poetry

Review: Poems to Fall In Love With. Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell.

Review: Poems to Fall In Love With. Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell.

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Has any subject been written about more than love? It is one of the fundamental human experiences, and if the poems in this anthology prove anything, it is that love is timeless.

The poems are categorised by different types of love. This was one of the reasons I took to the anthology straight away. It recognises that love without romance, and that friendship, are equally profound and important. This is an exploration of love in different forms, and this variety makes it richer than some other anthologies of love poetry.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations need no introduction. As a past Children’s Laureate and a long-time political cartoonist, his work is known far and wide. The pictures in this anthology are in his trademark style. They look so effortless, yet convey a huge amount of energy and detail. When I took the book to my local poetry group (a twice-monthly meeting which involves cake and chatter and the reading of any poems we fancy) a number of people went home eager to do some drawing of their own. This is the very best thing about Riddell’s work. It gives viewers the bug to doodle. To scribble. To draw.

Poems included range from the modern-day through to  Sappho. My poetry group fell in love with the story of Simon the hedgehog, who writes postcards to his mother through a particularly intense crush. Alas, the crush is ill-fated, although Simon comes out happy and well. It is also a treat to see Riddell’s take on classic poetry. 

With too many people willing to say they don’t like poetry, as if every poem is alike, it is more important than ever to have books that are irresistible to pick up. Poems To Fall In Love With hits that mark, from its embossed purple cover to the beautiful work inside. This is truly a celebration of the range of voices that have, over the centuries, explored themes of love and friendship. 

 

Poems To Fall In Love With is available now from Macmillan Children’s Books.

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my review copy.

blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. Opinions my own.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

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Extract:

what’s the point of God giving me life

If I can’t live it as my own? 

 

Why does listening to his commandments

mean I need to shut down my own voice?

 

(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.

It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.

Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?

A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.

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Review:

This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.

Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.

There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.

I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.

I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.

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Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books · poetry

Review: I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree – A Nature Poem For Every Day Of The Year

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I am the seed

that grew the tree

that gave the wood

to make the page

to fill the book

with poetry

(From Windsong by Judith Nicholls.) 

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This beautiful collection contains 366 nature poems – one for every day of the year. Every double-page spread is illustrated with pictures of nature.  This is beautifully designed and was clearly thought out with love for the subject.

img_7049The introductory letter explains how Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow publishers was gifted a volume of poetry as a child. Although she read and reread the book for years to come, the lack of illustrations meant that her initial reaction was not one of enthusiasm.  I Am The Seed … is designed to be attractive to the very youngest readers. Its illustrations are bright, bold and take up every single space. Gone are the terrifying pages of black and white. This is a book to pour over. To enjoy. To share.

The length of the poems, too, has clearly been considered. The inclusion of many short poems – some five or six lines long – and poems with short lines makes this collection perfect for newly confident readers.

I often wish I could recapture the magic of reading poems as a child. I didn’t know my modern poets from my Romantics. My haiku from my free verse. I read without discrimination and judged only on the sound. On the experience of reading and being read to. I Am The Seed… is designed to promote such an experience. There is nothing to tell the reader the date or origin of the poem. This allows the reader to pick their favourites free from ideas about what they ‘should’ enjoy.

To have 366 poems on one theme is special. Flick through the book and something special happens – you’re reading about animals and skies. The sea and the woodland and the stars. A picture of the world builds in the reader’s head. A picture which promotes love and respect for the natural world. The pictures add to this experience and it is possible to browse the book for illustration alone.

Whether you read one poem a day or pour through the anthology, this is bound to be a lovely experience. A beautiful anthology which will be treasured by those lucky enough to read it.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy of I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

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Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

Our world is so wet. We need water to survive. Venture on a journey through the world of water. Where does water come from and how does it move around our planet? Those questions and more are answered in this beautiful and informative book. 

This book is both informative and poetic. It immerses the reader into the world of water through questions and language, then gently imparts information about the origins of water and the water cycle. Information books for younger readers have come a long way in recent years. There is suddenly an understanding that information needs to come in small bites and that it needs to be presented in interesting and attractive ways to hold the reader’s attention.

img_7100Once Upon A Raindrop is a masterpiece of design. Kazuko Nomoco has produced designs for numerous brands and clients including The Guardian, The Folio Society, Audi and Moschino. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find she had a background in communications – her designs remind me of the very best infographics. They grab your attention straight away and impart just enough information in one go. 

