Hotline to the sensational
DAFT AS A DOUGHNUT. By Adrian Mitchell. Orchard. pound;4.99
BLOOD AND ROSES. Compiled by Brian Moses. Hodder. pound;10.99
Valerie Bloom introduces this year's winner of the CLPE Poetry Prize Children's poetry is enjoying a renaissance. Macmillan alone published 23 children's poetry titles in 2004, including eight single-author collections.
Quality was very much in evidence in the seven books chosen for the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education's Poetry Prize honour list (TES Teacher, May 27). Every one is a winner in its own way. For example, Adrian Mitchell's collection, Daft as a Doughnut (Orchard), is a vibrant mix of magic and fun. The poems are bursting with energy and exuberantly illustrated by Tony Ross. Aimed at the lower primary age group, this has real child appeal.
Also on the honour list, Blood and Roses, compiled by Brian Moses (Hodder), is one of those anthologies targeted at the national curriculum. The thought of reading 80 poems about British history was daunting, but my fellow judge Tony Mitton and I were pleasantly surprised by the variety and range of this anthology. The poems are not so much faithful depictions of historical events as snapshots of life from Stone Age Britain to recent times. The text is complemented by sumptuous line drawings by Chris Mould.
In considering the ideal book of poetry for children of primary age, we were looking for a pleasing mix of serious and funny, thoughtful and zany; poems suitable for the whole ability spectrum; poetry which would resonate in the mind long after the book was closed; and which, as Michael Morpurgo recently put it, "has the hotline to our strong feelings". We found all this in the winning book, Sensational!, Roger McGough's choice of poems inspired by the five senses.
Some say that the National Literacy Strategy has eradicated enjoyment in the classroom. It is difficult to understand how literacy can have any lasting effect without the glue of enjoyment to stick the lessons in the memory. A balance of both is essential.
The winning book goes a long way to redressing this balance in poetry.
Here, there are thoughtful and reflective poems, such as Lilian Moore's lyrical "Snowy Morning", alongside simple, light-hearted offerings such as McGough's own "Itch": "My sister had an itch I asked if it was catching 'Catch,' she said, and threw it. Now I'm the one who's scratching."
Roger McGough is well known for the award-winning collections of his own poetry, and he brings the same meticulous attention to selecting for anthologies. Here, every poem has earned its place. Macmillan seems to have recognised the fact that these poems do not need banging drums or blaring trumpets; the illustrations are unobtrusive to the point of being muted, with the result that the pieces can be enjoyed without distraction, by the large and growing poetry readership in primary schools and beyond.
* Valerie Bloom's next poetry book will be A Twist in the Tale, an anthology to be published by Macmillan in August