Superb collection of some old, some reworked and some brand-new poems from this under-appreciated poet-illustrator.
West has never been a ‘contemporary’ children’s poet and probably ticks fewer boxes on the Cool checklist than ever before. But it is the very timelessness of his verse that satisfies. He writes mainly in rhyming couplets (sometimes broken into shorter lines) with a deft ear for rhythm, perfect for telling a story, as in ‘The Witch Who Was Pretty’:
This witch, she was pretty,
This witch, she was fair,
This witch had the silkiest
Her chin wan’t pointed,
Her nose wasn’t bent,
And people admired her
Wherever she went.
Some of West’s best work is rooted in the tradition of English lullaby and song. Take ‘I Bought My Love A Tabby Cat’ which starts:
I bought my love a tabby cat
A tabby cat, a tabby cat,
My love made him a velvet hat
To wear when we were wed.
Often the poems are straightforwardly about times past…
Long years ago, or so it’s said,
There lived a peasant, name of Fred…
begins one of my favourites, ‘Fred’s Fantastic Boots’, which is a story about someone who has a yearning for fashionable footwear above both his station and means. But there’s no stopping him. He makes himself a pair from patches of leather:
He worked till late (he got up early)
To make the toes both long and curly.
At last he fashioned for each foot
A multi-coloured patchwork boot,
With pointed toes so elongated
That Fred felt quite exhilarated.
Then on the tip of either toe
He fixed a bell that tinkled so.
This poem is also a good example of how West’s own illustrations complement his narrative. I love the picture of three armoured soldiers carting Fred off, the pointy-toed boots still on his feet.
‘A Blackpool Ballad’ is a playful riff on Bingo-speak:
At Two Fat Ladies Tower Road
Lived lonely Sam McCrick,
Who loved a a girl along the way
At number Clickety-Click
The poem ends sadly…
They buried Sam beneath the sands,
And as the mourners passed,
Sighed Sue, ‘Life’s like a Bingo Game,
His number’s up at last!’
In summary: a highly recommended, read-aloud collection that will entertain and amuse.
Look out also for this other example of West’s work in second-hand bookshops and charity shops:
The Times Educational Supplement said of this: “This handsome book gathers West’s nonsense verse across two decades. Liberally illustrated in colour by West himself (he produces picture books as well as poetry), this book should be in every teacher’s personal library, on hand should an opportunity for five minutes of off-message, anarchic laughter present itself.”