Apr/May 2011  •   Reviews & Interviews

Poetry and Childhood

Review by Ann Skea

Poetry and Childhood.
Styles, Joy, and Whitley, Editors.
Trentham Books. 2011. 254 pp.
ISBN 9781858564722.

It is almost impossible to write a short review of this book. The essays in it are all of high quality but the range of topics and styles is as broad as the background, cultures and countries of the contributors. The best way of showing the variety and interest of this book is to list its contents at the end of these brief notes.

Gathered in Poetry and Childhood, are papers presented at a conference which took place in 2010 to complement the British Library's exhibition Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat! 250 years of poetry for children. Although the publishers acknowledge that the book is primarily aimed at scholars and teachers, there is something here for anyone who is interested, as they put it, "in poetry and children." Apart from a few essays, where readers who are not familiar with discourses, meta-discourses and signifiers and the jargon of modern literary criticism will be lost, this claim is true. There are historical papers, analytical papers, a fair amount of poetry from different countries (including the USA, Brazil, England and Ireland), some rude playground humour, and a degree of irony about the whole practice of theorising children's poetry (anyone who has enjoyed Frederick Crew's book, The Pooh Perplex will enjoy David Rudd's dealings with Humpty Dumpty).

That there is no consensus between writers on what defines children's poetry is as apparent in the title, Poetry and Childhood, as it is in the essays themselves. However, the two poets whose pieces bookend the collection, tackle the question in different ways and both write from their own experiences of sharing poetry with children. Michael Rosen, a former British Children's Laureate, reminisces about his own childhood and young adulthood and the influence of his immigrant parents on his love of poetry. He tells of (and demonstrates with some of his poems) the ways in which having to read his poems to children changed him and his poetry. Philip Gross writes of the need for "alongsidedness": the need for adults and children to share and enjoy the reading and writing of poetry. He offers practical advice on how to go about this; and he presents some of the results of a poetry-writing exercise he shared with conference participants.

Understandably, in such a wide ranging selection, there are a few writers who seem to lose touch with the essential imagination and fun of the poetry itself. But in spite of the rather ponderous titles listed in the Contents (below), many of the essays are interesting, informative and full of curious details.



Foreword by Andrew Motion.
Introduction: Taking the Long View of the State of Children's Poetry Today.


Theory, Texts and contexts: A Reading and Writing Memoir—Michael Rosen
Confronting the Snark: The Non-Theory of Children's Poetry—Peter Hunt
What Is Children's Poetry? Children's Views of Children's Poetry—Stephen Miles
Ted Hughes and the 'Old Age of Childhood'—Lissa Paul


'Childish Toys' for Boys with Beards: John Bunyan's A Book for Boys and Girls—Pat Pinsent
'Those first affections': Wordswoth and Mournful Adolescence—Louise Joy
'The Land of Play': Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses—Shaun Holland
A.A Milne's Poetic World of Childhood in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six—Jean Webb
'The Penny Fiddle' and Poetic Truth—Michael Joseph
'A child, barefoot: alone': Innocence in Charles Causley's Poetry—Debbie Pullinger
'Not Not Nursery Rhymes' and 'Not Not Lullabies': How Carol Ann Duffy and Pórarinn Eldjarn Refurnish the Nursery—Olga Holownia


Humpty Dumpty and the Sense on an Unending—David Rudd
'If it rhymes, it's funny': Theories of humour in Children's Poetry—Karen Coats
Children's Oral Poetry: Identity and Obscenity—C.W. Sullivan III
Poetry in Children's Annuals—Victor Watson
Wicked Thoughts: Fairy-tale Poetry for Children and Adults—Laura Tosi


Anthropomorphism Dressed and Undressed in Beatrix Potter's Rhymes and Riddles—Lorraine Kerslake
Once upon a time in the realms of Eden: Children's Poetry in Brazil—Telma Franco Diniz
Animal Poems and Children's Rights in America, 1820-1890—Angela Sorby
'Imaginary gardens with real toads in them': Animals in Children's Poetry—David Whitley


Poets in the Making: Ted Hughes, Poetry and Children—Peter Cook
Articulating the Auditory Imagination: When Children Talk About Poetry They Hear—John Gordon
The Affordances of Orality for young People's Experience of Poetry—Joy Alexander
Exploring Poetry Teachers: Teachers Who Read and Readers Who Teach Poetry—Teresa Cremin


Playing with words: Two children's Encounters with Poetry from Birth—Virginia Lowe
Writing Alongside at the Poetry and Childhood Conference—Philip Gross


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