Website gives rhyme to love of poetry

4th November 2005 at 00:00
If you feel a little at sea when it comes to teaching poetry, help is at hand in the form of the Children's Poetry Bookshelf, which is "putting poetry where it belongs: at the centre of life", in the words of the poet laureate, Andrew Motion.

The Poetry Book Society has relaunched the CPB, aimed primarily at 7-to 11-year-olds, with a new website reaching out to new audiences, not only parents and teachers but also grandparents, librarians, in fact anyone with an interest in furthering children's reading.

The CPB offers members a 25 per cent discount off all children's poetry books published in the UK. Each term new books are selected as the "best"

by award-winning poet and educationist Mandy Coe, children's poet and teacher Wes Magee and book editor Fiona Waters. They also recommend books from the backlist.

Speaking at the relaunch of the CPB at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, author and former children's laureate Anne Fine spoke of the primacy of imagination which was to be championed over dubious ideas of "relevance". What should lie at the heart of children's literature was "the magic of transfiguration".

She warned her audience of mainly primary teachers and educationists that "child centred does not mean child led", regretting the number of "infantile" children's books produced in the 1980s and 1990s due to commercial pressure.

"Accessibility means something easily understood, not something easy-peasy," she said, acknowledging that literary standards in children's publishing have improved in recent years.

"Quality literature will never run out because the individual imagination can't be kept down," she said.

"Poetry plays an integral role in the process of learning to read," says Julie Johnstone, the Scottish Poetry Library's education development officer. "It builds confidence and enthusiasm in the use of language, whether it be in reading or writing.

"Reading poetry as a child lays the foundations for a lasting pleasure throughout adult life. Poetry pleases, inspires and consoles us like no other literary form. It is vital to establish an early love for it. Life is much poorer without it."

The contents of the CPB website would certainly seem to rhyme with Ms Fine's emphasis on quality and accessibility.

Its "fun stuff" section includes poem puzzles where children are asked to "scramble" and then put back together poems by the likes of William Blake, Spike Milligan, Lewis Carrroll, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Michael Rosen and William Carlos Williams. Its multiple choice poetry quiz focuses on poets such as T. S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, John Hegley and Robert Burns.

The website publishes a poem of the week and children (with permission of a parent or teacher) can post their own poems andor reviews of books they are reading or that are mentioned on the site. It also spotlights poetry events coming up and gives children's links to other websites.

The standard education membership for CPD (pound;40) offers teachers two poetry books at the start of each term, activity sheets and posters of poems for the classroom wall, and a 35 per cent discount on any class sets of books. Teachers can also download PDF worksheets from the site, which is updated every month.

The Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh also has an extensive collection of poetry books in its cosy children's area. Its catalogue is online and material ranges from Robert Louis Stevenson, traditional Scottish rhymes and William Soutar's "bairn rhymes" through to contemporary voices such as Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Matthew Fitt. Books can be borrowed in person or by post.

Raymond Ross

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