#MGTakesOnThursday – Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Today I’ve gone slightly off-piste again with a poetry collection that’s perfect for primary rather than an MG novel. I couldn’t not choose this though as it should be in every school, if not in every classroom!

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble – Magical Poems, chosen by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon, published by Bloomsbury

Accompanied by fun illustrations with plenty of appeal, there is truly something for everyone in this magical poetry collection.

Old ones, new ones. Funny ones, thoughtful ones. Spooky ones, sparkly ones. Long ones, short ones. Rhyming, rhythmic and repetitive ones.

Magic words, spells and potions. Fairies, unicorns, dragons, ghosts and monsters. A smattering of nonsense, pop culture and legend, and a huge dollop of possibility, word play and imagination.

Perfect for reading for pleasure or to select specific poems to use as a writing stimulus in class – made up magic words; spells, recipes and potions; descriptive work on settings or creatures, even maths problems and puzzles thanks to Paul Cookson’s Mathematically, Telepathically Magical (which brought back fond memories of primary school for me and likely will for other older readers who remember this magic maths ‘trick’ doing the rounds!)

I started listing my favourites but it became ridiculously long! So I have chosen 3 (it seemed a fittingly magical number!)

The Witch by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge p50

Night Soup (a simple recipe) by James Carter p66-67

Crossing the Bounds by Jaz Stutley p68

This book in three words

Magic. Poetry. Imagination.

My favourite quote from pg 11

I have included the full poem featured on page 11, Whizzo McWizard’s Amazing Creations by Paul Cookson, which is a brilliant springboard into inventions and creations that is full of possibility and the excitement of trying, building, testing and making. If this doesn’t gave you and your kids thinking up your own amazing creations I’d be shocked!

Toffee

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Toffee by Sarah Crossan

I read Moonrise by Sarah Crossan back in 2018 and was convinced I’d reviewed it but can find no trace of said review so can only assume I didn’t…which is a shame because I loved it! So I was really pleased to be given a copy of her most recent book, Toffee to review.

Runaway Allison ends up at Marla’s. Marla is a strsnger; an elderly lady with dementia who sees Allison and thinks she’s a friend from her past, Toffee. Lucy is a local girl of Allison’s age who ‘befriends’ her at the beach.

However, as the story progresses we quickly see that friendship isn’t always found in the most obvious of places.

Like Moonrise (and I believe her other books which I REEAALLY need to read!), Toffee is written in verse, which is more accessible than it sounds (seriously, if you are not a poetry person – or don’t think you are – don’t let this put you off!). It’s also incredibly effective.

Sarah Crossan has managed to get so much into what, on the surface, is relatively sparse text. It feels distilled to its purest, neatest form – no word is unnecessary, every line packs a punch.

The characters have depth and complexity. The plot is layered and gradually spins out to the past and back to the present. And oh, the emotion in this book – your heart will ache.

We are presented with Allison’s history in short, sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet (often both) slices, allowing us to understand her and her caginess, and fill with warmth as she slowly and carefully begins to open up.

Similarly, we are given glimpses into Marla’s past and it’s a joyous yet cautionary tale about the way we treat/think of old people as we see her dancing and making both lewd and shrewd comments. It’s also an incredibly realistic and sad depiction of the way dementia takes over – the way Marla’s confusion and frustration are shown is so utterly believable.

This is a heartbreaking, tender and bitterly sad story tinged with moments of joy and hope. Our main characters face myriad hurts, betrayals and losses in various ways and are both, in their own ways, locked inside themselves. It is wonderful to see them break through to each other in small ways.

The more minor characters – Allison’s Dad and Marla’s son, Lucy and Kelly-Anne – in the book nevertheless feel fully fleshed and each has their own issues, presented cleverly to the reader. Although I was in no doubt about how I felt about them, I was nevertheless intrigued by them.

Although this is a YA book, I can see it appealing to adults too. There are – in the characters, the themes and the individual poems – elements which will spesk to different readers on different levels and which will resonate in different ways with them.

Personally, for example, ‘I Did Not Kill My Mother Immediately’ broke me (and it did utterly, utterly break me) in a way it wouldn’t have before I had Peapod. And I found ‘Unkissed’ unbearably sad, but I think if I read it as a teen it probably wouldn’t have touched me so much.

That isn’t to say teens wouldn’t understand it or relate, just that I suspect the poems that grabbed me from it now would not be the ones that would have spoken to me when I was younger and vice-versa. It would make a wonderful book to discuss cross-generationally.

