Posted in poetry

Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, at least it needn’t all the time…

Happy Saturday to you all.

I had to share this post as it’s something Holly and I worked on this morning as part of my Masters in Children’s Literature. We were asked to select an anthology of poetry that had won either the CLPE or the Signal Award. My choice was a book called This Poem Doesn’t Rhyme, edited by Gerard Benson.

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The two main reasons why are:

  • it’s an anthology of different poets’ works (I tend to prefer this to anthologies by one person)
  • it deals effectively and humorously with how children view poetry and tries to help them see beyond the immediate appeal of rhyme.

If it don’t rhyme, it’s not sublime

I worked as an intervention assistant in my daughter’s primary school and saw at first hand how children love rhyming poetry and dismiss other forms as not proper or correct. I did a session on this with some key stage 2 children, using Sharon Creech’s lovely book Love That Dog and I felt this had a similar aim – to encourage children to develop their poetry-writing skills – though through a different approach. Admittedly, though, I do prefer poetry that rhymes or at least has a very strong rhythm, and I think children do too because they love the flow of words and the anticipation of guessing the next rhyming word.

Benson explores this humorously in his opening poem, written by himself! – called ‘Problems of Poetry’, in which the poet persona is struggling to find end rhymes and failing spectacularly. This mimics his anecdote in the introduction that he kept finding children who were ruining brilliant poetry by searching for any word that might rhyme.

The second poem, entitled ‘Another Method’, shows how to write a prose poem by writing about how to write a prose poem (!) and the third is about sight rhymes at the end of lines, with some excellent examples – climb/limb, height/weight, laughter/daughter.’ This would be great too to use with students of English as a second language to show how unpredictable and unphonic (if that’s a word) English is.

Poetry, please

At this point, I asked Holly about poetry and whether it should rhyme. She’s a big fan of nonsense poetry (as am I) and she said that children find it easier to write rhyming poetry because otherwise they think poems sound like stories. So I read her an extract from ‘The Passing of Arthur’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson and she was quite captivated. She said that although it didn’t rhyme, it had a very strong rhythm, so she identified it was blank verse in iambic pentameter (though not so technically!). She said it was calm and relaxing to listen to because of its rhythm but the beat had an anger and energy to it.

At this point, she took the collection off me and started reading poems aloud, including: ‘The Mighty Horse’, from the Book of Job, ‘Buffalo Dusk’, by Carl Sandberg, and then one that was our favourite, ‘What for?’ by Noel Petty. I’ll include it below because it’s hilarious:


‘What For!’

One more word, said my dad,

And I’ll give you what for.

What for? I said.

That’s right, he said, what for!

No, I said, I mean what for?

What will you give me what for for?

Never you mind, he said. Wait and see.

But what is what for for? I said.

What’s what for for? he said,

It’s to teach you what’s what,

That’s what.

What’s that? I said.

Right, he said, you’re for it,

I’m going to let you have it.

Have what? I said.

Have what? he said,

What for, that’s what.

Do you want me to really give you

Something to think about?

I don’t know, I said,

I’m thinking about it.

Then he clipped me over the ear.

It was the first time he’d made sense

All day.

The humour of course lies in the misunderstanding of colloqualisms and the adult’s way of using them and the child not seeing the meaning (or choosing not to). This sort of conversation happens regularly in my house! What was interesting was that Holly didn’t know what the expression ‘what for’ was either but she still caught the humour, I believe through Petty’s clever observation of conversation. It perhaps shows that while children don’t have the full background to some texts, they can still make their own meaning from them (something we are studying in my other module, about reader response).

We also liked ‘The Greengrocer’s Love Song’ by Anon as it was very clever in how it used fruit and vegetable words in a strong play on words:

Do you carrot all for me?

My heart beets for you.

With your turnip nose

And your radish face

You are a peach.

If we canteloupe

Lettuce marry.

Weed make a swell pear.

Holly identified it as North American through the use of ‘swell’ but didn’t get the humour exactly until I showed her the spellings, which shows that certain poems do rely on a visual reading for their effect.

Finally, we liked a short riddle that appeared, called ‘Snake Riddle’ by Anon.

‘Why didn’t the viper

Vipe’er nose?

Because the adder

‘ad’er ‘andkerchief!’

To summarise, this is an excellent collection because it achieves different things – it informs children that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme to be beautiful, funny, moving or clever by showing examples that engage. It’s not overtly didactic or bossy – it just does what it says on the tin. I can see children enjoying this – Holly, who was reluctant to look at the book, couldn’t put it down!

Posted in poetry

Christmas jokes and poems and Holly’s Christmas Star poem

Holly’s been off sick for a couple of days – the usual Christmas cold (that her parents will probably catch on Christmas Day itself!). So we did some reading and other things, the best of which was a homemade pop-up book Holly made me as an early Christmas present. I will post more on that soon as she wants to give a brief tutorial on how to make pop-up books. She’s the expert!

