Andrea Reece: Poetry Matters – Celebrating 20 Years of the CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award)

“We’re in a golden age of children’s poetry” says former Children’s Laureate and illustrator par excellence, Chris Riddell.

He should know: an accomplished poetry anthologist, Chris is chair of judges for the 2023 CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award), the UK’s leading award for published poetry for children.

For 20 years, the CLiPPA has highlighted the best new poetry for children. The very first prize in 2003 was awarded to John Agard and Grace Nichols for their anthology Under the Moon and Over the Sea (Walker Books) and since then winners have include Michael Rosen (twice), Jackie Kay, Roger McGough, and our current Waterstones Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho; Valerie Bloom won in 2022 with her collection Stars with Flaming Tails.

Children’s poetry in the UK is booming partly because of the spotlight placed on it by the CLiPPA, and organiser CLPE, aka the National Poetry Centre for Primary Schools, do amazing things to celebrate the shortlist and winners, never more so than in this its 20th anniversary year. The shortlist was revealed in an online event featuring live poetry performances from the shortlisted poets.

Just under 100 schools signed up, as well as many VIP guests, and the announcement was watched by over 2,500 poetry fans. What’s more, Charlotte Hacking of CLPE was able to announce at the event that the winner will be announced at the CLiPPA Poetry Show, live onstage at the Olivier, the largest of the National Theatre’s three theatres, on Monday 10 July, before an audience 1,000-strong.

The 2023 shortlist itself “reflects the wealth of talent in today’s poetry for children” says Chris Riddell. It features Joseph Coelho, with his gorgeous collection for the very young, Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss, alongside celebrated US poets Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek with Marshmallow Clouds, illustrated by Richard Jones. Matt Goodfellow makes his third consecutive appearance on the CLiPPA shortlist with Let’s Chase Stars Together, and Nikita Gill features for the second time in three years, this time for her collection These are the Words. Nicola Davies’ powerful examination of the refugee experience, Choose Love has also been selected.

The shortlist in full is:

Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss by Waterstones Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Nicola Killen, Andersen Press.

‘A well-written, carefully considered first collection for the very young, full of poems which catch and reflect their emotions’, said the judges, who also praised its moments of sophistication.

Choose Love by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček, Graffeg.

Choose Love provides insight into the real-life experiences of refugees forced to leave their homes to face an unknown future. In the judges’ words, it is ‘Angry, compassionate, campaigning and written from the heart’. They also described it as ‘humane and uplifting – what poetry is for’.

These are the Words by Nikita Gill, Macmillan Children’s Books.

Nikita Gill’s collection features poems of rage, consolation, solidarity, hope and love and is ‘a book that readers will hold to their hearts’, said the judges, who highlight the way it connects so strongly with its audience.

Let’s Chase Stars Together, by Matt Goodfellow, Bloomsbury Education.

‘This is also a book that fully considers its intended audience’ said the judges, ‘Matt Goodfellow explores the power of poetry to make sense of their experiences in poems that are heartfelt and moving, alongside others that are simply very funny.’

Marshmallow Clouds by Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones, Walker Books.

The judges said, ‘Marshmallow Clouds is a beautiful book and we loved the feel of it as much as the poetry. With its beautifully crafted verse, it’s a book that demonstrates that good poetry for children transcends age barriers.’

Ranging from preschool to YA and beyond with beautiful books to appeal to all ages, the 20th anniversary shortlist will provide wonderful opportunities for the unique CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme, the jewel in the CLiPPA crown, which brings the poets and poetry on the shortlist into classrooms across the UK and encourages children to perform the poems out loud. CLPE expect over 30,000 children to take part in this its 20th anniversary year. Here’s to many more happy returns for the CLiPPA!

Andrea Reece

Andrea Reece works with CLPE on the CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award) and with The Full English on the Poetry By Heart national competition.