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.

Bloom

Bloom
Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Tiny Owl

Beneath the window of a large house grows a beautiful flower and every morning as they walk to school with their mum, a brother and sister stop briefly by the flower. The little girl would go up close to savour its beauty with her eyes and nose and address it thus, “Good morning, beautiful flower … I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.” She’d then proceed happily into school.

This went on until one morning having woken earlier than usual the man living in the big house saw what was happening and shouted threateningly at the girl and her brother.

Consequently they decided to change their route to school.

Next morning although the sun came out, the flower didn’t. The poor gardener is blamed for improper watering and the man does the job instead – but still the flower stays closed.

Perhaps it’s shade the flower needs the angry man thinks but again it fails to make a difference. No matter what he does or says the flower remains firmly shut and increasingly droopy.

Totally exasperated and full of complaints, the man calls his gardener again. Despite not knowing what the matter is, the gardener is observant and tells the man exactly what the little girl had done every day.

Finally after consideration, the man goes to the school gate, waits for the girl and her brother and tells them tearfully what has happened.

The little girl offers him some advice and the man rushes home. Instead of self-centred, self-interested orders, can kind, heartfelt words succeed in making his flower bloom again?

With echoes of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, Anne Booth’s ultimately uplifting fable demonstrates the power of words and the importance of considering carefully how what you say will impact upon others: positivity is key.

Robyn Wilson Owen’s finely textured, mixed media illustrations show the contrast between the children’s nurturing home environment and that of the man’s lonely existence as well as documenting the changes in the flower through the story.

Oskar Can …

Oskar Can …
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel

This blog has been a fan of Oskar, Britta’s little raven character from his first appearance a couple of years ago. Now he’s back in a celebration of all the things he can do.

His achievements are diverse and beautifully visualised in a series of very amusing scenes of jumping, counting, making a cuppa brewed to perfection to share with best pal Mo,


singing, digging holes – show me a youngster who doesn’t love that; then there’s creating pebble towers (his are always super tall), ski-ing, ice-dancing,

swimming (almost unaided) and riding a tandem with Mo. The list just goes on.

He’s even a bit of a yogi. (I love his downward facing dog –and balances); perhaps he should try a crow pose next, I’m sure he’d soon add that to his ‘can do’ list.

With its inherent message about celebrating what children CAN do rather than forever pressurising them into constantly feeling the need to perform, be it at school or home, this is a smashing little story to share with little ones.

Alternatively for those in the early stages of reading, it’s an ideal ‘I can read’ book. I know whom I shall offer it to for that purpose next time I see her.

I always tell children ‘I don’t know CAN’T’ so it’s a huge HURRAH! for little Oskar with all his positivity.