27th October 2000 at 01:00
POEMS ABOUT BEING ANGRY: I want to shout and stamp about. By Tony Mitton. POEMS ABOUT BEING SCARED: is there anything there at the top of the stair? By Brian Moses. POEMS ABOUT BEING JEALOUS: everyone I see is luckier than me. By Clare Bevan. POEMS ABOUT BEING SAD: can anyone be as gloomy as me? By Nick Toczek. Illustrations by Mike Gordon. Hodder Wayland pound;8.99 each

Anger, fear, jealousy and sadness have been essential to poetry since at least the time of Aeschylus. Each of these new collections provides about 20 brief verses. They are intended for children aged about seven, offering both an introduction to some of poetry's recurrent techniques - rhyme, repetition, stanzaic organisation - and to some of its perennial themes.

The approach is light-hearted, despite the gravity of the subjects. The pictures feature big-eyed boys and girls in various attitudes of caricatued passion, accompanied by fretful adults or consolatory pets.

Good humour characterises the poems too. The unreason of jealousy over a new baby is comically undermined; the self-contradiction of destructive anger is gently mocked. In places there is an attractive recourse to unassuming similes, used to objectify emotion: "I'm like a live volcano with lava on the bubble." Teachers and parents are shown to be subjects as well as objects of bad feelings, adding an occasional measure of ethical complexity.

But the overall feeling is one of hortatory urges rather than of imaginative pressure. We are a long way from the sparkling amorality of Belloc's Cautionary Verses. Even with the bright colours and animated use of fonts, we are sometimes uncomfortably near to the world of the embroidered Victorian sampler, with its rhyming, chiming piety.

Tom Deveson

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