This is an information book for modern times. 

I love the minimalist colour-palette – different shades of blue and grey are occasionally broken with splashes of colour. The style is impressionistic, with very few lines. 

This would be suitable for children as young as four but would make a lovely gift for any child interested in geography or learning about the water cycle. It would also be a great book to use in art. It would inspire children to think outside the box about how they paint and draw water. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my copy of Once Upon A Raindrop. Opinions my own.

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas At Dove Cottage – Then and Now.

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Have you ever thought of training in a literary house? Today’s Guest Post comes from Becky Hearfield, trainee with the Wordsworth Trust. Throughout the past year, I have attended a poetry reading group run by the trust, and the wonderful Susan Allen. The group means everything to me. It brings our local community together, and Susan is one of the first people I dared to show my writing to. Everything about the group supports people to find what interests them in writing, and to speak about it in their own words. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting Becky a couple of times over the year, and am amazed by how much the trainees do. It is lovely to hear from Becky at the end of her traineeship, and to hear what Christmas meant to the Wordsworths themselves. Thank you Becky for your time and fab post. birdChristmastime at Town End by Becky Hearfield 

The Wordsworths spent eight Christmases together at Town End, Grasmere and their domestic sphere changed considerably during that time. Wordsworth became husband to Mary Hutchinson in October 1802 and the couple welcomed three of their five children into the world at Dove Cottage, which was transformed into a home ‘crowded with life’ (Stephen Hebron, Dove Cottage).

dovecottage2The Wordsworths first arrive at Town End on 20th December 1799, just 5 days before Christmas and Dorothy Wordsworth’s 28th birthday, and although Dorothy tells us that their arrival is hailed by ‘a dying spark in the grate of the gloomy parlour’, it marks the bright beginning of a period of intense happiness and shared warmth. William and Dorothy waste no time in getting to know their neighbours and, in a letter dated Christmas Eve 1799, Wordsworth writes to his friend, and collaborator on Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to detail the particulars of their new home and relate their first impressions of the local people, who would come to be very dear to them:

The people we have uniformly found kind-hearted frank & manly, prompt to serve without servility. This is but an experience of four days, but we have had dealings with persons of various occupations, & have had no reason whatever to complain.

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Decorations at Dove Cottage today. 

On 20th December 2017, 218 years after the Wordsworths first arrived at Town End, the current residents of Grasmere, and neighbours of the Wordsworth Trust, gathered in the same ‘gloomy parlour’ to share mulled wine, mince pies and to sing carols by candlelight in celebration of that day in 1799. Just across the lane, at the Foyle Room (once the site of their neighbour Thomas Ashburner’s cottage), families were busy making kissing boughs and learning about Georgian Christmas traditions with the Trust’s Education Team. The President of the Wordsworth Trust, Pamela Woof, also gave her annual Christmas reading this December for the Trust’s Friends and Trustees. She read from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal and noted the way the Wordsworths embraced the charitable spirit of the season in their daily lives, as they would readily share what they could with those who called at their home seeking solace. So, despite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum often being bereft of visitors in the winter season, Town End has been aglow with that special community spirit that only Christmastime can engender.

In a letter written to her friend Catherine Clarkson on 25th December 1805, Dorothy reflects on the ‘Blessings of the last six years’ and ‘the pleasures and consolations of Friendship.’ I arrived at Town End in January of this year to begin a traineeship with the Wordsworth Trust, working alongside their Community Outreach Officer, Susan Allen. The traineeship has lasted eleven months and is sadly coming to an end in the next few days. Just as Christmas Day 1805 gave Dorothy Wordsworth cause to reflect on the ‘Blessings’ and ‘Friendship’ she had been fortunate enough to receive in ‘the last six years’, in the build up to Christmas 2017, I find myself in an equally contemplative mood as I take stock of the ‘Blessings’ I have received here and prepare begin a new chapter elsewhere. The Trust now looks forward to welcoming a whole new batch of trainees in 2018, and even further ahead to 2020 as they work towards their Reimagining Wordsworth HLF funded project, in celebration of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday (https://www.reimaginingwordsworth.org.uk).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q and A/Author Interview

Michael Rosen Q and A: On word play, format and memories.

