A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I did like this book
But some of it was . . . really quite bizarre, you know, and I wasn’t at all sure what to make of it.
Okay, so none of the poems in this book are quite that bad, but there are some seriously wacky contributions.
When I first spotted “Yan, Tan, Tether”, I could only laugh in puzzlement, having never before encountered what is described here as the “Cumbrian way of counting sheep: one to twenty”. (Perhaps our Book Fox Moira can give us more information about this?)
Yan, Tan, Tether
Yan, tan, tether, mether, pimp,
Sether, hether, hother, dother, dick.
Yan dick, tan dick, tether dick, mether dick, bumfit.
Yan bumfit, tan bumfit, tether bumfit, mether bumfit, gigot.
Still not sure about that one, I must admit, and I do slightly question why it appears in a book of children’s poetry. I suppose there is some nice repetition, rhyme and alliteration in there but can it be called a poem? (Ah, that eternal question).
Many of the contributions to this collection do look bizarre on paper but magically improve upon reading. Like, for instance, “My Name Is…” by Pauline Clarke, which begins, My name is Sluggery-wuggery, My name is Worms-for-tea, My name is Swallow-the-table-leg, My name is Drink-the-sea …
All a bit odd when read silently, but such nonsensical stanzas really shine when they are read aloud. And isn’t any poetry worth its salt, all the better when read to an audience? (ah, another of those questions).
Even one of my favourite poems in the collection made me raise an eyebrow on first reading:
The moon’s a big round football,
The sun’s a pound of butter.
The earth is going round the twist
And I’m a little nutter.
Yes. Well. I had to read that at least ten times before I decided that it was in fact a work of genius. After which, I had to contend with a serious case of earworm for about three days.
“Eletelephony” by Laura E. Richards, on the other hand, I liked from the off. The first four lines begin:
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant –
No! No! I mean an elephone,
Who tried to use the telephone –
That kind of wordplay is a joy to read aloud and likely to delight any young child listening in a world which is constantly telling them the wrong and right way of things, including the importance of the right pronunciation and spelling. A chance to enjoy a bit of silliness with words is a good thing, I feel, despite the naysayers who might argue that such a poem would only confuse a child and hamper “proper learning”.
The fact that children are reading poetry at all seems like quite a miracle to me. Of VL’s readers and Book Foxes, hands up who read poetry as a small child? Hands up who read poetry voluntarily during primary school? Secondary school? College?
Shamefully, I didn’t begin to read poetry until I was well into my twenties, before that feeling poetry was a waste of time that could be better spent reading novels. I sometimes wonder what might have been if I was introduced to poetry as a child. Would I still have grown up thinking poetry was “boring”, “wimpy” and “pointless”? I doubt it.
The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems is a crazy, fun-filled poetry extravaganza aimed at small children and even babies (my one-year-old will happily sit on her own flicking through the brightly illustrated pages, and is rapt as I read her every poem from cover to cover), and I’d guess its aims are to amuse, interest and educate. But, I suspect, it also has another aim and that is to hook ’em young, and surely that can only be a good thing?
To end this piece I would like to offer a couple of stanzas from “Witch, Witch,” by Rose Fyleman.
‘Witch, witch, what do you eat?’
‘Little black apples from Hurricane Street.’
‘Witch, witch, what do you drink?’
‘Vinegar, blacking and good red ink.’
And since that has whetted my appetite, this witch is off for breakfast.
Puffin. My copy was given to me free at my local children’s centre as part of a Booktrust Booktime initiative. ISBN 978-0-141-32553-8. Cover illustrations by Nick Sharratt. 28 pages.