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Poetry anthologies and collections

Verse is often overlooked when seeking out books for young readers, but bitesize lit. can be a boon for confident and middle readers. For strugglers, poetry can be less daunting than a novel or even a short story and for all it is both emotional Elastoplast and touch-paper, engendering positive, negative and neutral reactions.

Many children and young people engage with poetry every day through music, but view poems as elite and inaccessible. This is simply not the case, as these collections demonstrate.

Please Mrs. Butler and Heard it in the Playground, Alan Ahlberg

Alan Ahlberg; Please Mrs Butler

Alan Ahlberg; Heard it in the Playground

These two volumes of poetry are based on Alan Ahlberg’s experiences as a teacher. They’re highly accessible in terms of structure, and the subject matter is familiar to anyone who has ever set foot in a primary school. Ahlberg’s voice is clear and strong, omnipresent, regardless of whether he’s describing the frustrations of a stressed out teacher in charge of thirty 7 year olds, a longest kiss contest taking place in the cloakroom or the delight and sheer chaos of a dog in the playground.

Heard it in the Playground and Please Mrs Butler are beloved by teachers and children alike for their enormous fun and acute observations.

Scissors

Nobody leave the room.
Everyone listen to me.
We had ten-pair of scissors
At half-past two,
And now there’s only three.

Seven pair of scissors,
Disappeared from sight.
Not one of you leaves
Till we find them.
We can stop here all night!

Scissors don’t lose themselves,
Melt away, or explode.
Scissors have not got
Legs of their own
To go running off up the road.

We really need those scissors,
That’s what makes me mad.
If it was seven pairs
Of children we’d lost,
It wouldn’t be so bad.

I don’t want to hear excuses.
Don’t anyone speak.
Just ransack this room
Till we find them,
Or we’ll stop here… all week!

There’s room for poignancy too; Slow Reader and The Boy Without a Name are deeply moving.

100 Best Poems for Children (ed. Roger McGough, ill. Shelia Moxley)

Roger McGough (ed.);100 Best Poems for Children

An Anthology that lives up to its name. The glossy pages contain a real diversity of works covering a multitude of styles and eras. Classics from TS Eliot, Alfred Noyes and Hillaire Belloc sit comfortably alongside more recent offerings from Roald Dahl and Wendy Cope. The illustrations fill the page with colour, adding texture to the poems. A great grounding in both classic and contemporary verse which may well prompt young readers to further explore particular writers.

Though it is edited by Roger McGough, the all of the poems in this anthology were chosen by children.

When We Were Very Young; AA Milne

AA Milne; When We Were Very Young

Produced for his son Christopher Robin and published in 1924, When We Were Very Young has lost none of its charm. Each verse is shot through with innocence and playfulness lent by the simple rhyme schemes (Milne is very fond of ABAB/ABBA patterns). There is a tendency towards modern versifying for children to be full of pizzazz, to privilege character over content so that sound patterns, onomatopoeia, amphigory and the like feature heavily. This is perfect bedtime reading.

Pen and ink illustrations are provided by EH Shepard, and of course a certain Mr. WH Pooh, esq. makes an appearance.

Rice Pudding

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
And a book about animals – all in vain –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain;
But, look at her, now she’s beginning again! –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
And I’ve begged her to stop for a bit and explain –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well and she hasn’t a pain,
And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

Both When We Were Very Young and its successor Now We Are Six contain poems famous enough to be parodied, as in this Golden Churn advert from 1980s:

Not all the pieces are so well known though, there are unknown gems to be found too.

Talking Turkeys; Benjamin Zephaniah

Talking Turkeys; Benjamin Zephaniah

Quite as far from AA Milne as you can get is Benjamin Zephaniah. Zephaniah takes his cues from modern culture. Political without being patronising; funny, warm and raw this is a fine collection for reading aloud and reading alone.

Zephaniah’s dialect poems are undoubtedly his best. Bouncingly rhythmic and passionately, if a little naively, polemic, all of his poems are delightful, but there is a can’t-quite-identify-it quality to his dialect pieces that elevates them above the rest.

Zephaniah has produced a few collections specifically for children but in truth his more general collections are equally accessible.

A Killer Lies

He’s a Fox Hunter, he said
‘Foxes need controlling, they spread germs
They’re always mating.’
He’s a Fox Hunter, he said
‘They’re wild animals. they eat lambs and they eat
chickens.’
He needs chickens for his kitchen.

He calls foxes beast,
But he collects their teeth,
He kills thousands every year
Once he whispered in me ear,
‘It will kill you with its bite
That is why fox hunting’s right,
Can’t you sense they are evil
So unlike hunting people,
They are the enemy of our community
I love it when they’re caught
And they make such good sport,
I never tasted them
When our hounds get them they’re gone,
I am good at this you know
I’m a kind of Hunt hero.’

He’s a Fox Hunter
His Daddy taught him well
When his hounds scent de smell
Excitement meks him yell,
He’s a Fox Hunter
Know him by his killer eyes
Something dead must be his prize
He’s de kind dat’s civilized.

Poems with Attitude + Uncensored

Polly Peters & Andrew Fusek Peters; Poems with Attitude + Uncensored

Written by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters, this is a ballsy, loud collection that brings together two previous publications. The first, Poems with Attitude, deals with family, teenage relationships, drugs and drinking and friendships. The second, Uncensored, discusses the harder edges of the same themes. The poems are not entirely unjudgemental on subjects like drug use and early sexual experiences, displaying a parental concern for safety and health. In poems about family, though, the authority of the parent (or of those acting in loco parentis) is never treated as divine, which offers some balance.

Adult readers may find the immaturity of style jarring against the nature of the content but the rawness of feeling is certainly appropriate. Written in an unerringly teenage voice and relying heavily on rhyme , this collection lends itself to reading aloud. Its uses in PHSE classes are myriad.

Diagrammatic

My mum gets dead embarrassed
By my questions, which have her floored.
She told me that a diaphragm was:
‘What the teacher draws on the board!’

I shouldn’t have asked my dad,
With his terrible sense of timing,
But at dinner he tried to explain
That tampons were ‘essential for climbing.’

I asked my mum about the pill,
And was it dangerous to take?
She shook her head, then smiled and said:
‘It’s great for a bad headache!’

Oh meet my ignorant family,
Repressive, evasive and quiet,
For this girl, it’s about bloody time
To start an Awareness Riot!

One response »

  1. Pingback: Anthology of poerty | Allsolution

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