Gaby Morgan: Publishing Magic

Even after almost 30 years, I am still grateful and delighted on a daily basis that I get to make and publish poetry books with brilliant, inspiring poets and editors.

At Macmillan Children’s Books we currently publish around ten poetry titles a year – we publish titles for moments and events, like International Women’s Day, the Football World Cup and Remembrance Day, books that will particularly be enjoyed in schools and big gift books for Christmas.

I am lucky enough to get sent a lot of ideas for poetry collections, and I love talking to poets about them and exploring how we might be able to publish in the best way. There is a kind of publishing magic that happens when just the right theme is matched with the perfect angle or twist. I have published at least 20 books of football poems, 10 books of Christmas poems and 30 books of school poems, but it is the extra something, the hook that a poet or anthologist brings that makes all the difference, to ensure that we are not walking over the same ground again and again. It means that I can sell the idea to our in house teams, so that they can sell the idea to bookshops and in turn the retailers can sell them to customers. It is that magic that makes children choose them.

I love this poem which is by Paul Cookson and features in School Trips:

Short Visit, Long Stay

The school trip was a special occasion

But we never reached our destination

Instead of the Zoo

I was locked in the loo

On an M62 Service Station.

Once we have our idea and the book is acquired the anthologist contacts a wide group of poets, shares the concept with them and asks for submissions. For a 60 poem collection an anthologist will usually send me around 80 poems to look at. I love reading these manuscripts – every anthologist has a particular style or voice that comes through in the story they tell with the poems. Some manuscripts are perfect, but mostly they take a bit of tweaking as we try different running orders and call in a few more poems to fill any gaps. Anthologists weave their books together with great skill, and sometimes that might mean leaving out some beautiful pieces that don’t quite fit and instead searching out pieces that chime in the right way. We may have to reshuffle a book to keep it within its permissions budget and last-minute changes can often lead to stunning new discoveries.

Some books evolve dramatically – Chris Riddell’s Poems to Save the World With started off as a hymn to the environment and kindness in a strange post-Brexit world, but then Covid happened mid-edit and it became about hope, consolation. It includes this beautiful poem by Nikita Gill:


And maybe it is easier to learn kindness in these times.

When the whole world is like a small child with a fever,

trying her very best to make herself feel better.

Maybe we find our unity in the near-losing of everything.

Where we have no choice but to depend upon each other.

This is what it takes to realise we are in this together.

A man helps someone he dislikes because they are in danger.

A neighbour delivers groceries to everyone ill on her street.

Old friends forgive each other and stop acting like they are strangers.

Maybe this time, this is what the revolution looks like.

People helping each other despite their differences.

Understanding truly, that without the aid of others,

we would be all alone in this.

Pick up an anthology today – see the world from different perspectives and from different periods of history, meet some new poets, listen to the anthologist’s voice singing, bookmark a favourite and send one to a friend.

Gaby Morgan

Gaby Morgan is an Editorial Director at Macmillan Children’s Books and proud curator of the Macmillan Children’s Poetry List. She has compiled many bestselling anthologies including Read Me and Laugh: A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year, Poems from the First World War, Poems for Love, Fairy Poems – which was short-listed for the CLPE Award – and A Year of Scottish Poems.

Ana Sampson: Poetic Perspectives on our Planet

Poetic perspectives on our planet

One of the great pleasures of poetry is that the poets’ dazzling feats of imagination can whisk the reader under the sea, to another planet or to view the world from another perspective in the space of just a few lines. When I was choosing poems for Wonder: The Natural History Museum Poetry Book, I looked for verses that would help me see the natural world in a new way, as many of the museum’s amazing exhibits do. I hoped this shift in viewpoint would encourage children to connect more deeply with the natural world, and encourage a passion for protecting it.

The narrator of a poem can be anyone – or anything: a child, an astronaut, Charles Darwin’s wife, a duck, a dinosaur, a dodo. Children are used to suspending disbelief for the space of a poem, since we have all gorged on a diet of talking animals and magical happenings, often in rhyme since our earliest days being read to. A poem is a portal the poet asks us to walk through, and on the other side, nothing looks quite the same.

