Vulpes Libris

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.

Poetry Week: The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems, edited by June Crebbin.

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.

Kit Wright.

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.

17 comments on “Poetry Week: The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems, edited by June Crebbin.

  1. Aliya Whiteley
    May 21, 2011

    I’m really glad to see a review of this – my daughter loves it, particularly the weirder poems you’ve mentioned that are so much fun to read aloud. Great that primary school children connect so well with poetry through books like this – she also loves Ogden Nash, and Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts – perfect at bedtime!


  2. ChrisCross53
    May 21, 2011

    The poems in this collection (taken from The Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems) may not be ‘great’, and adults may find some of them very silly, or question whether they are poems at all, but they have rhythm, rhyme, repetition, humour, are written in language modern children can understand, and are about things children can relate to.

    If the book helps them realise poems are there to be read in your head, whispered, shouted aloud, danced to, talked about, thought about, written and drawn about and, above all, enjoyed then, as you say, that’s all to the good. Hopefully these poems will also foster a love of language, of reading and writing, as well as improving communication skills – and perhaps some of today’s young readers will turn out to be the poets of tomorrow.

    I’m really glad you wrote about this. It was a lovely way to round off an interesting week of wonderful essays, with something new offered each day – either a poet not previously encountered, or a different view of a known poet.

  3. rosyb
    May 21, 2011

    “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?”


    Well I wouldn’t have said I was the biggest poetry reader as a child.

    But then I think back to beloved poems from When We Were Young by A A Milne (loved loved loved as a child) and the Rice Pudding poem or The King’s breakfast (a lot of my fav poems seemed to havebeen about food), the ditties in Winnie the Pooh (also tending to be about the importance of honey or condensed milk) and the many rhyming picture books I had such as the Duchess Bakes a Cake (brilliant funny book) and The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear, which I had a fantastic picture book of with brilliant illustrations, and I realise a lot of my favourite stuff was poetry or rhyming stories.

    There was a wonderful book of Children’s Poetry my sister had aimed at older kids and it was full of poems that would appeal to children – not necessarily been written for them and had things like The Highwayman and my favourite poem as an older kid, Shelley’s Ozymandias which I loved for the sound of the thing and its grand rhetoric: It’s a great one to recite.

  4. rosyb
    May 21, 2011

    Once there was an elephant,

    Who tried to use the telephant –

    No! No! I mean an elephone,

    Who tried to use the telephone –

    I loved this too.

    On the strange sheep-counting one, I’m imagining in general that the meaning is less the thing than the silly sound for very tiny kids. Perhaps the slightly – err – rude connotations makes it fun for the adults! My niece loved to say bollocks a lot at one point when she was wee. And who could blame her – a great-sounding word that has a playful sound. I quite like saying it too. 🙂

    (also slightly older kids just like saying rude words as it makes them giggle. Nothing is funnier than the word “bum” when you’re a kid)

  5. ChrisCross53
    May 21, 2011


    Like you, I read poetry (and had it read to me) at a very young age. Edward Lear (especially the Pobble) and AA Milne remain favourites, as does The Highwayman, A Smuggler’s Song, Hiawatha, The Listeners, anything by Masefield, and a poem about a rabbit in a snare, that still reduces me tears, but I have no idea who wrote it.

    Apart from AA Milne my daughters’ tastes were more modern (including but they loved rudery and nonsense (including some of those in Fanastic First Poems).

    Talking of nonsense, shepherds in many parts of the country had their own counting systems, and Yan, tan, tether is fairly well known. There are various explanations about the origins, including a theory that it’s a remnant of an ancient Celtic language. As far as I know, they used to count to a set number, like 10 or 20 and make a mark, or put a stone down, the count again and make a mark and so on…

  6. Anne Brooke
    May 21, 2011

    I think The Nutter is a work of true genius – it has vastly cheered up my day! 🙂


  7. rosyb
    May 21, 2011

    Oh the pobble who has no toes! I’d forgotten that. which reminds me of the dong with the luminous nose…which I also had but this particular book freaked me out. A potentially rude step too far methinks. 😉

    Enjoying this thread, there are so many great poems for kids. The reason I don’t think of myself as reading poetry is because I didn’t – I had it read to me and I could rattle it off – all speech really and the rhyming rhythmical ones are designed for chanting out loud together.

    My favourite Pooh poem is The More it Snows (tiddly pom) which I would do all the tiddly poms to and was a great way of getting a sulky me to keep going to the end of the walk when I was wee.

    I think Eve would have a lot to contribute to this thread having heard her and Julia Donaldson happily reciting by heart together from a golden book.

  8. Catherine Czerkawska
    May 21, 2011

    Love all the Pooh poems. My own favourite childhood poems were Stevenson’s Leerie the Lamplighter, and The Land of Counterpane. (I had severe asthma as a child and spent a lot of time in bed!) Loved all the Lear rhymes too, but when I was older, remember being a bit freaked out by Goblin Market (as who wouldn’t be?!)

  9. Hilary
    May 21, 2011

    Oh I wish someone had given this to my mum when I was a baby! It’s quite obviously full of works of genius. Rhythm and nonsense and playing with language are the greatest fun when you’re little. I’m glad Kit Wright, who went around épater-ing bourgeois parents at library gigs for years, is in there, disconcerting parents still.

