7th January 2000 at 00:00
THE ANIMAL WALL AND OTHER POEMS. By Gillian Clarke. Illustrated by Karen Pearce. Pont pound;6.95

THE MERMAID'S PURSE. By Ted Hughes. Illustrated by Flora. McDonnell Faber pound;4.99

Here at last is a poetry collection for children by Gillian Clarke, who has devoted so much time and interest to young readers over the years. It is especially appropriate that she offered her first collection for the young to Pont, which has done much to promote children's books by Welsh writers.

As well as tender evocations of birds and animals (frozen lambs, old cats and chip-eating hedgehogs), there are unforgettable characters such as Ga, Branwen and Nain the hat fetishist; dramatic narrative poems; poems about dream-catchers, the weather, special boxes, African swords, riddles and the cast-off skin of greenfly.

Many of the qualities Clarke is renowned for in her adult work are evident here - an acute ear, a descriptive eye, a feeling for beauty in ordinarythings and ordinary people, especially the Welsh landscape, and, of course, a lyrical voice.

One of the great sadnesses of 1998 was the loss of Ted Hughes, so it is some comfort to have his posthumous poetry collection for children, The Mermaid's Purse. As the title suggests, these sea poems are a mixture of fantasy and realism. Many of the poems have already appeared in The Iron Wolf (1995), but they are forged anew in this small format book with Flora McDonnell's striking illustrations, which manage to make black, white and grey look colourful and atmospheric. Personally, I prefer Hughes in full-blown nature poet mode, but the rhymes of mermaids and monsters may draw fresh readers to Hughes's poetry, particularly young ones. "You may wash out the sand But never the sound Of the ghost of the sea That is haunting me."

Keep haunting us, Ted.

Morag Styles is reader in children's literature at Homerton College, Cambridge

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