One of the poems I’m most looking forward to sharing with young readers is Gita Ralleigh’s ‘Solar System Candy’.

If I ate the solar system,

the moon would taste

strange and dusty

as Turkish Delight.

Planets would be

giant gobstoppers,

except Saturn and Jupiter –

those gas giants

fizz like sherbert,

or melt like candy floss

in your mouth.

The meteor belt

pops and crackles

like space dust.

Comets leave a minty sting

on your tongue.

Black holes taste of cola bottles.

Or memories

you once had

and lost.

Gita’s poem is full of sensory delights that help readers of all ages to see these distant astral bodies with fresh eyes as they recall familiar tastes and sensations. I had never managed to remember which planets were made of gas, but now they taste like candy floss on my tongue, I’ll never forget! The image of Turkish Delight is perfectly chosen, reminding us of the fact that the moon’s surface is dusty enough for us to leave boot prints in it if we could walk around on it.

John Clare’s poem ‘The Ants’ starts with a human-sized perspective. We see the ants’ procession from our usual lofty height. But with the suggestion of a whispered language among the workers, suddenly the reader is urged to swoop down to eavesdrop, and to imagine the customs and commands that govern the intricately-ordered community.

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views

The black ant’s city, by a rotten tree,

Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:

Pausing, annoy’d, – we know not what we see,

Such government and thought there seem to be;

Some looking on, and urging some to toil,

Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:

And what’s more wonderful, when big loads foil

One ant or two to carry, quickly then

A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.

Surely they speak a language whisperingly,

Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways

Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be

Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

Some of the poems explicitly ask the reader to think themselves into the mind of a seal, or a tree, or a lizard. It’s a wonderful way to ignite children’s imaginations: who hasn’t wondered where the cat goes at night, or what an elephant might dream about? Geoffrey Dearmer’s poem ‘Whale’ – with its lovely lulling ‘rise and sink and rise and sink’ putting the reader right there in the waves – is a great example.

Wouldn’t you like to be a whale

And sail serenely by—

An eighty-foot whale from your tip to your tail

And a tiny, briny eye?

Wouldn’t you like to wallow

Where nobody says ‘Come out!’?

Wouldn’t you love to swallow

And blow all the brine about?

Wouldn’t you like to be always clean

But never have to wash, I mean,

And wouldn’t you love to spout—

O yes, just think—

A feather of spray as you sail away,

And rise and sink and rise and sink,

And blow all the brine about?

Asking children to fire up their imaginations by reading – and writing – their way into fresh ways of seeing the natural world can foster a connection with the wonders of our planet. Hopefully, it will also inspire the next generation develop a lifelong interest in protecting it.

Ana Sampson

Ana Sampson has edited eleven poetry anthologies including Wonder: The Natural History Museum Poetry Book and She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women. She knows much less about dinosaurs than her children.

Morag Styles: The BolognaRagazzi Award for Children’s Poetry and Illustration 2021 – A Judge’s Perspective

The BolognaRagazzi Award for children’s poetry and illustration 2021: a judge’s perspective

I was delighted to take part in judging the first BolognaRagazzi Award for children’s poetry and illustration. The international nature of the award ensures diversity and I had access to poetry books from many languages with translation. Despite the punishing schedule, the number of entries was around 200, the overall experience left me both elated and asking a few questions.

First of all, it was exciting to discover how much well-written, thought-provoking poetry was being written in many different parts of the world that we are unaware of in the UK  –  and how many illustrators were dazzlingly original. I imagine one reason might be a lack of interest in this country (and USA) in children’s books that are not in English and also because small publishers, which probably make up the majority of the poetry books we examined, do not have the funding to produce books in English without buoyant sales.

As is the case with picture books, children’s poetry can tackle almost any topic, however challenging, if it is done well. Some of the books we considered seemed to be more willing to take risks with content than often happens here.  Poetry from Latin America made a big impact as it managed to be thoughtful, child-centred, powerful and cautiously include the political. Several books given a special mention tackled taxing themes. María José Ferrada’s moving Niños, sympathetically illustrated by María Elena Valdez using a muted colour palette, is dedicated to 34 Chilean children who ‘disappeared’ during Pinochet’s regime. Love letter, a tender series of poems with an environmental slant by the accomplished Taiwanese illustrator and author, Animo Chen, is written in Taiwanese script, the mother language for many people in Taiwan but not recognised  officially. The Girl Who Became a Tree,an inventive, verse novel by Joseph Coelho, goes back and forth between the past and present, Greek myth and contemporary teenage trauma, exploring different forms and voices. Kate Milner’s dramatic, black-and-white line drawings demand the reader’s attention, as does the overall graphic conception of the book.

