7th July 2000 at 01:00
FIRST POEMS FOR THINKING. By Robert Fisher. Nash Pollock Publishing pound;9.99. POETRY FOR SHARING 1 AND 2. Chosen by John Foster. Oxford University Press pound;2.99 each.

Robert Fisher's substantial, lucid, eight-page introduction to First Poems for Thinking is one of the best poetry teaching guides I have read for some time. It incorporates comments by imaginative teachers on their own practice, acute remarks from children ("A poem is alive, because it says things when you read it," observes one six-year-old), and aptly interjected definitions of poetry by "thinking" poets, including quotations from Keats, Coleridge and Blake.

Fisher brings this all together and includes tabulated summaries of "key principles" to emphasise the importance of what he calls "a community of enquiry... a means of getting children to share, question and discuss a poem in a safe and stimulating environment".

Each of the 30 poems, 12 of them by Fisher himself, is printed opposite a page of questions and ideas for further activities. These contin all of the virtues and none of the vices of what used to be called comprehension exercises. As another of the children says: "Sometimes you have to talk what the words mean."

In the hands of a good teacher, First Poems for Thinking is likely to encourage real exploratory conversation which will demonstrate to children how "like philosophy, poetry often begins in wonder about the world, and the ways in which words can reflect, distort and transform the world".

Poems for Sharing, the first slim volume for seven to nine-year-olds and the second for nine to 11-year-olds, aims to introduce a wide range of styles and forms. It does this well enough, and the second volume contains some particularly suggestive groupings.

The colour illustrations are well-chosen and it is a pleasure to find such magical poems as Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and Ted Hughes's "The Snow-Shoe Hare" given to artists - Jane Strother and Cliff Wright respectively - who can do them justice.

John Mole

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