Last night, we sat down with Funny Poems for Christmas, edited by Paul Cookson.

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The book is a compilation of poem (no surprise there) by various writers, some more famous than others. There’s a good variety of poetic form and of rhymed and non-rhymed verse. We played a game in how we read it – basically we would take it in turns to flip through the pages, front to back and vice versa, and the other person had to say ‘Stop!’. Whatever was on that page was read. This did mean though that, being a library book, it was better worn in some places than others, so we kept getting the same poem over and over again.

The poems in the collection are of varying standard. I am afraid some of them left us cold and others we just couldn’t get. However, there were some good and funny ones in there and we liked the fact that the compilation included poems by children. Interestingly, we both agreed on our top four choices which are, in no particular order, as follows:

  • ‘Santa’s Really Bad’, by Andrew Collett: a naughty poem on how Santa really is 364 days in the year
  • ‘Christmas Tree’, by James Carter: a ‘shape’ or ‘theme’ poem in the shape of a tree
  • ‘A Christmas Booklist’, by Trevor Parsons (Christmas titles with authors’ names written in  joke style – eg The Christmas Story, by Wayne A Manger and The Inedible Vegetable, by Bruce L Sprout)
  • WANTED, by Sue Cowling – a Christmas advert which goes as follows:


WANTED: a reliable STAR

to lead small party westwards.

Bright with a good sense of direction.

No timewasters.



Holly’s poem

After reading the poems, Holly did her own version of a shape poem about a Christmas star. I can’t scan it in because my scanner is out of action but these are the rather lovely words:

Christmas Star

Christmas star shines bright

above the world.

Christmas star twinkles

down on the planets below.

Christmas star gives happiness

to the world.

Christmas star is Santa

shining down on us below.

Do you have a favourite Christmas poem or joke? Please share it with us!

Christmas star, image courtesy of

Posted in general and welcome, picture books, poetry

Happy National Poetry Day!

Here in the UK, it’s National Poetry Day (that sort of rhymes, doesn’t it?). As such, Holly and I thought we would do a special post in honour of the occasion.

Recently we were very lucky to receive a package of books from Red Fox, an imprint of Random House publishers. The books in question were a trio of Quentin Blake’s works: Jack and Nancy, Quentin Blake’s ABC, and Nursery Rhyme Book. The latter two are written in rhyme so fit today’s theme perfectly.

A trio of Quentin Blake Books!

The books have been reprinted recently to celebrate Quentin Blake’s 80th birthday this autumn. We were delighted to read these as we are big fans of Mr Blake’s unique style of drawing, having first come to him from Roald Dahl’s stories. However, Blake also is an adept writer in his own right, as the contents of these books show.
In Quentin Blake’s ABC, he takes the reader through the alphabet in rhyming couplets, by covering two letters on each double-page spread:

Holly and I tried to guess what was inside the parcel. Her thoughts were much more imaginative that mine – a Mummy from Egypt was her answer. Mine was a cleverly wrapped upright vacuum cleaner. I thought the clues were in the fact that (a) a mum is opening it and (b) she is surrounded by housework. Maybe I am just cynical!

Crafty kittens

We also liked the page on kittens – this is a frequent occurrence in our house. The leg-waving on the next page is not so common, as none of us are talented in the old head-standing technique. It looks a lot of fun, though!
Moving on to Nursery Rhyme Book, I was pleased to see that Blake had chosen some of the less-well-known rhymes to include in his small anthology, such as “Jack Spratt”, “Dickery Dickery Dare” and “Gregory Griggs” and his 27 wigs. Holly and I had a laugh at that one, and discussed which wig we were most likely to wear.

Holly rather liked the long, flowing red one, whereas I fancied the nautical-themed ship wig.

I also laughed a lot at Goosey, Goosey Gander and Little Betsy Baker (with incredibly thin pigtails) being shaken – very realistic in this picture:

Shaken, not stirred

Finally, we looked at Jack and Nancy, which was Blake’s second published picture book. This story is all about the protagonists names in the title – Jack and Nancy – who live a very happy and comfortable life in a cottage by the sea but long for the sort of adventures the visiting sailors tell them about. One day, their wish is granted, as a violent storm whips them up by the handle of their umbrella and transports them to an island full of parrots.

Dramatic storms in Jack and Nancy – I loved the deep, rich swirls of the clouds against the scratchy illustrations.

Life on the island sounds like a Biblical paradise, with fresh fruit to eat and water to drink, and swimming naked in the sea with the fishes.

Swimming in the nuddy.

However, despite living in their very own Garden of Eden, Jack and Nancy soon realise that it’s home where they are happiest. The trouble is, with no ships in sight for days, will they ever get back?