There were other strong volumes from the UK but the jury selected Fiona Waters’ anthology of burning ambition, huge in size and scope, with animal poems for every day of the year, superbly realised by Britta Teckentrup’s stunningly imaginative illustrations.The well-known opening line of Blake’s most popular poem from Songs of Innocence and Experience provided the title.

The winning book, Cajita de fósforos / Inside a Tiny Matchbox, selected by Adolfo Córdova and strikingly illustrated by Juan Palomino, is an inspirational anthology of Iberoamerican, free verse poetry. Cordova’s wide knowledge, careful research, and flair is evident in both his choice of poetry and his understanding of what would amuse and stimulate young readers.

Some questions

Should we consider anthologies and single poet collections together? Could it be argued that poets’ collections of new poems might be treated separately to editor selections of a wide range of poetry from the past and present?

I loved the fact that word and image interaction was the focus of the award. However, this is usually done without collaboration between poet/anthologist and illustrator, but by the publisher/editor, who selects a suitable illustrator to match the poetry – words come first.

Has the role of the book designer increased in importance and should it be more openly acknowledged and celebrated?

In poetry, every word counts, so should the art of translation be given more prominence?  

Has the environment become the most popular theme for children’s poetry? It was a strong contender at Bologna, as it should be. No big change there as poets writing for children or adults have always drawn on the natural world for inspiration.

I loved my Bologna experience, learned a lot, was impressed by the quality of the poetry we were judging, found the others on the jury and BRAW organisers most simpatico, and all of us passionate about children’s poetry and illustration. Hope to meet everyone for real in Bologna next year.  

Morag Styles

Morag Styles is Emeritus Professor of Children’s Poetry at Homerton College, Cambridge. She is the author of From the Garden to the Street: 300 years of poetry for children. She has written widely on children’s poetry and picture books, and anthologised many volumes of poetry for children. She is co-author of Children’s Picturebooks: the art of visual storytelling (2019) with Martin Salisbury and is currently working on a third edition of Children Reading Picturebooks with Evelyn Arizpe. 

Cheryl Moskowitz: What Makes a Young Poet?

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a week at Arvon with a group of young poets, top winners and commended in the 2020 Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award.

It was an ideal opportunity to find out how these phenomenal young writers got into poetry. Chiefly I was curious to know, how far back did it go? Were there poems that had significant influence on them as young children? Could they identify an ‘aha’ moment, some turning point in their lives that made them become poets?

Interestingly, for most I spoke to, early childhood was not a factor – their interest in poetry came when they were a bit older, at the end of primary school or the beginning of secondary.

April mentioned coming across W.B. Yeats’ poem, ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ which she found ‘visually beautiful’ and was inspired to write nature poems of her own. Aged twelve she began to post these on and got feedback from people of all ages. That led her to Young Poets Network.

“Children have complex emotions,” says April, ‘I wish I could have got into poetry earlier but I wasn’t that interested in the poetry that was being exclusively written for children.” What was important was that the schools these young poets went to encouraged them to enter poetry competitions. Thank goodness they did!

Many liked reading poems written by young poets their own age writing about things they recognise. One remembered their teacher reading a poem ‘Midnight Cat’ to their Yr 5 class explaining ‘this was written by an eleven year old’. That made an impression and really made you sit up and listen!

Entering a competition for these young poets was important in terms of setting the bar high for themselves. Many were appreciative of teachers or older students who organised reading groups where poetry could be discussed in a non-academic way. Discovering there are ‘multiple ways of looking at a poem’, realising that poets generally write about things that trouble them, and recognising poetry as a way in to learning about current affairs, history and science, can lead to new ways of knowing the world, and the self.

