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The Weight Of Water

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Sarah Crossan
January 2012
240 pp
Whole book read
Read On? n/a
I come to a verse novel with a hope that it will live up to some of the best writing that has been done in this genre. One of the most powerful Young Adult novels ever written, and an enduring favourite of mine, is Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Love That Dog and Heartbeat both by Sharon Creech are two other verse novels that I would recommend without reservation.
I read The Weight of Water on my Kindle, while sittting on the beach in bright sunshine. As with the verse novels just mentioned, I was immediately driven along by the pulse of the short lines. I had downloaded it several months previously and it had been sitting there in my 'Items' list for just this moment.
It is a short book and a quick read, but manages to cover a number of 'issues' without ever becoming the issue novel it might have been had it been written in a conventionally padded prose. The Sunday Times/Nicolette Jones picked it as its Children's Book of the Week. "Succinct, with a gentle lyricism, the poems are telling about immigration, prejudice, self-delusion, families and first love, on the way to a life-changing conclusion."
The main character is Polish. Although not Polish herself (she is Irish) Crossan captures Kasienka's misery well, as she is picked on and made to feel isolated at school, and at home comes into conflict with her mother. Kasienka's courage and developing self-reliance in the face of the bullying for one so young (she is in Year 8) is counterbalanced by an awkwardness and naivety when it comes to having her first kiss.
I would rather have allowed the final verse section, 'Butterfly', to provide closure to the story by itself without the heavy-handedness of putting it into an Epilogue.
And I do very much regret the need to include two paragraphs of Acknowledgements, mentioning amongst others "the Edward Albee Foundation (its founders and fellows) which gave me the space and time to complete this novel." This had the effect on me of somewhat undermining the authenticity of the novel, and rapidly dissipating the satisfaction that you get on finishing a really good read. Perhaps if I had read the book in print format I might simply have closed it after the final verse section and not bothered to read these bothersome Acknowledgements.

The Storyteller's Secret

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Tony Mitton, ill. Peter Bailey
David Fickling
978 0 385 61509 9
Jun 2009
What's so good about this book? Lots of things, but the structure is particularly neat, since it conjures up the experience of a live storytelling event. The reader, or listener, fulfils the role of audience for the storyteller, who is known simply as 'Teller'. The author vividly portrays for us the village setting and the character of the storyteller who appears one day and opens up new ways of thinking.

The verse style is accessible, direct, trippy and light, and it often makes you smile. 'It is a story handed down/from many a year ago/The tale's been told by many a tongue/but I have told it so.' Some of the stories grab you by the throat, for example the unusual 'The Seal Hunter' with its haunting black line illustrations, and 'The Pedlar of Swaffham' about a man who not only follows his dream, but also makes the most of another man's dream about treasure buried at the foot of a plum tree. 'Tam Lim' is a story that sets you on the edge of your seat as you urge the female protagonist to be sufficiently brave and strong. It works well interposing the verse with prose lines that set the scene for the next story.

The episodic presentation is mesmerising. Although the Teller returns each day with a new story rather than moving on to the next village to tell the same or similar story to a different audience, there is a clear sense of the two children participating in the unfolding narrative, and growing as a result. And in the same way that storytellers often provide tactile objects for the audience to share (my best experience of this was at the telling of an Armenian story, where the audience was presented with little red jewels from a pomegranate), so this book provides the reader and listener with a fragment from each of the five stories: 'and each holds a spell:/a curious story/to cherish and tell.'

I smiled at the author's self-promotion of his art, demonstrating this through the children's reactions: 'they knew now that a story from Teller was not to be missed.' You may well find that you set out to read one tale and are urged to carry on by your listeners, drawn into the music of the book like the children of Hamelin. It's also beautifully presented, with a part-cloth binding in sumptuous purple.

Reviewed by ALISON BOYLE

The Land Of Nursery Rhyme

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Alice Daglish & Ernest Rhys, ill. Charles Folkard
Autumn 2008

A facsimile-style edition of a book first published (Dent & Sons) in 1932. It's a superb collection of traditional nursery rhymes with illustrations by the Rackham-infuenced Folkard (who learnt to illustrate designing programmes for magic shows) that are bold and timeless.

The printing quality of the book (it was printed in Spain) is particulalrly noteworthy, with heavy black ink that makes each page shine and shimmer.
30% off at Amazon.

The Secret Life of Pants

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Roger Stevens
A & C Black
Aug 2006
Perfect for reading on a dull, wet day, it�s impossible not to feel one�s mood being elevated and enhanced by always bright � sometime brash � poetic offerings presented in �The Secret Life of Pants�, a pant-astically absorbing collection of new poems to pamper oneself with�

Poems are collected under eight headings, some to make one laugh, some to make one think but all of which inspire admiration in the playful, imaginative use of language that opens up new ways to perceive the world around us. Contributors include Paul Cookson, Brian Moses, John Foster and Andrew Fusek Peters.

Of particular note are the Albanian and Czech riddles which have a beautiful simplicity in their outlook. �Don�t Snog Frogs� is a cheeky and comical caution against following the advice of fairy-tales. Jusin Coe�s �The Lost Poem� poses consideration as to what might and might not be considered poetry. Limericks, haiku and riddles give tantalising tastes of the diversity of the poetic form. Primarily a fun book to read, this serves as an excellent introduction to poetry avoiding the high-brow pretensions that can be such a dampener to new readers�

The Ghost of My Pussycat's Bottom

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Mike Jubb
Back to Front
Jul 2006
�The Ghost of my Pussycat�s Bottom� is a wide-ranging collection of poetry written by Mike Jubb. Material traverses the irreverent such as the eponymous poem �The Ghost of my Pusscat�s Bottom�, the stately and elegant such as �Midnight Meeting� which takes its inspiration from Edward Lear�s �The Owl and the Pussycat� and the deceptively simply with almost ethereal beauty including �The Emperor and the Nightingale�, told in the form of three linked haiku to form a rensaku.

