Janetta Otter-Barry: Poetry and Illustration

Poetry and Illustration – optional extra or indispensable ingredient?

I’ve been thinking about the role of illustration in children’s poetry….  As a publisher it can be tempting not to include pictures, particularly in a collection for older children, but I strongly believe that illustration adds hugely to the enjoyment and understanding of poetry for all ages.

Take the three Otter-Barry Books new August titles….

In Belonging Street Mandy Coe illustrates her own poems, creating a special relationship between words and pictures. In First Haircut Mandy describes a dragon-claw comb, but then surprises us with a fully grown dragon!In City Seed Song the seeds become children reaching for the sky as they celebrate a new green world. Other pictures offer revelations or playful hints that help us decode puzzles and answer questions.In Dear Ugly Sisters, Laura Mucha’s exciting debut, Lithuanian illustrator Tania Rex provides stylish, contemporary pictures, reflecting the many moods of the poems. It was her decision to establish a narrative thread by following one child through the pages, providing interesting links for the reader.  How Long Until I Can See My Mum, addressing the plight of refugee children in the US, is poignantly visualised and the same child features over the page in I Am Brave, her fears now depicted as a crocodile – but one that can be banished. The pictures and poems work perfectly together, keeping the reader engaged and eager for more.Joseph Coelho’s The Girl Who Became a Tree, a story told in poems for 12 plus, (27 August), could arguably have been published without illustration content – but what a loss that would have been. Visually, there is so much to explore and respond to, as Daphne confronts the loss of her father and enters the dark magic of the forest.Her journey from isolation and grief to acceptance and new beginnings is beautifully captured by Kate Milner’s pen and ink drawings.

Images of trees, branches, leaves, roots, draw us ever closer to Daphne  –  and to that other Daphne from the Greek myth, who also plays an important part in this story and whose illustrations are identifiable as white on black.

There’s no doubt that the extraordinary pictures deepen our understanding of this brilliant verse novel.

In Spring 21 we present three collections for Key stage 2 that all have hugely important contributions from illustrators. For Val Bloom’s eagerly awaited Stars with Flaming Tails, (publishing January 2021) we chose Ken Wilson Max to illustrate, pairing two famous creative practitioners of colour in a wide-ranging tour-de-force, underpinned by verbal and visual diversity.

Weird, Wild and Wonderful – the poetry world of James Carter is an important showcase for James’s most admired and requested poems plus new work, and the incredible verve, wit and energy of Neal Layton’s illustrations make these poems almost leap off the page!

Publishing for Mental Health Awareness Week in May, Being Me, Poems about Thoughts, Feelings and Worries, is a ground-breaking collaboration between Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha. New illustrator Victoria Jane Wheeler‘s quirky drawings play a vital role here, sensitively visualising the feelings expressed in the verses with empathy and a light touch.

Lastly, in July, we publish Rachel Rooney’s first teen collection, Hey Girl.  Rachel’s son, Milo Hartnoll, illustrates, his powerful and empathetic graphic images perfectly capturing the girl’s inner journey as she grows up through the book.

So yes, I’m more than ever convinced that illustrations bring poetry alive in amazing, unexpected ways. They welcome, challenge, reassure, explain and inspire – and I believe they deserve to be at the heart of every children’s poetry collection.

Janetta Otter-Barry

Janetta Otter-Barry is the founder and publisher of Otter-Barry Books, an award-winning independent children’s publisher with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Otter-Barry publish picture books, young fiction, graphic novels and information books as well as an acclaimed poetry list. The first books were published in May 2016, since when six poetry titles have been shortlisted for the prestigious CLiPPA award. Otter-Barry Books.

A Christmas Poetry Feast!

Today we have no blog, but a feast of Christmas poems, chosen by or written by Children’s Poetry Summit members!

 

William Shakespeare, Chosen by Allie Esirie, from Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esirie, Macmillan.

Christmas Morning

 

Last year

on Christmas morning

we got up really early

and took the dog for a walk

across the downs

 

It wasn’t snowing

but the hills were white with frost

and our breath froze

in the air

 

Judy rushed around like a crazy thing

as though Christmas

meant something special to her

 

The sheep huddled together

looking tired

as if they’d been up all night

watching the stars

 

We stood at the highest point

and thought about what Christmas means

and looked over the white hills

and looked up at the blue sky

 

And the hills seemed

to go on forever

and the sky had no bounds

and you could imagine

a world at peace

 

Roger Stevens

 

For Christmas

 

I give you a wooden gate

to open onto the world,

 

I give you a bendy ruler

to measure the snow that swirls,

 

I give you a prestidigitator

to make your woes disappear,

 

I give you a hopping robin –

he’ll be your friend throughout the year,

 

I give you a box of mist

to throw over past mist-akes,

 

I give you a slice of ice

to slide on mysterious lakes.

 

Chrissie Gittins, from The Humpback’s Wail.