Daniel, for example, read a book in his GCSE history class ‘The Making of America’ and was shocked to learn of the violence early Americans inflicted on indigenous people. He became interested in the ‘Trail of Tears’, the displacement of the Cherokee and Navajo peoples, and some of this has gone into his poetry.

Euan told me, “The most vivid poetic encounter I remember from childhood was ‘A Case of Murder’ by Vernon Scannell. Our teacher read it aloud, then gave us a copy. The poem is about a boy tormenting a cat and when the cat tries to escape by running out the door, the boy slams the door just as it passes through and, ‘the cat cracked like a nut’. That is the line that remains clearly in my head, even after six years.”

Euan remembers how the poem frightened him so much so that he eventually had to take it home to discuss there, in particular that piercing image of the cat cracking like a nut.

The poetry that matters most and influences us for the rest of our lives is the stuff that touches us deeply, even uncomfortably so. Euan explains, “I think this experience has shaped my understanding of art. The artistic encounters that have moved me the most are often those that are the most disturbing. My favourite pieces of writing are those which make me most uncomfortable or uneasy.”

Thanks to the Foyle Young Poets for sharing their experiences. Work by April Egan, Daniel Wale and Euan Sinclair can be found here:

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. Cheryl’s website.

Michaela Morgan: Elite? Effete? Irrelevant?

Elite? Effete? Irrelevant?

There was a time when poetry was put on a pedestal and regarded as either ‘special’ and ‘magical’ or somewhat elite and effete. It’s two sides of the same cliché of course and it’s an attitude that still lingers somewhat – despite poetry slams, raps and the tendency of Building Societies and Insurance Companies to use a TV version of poetry to boost their sales impact.

But poetry has always seemed normal and essential to me. It’s in my blood stream.

 I come from a very un-booky childhood home – a household without books, with never a bedtime story for me. Yet I grew up immersed in words and the music of words.  Educated in an era when religion involved chanting in Latin, one of my early intros to poetry was listening and joining in with the Call and Response of the catechism. Then listening or joining in with chants and incantations –in mystical Latin. There were also oral stories, tongue twisters, songs and jokes – word play.

I loved words. At primary school and later at convent school I went under the radar, doing things just the way I wanted to but never being suspected of being a rebel because I was just so very small and quiet. Like a Very Bad Mouse. So if a lesson was boring (and they so frequently were) I read a book secretly. I know nothing of primary school maths because I spent my time with the Walrus and the Carpenter and the Jabberwock with eyes of flame.

I got through secondary school without playing any of their team games. I spent those sessions hiding behind heaps of other people’s clothes keeping company with Charles Causley and Mr Shakespeare and his sonnets.  I never did learn to throw a ball but I loved to juggle words.

My credo is that everybody loves poetry – they just don’t always know it. There were a few raised eyebrows when I turned up at prison gates… to bring poetry to prisoners. But, with the judicious addition of chocolate hob nobs, my poetry sessions were always hugely popular.

At the same time as I was working in prisons, I was also making author visits to schools – sometimes running the same or similar poetry workshops with sticky infants and tattooed felons. Re-working Nursery Rhymes produced:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

He fell off and cracked up after all.

All the psychiatrists, psychologists too

Sectioned him off under the Mental Health Act (subsection 2)

In both settings I celebrated National Poetry Day by using Poem a Day collections and distributing poems by birthdates or special days. This provoked much reading aloud, discussion, display, sharing and some illicit trading.

In schools I work to promote reading, performing, creating, illustrating, discussing – and learning about the magic and power of language. I urge schools to read a poem a day for delight – and also to provide models and springboards to enable children to take steps to writing their own poems. In my poetry workshop manuals I provide poems as models so children (and their teachers) share a wide range of poetry and are provided with encouragement and starting points to write their own. 

Teachers need to be captivated by poetry too. They may be intimidated by it or think it’s irrelevant – doesn’t fit their targets. Or it can become reduced to something to fit in at the end of term or on National Poetry Day.

We need MORE poetry in schools, in bookshops, on TV, on posters – everywhere.

At times of anxiety, celebration or grief- at each important stage of our life – we reach for a poem. It is essential. Why?

Because poetry packs a punch and poetry leaves an echo.

