Buying gifts for other people’s children is never an easy task. Is that big plastic dinosaur really going to keep them enthralled pass Boxing Day? Why not buy them a poetry collection instead? There are plenty out there especially written for children, fun for adults too, and, brilliantly, they won’t take up space in the toybox!
Here are three that have caught my eye.
My Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney
This comical cover of this collection belies the thought-provoking poems within.
In Wide Open we’re shown the inside of unbroken eggs, the moon and stars and even told of the wide open eye of the title that “yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.” This poem manages to encompasse all the wonder our universe contains – impressive in only a few lines. Elsewhere in the collection a wolf girl laps hot pea soup from a bowl, a lie slithers into a school bag, and we experience mundanity and drama of the world from a goldfish’s point of view.
One of my favourites is Stone, three elegant couplets that begin: “Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./ Sea remembers river’s winding map.”
There’s plenty of humour too, including Rooney’s witty limericks and riddles, a helpful advice poem (“never ask a hippo/ for a friendly game of squash”) and a lonely hearts advert from a wolf seeking “lady in red/ with plump and soft skin/ to share walks in the forest/ and cosy nights in.”
Werewolf Club Rules
by Joseph Coelho
At first glance, performance poet Coelho’s verses form a lighter, shallower collection. In fact, as you sink into works like Miss Flotsam you’ll suddenly realise you’re swimming through waters packed with life. Coelho weaves in a view of the world that will help children make sense of atrocities without soaking in their terrors. miss Flotsam is a hero who helps her pupils through some of life’s frightening moments without letting them know quite that’s what she’s doing – and Coelho shares her skill.
There are celebrations of food, of pets (particularly puppies) nature and education (even though in the An A* From Miss Coo there’s a humorous yet alarming examination of the dangers of being ‘taught’ to write poetry).
Among the wealth of stories, imagery and ideas, there are occasional blips. In Wool the poet suggests sheep are skinned to make jumpers, which seems an odd oversight to publish in a book for children. Other than this, the riches are many, with plenty to make kids laugh aloud (I know my five-year-old nephew will love Animal Boy, and enough depth to enthral older children and adults too.
Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill
This hardback, beautifully illustrated book is a rather different beast. Bringing together nursery rhymes gathered from across the English-speaking world, it’s the kind of tome you give as an heirloom gift, to be treasured by generations of children, parents, grandparents (not to mention uncles and aunts!). The book has been devised and put together by Elizabeth Hammill – co-founder of the marvellous Seven Stories in Newcastle.
As a writer, I was intrigued to read the different versions of familiar rhymes (in Australia, for instance, Little Miss Muffet faces up to a boxing kangaroo and a wombat – perhaps Australasian spiders would give little ones nightmares!), while absorbing poems from as far afield as Ghana and New Zealand and rediscovering some half-forgotten favourites.
Children will enjoy vivid poem tales from Jamaican, Inuit and Maori cultures, while eating up the energy-packed artwork – it’s just a shame it isn’t made clearer which of the 77 artists illustrated each nursery rhyme – this would have added a further dimension of pleasure for me.
To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.