Magic moments

30th May 2003 at 01:00
HUBBLE BUBBLE: a potent brew of magical poems. Compiled by Andrew Fusek Peters. Illustrated by Melanie Williamson. Hodder Wayland pound;10.99

MOONDUST AND MYSTERY. Chosen by John Foster Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Oxford University Press pound;4.99

ONE RIVER, MANY CREEKS: Poems from all around the world. Chosen by Valerie Bloom. Macmillan Children's Books pound;9.99

HAVEN'T YOU GROWN! Poems about families. Selected by Belinda Hollyer Illustrated by Holly Swain. Kingfisher pound;12.99

GRANDAD'S TREE: Poems about families. Compiled by Jill Bennett. Illustrated by Julia Cairns. Barefoot Books pound;9.99

THE KING'S PYJAMAS. Compiled by Pie Corbett. Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Belitha Press pound;6.99

CELEBRATE THE SEA: Poetry written by 4 to 11-year-olds. Available through the Marine Conservation Society, pound;3.50 plus p+p. Tel: 01989 566017

All poetry is magic," wrote Charles Causley, introducing his selection for The Puffin Book of Magic Verse in 1974, "and just as the magician dreads the loss of his powers, so the poet hopes that inspiration will not forsake him." The same goes for any anthologist who sets out to compile a similar collection for children. He or she needs the magic touch.

It's not enough to fill the pages with poems about wizards, witches, cats and broomsticks, throwing in a few spells and curses. There are more things in heaven and earth than can be taught at Hogwarts or accounted for by special effects. Two recent "magic" anthologies make an interesting contrast in this respect. Andrew Fusek Peters's Hubble Bubble is closer in spirit and content to Causley's. Its range is impressive and, although there's plenty of mandatory playground jokiness, room is found for several well-chosen extracts from Shakespeare (Lear on the heath as well as the witches round their cauldron) plus Keats, Coleridge, Rossetti, Yeats and some fine contemporary work such as Helen Dunmore's poignant "Asking the Hare": "this is the hourto ask the hare,for one minute just around midnight... will my dad come home, will my mum let him in."

John Foster's Moondust and Mystery offers a more conventional brew of verses, most of them engaging and mainly by popular children's poets who will be familiar to the readers of his many other anthologies. There is, though, a lot of whimsy and a heavy reliance on twists in the cat's tail, but as a book to hide beneath your cloak as you set off for a Hallowe'en party, it could be just the job. John Foster's ready audience won't be disappointed, but whether it might have been carried further into what Causley - surprisingly absent from both anthologies - calls the "other" world is another matter.

The diversity of cultures in this world, now and in the past, is impressively celebrated by Valerie Bloom in One River, Many Creeks. The title comes from "One Tree" by the Surinamian poet Dobru Ravales, which closes with the lines "so many tongues one people", and the poets are gathered not only from all corners of the world but also from within the United Kingdom, demonstrating how much has been contributed to British poetry by poets of different nationalities.

Though in no way programmatic, in that all the poems have clearly been chosen for their poetic merit, a recurring emphasis is on the interaction between the individual and the community.

Answering his own question - what is "The Most Beautiful Sound in the World?" - Kadija Sesay, resident in the UK, chooses "Water in the dry season running out from a communal tap". In this context it is particularly fascinating to find, as well as the many often unfamiliar contemporary poems, well-known favourites by, among others, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman and Dylan Thomas.

Diversity on common ground is also Belinda Hollyer's starting point:

"Growing up as part of a family is something people do all around the world, but no one's home, no one's life, and especially no one's family is exactly like anyone else's." Haven't You Grown?, is a substantial anthology which proves just that. By turns humorous, affectionate, and as admirably unflinching in its choice of poems about family rows, loss and bereavement as it is in showing a range of reactions to new arrivals - Jackie Kay's deliciously wicked "New Baby" among them - this is a rich treasury.

So, too, in appearance and quality, is Jill Bennett's Grandad's Tree but, although presented with Barefoot's fastidious attention to the layout, it contains only 20 poems, exactly half of which have been chosen by Belinda Hollyer, so if it comes down to a choice Haven't You Grown? has to be the book to go for. Or, as very good value for its price, Pie Corbett's homely compilation The King's Pyjamas can also be recommended, not least for Christopher Corr's witty and colourful illustrations which fluently link together an imaginative mix of poems and traditional rhymes.

The Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society has been imaginative too, teaming up with the Marine Conservation Society for a children's competition designed to heighten awareness of the need to protect turtles, and producing a pocket-sized booklet of the winners. I searched in vain for the four-year-old, but here is Zoe Conroy, aged five, whose enchanting rainbow-coloured entry is reproduced opposite its text: "Fish are swimming in the seaWith some turtles and me. The water is blueThe sun is yellowThe sand is softAnd I love it.' And I loved this little collection.


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