 

Liz Brownlee, first published in Christmas Poems, Chosen by Gaby Morgan, Macmillan.

 

Christmas Blessing

Into our home
bring fairy lights
colour to shine
on darkest nights.

On the tree
hang figurines
absent friends
returned to me.

Wrapping paper
fills the room
generosity
in bloom.

On the table
the pudding flames
all winter long
its fire remains.

 

Lorraine Mariner

 

 

Christmas Day

 

It was waking early and making a din.

It was knowing that for the next twenty minutes

I’d never be quite so excited again.

It was singing the last verse of

‘O Come all Ye Faithful’, the one that’s

only meant to be sung on Christmas Day.

It was lighting a fire in the unused room

and a draught that blew back woodsmoke

into our faces.

It was lunch and a full table,

and dad repeating how he’d once eaten his

off the bonnet of a lorry in Austria.

It was keeping quiet for the Queen

and Gran telling that one about children

being seen but not heard.

(As if we could get a word in edgeways

once she started!)

It was ‘Monopoly’ and me out to cheat the Devil

to be the first to reach Mayfair.

It was, “Just a small one for the lad,”

and dad saying, “We don’t want him getting ‘tipsy.”

It was aunts assaulting the black piano

and me keeping clear of mistletoe

in case they trapped me.

It was pinning a tail on the donkey,

and nuts that wouldn’t crack

and crackers that pulled apart but didn’t bang.

 

And then when the day was almost gone,

it was Dad on the stairs,

on his way to bed,

and one of us saying:

“You’ve forgotten to take your hat off….”

And the purple or pink or orange paper

still crowning his head.

 

Brian Moses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Brownlee: Having Fun with Children’s Poetry

Having Fun with Children’s Poetry

In 2014 the wonderful people at National Poetry Day made me a National Poetry Day Ambassador.

My journey as a children’s poetry promoter started in 2008, after meeting with a group of children’s poets who all felt the same way; we vowed to find as many ways as possible of supporting children’s poetry. Later that year we gathered again to be filmed sharing poems, to put out into the world in as many places as possible. Out of that fun-filled few days came this video of the wonderful and much-missed Gerard Benson and his River Song.

Just as I was thinking what to try next, and wondering if targeting families might help to engage the parents that buy books, I was asked by Bristol Poetry Festival 2009 to organise a Poetry Exhibition.

A Bristol Poetry Festival grant, an Arts Council grant, sponsorship money and six months preparation led to a poetry submersion room at the Arnolfini, Bristol. Into a brightly painted room was introduced an explosion of poems, poetry toolkits, and our group of talented and willing poets.

ITV Television workshop supplied children who relished reading poems for us.

It was an interesting experience in that many of the people who came hadn’t been expecting it (the Arnolfini is a cutting-edge modern art gallery), and yet they stayed sometimes for hours. Very few left without writing a poem.

Undoubtedly however, the biggest hit were the giant magnetic words. I have used these ever since in a variety of combinations and venues and highly recommend them. It’s a very easy way of enticing anyone to play with words.

It  is impossible it seems to pass a giant magnetic poetry board without picking up words and placing them together. Few were satisfied with that, they went to hunt in the boxes for more poetic or more meaningful juxtapositions. One of the most  gratifying aspects was the total involvement of whole families, parents helping, inspiring and joining in by writing their own poems.

Other projects include marking most National Poetry Days by a range of poetry videos. My favourite theme was light.

We filmed people whose lives in some way touched on light (a fireman, a projectionist, a cosmologist, etc.) reading poems, sent to me by children’s poets, about light. We also roamed the streets of Bristol and asked children and their families to read poems for us – surprisingly few turned down the offer!

Sometimes you’ll find me in a school, inspiring children to use words as exciting tools to express themselves. And of course I also write poems most days, for a variety of rewarding projects. It is what I love most. At the minute I’m collecting and editing my first anthology, a book of shape poems for Macmillan, and thoroughly enjoying it. This also involves the frustrating fun of drawing with words!

I also run Poetry Roundabout, a website devoted to promoting everything about children’s poetry – at the minute there is a series of poets and their favourite children’s poetry books, and tweet for Children’s Poetry Summit.

I feel very excited about starting on my next new project – and I’m so grateful to the lovely NPD  people for giving a focus for my ideas, and to my lovely supportive poetry friends who supplied all the above poems and more.

In the meantime, this year’s NPD theme being Truth, soon I’ll be choosing climate crisis truth poems that poets have kindly sent, and filming them read by people who work in Climate Crisis in some way.  Please look out for them!

Liz Brownlee

Liz Brownlee is a poet and poetry event organiser. Her latest book Be the Change, Poems to Help You Save the World, Macmillan, is out on September 5th. (Poets included in above exhibition, Roger Stevens, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Andrea Shavick, Philip Waddell, Bernard Young, Gerard Benson, Cathy Benson, Jane Clarke, Michaela Morgan, Graham Denton).