Holly’s review:

These books were sent free to us from some publishers. Now, these books are being reprinted and we were the first to get a copy*.  They are excellent books and I know because I have read them all. They are for all ages, well apart from the ABC book. I like these books because they are funny. Why? Because of the drawing and the writing. They are all funny. I also like them because of the imagination in them. They can be adventurous not just because of the story but because of the words and rhymes and letters. If you want to read these books look in your local library or online.

* [NB from Sam: we were sent these just before official publication date of 27 September 2012.]

Disclaimer: Although we were given these books by the publisher, the reviews and thoughts are our own.

Posted in poetry

Humpty Dumpty – how did he get on that wall?

There is a quiz on the Guardian’s children’s books web pages today on nursery rhymes. It’s aimed at children seven years and under but it’s fun to have a pop at it yourself if you fancy it!

Image courtesy of

Nursery rhymes have been in my mind recently, as I’ve wondered if children really do read or hear them anymore. Certainly, many of them have been sanitised for modern audiences by PC police who worry in case they offend. We had one such example when Holly was little – the Three Blind Mice didn’t have their tails chopped up by a carving knife. I can’t remember actually what happened but it wasn’t violent but I think they and the farmer’s wife found a peaceable solution to their issues. Should I be embarrassed to admit that I refused to sing that version and told Holly the gruesome original instead?

Three confused children

Anyway, last week I was doing my intervention literacy work with primary school children and we were looking at plurals. We came to ‘mouse’ and I asked them what the answer would be. They looked at me blankly. I said, ‘OK, let’s sing the nursery rhyme. You know, Three Blind…?’

They looked at me again and hopefully guessed:



‘MICE’ I replied, desperately looking for some light-bulb moment.


I had thought that children might be more aware of the nursery rhyme characters from the Shrek film series. I love how they are used in the storylines, particularly the Three Pigs, the Gingerbread Man and Pinnochio. But perhaps the films were the first time some children had encountered them, which is a shame as they miss out on a bit of extra humour.


Rhyme, rhyme as fast as you can…

Children aren’t alone in their ignorance of nursery rhymes. According to an article on Wales Online, 25% of adults don’t know an entire nursery rhyme by heart. I don’t know if this necessarily matters but, according to the article, “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if a child knows eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old, they are usually among the best readers and spellers in their class by the time they are in Year 3.” You can read more here.

The article explains how listening to and reciting nursery rhymes helps children in all areas of language acquisition and development – they improve imagination, provide early exposure to poetry, reinforce phonics, etc. Holly certainly grew up with nursery rhymes, sung at home or on those cringeworthy CDs, and knows her characters fairly well though probably not as thoroughly as I did. Mind you, I embarrassed myself at a music class for babies by not knowing what on earth a Bobbin was and why you would want to wind it up. But I’m from Canada so that’s my excuse…


A great source of creativity

I think nursery rhymes can be a great source of creativity for both children and adults. As well as learning about how to rhyme, you can use these stories as the basis for writing activities. A good example of someone who does this well is the English writer Jasper Fforde. His Nursery Crime Adventures – The Big Overeasy and The Fourth Bear – although for adults, show how you can adapt nursery characters and put them in unique and hilarious situations (rather like the Shrek films and of course the original book by William Steig). What if the Gingerbread Man escaped from the fox? What if All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men could put Humpty together again? Why not explore these options with your children to see what amazing sequels or even prequels you can come up with!

To find out more about the history of nursery rhymes, and to brush up your knowledge of them, visit

Posted in fun resources, poetry, You Tube uploads

Poetry please…

There’s been a lot of talk about shaking up literacy education in primary schools over here in the UK, as this article in the Independent shows, and one of the recommendations is that children as young as five should be able to learn and recite poetry. I don’t think we’re talking The Rime of the Ancient Mariner here or Don Juan but simple, short poems that are memorable.

I actually think it’s a good idea. With a lot of emphasis on systemic phonics these days, it can be difficult for children to get into the rhythm of English as they robotically spell out each sound. Most children love poetry, which is why many picture books are written in rhyme, so why not exploit this natural interest?

Holly and I intend to do some poetry reviews but, in order to be topical and newsworthy, we had some fun pulling together this little gem. Last week, we visited one of the Oxfam bookshops in Oxford, which have some lovely old books as well as more modern second-hand titles. Amongst the children’s books was this version of The Hums of Pooh by A.A. Milne.

The Hums of Pooh, by A.A. Milne, as adored by Holly

Holly listens to an audiobook of Winnie the Pooh every night after storytime, to help her go to sleep, so she knows all the poems or ‘hums’ in here off by heart. However, she selected one of her favourites to share with you! You have to go onto You Tube to see this but hopefully you’ll think it’s worth it!