More of a laugh than a riddle

27th May 2005 at 01:00
WHAT I LIKE! POEMS FOR THE VERY YOUNG. By Gervase Phinn. Illustrated by Jane Eccles. Child's Play. pound;4.99

A POKE IN THE I: A COLLECTION OF CONCRETE POEMS. Selected by Paul B Janeczko. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Walker Books. pound;5.99.

A KICK IN THE HEAD: AN EVERYDAY GUIDE TO POETIC FORMS. Selected by Paul B Janeczko. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Walker Books. pound;12.99 (hardback)

COCK CROW: POEMS ABOUT LIFE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE. Selected by Michael Morpurgo and Jane Feaver, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Egmont Books. pound;9.99 (hardback)

EVERYBODY GOT A GIFT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS. By Grace Nichols. AC Black. pound;10.99 (hardback)

THE UNIVERSAL VACUUM CLEANER AND OTHER RIDDLE POEMS. Compiled by John Foster. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Oxford University Press. pound;4.99

Poetry to inspire child poets, selected by Michaela Morgan

Poetry is deservedly popular in schools and there has been a ready supply of cheery, rollicking light-hearted verse which makes no claim on immortality and is often printed on something like blotting paper. This season sees the arrival of collections that transcend the usual, both in content and in production values. For the youngest pupils, Gervase Phinn has produced What I Like!, delightfully illustrated by Jane Eccles and printed on paper that will withstand years of infant hands. The appearance of the whole book is fresh and funny, bright and playful. The poems are engaging, light-hearted and varied. There are poems to join in with, little jokey four-liners and long action rhymes with plenty of enjoyable repetition. There are nonsense rhymes, verses that deal with the familiar world and reworkings of traditional nursery rhymes, which should set off some satisfying class giggles. Many of the verses set up a format that could be happily continued by the class. A must for every nursery and reception class.

Concrete poems are by their very nature visual, so need to be presented in a visually arresting way. In A Poke in the I, concrete poems selected by Paul B Janeczko, the illustrator Chris Raschka uses watercolour, ink and torn paper to stunning effect. The poems and their presentation provide the Poke in the I to alert and startle the reader. Some have immediate effect, some require a long look and a deep think, many would inspire children to have a go themselves.

There are poems and poets we may be already familiar with (John Agard, John Hegley, Edwin Morgan, Roger McGough) but a host of names less familiar to us are also represented. The content is ideal for Year 5 but younger children and adults would also be intrigued.

The same team has produced A Kick in the Head: an Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. As a US publication, this has not been specifically targeted at our national curriculum - and so we benefit. The 29 forms include those specified in the national literacy strategy range of poetry, but we also get a villanelle, found poem, aubade, blues, pantoum and more. The appeal of the collection lies in its open-mindedness, freshness, lack of pedantry and love of poetry.

Each poem is presented with only a discreet description of the form at the foot of page, with a more detailed explanation of the form at the end of the book. The author points out that not all examples he has included strictly follow the rules, but they do follow the spirit and they provide great encouragement for young writers to try these forms for themselves.

Two children's laureates have got together to produce Cock Crow, a lovely little pocket-sized hardback collection of 150 poems linked by the theme of countryside life. These range across the ages from Anon through Shakespeare, John Clare, Thomas Hardy into the contemporary realm of RS Thomas, Ted Hughes, Edward Thomas, Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay. Also included is the work of an anonymous child who spent a week in a Farm for City Children, the charity set up by Morpurgo, which is benefiting from the proceeds. There are many of the poems you would expect, and hope, to find, and a few surprises. I was particularly pleased to come across Ken Smith's "Writing in Prison". This collection is probably best suited to the upper reaches of key stage 2 and key stage 3.

Everybody Got a Gift is the latest Grace Nichols collection, and it certainly shows her gift. Visually it is less arresting than the other titles here but the poems themselves captivate with the lilting liveliness, humour, observation and thoughtfulness we expect from Nichols. There are old favourites like "Granny Granny Please Comb My Hair" and "Baby-K Rap", and new poems resulting from her residency at Tate Britain.

Finally, prepare to have your brain teased by The Universal Vacuum Cleaner.

John Foster's latest compilation offers us haiku riddles, cinquain riddles, kenning riddles, concrete poem riddles and even seven Anagriddles (the answer to each riddle being an anagram). It is illustrated by Tony Ross, who has managed to meet the challenge of illustrating a riddle without giving away the answer. He has also invented a wacky cat character, who provides a unifying and enlivening thread to the whole.

Michaela Morgan has compiled a collection of performance poems, Words to Whisper, Words to SHOUT (Belitha Press) * The CLPE Poetry Award, presented annually to a book of poetry for children, will be awarded on June 6 to one of these books: From Mouth to Mouth, edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols (Walker Books); Only One of Me by James Berry (Macmillan); Something Beginning With P, edited by Seamus Cashman (O'Brien Press); Sardines by Stephen Knight (Macmillan); Sensational! Poems inspired by the five senses, edited by Roger McGough (Macmillan); Daft as a Doughnut by Adrian Mitchell (Orchard); Blood and Roses: British History in Poetry, compiled by Brian Moses (Hodder).

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