Lorraine Mariner: Rug Rhymes at the National Poetry Library

The Imagine Children’s Festival took place at Southbank Centre in February this year and it was a chance for the National Poetry Library to hold its Rug Rhymes session for under-5s for the first time since March 2020. That final Rug Rhymes in 2020, just before the first lockdown, was very surreal with just two mums and two toddlers in attendance, though I do remember one of the mum’s talking to her child about a friend they had recently visited who didn’t have real grass in their garden but artificial grass – which on reflection sounds a great subject for a children’s poem! We came back with a bang this February and held 3 sessions over 3 days with roughly 40 children and 40 adults at each session, filling up the foyer outside the NPL.

Rug Rhymes was established in Autumn 2013 as part of our mission to create lifelong NPL members. We sometimes get people in their late teens and early twenties who join the library and tell us they first visited the library on a school visit and it’s our hope that in a few years a young adult will say the same thing about Rug Rhymes. Before we launched Rug Rhymes I visited a few public libraries and sat in on their rhyme time sessions to see how it was done. They seemed to consist of traditional nursery rhymes, action songs and a picture book but we wanted to make sure our sessions also included poems and a rhyming story so it was more of a unique offer drawing from our children’s collection.

As well as gathering together animal puppets that we could use to act out different poems and songs, artist and poet Sophie Herxheimer made two puppets for us who lead the sessions and they’ve become known as Federico and Firebird. We say that they’re Spanish poets who live with us in the Poetry Library because Sophie made them while she was visiting Spain.

Over the years we’ve put together many different session plans, including animals (from the specific – bears, cats, dogs, owls – to more general – pets, jungle, zoos, under the sea), themes that appeal to young children like bodies, food and transport, seasons and festival days and also Southbank Centre festivals such as WOW (Women of the World) and Poetry International. In 2015 Poetry International focused on poetry of the Middle East and we put together a session that included rhymes and poems from Afghanistan and Pakistan thanks to the books in our collection My Village : Rhymes from Around the World (collected by Danielle Wright, Frances Lincoln, 2010)and Children’s Songs from Afghanistan : Qu Qu Qu Barg-e-Chinaar (edited by Louise M. Pascale, National Geographic, 2008).

Since we started Rug Rhymes, something that’s been really great for the sessions is the publication of wonderful books of poems for very young children. We regularly drew on Margaret Mayo’s Plum Pudding (Orchard Books, 2000), but since Michael Rosen’s CLiPPA winning A Great Big Cuddle (Walker) was published in 2015 it’s been good to see other books of rhymes for young children being published and shortlisted for the CLiPPA, such as James Carter’s Zim Zam Zoom! (Otter-Barry, 2016) and Jane Newberry’s Big Green Crocodile (Otter-Barry, 2020). The theme of our recent sessions was Back Together with a focus on children being able to attend parties again, and ‘The Queen Comes to Tea’ from Big Green Crocodile went down a treat and will be used again with the 70th Jubilee celebrations fast approaching.

In May and June we’ll be running Rug Rhymes every Friday between 11.30am-12pm. It takes place in our Little Library space just outside of the National Poetry Library on Level 5, Blue Side, of the Royal Festival Hall. Please check out our website for more information http://www.nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk

Lorraine Mariner

Lorraine Mariner is an Assistant Librarian at the National Poetry Library and has published two poetry collections for adults with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014), and two pamphlets Bye For Now (The Rialto, 2005) and Anchorage (Grey Suit Editions, 2020). She also writes poems for children and writes poems for Rug Rhymes from time to time.