Michaela writes poetry, picture books, fiction and non-fiction. Her poetry is widely anthologised and she is responsible as writer, editor or co-contributor for:  

Words to Whisper Words to Shout (shortlisted for BBC Blue Peter Award), 

Wonderland: Alice in Poetry (shortlisted for CLPE’s CLiPPA Award)  

Reaching the Stars  – Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls (winner of the North Somerset Teachers’ Award) with Jan Dean and Liz Brownlee  

For teaching, she has also written the popular Poetry Writing Workshops (ages 5 to 9 and 8 to 13) published by David Fulton Books/Routledge and recently reissued in a revised and extended third edition.  

Helen Bowell: 10 Years of Young Poets Network & Beyond

10 Years of Young Poets Network & Beyond

Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society

The Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the world’s biggest competition for 11-17 year old poets in the world, and it’s changed hundreds of lives – including mine! After I was commended in the competition as a teenager, I got to meet other young writers at the Foyle Young Poets winners’ ceremony, take part in a young people’s reading at The Poetry Café, and even interview Imtiaz Dharker the day before sitting an English GCSE exam. Those encouraging initial experiences with poetry are partly why I am a poet today, and why I work for The Poetry Society, championing its programmes for young people.

Nowadays, I run Young Poets Network (YPN), The Poetry Society’s free online platform for writers aged 25 and younger worldwide. We run regular writing ‘challenges’ and publish the winners’ work, and help young people to discover new authors, techniques and ideas for writing. We also keep an up-to-date Poetry Opportunities page for young poets. And by publishing young people’s work and running events and workshops, we do our best to foster a global community.

Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society

In April 2021, we celebrated Young Poets Network’s tenth anniversary. In the midst of the pandemic, working on these celebrations was so uplifting. Since 2011, YPN has been visited over two million times, and received poems from young people in every single county in England and 88 countries worldwide, from Cyprus to Hong Kong, Mauritius to North Sudan. We’ve published 813 poems and five special edition anthologies, and sent young people to perform at the House of Lords, the National Maritime Museum, UniSlam, professional recording studios and to explore the Bloodaxe Archives in Newcastle. If you’d like a cheering read, you can browse the fond memories and generous reflections of a number of Young Poets Networkers who have grown, gained self-belief and found their tribe with us over the past decade. Here’s what one of those young people, Ellora Sutton, says: “What does YPN mean to me? Friendship. Encouragement. Warmth. Opportunities. And, of course, poetry. I will never not be grateful for it.”

Though I got into poetry as a teenager, there’s no lower age limit for Young Poets Network. Some of the most brilliant poems we receive are by children under 10 who manage to see the world more clearly than the rest of us. A 2019 challenge inspired by the 50th anniversary of the moon landings attracted hundreds of entries; and two of the nine winning poets were young children. Sophie Orman’s poem ‘Moon Watching’ was written when she was 7, and Max Dixon (whose poem ‘Christmas Moon’ won third prize) was just 6 at the time. I love receiving poems by young children, and I hope that as parents, teachers and poets you’ll find our resources helpful in inspiring people of all ages to write.

As I am now officially no longer a ‘young poet’, where possible, I invite young writers to write for the website. Every August, we commission four Foyle Young Poets to set writing challenges, keeping people busy over the summer holidays. This year, Sinéad O’Reilly, Mukisa Verrall, Euan Sinclair and Anisha Minocha will be challenging young people to explore conversations, the absurd, objects and letter-writing. You can check out their resources and submit by 12 September 2021, and join our worldwide community as it embarks on its second decade.

Find the latest Young Poets Network challenges here.

Helen Bowell

Helen Bowell is The Poetry Society’s Education Co-ordinator, and runs both Young Poets Network and Poets in Schools. In her spare time, she is a co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society, resurrecting women writers of the past.

A. F. Harrold: Poems For Your Pockets

Poems for your pockets

The human condition being what it is, I like to write comedy.

And life being short, I like to write poems, because they take much less time to write than novels.

Even quite a long poem is shorter than quite a short novel, unless you and I have different definitions of ‘quite’, ‘long’ and ‘short’, in which case I wish you luck with your dictionary and all who sail in it.

