustrations that make you see anew every single poem, however familiar.

Offering something for all moods, it’s a treasure of a book: I’ve certainly fallen for it.

Boom! Bellow! Bleat!

Boom! Bellow! Bleat!
Georgia Heard and Aaron DeWitt
Wordsong

This unusual book contains thirteen poems intended to be read aloud by two or more people and each features a sound or sounds, made by animals – reptiles, birds, fish, insects or mammals and all ‘heard’ by the author.

Maybe you thought frogs (and even toads) said ‘ribbit’ but here we experience their true voices as they ‘quonk, waa, jug-orum, beeee, peep, twang, errrgh, growl, trill, yeeeeeoooow’ and in springtime others ‘peep’ in threes.

All the poems are great fun to perform capitalising on the fact the children enjoy making animal noises, and some, including Flight of the Honey Bees

and Rattlesnake Warning have relatively easy sounds to make. The different colours of print act as orchestration indicators. (The performance key is explained on the contents page)

The last offering, Forest Orchestra, draws together a choir of mammals, insects and birds for a grand cacophonous finale.

An enthusiastic teacher (or other adult) and class could have enormous and very noisy fun experimenting with this book, and learning a great deal along the way; though I suspect only the former will read the author’s Nature’s Notes on each of the poetic offerings.

DeWitt’s digital illustrations are realistic and sometimes, splendidly dramatic. Watch out for those gaping jaws of the Rattlesnake.

Once Upon a Rhythm

Once Upon a Rhythm
James Carter and Valerio Vidali
Caterpillar Books

In this booming, stomping, chanting, magical look at music and its origins, poet James Carter engages not just our ears and eyes but our voices, our limbs, our hearts, and indeed our whole bodies, as we follow his lead that takes us back to the rhythmic sounds of tools on stone, to the chants of Africa,

to the songs of communities, to the voices of different instruments be they blown, plucked, shaken, banged, bowed or stroked.

First came the making of music and then came the notation – the lines and signs – indicating the pitch and the rhythm, enabling us to preserve it and pass it on through time and space.

We celebrate the emergence of new forms and styles,

new places to ramp up the sound and most of all, the notion that music is for everyone and each of us has the capacity to make music of one kind or another.

He concludes with an acrostic RHYTHM invitation to ‘Listen to life’s music’.

This latest of James Carter’s non-fiction poetic writing has Italian illustrator Valerio Vidali’s arresting artwork to complement it. His music makers appear to have picked up the rhythm of Carter’s poetry making it all the more vivid and powerful.

A smashing celebration of the art of music.

Cherry Moon

Cherry Moon
Zaro Weil, illustrated by Junli Song
ZaZaKids Books

I was over the moon (cherry and otherwise) to receive a copy of Zaro Weil’s latest poetry book. It’s subtitled ‘Little Poems Big Ideas Mindful of Nature’.

Little in length, some might be, but little in impact? – definitely not; not even the very shortest haikus.

It’s nigh on impossible to choose favourites from the round about 100 offerings so I’ll start with one – Story Time Orchestra – that in essence for me sums up this entire collection:
a story time orchestra / lives inside my book / and when I open / to my favourite part // everyone starts to play’.

Play is what Zaro does in her writing –she plays with ideas, plays with words, plays with language and plays with nature itself, painting wonderful word pictures in the mind. Try reading the tongue twisting ‘Preposterous penguins’, an elaborate alliterative poem that beings thus: ’thousands / of preposterously pensive penguins / pause to participate / in a particularly polar poetry pageant’.

Many poems are interpreted through Junli Song’s stylish, almost stylised illustrations.

Unsurprisingly the elements feature in a fair few of the poems: I’ll never walk again along the muddy cycle track behind my home in the rain without thinking of ‘Mudpuddling Tonight’ that portrays so perfectly the experience of welly walking near Stroud on a rainy evening; and it will certainly help lift the spirits:
mudpuddling tonight / sloshgurgling / all the way home through / a well-shined slipstream of / a million and one raindrops / lit by / a million and one moondots’.

This is assuredly a terrific collection and one to encourage readers, young and not so young, to open wide their eyes and sharpen all their senses to the wonderful world of nature waiting to be discovered in the great outdoors from early morning to late at night and all through the seasons.

Enchantment through and through.

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.

A Kid in My Class

A Kid in My Class
Rachel Rooney illustrated by Chris Riddell
Otter-Barry Books

This is an absolutely smashing collaboration between prize-winning poet Rachel Rooney and former Children’s Laureate, illustrator Chris Riddell.

As the author says at the outset, readers will likely see elements of themselves in not just one, but several of the characters portrayed in her superb poems and Chris’s awesome artwork.
It’s pretty certain too that school-age youngsters will be able to say, ‘that person’ in any of these works ‘is just like so and so’. I recognise all of the members of Rachel’s learning community; I suspect I’ve taught each and every one of them, many times over. There are those who’ll drive you crazy, make you laugh, cry, leap for joy; but no matter what you’ll love them all.

There’s First; this pupil is always first to arrive in the playground; first on the register; first to put her hand up to answer a question; first to have that new item that becomes a craze. This young miss can be more than a tad annoying.

As a teacher I’ve always had a soft spot for a Daydreamer; one who’s head and mind are somewhere far away from classroom reality perhaps during circle times or when the register is called.

I could have been the model for A Girl; the bookish child with ‘a farway look. // Head in the clouds. Nose in a book.’
… ‘Views the world in black and white. … Thinks. //… has pale, thin skin. // Bones of a bird. Heart on a string.’ Still am pretty much, even now; that’s me.

Then there’s The Artist, the inveterate doodler who cannot resist adding the personal touch to the photos in newspapers, who fashions a tattoo ‘ a black and blue rose’ around a bruise, or adds creatures to crawl up the brickwork.

I could go on raving about each and every person that is part and parcel of this class; imbued with one of childhood’s most crucial features, a boundless imagination, they can all engage in flights of fancy, imagining him or herself as fighter of a grizzly bear and astronaut in training (Don’t Walk, Run!);

or ‘speedier than googling Wikipedia’ potential Thesaurus, Wordsmith; even the class pet hamster has the ability to see itself as  muscle exerciser, French learner, Kandinsky recogniser.

Recently it’s been reported in the news, that poetry doesn’t really have a place in classrooms nowadays. What utter rubbish. It’s a book such as this that will most definitely demonstrate the absurdity of such a statement. Share a couple of these poems with a class or group and I’ll guarantee they’ll be clamouring to get their hands on a copy.
Totally brilliant!

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …