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.’

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey / The Dictionary of Dads

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books
A little girl shares with readers, the characteristics of her dad, likening him first thing in the morning, to a huge, yawning, grizzly, grouchy bear. Then as he performs his ablutions, a toothily grinning crocodile …

He becomes octopus-like as he texts, brushes her hair, overturns a chair, burns the toast, spills the milk, ties shoelaces and prepares her lunch. PHEW!
His chitter-chatter monkeying around makes our narrator late for school too.
Afterwards though at the pool, he’s a …

And then after a spot of kangaroo bouncing, he turns into a ravenous, tooth-gnashing tiger; after which he still manages to summon the energy to morph into a monster ready to boss, chase, catch and …

Unsurprisingly after all those energetic activities, there is only one thing to do: snuggle up for some well-earned rest having earned the final “just my lovely daddy”.
This adorable, sometimes rhyming, portrait of a single dad is a delight and perfect for sharing with young children, no matter what their family situation.
Carol Thompson’s exuberant, mixed media scenes are at once funny, full of love and at the same time, show a father struggling to cope with the frenetic life of being a single parent of an energetic youngster and managing to stay upbeat and entirely lovable.

The Dictionary of Dads
Justin Coe illustrated by Steve Wells
Otter-Barry Books
Dads come in all shapes and sizes: in this, his debut collection, performance poet, Justin Coe introduces a veritable alphabetic assortment. From Abracadabra Dad to Zen Dad we meet over fifty of the paternal species, the least energetic of whom, surprisingly, is Sportsman Dad: ‘Dad’s favourite sport / On the couch with the baby / Synchronised snoring.

For the most part the mood is upbeat but there are also plenty of reflective, sometimes sad poems too, such as Prison Dad which takes the form of an apologetic letter from a dad to his children. Having acknowledged that he let them down, he says this … ‘Despite my bravado I’m no macho man. // How can I act hard when these guards have got me sewing? / And sitting in my cell, I’ve even started writing poems! / Days go by slowly. I’m lonely and the only times / That I can find to be close to you are in these rhymes.
Totally different, but equally poignant, is Old Dad wherein a snow-haired man and his brown-eyed boy take a walk in the park in late autumn and the man is mistaken for the child’s grandpa. The two collect seasonal souvenirs and as they leave; ‘the boy picks up one last leaf/ a gift for his father. // “Is it mine to keep forever?” / the old man asks. / And this time it is his boy’s turn to nod and smile. // The old man beams with pride, / holds the leaf gently to his lips / and kisses it, / as if this gift were some kind of / golden ticket.
There’s a poem about having Two Daddies and we also meet Mum-Dad – a mum who plays both the maternal and paternal role and as the child tells readers, ‘However wild the weather / She’s got a way to get it done / And I could not have asked for / A better dad than Mum.
My favourite I think though is Storytelling Dad (there are seven S dads) wherein we hear that this particular father actually seems to undergo a metamorphosis to become various characters from The Wind in the Willows, ‘ … But best of all / was when Dad turned into a Toad, / a horn hooting, / toot- tooting, poop-pooping Toad, / Motor-Car Maniac, / menace of the Road.

It’s impossible to mention all the dads that feature in this collection but it’s certainly one I’d want to add to any primary class collection, or to a family bookshelf. Steve Wells’ visual pen-and-ink embellishments are numerous – at least one per spread – and add to the individual reader’s enjoyment.

I’ve signed the charter