Little funny poems are the small change of the poetry world, they fill our pockets and jangle when we run too fast, but we can put our hands in when we’re nervous and turn them over between our fingers. We can practice saying them, make sure we’ve got the words right, mutter them under our breath when it gets too dark.

When I was small there was a poetry anthology in the house called Poetry for Pleasure (Ed. Ian Parsons, (Chatto & Windus, 1977)), and it was filled with long dull dusty poems in olde fashioned writing that I simply couldn’t get my head around, but the penultimate section of the book was titled ‘Epigrams, Epigraphs & Epitaphs’ and most of the poems in there were short.

I love short poems.

Here’s one from that section.

Just and Unjust

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella;

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

(Written by someone called ‘Lord Bowen’.)

The words were a bit olde worldy (‘The rain it raineth’ sounds distinctly Biblical in age), but I understood what they said, and the fact that they said what they said, and that they rhymed ‘fella’ and ‘umbrella’, made me warm with delight.

Or this:

Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton’s Wife

He first deceased; she for a little tried

To live without him, liked it not, and died.

(Written by ‘Sir Henry Wotton’, whoever he was.)

Again, it feels solemn and dignified at first, and then you read it and realise all pomposity has been pricked and, whether kind or unkind, true or untrue, there is a joke here, but a joke, not in the punchline kind, but in the sense and shape of its own expressing itself… something subtler and harder to define, but delicious like a salmon and jam sandwich.

One last example from this book:

John Bun

Here lies John Bun,

He was killed by a gun,

His name was not Bun, but Wood,

But Wood would not rhyme with gun, but Bun would.

(Written, of course, by our trusty friend, ‘Anon’.)

It was a puzzle, at first, to get one’s head around – every rule you know about poetry and about tombstones is being broken here, in front of your eyes – metre, common sense, truth… Is a lie really a lie if in the same breath it’s owned up to and corrected? Was this really something on a gravestone or is it just a bit of fun in the book? How do you get away with elongating lines like that without summoning the poetry police down on you?

And how wonderful is the sound ‘Bun would’ to say? It’s up there with ‘cellar door’ for sure.

These little poems are the sort of things that fill up the corners of my brain. I tend to keep them secret just for myself, but they belong to anyone who reads them, without diminishing my store of them – that’s a lovely thing about words, they can be shared. If you like them, take them, let them make you smile when you reach into your pocket on a dark day.

Here’s an extra one from me, for you:

The Dangers of Rock and Roll

Don’t put a rock in a roll,

unless you hate having teeth.

And be careful when rolling rocks,

In case you end up underneath.

From my and Mini Grey’s new book, The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice (Bloomsbury, 2020).)

A. F. Harrold

A.F. Harrold is a poet, performer and children’s author. He has a beard and a hat and enjoys showing off in front of people and hiding at the end of the garden, but not at the same time. His most recent books are The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with Mini Grey, and The Afterwards with Emily Gravett.’

Andrea Reece: Celebrating the CLiPPA 2021

Celebrating the CLiPPA 2021

Is there any prize more joyful than the CLiPPA? The CLiPPA highlights the best new poetry for children and, through the Shadowing Scheme, allows schools and children to get up close to the collections on the shortlist, turning thousands into lifelong poetry fans.

The celebrations for this year’s shortlist announcement were particularly exciting, even for the CLiPPA, a prize that regularly takes over the National Theatre. The five books were announced live on stage at The Globe, part of a day of magnificent poetry performances for this year’s Poetry By Heart project. Congratulations to Tim Shortis and Julie Blake for creating the event and delivering it so successfully.

Before the shortlist announcement, the audience was treated to performances from two of the winning schools in the 2020 CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme. First up were ten-year-olds Freddie and Zane from Swaffield Primary School, Wandsworth with their lively recitation of the poem Brother and Sister by Lewis Carroll, which appears in A. F. Harrold’s collection Midnight Feasts. (Both boys, incidentally, claim they thoroughly approve of the poem’s concluding moral: ‘Never stew your sister’.) Then, with a ‘Boom-ba-da-Boom!’ seven-year-old Benji from Norwich Road Academy, Thetford performed Fireworks by Anna E. Jordan, which features in The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog, edited by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones. Benji says he loves the rhythm of the poem, which shows him how to read it.