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I was hugely excited first to be offered the new edition of Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake to review, then to be given the chance to ask him some questions. Michael Rosen has been a hero since I was small. He came to talk at my primary school, and made every child laugh within about three seconds by describing the assembly hall as having a ‘Weetabix Ceiling’. Rosen’s poetry is funny, and great for sharing and reading aloud. It is also full of moments which are easy to relate to. The boy in chocolate cake, for example, finds himself caught-out after breaking the rules. 

I’m delighted to welcome Michael Rosen, on language, format and childhood memories. breakbirdLN: I have been familiar with the poem since childhood, as it appeared in The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry. Have you adapted the text over time, or was it rewritten for the new edition? 

MR: I adapted the text over time through my performances in schools. Then I put that performance on my YouTube channel. The book is the text of that performance.

 

LN: Did years of live performance influence the changes?

MR: Yes indeed. Every performance demands that I grab the attention of everyone in the room or wherever it is I’m performing. 

 

LN: I am particularly interested in the addition of extra noises, which are highlighted in different fonts. Is playful language important to the poem?

 MRI think it is. It’s easy to forget that letters belong to us, they don’t belong to dictionaries or academics. We make all sorts of noises that mean a lot but are not strictly speaking ‘words’. If we want to, we can represent those noises with letters, with brand new spellings. I think it’s great for children to know that they can do that. They can make letters work for them.

 

LN: In the past, you have spoken about books being more important than formalised language learning. Why is it important for children to see playful approaches to language? 

MR: Books work very hard to convince readers that they are worth reading. We do this with all sorts of ‘hooks’ to do with emotions, thoughts, feelings but we also do it with the sound of what we write. Language always has a physical aspect. With books, that aspect is print and paper. With speech, it’s sound waves created with our bodies. What’s very infectious (and funny) is when you write things down that appear to invite your body to play and experiment with those sounds. The poem is full of that, and I’ve found ways to have created an element of surprise in the sounds. This is also connected with a visceral pleasure (eating cake!) and high risk (what if I’m found out?). This combination seems to have tickled quite a few children and drawn them into wanting to hear it and read it over and over again. 

 

LN: The illustrations are new to this edition. How much of a collaboration was there between yourself and Kevin Waldron? Did you have any ideas about how you wanted the poem to be experienced, and how the illustrations might differ from previous editions of the poem? 

 MRMy attitude to illustrators, publishing and editors is that my job is to write. Everyone else in the production of a book has their job to do. The illustrator ‘reads’ my text and re-represents it through the pictures. The editors and other publishing workers create the book. That’s not my job either! So I saw the roughs as Kevin worked but I had very little to say because he was doing his work, his way and we all trusted him. I like that way of working. 

 

LN: I am interested in the different ways you have brought the poem to readers, for example in his school performances and on social media. Has YouTube changed the way in which you write new poems? Did it influence the new text? 

MR: Thanks for asking this. My own view of my poems is that I have several ways of ‘delivering’ them to people, each as valid as another. You’ve identified three: books, live performances, social media.  These aren’t separate from each other, though. They each nudge each other into adapting how they are written or performed. This book is a perfect example of this kind of hybrid. I think I realised this for the first time in the late 1970s when I was going into schools a good deal to perform my poems and found that the talk I was doing between the poems was more interesting to the children than my poems! Then I realised that I could write down these talking parts. Nowadays, I think my thoughts have become  very compressed: as I write I’m miming performance in my head. Social media are quite hard to do from a performance point of view because the only people there are the film crew and the director. They’re not there to enjoy themselves, they’re working, so I’d be ill-advised to take notice of their reaction. I do ‘take direction’ though, especially as the director is my son!

 

LN: You have said before that you writes about childhood memories. Why and how do particular moments lend themselves to poetry? Are they universal experiences, or very personal memories?

MR: This is your hardest question. I’m not really sure how I find these memories or why I select them. I sense that they are ones that have at their core something absurd or ironic. In some way or another, the person in the story (usually me but not always) doesn’t know as much about what they are saying or doing as the audience. It’s the core of dramatic irony, discovered or polished  thousands of years ago by the Ancient Greeks in drama and has been keeping us going through entertainment ever since. I’m not even sure why it interests me so much other than that I like the way dramatic irony respects the audience: it seems to say, ‘you take over’ or ‘you figure this out’. 

 

Huge thanks to Michael Rosen for his fantastic answers. The picture book edition of Chocolate Cake is available now. It looks as scrumptious as it sounds!

Thanks to Sarah Hastelow and all at Penguin Random House Children’s for arranging this opportunity.