There are poems here to meet every moment and every mood. Poems are collected under seven beastly headings and range from the miscroscopic � �Said an Angry Amoeba called Anne� � to the gargantuan with �What is a dragon like?�.

Mike Jubb provides notes on a number of the poems, some of which unfairly self-abase the work and thought that belies the crafting of this collection. Points of reference aplenty and a practical written style makes these ideal support for teaching of poetry in the classroom and a perfect springboard to explore other referenced works. All of the notes, however, achieve accomplishment whilst sharing the unpretentious overview they provide of different poetic forms and techniques, areas from which to draw ideas, and ultimately these serve to inspire and enrich an imaginative repertoire that creates a strong and empowering urge to have a go oneself, go on�!

The Tail of the Trinosaur

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Charles Causley
Jane Nissen Books
Apr 2006
It is perhaps one of the paradoxes of the publishing and pitching of books for children that there are so few novels written in poetic form for new readers when rhythm, rhyme and a sense of time appeal so much providing highly accessible means for first independent encounters with stories and that warming, phosphorescent glow of language presented in its best possible placement�

�The Tail of the Trinosaur� is an epic poem for children written by Charles Causley. It is witty, irreverent and at the same time soft and compassionate. It opens in Dunborough as an articulated lorry brings to the town a container from the Amazon Jungle holding a gift�

Needless to say, the gift is of monstrous proportions! The Trinosaur herself is a lumbering, lugubrious but ultimately loveable vegetarian. It is hard not to let out a celebratory cheer by the end of the novel when, after all of her adventures and mishaps, the Trinosaur successfully makes a bid for freedom, fleeing the army.

Rich and resplendent with onomatopoeia and linguistic play, this is a book that begs to be read aloud as Michael Rosen indicates through his plea towards the end of his introduction �read this pleasure-loving romp out loud, with plenty of cod accents and ham gestures.� This new edition is made available by Jane Nissen books, a small independent publisher who is exciting and commendably bringing back into print numerous classic children�s books from yester-year.

The Carnival of the Animals

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Ed. Benson, Chernaik, Herbert Ills. Kitamura
Walker Books
Dec 2005
Instantly recognisable and highly distinctive, Satoshi Kitamura has developed an illustrative style that speaks the unspoken sensitivities and imaginings of the �inner-child�.

Following on from picture books �Once Upon an Ordinary School Day�, �Igor the Bird Who Couldn�t Sing� and �Pablo the Artist�, all of which explore the importance of the imagination and the roles of creativity and expression, it seems natural and organic that the progression should be Walker Books� �The Carnival of the Animals�� more a creative enterprise and a genuine inspiration than a book�

The origins of this project span an impressive amount of time. Over a hundred years ago French composer Camille Saint-Saens wrote a series of musical vignettes depicting animals in a zoological �frame� setting. In the present day, Gerald Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert from Poems on the Underground commissioned poets to write a poem for each of the animals.

Music, poetry and illustrations are carefully interwoven to breathe new life into the menagerie of animals presented � the majesty of the monastic lion, the flightiness of the flightless cocks and hens, the power of the horses, through to the grace and elegance of the swan. A collection of creative vision, this is truly a book to treasure, to read and to return to - a great introduction to the arts of poetry, classical music and illustration!

Hey Crazy Riddle

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Trish Cooke
Frances Lincoln
Mar 2006
The mood is light, the rhythm is tight in this collection of fast tempo poems published as the second book in Frances Lincoln�s new fiction range for 8 � 12 year olds. Trish Cooke � familiar to many as the award-winning author of popular picture book �So Much� � brings lightness of touch and great verve to these exuberant explanations of how dog lost his bone, why wasp can�t make honey and� of course, the eponymous �Hey Crazy Riddle�.

In the author�s note, Trish explains how she is still able to hear her father�s mischievous voice teasing as he used to when he told her the stories. This lends the poems a real sense of heritage and you cannot help but feel a part of an age-old oral tradition when reading them aloud � and they must be read aloud and be allowed to be shared, because it is then that they become alive!

Simon Bartram
Templar Publishing
Oct 2005
Children who have met Bartram's The Man on the Moon, or Dougal, The Deep Sea Diver, will already know that they are in for a treat with this concoction from the same author. Any parents who haven't yet introduced their offspring to Bartram's vivid colours and writing - well, what are you waiting for?

This collection of musings and poetry has all the trademark Bartram exaggeration, not to mention his equally trademark cornish-ware cups of tea. From the opener, "What Happened to the Pirate's Eye?" we are immediately in Bartram-land, where the reader is always encouraged to look beneath the surface, and wonder why, for example, pirates always choose to keep one eye covered. In "Puddle Trouble" he explores just what kind of big trouble parents are referring to, when they say, "you are now in BIG trouble". This is immediately engaging poetry, and full of ideas that children will recognise and feed off, as well. As inviting as burgers and chips, and nourishing as bright green vegetables.