After that it was time for this year’s chair of the judges, Allie Esiri, to take to the stage to announce the 2021 shortlist. And it is (deep breath), alphabetically by poet:

Slam! You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, chosen by Nikita Gill, Macmillan
This inspiring collection, curated with great skill by Nikita Gill, brings together ‘some of the fiercest voices in British verse’. It’s a book to excite young people about the potential of poetry, say the CLiPPA judges.

Bright Bursts of Colour, Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff, Bloomsbury Education
The poems in Matt Goodfellow’s collection range from the silly to the sensitive, and all will resonate with children aged 7 – 11. The judges loved Matt’s dynamic representations of real-life experiences, and clear understanding of a child’s sensibilities.

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, Penguin
Compelling, powerful, and authentic, Manjeet Mann’s verse novel speaks directly to its YA audience. The judges loved the fresh voice and how a form used by Coleridge is made new.

Big Green Crocodile Rhymes to Say and Play, by Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, Otter-Barry Books
Beautifully presented and perfectly illustrated, this collection of new nursery rhymes is a perfect post-lockdown book, allowing grown-ups and small children to connect.

On the Move, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker Books
On the Move is both personal and universal, with messages of home, identity and family. Full of emotion, delivered with a perfect sense of understatement, words and illustrations provide readers with spaces to pause and consider.

Poets Jane Newberry, Manjeet Mann, Matt Goodfellow and Michael Rosen were there to read poems from their shortlisted collections, icing on the CLiPPA cake!

The winner will be announced on 11th October alongside the launch of the 2021 Shadowing Scheme. Do explore the books on the shortlist, because each of these collections reminds us what the best poetry for children can do, which is of course the point of all the CLiPPA celebrations. 

This year’s judges are poets Zaro Weil, 2020 CLiPPA winner with Cherry Moon; Amina Jama, whose debut poetry pamphlet A Warning to the House that Holds Me was published by Flipped Eye Press in 2019; Julie Blake, co-founder and Director of Poetry By Heart; and Charlotte Hacking, Learning Programmes Leader at CLPE.

Andrea Reece

Andrea Reece reviews for Lovereading4Kids, is managing editor of Books for Keeps and the children’s programme director for the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. A former manager of National Poetry Day, she is very happy to be working now with CLPE on the CLiPPA

Teresa Cremin: Poetry Possibilities This Summer

Poetry possibilities this summer

How recently, I wonder, did a colleague recommend a poetry book to you or read you an extract from a poem?

Maybe as you’re a reader of this blog, you’re positively inclined towards poetry, associate with other enthusiasts, and do receive such recommendations. Nonetheless, I suspect you know friends and teachers who are not so well versed in the living language of poetry.

Certainly, over the last year, working with teachers from 40 schools (from Birmingham, Sheffield, Rotherham and Derby), it’s been noticeable that in audits of professional knowledge of children’s texts, poets and poetry remain the poor relation. The forgotten uncle. This reminded me of the Teachers as Readers survey (Cremin et al., 2009) in which we found 22% of 1,200 teachers from across England were unable to name a single poet – dead or alive!

It appears primary teachers’ professional knowledge of poets continues to be dominated by a few well-known writers such Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, William Blake and W H Auden. But as we all know, myriad other talented poets are writing for children today; their work also deserves to be read, heard, discussed, dramatised and delighted in.

We could spend time debating why and how this sad situation seems to persist, (and there are stunning exceptions), but surely far more important is to find ways forward. So, in this last blog of the school year, I’m offering a few possibilities, and inviting you to select one that will not only enrich your own knowledge, pleasure and understanding of poetry, but critically that of others.

~ Join the Teachers’ Reading Challenge run by the Reading Agency and The Open University and set yourself a target of reading 6 poetry books. Sharing your Certificate and the poetry read.

~ Devour a Poet each week, read their work, check out their website and share their unique voice with others.

~ Re-voice Poems in person or virtually to at least 4 friends or family.

~ Create a Poetry Scrapbook to share, with poems, collages, and illustrations to evoke their meanings.

~ Initiate Poetry Book Swaps, triggering discussion with other readers, at home or at work.

