Christina Gabbitas: Poetry is for Everyone

As a child, I loved to read anything that rhymed; rhyming was fun, energetic, imaginative, engaging, bite-sized. One of my favourites was reading Spike Milligan’s A Children’s Treasury. Ok, I was captivated by the rhythm and the way that anything could be expressed through poetry.

Life took me in a variety of directions after school and whilst I enjoyed writing for pleasure, I never considered sharing my work. When I had my own children, I decided to write some stories particularly focussed on helping them overcome their fears and the fears that I had, had as a child. The stories were rhyming stories about everyday things that I saw around me. I put them in a box file and resolved one day to do something with them and that is where they stayed for a number of years until, in 2012, Welcome to the World of Felicity Fly was born. The book became a series and there are now four books, featuring over a dozen characters across the series.

But this was just the start for me; I wanted to share the joy of poetry and encourage children across the country to have a go. In 2013, I launched an eight-line rhyme initiative, which had the support of the then Education Secretary. The initiative takes the form of a yearly competition with children of primary school age encouraged to write poems on a particular topic, which are then judged by poets, authors and illustrators. The short eight-line format makes the initiative accessible to children as young as seven and provides an opportunity to practice and promote phonics skills.

The best poems are published in a book each year. I love visiting schools to inspire the children. I was invited independently to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival for three consecutive years where the children entered the initiative too.

During the pandemic, I launched an initiative to encourage children to write poetry as a way of expressing what they were experiencing. The winning poems were published in an anthology, #Lockdown Life in the autumn of 2020. I was moved by both the volume of entries and the heartfelt emotions expressed in the poems by children and adults alike.

I have written a number of individual rhyming stories on important topics to educate children, including Share Some Secrets, which addresses the issue of abuse, by teaching children the difference between good and troublesome secrets, and Save Us, which looks at the problem of plastic pollution in our seas and oceans.

One of my most recent publications is not a rhyming story, but this hasn’t stopped me using the power of poetry to educate children in a fun and interactive way. No More Knives or County Lines is a comic-strip style story about a group of friends groomed into county lines, who suffer the consequences of carrying a knife. The book was initially commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, but, since its publication, I have worked with other police forces, including North Yorkshire, and visited schools across the country supported by community police personnel. In addition to discussing the themes in the story, I run workshops to help the children write a class poem about the dangers of drugs, county lines and carrying knives.

Writing and poetry has given me so much and has been my full-time career for ten years now. I firmly believe in ensuring that children understand poetry is for everyone, and how it allows us all to express what we are feeling and thinking in a fun, energetic and thought-provoking way.

Links of children reciting poems:

Primary Children Reciting our Class Poem which we wrote together.

Children Reciting my poem ‘Save Us From Plastic’:

Christina Gabbitas

Christina Gabbitas is an author and director who has encouraged over 25,000 children nationally with an annual poetry initiative, picking up a Dame Beryl Bainbridge award in 2015 for her work. She is the founder of Children’s Literature Festivals charity whose mission is to give children from deprived areas access to free literature festivals. Christina also picked up a national book award and was made an Honorary Member of the NSPCC Council for the work that she has undertaken in safeguarding children. Her Believe in the Magic of story has received many testimonials including from actress Jenny Agutter OBE, likening the story to E.Nesbit, Lewis Carroll and Narnia. Children’s Literature Festivals