    I spend my life disclaiming being a poetry reader, and it’s true – these days I don’t read poetry unless I’m tempted by someone else. But when I stop and think, I realise I stopped seeking out new poetry to read for pleasure when I was a student, finding Lorca and Valery and the like impenetrably difficult. But it’s not really the truth – when I was young, I absorbed so much poetry that’s still there if when I want it. AA Milne, naturally, and the poems in ‘Alice’. We had The Golden Treasury at home, and I picked and chose my way through that; reams of Idylls of the King; Ozymandias (that I can still recite from memory if I try); Archie and Mehitabel (remind me to pull that one out for the next Poetry week). So I did read poetry, and before I could read, had it read to me – I just unaccountably stopped reading it when I grew up.

    So thanks for reminding me of that.

  10. Jackie
    May 21, 2011

    It was great reading the comments as well as the review. I was another one who read a lot of poetry as a child & teen and I do think that’s why I still like it as an adult, it was never a pretentious thing to me, just a way of painting word pictures.
    This looks like a great collection for kids of various ages, it’s silly & teaches them that poetry is a fun & flexible thing. It’s hard to read these poems without laughing at any age. I really like Nutter a lot. The cover is funny too, finding all of the different pictures, I especially like the dinosaur eating a table lamp–that must be crunchy!
    Thanks Lisa, for finishing off our week with a burst of giggles.

  11. kirstyjane
    May 22, 2011

    Ah, how I enjoyed this review. I did read poetry as a child, but I unfortunately got exposed to some of the direst stuff out there and I am afraid it might have put me off. I didn’t start reading poetry again until University, and even now I’m a shamefully sporadic poetry reader.

    This collection looks tremendous. I love the silliness of it — intelligent silliness, if you know what I mean. Especially the one about the elephone!

  12. Eve Harvey
    May 22, 2011

    Oh this is lovely 🙂

    I too was an obsessive poetry reader as a child and well into my adulthood (in fact I began writing poetry as an angsty teen!). I also read poetry to my own children and still try to – they groan a lot and shot at me to shut up… *sigh*

    I can still recite AA Milne off by heart and Spike Milligan and countless others. I also STILL have all my childhood poetry collections.

    A favourite one was by Alfred Noyes and it’s here for your reading pleasure:

    Thank you Lisa for a wonderful trip down memory lane 🙂

  13. Lisa
    May 23, 2011

    Lovely to come here and see this thread. I have so many poems to look up now. I’ve obviously missed some real crackers. I’ve just read Eve’s Alfred Noyes recommendation (super!) and am going to work my way up the list.

    Aliya, glad to hear that your daughter enjoys this collection too. Perfect bedtime silliness. I’m sure my little one will grow up loving this book. Would never have come across it if not for the Booktrust initiative, so am very grateful for that.

    ChrisCross, thank you for reminding me that these came from the Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems – definitely one to invest in.

    And I couldn’t agree more about this:

    If the book helps them realise poems are there to be read in your head, whispered, shouted aloud, danced to, talked about, thought about, written and drawn about and, above all, enjoyed then, as you say, that’s all to the good. Hopefully these poems will also foster a love of language, of reading and writing, as well as improving communication skills – and perhaps some of today’s young readers will turn out to be the poets of tomorrow.

    Brilliantly put.

    Rosy, I knew you’d have loads of poems to recommend. Feeling quite excited to look them all up. I might have missed out first time around, but 25 years on, I’m going to explore as much kids’ poetry as possible.

    The sheep counting is new to me. I’ll have to try it out next time I’m taking a walk through the local fields . . . Actually, I bet my girl will enjoy that too when she’s older.

    Kirsty, I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of dire poetry too (some of it at college). That’s why it’s great to have these personal recommendations and why I’ve loved this Poetry Week so much.

    Anne, Jackie and Hilary, I’m with you on Kit Wright’s “Nutter.” It makes me smile every time I see it now.

    Hilary, interesting . . . I know nothing about Kit Wright – must investigate further.

    Catherine, Goblin Market sounds such fun, if a little scary.

    Thanks for all of these comments. Great to hear all of your experiences with children’s poetry. Made my day.

  14. Ela
    May 27, 2011

    Most kids love rhythm and rhyme, which is why, I think, so many picture books for very young children are in this form. I loved poetry when I was a child, and it was only later that I was put off it by having to analyse it at school. I also think Nicholson Baker’s poet protagonist Paul Chowder (in ‘The Anthologist’) has a point in preferring poetry to have rhyme and rhythm, rather than being free – almost no-one seems to write anything but free verse nowadays.

  15. dfgyu
    August 7, 2011

    i agree with who ever said about “there once was a elephant”

  16. Marj
    November 21, 2011

    Hi. My 7 year old son loved the poems from the very first book of first poems that he have read. He also wish that one day his poem will be chosen and included in the book. is there any chance that it may happen? we will be grateful for your advice. Thank you.


  17. Elisha
    August 1, 2013

    My dughter said she loved the book she reads it every day and smiles

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2011 by in Entries by Lisa, Poetry Week, Poetry: children's, Uncategorized.



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