~ Make a Poetry Poster of poems or poets whose work you want to highlight with next year’s class or the staff.

~ Co-author a Poem with your own children/family, fostering a more collaborative stance towards composing poetry.

To close I’d like to offer my own recommendations of a pair of engaging new books that involve child poets and help us see the world through their eyes.

My Sneezes are Perfect is a delightful collection in the voice of a small boy, Yusuf Samee, who moved from the Netherlands to America, and makes use of poetry to reflect on his new life. His mother, Rakhshan Rizwan, explains she wrote the poems with the help of six-year-old Yusuf. Benjamin Philipps illustrations too drew me in, their childlike directness is appealing. Do read ‘Beards’…!

Take off Your Brave : Poems Just for You by four-year-old Nadim is a rich treat too. Nadim’s mother Yasmine,  on the advice of Kate Clanchy, wrote down his words and read them back to him, triggering his desire to voice more poems. With simply stunning visuals by Yasmeen Ismail, this enticing collection captures his perspective and made me feel young again!

Do read ‘Scared Sugar’… and enjoy a summer full of poetry possibilities!

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her most recent book is Children Reading for Pleasure in the Digital Age: Mapping Reader Engagement (with Natalia Kucirkova, 2020)

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website informed by her research into reading for pleasure. The site supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups annually and 34 Initial Teacher Education partnerships across the country,  in order to develop children’s and teachers’ delight in reading. @TeresaCremin

Mónica Parle: Why Do We Put Poetry in a Corner?

Why do we put poetry in a corner?

Several times across the last year, I’ve heard poetry described as a “niche” art form. I realize in this blog I’m preaching to the choir (as we say in the US), and maybe this niggles most because I myself struggled with poetry as a teen.

But as this choir knows, children have an innate love of rhyme and word play. My five-year-old can rattle off books by heart, and often he sings songs after hearing them once, the words rolling around for hours afterward.

So I’m hopeful that for younger generations, this affinity holds true for longer. This research Forward commissioned from the National Literacy Trust in 2018 showed that almost 1 in 2 young people engage with poetry in their free time, and it’s more true for children in receipt of free school meals (55.7%).

But if these stats are true, when did poetry get pegged as “niche”?

It worries me because poetry feels all the more critical in an era where children and young people have been increasingly isolated due to the pandemic. Poetry offers a valuable medium to help build bridges.

Bringing poetry into schools can support literacy skills and language learning by integrating reading, writing, speaking and listening in meaningful ways. It offers inroads to sometimes-thorny topics such as culture and identity, and it can help promote students’ empathy. Creating poetry can help alleviate anxiety and improve emotional resilience. It can be empowering for children and young people to discover their voices, and improve their self-awareness, self-expression and self-esteem.

For me the proof of poetry’s value lives in 2020. It was a thunderous year for poetry. Millions turned to poetry to make sense of a rapidly shifting world. 131 million people participated in National Poetry Day last year, and poetry’s popularity was spurred by a number of actors sharing poetry on social media and digital readings. 2.3 million shared glimpses of their locked-down worlds via Liv Torc’s #haiflu (which Susannah Herbert celebrated here).

For eons, we’ve turned to poetry at weddings and funerals. We know it can illuminate and console like nothing else can. So why do we put it in a corner?

I make no bones that for teenage me the fustiness of the poetry we read in school was a problem. Diversity of voice is obviously key, and diversity of form too. Many of those young people surveyed back in 2018 were reading poetry online (32.6%), watching videos (31.7%) or listening to spoken recordings (18.6%). And this groundswell of the last year springs from the digital innovation of this collective (poets, teachers, librarians, publishers, organisations).

We are a sector that promotes participation because poetry at its heart is agile, connective, and inclusive. And in an age of uncertainty, it helps us ‘imagine other ways of navigating into our collective future’ (Adrienne Rich).

Mónica Parle

Mónica Parle is Executive Director of the Forward Arts Foundation. She was previously the National Poetry Day Manager and prior to that Executive Director at First Story. She is a Mexican American from Southeast Texas, and extracts of her novels in progress have been selected as the Longlist Winner of the 2020 Bath Novel Award and Highly Commended in Faber’s 2018 FAB Prize. She completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Houston.