Essential mix

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Fred Sedgwick explores anthologies and collections for key stage 2 and beyond

Something Beginning with P: New Poems from Irish Poets Edited by Seamus Cashman The O'Brien Press, Dublin pound;17.95 Collected Poems for Children By Ted Hughes Illustrated by Raymond Briggs Faber pound;16.99

Songs and Verse By Roald Dahl Jonathan Cape pound;14.99

She's All That!: Poems about girls Selected by Barbara Hollyer Kingfisher pound;9.99

The Works 4: Every kind of poem on every topic that you will ever need for the literacy hour Chosen by Pie Corbett and Gaby Morgan Macmillan Children's Books pound;5.99

My Teacher's as Wild as a Bison: Poems based on the great outdoors By Coral Rumble Lion Children's books pound;4.99

Something Beginning with P is a sumptuous collection of new work by Irish poets. Like all the best anthologies, it offers poems that extend one's definition of what the art can do, especially for children nine years old and upward. It is full of near-the-knuckle honesty, as in Rita Ann Higgins's poem about her father. Many of the poems, such as Michael Longley's "Hallowe'en", mix the playful and the disturbing. Sydney Bernard Smith's "The Day the Dalai Lama met the Pope" is pure genius, and cries out to be set to music and sung on Orange Day parades. There are 12 poems in Irish, with prose translations of all but one at the back of the book. This book should be in all schools where English (and Irish) is spoken. It is a place where poets and children meet, with no condescension from the former.

Buy two copies - one will be stolen.

Raymond Briggs's drawings for Ted Hughes's Collected Poems for Children are a delight, and the publisher has done the poet's memory proud with this volume. It ranges from work for the very young to poems written, as the poet himself put it, not so much for children, as "within hearing" of them.

The work from What is the Truth? and Season Songs is part of a search for the centre of things. And you could teach similes with "The Warm and the Cold", and not bother with any dreary workbooks: "But the carp is in its depth Like a planet in its heaven.And the badger in its bedding Like a loaf in the oven."

Songs and Verse is another handsome book comprising, mostly, Roald Dahl's verse from his novels, some of the Revolting Rhymes and a few previously unpublished pieces.

Quentin Blake, Dahl's collaborator, has commissioned an excellent band of artists to join him on this project, including Christopher Wormell, Lauren Child, Mini Grey and Emma Chichester Clark. Dahl's moral universe could be summed up by a line from Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim: "Nice things are nicer than nasty things." A touch simplistic? But the book is fun, for all children from eight years old on.

She's All That! is also fun. The best poems here are by Christopher Reid, Carol Ann Duffy and Alice Walker. And Russell Hoban's "Esme on her brother's bicycle" is immaculate in the way its rhythms enact the little girl's progress on the big bike. Occasionally, the book lapses into sentimentality, and some of the poems are low-grade Groucho Marx material done up in verse.

All the books in The Works series have been found useful in classrooms, and the new one will be no exception. It is divided into sections, beginning with "A for the Ark and other creatures", and going through to "Z for Zapping Aliens". It will become worn and battered with use. I should declare an interest: I have poems in it, but then so has nearly every poet writing for children today. The fifth book is due out next term.

Coral Rumble's book is safe, light comedy. She has an eye (or perhaps her publisher has) on the national literacy strategy, with its riddles, kennings, tongue-twisters, shape poems and the rest. Throughout, the exclamation marks scream: yes, this is a joke! It's an attempt at being both entertaining and curriculum-friendly. But, as Ted Hughes knew, poetry is a search for the truth.

Fred Sedgwick's latest book is How to Teach with a Hangover: A practical guide to overcoming classroom crises (Continuum) "The Warm and the Cold" by Ted Hughes ) The Ted Hughes Estate, reproduced by permission of Faber Faber Ltd

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