Pick of the year's poems

7th July 2006 at 01:00
The top children's poetry book of 2005 was announced this week. Judge Valerie Bloom reports on the selection process

One of the poems in the book we chose as the winner of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education poetry award ends with the words: "When I was a child, I once wrote a Chinese poem, Now I'm too complicated."

Replace "Chinese" with "children's" and those words could be applied to many of the anthologies of poems for children being published. One of the frustrations of judging competitions such as the CLPE poetry award is having to put aside collections which lack child-appeal.

The books submitted for the 2005 award presented another problem, by being so wide-ranging. How were we to judge a picture book against a 249-page beautifully bound collection? Or an anthology of collected poems against a single-poet collection?

As always, we looked for a book which was child-friendly without being condescending. One where the language was challenging, but not complicated; where humour was employed, but was neither forced nor the overriding concern; where "fun" was not at the cost of content. We were looking for a book a child would enjoy reading as well as listening to, and which, if possible, catered for able and less able readers within the age range without alienating either.

Many entries beckoned enticingly. Ted Hughes' Collected Poems, sensitively illustrated by Raymond Briggs (Faber) was a favourite with us all. Cock Crow: Poems about the Countryside, chosen by Michael Morpurgo, with Quentin Blake's quirky illustrations (Egmont), would be a wonderful addition to any child or adult's bookshelf.

She's All That: Poems About Girls, edited by Belinda Hollyer (Kingfisher)

is a sumptuous anthology which, despite the subtitle, can be enjoyed by both boys and girls. In the end, we chose a book we kept coming back to: as good a test of a winner as any.

Why Does My Mum Always Iron a Crease in My Jeans? Poems about Important Stuff (Puffin) chosen by Fiona Waters, is a collection of poems from around the world. Waters is highly esteemed for her knowledge of poetry and her gift for precisely gauging children's reading tastes.

Her sure touch is evident in this collection. There is a range of poems on "life and stuff" headed by a section called "Excitement is not what I come to school for".

This is a good indication of the content of the book; a mixture of serious and quirky, thoughtful and light. There are little gems like "Against Broccoli" by Roy Blount Jr ("The local groceries are all out of broccoli, Loccoli"); lyrical pieces such as John Cotton's "Unicorn"; ("He slipped into my sleep Out of the thicket of my dreams"); poignant poems like Alan Durant's "Letting Her Go" and hilarious ones, such as Gareth Owen's "Miss Creedle Teaches Creative Writing".

The poems by noted poets - Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough - and those by lesser known writers, suit a range of tastes. Although the publisher's recommendation is for six to eight-year-olds, this book is bound to be enjoyed by older children. A beautiful addition to the home or school library.

Valerie Bloom's most recent poetry collections are Whoop an' Shout! (Macmillan), Hot Like Fire and The World is Sweet (Bloomsbury)

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