Poetic contrast;Children's books

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
BLACKBIRD HAS SPOKEN: selected poems for children. By Eleanor Farjeon. Macmillan pound;9.99. PETER DIXON'S GRAND PRIX OF POETRY. By Peter Dixon. Macmillan pound;2.99 (pbk). FIVE FINGER-PIGLETS. By Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Roger McGough, Gareth Owenand Brian Patten. Macmillan. pound;9.99.

These titles nicely illustrate the range of Macmillan's current contribution to children's poetry. The publicity blurb for Blackbird Has Spoken is angled at the nostalgic adult ("comforting as memories of clambering on grandmother's knee"), but the poems which stand out are not about muffin men and lamplighters, but rhythmically inventive ones like "The Old Man's Toes" and "School Bell", as well the familiar "Morning has Broken".

Peter Dixon's collection, by contrast, shows Macmillan promoting an original talent from its popular Sandwich Poets series. Dixon is not well served either by title or illustrator, but shows that as well as writing accomplished rhymes about relations, school and football, he can add depth to this smooth surface in unsentimental but not unfeeling poems such as "Last Holiday" and "Dead Cat".

Five Finger-Piglets is the fourth in a series featuring quintets of established contemporary poets. This selection contains Carol Ann Duffy's first poems for children, including instant successes such as "Poker" and "Chocs" (which provides the anthology's title).

The choice from the other four poets includes plenty ofold favourites alongside treats from recent collections by Kay and McGough.

Overall, an assortment to let your finger-piglets snuffle through.

Michael Lockwood is a lecturer in English and education at the University of Reading

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