I loved this book. My heart still hurts to think about it now. A beautifully, tender tale, cleverly crafted and concentrated in its telling.

Everything, All At Once

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Everything, All At Once by Steven Camden

A collection of poetry for – I’d say – late KS2 upwards. It opens with the transition from primary to secondary and then takes us through daily life in your typical high school in verse.

There’s lessons and lunchtime, students and teachers, gossip and friendship, learning and not.

There’s humour and tenderness, hustle and bustle, moments of solitude, emotion and masks.

It’s a brilliant collection that took me right back to my time at secondary school. So many of the poems drew a wry smile of recognition or the emotional tug of bring seen and understood.

And even in those poems which didn’t speak to me directly, I could bring to mind characters – either real from my school days or conjured from the poem alone.

In the best way, they are the Ahlbergs’ Please Mrs Butler/I Heard it in the Playground kids grown up. They are evocative, funny and written with incredible understanding and tenacity – a brilliant collection.

A First Book of Animals

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

Polar bears playing on the ice, tigers hunting in the jungle, fireflies twinkling in the evening sky and nightingales singing in the heart of the woods – there are animals everywhere. From blue whales to bumblebee bats and everything in between, A First Book of Animals takes you all over the planet to visit all kinds of different creatures.

This is a beautiful book of poetry, with many of the poems also containing many animal facts, making it a perfect book for animal lovers old and young.

Split into categories such as ‘Big and Small’, ‘Colours and Shapes’ or ‘Animal Homes’, the poems are thematically grouped within the book and contain a range of facts and styles.

There are short, easy to join in with and repetitive poems, like ‘Why Are Zevras Stripy?’ There are verses with wonderful word choice and/or rhyme detailing facts and characteristics of a particular animal, such as Chameleon Song.

There are comparative poems, such as ‘Song of the Biggest and the Smallest Bird’ and there are poems which work with the illustrations to teach us something, like the wonderful ‘Dragonfly Babies’ whose words create a vivid impression of the growth, emergence and behaviours of the tiny dragonflies and whose illustration serves to help visualise this and show young readers how this would look.

Likewise, there are poems who give nothing more than an impression of the animal, less fact and more feeling, accompanied by illustrations who capture the look and character of the animal perfectly, giving more than enough information without the text – Whale Shark, for example.

Which leads me to pause for a moment to simply admire the illustrations. They are in turn textured, light, colourful, dark, rich, playful, layered, bright… each is wonderful, realistic and detailed and in perfect keeping with both the animal it portrays and the text it accompanies.

In short, both the words and pictures are stunning. The poems are hugely accessible – with fantastic feeling and varied vocabulary, but not overly long or wordy, they’re perfect for children of all ages. Likewise the range of styles is brilliant for showcasing to young readers poetry’s versatility.

This is a gorgeous book that we are loving dipping in and out of at random each day. I can’t recommend this enough for both home and school.

Poetry Thursdays: Fierce Fairytales

So, a couple of weeks ago, on National Poetry Day, I posted about how much I enjoy poetry, but rarely choose to read it. This evolved into the idea of making my Thursday posts (weekly when I can, fortnightly when life takes over!) poetry posts.

In strangely serendipitous timing, I had just started reading ‘Fierce Fairytales’ by Nikita Gill, which I was sent by Trapeze in exchange for an honest review.

Drawn in by the fairytale theme (anything linked to a fairytale gets me!) and that gorgeous cover by Tomas Almeida, I hadn’t realised when I requested it was that the majority of the book is poetry (though some ‘chapters’ do take the form of prose).

9781409181590

Step into this world of empowering, reimagined fairytales where the stereotypes of obliging lovers, violent men and girls that need rescuing are transformed.

Opening it to find poetry inside was a lovely surprise – what an original way to examine these characters and tales. And ‘examine’ I think is the key word there: for that is what this feels like – rather than a reimagining (although there are reimagined versions of tales in there), it’s more analysis, speculation and possibility: why did the characters act like they did? What if this had happened instead? Could it be possible that the way we were told it was not quite how it was? What lessons can we learn from them?

The book features everyone from from Jack and his magic beans to Cinderella to Peter Pan to Red Riding Hood – each with a new angle or twist; but standing alongside them are the villains cast against them – each giving their side to the story, their reasons and their own misfortunes.

Tradition and perception are challenged with humour, defiance and reason. There is rage in these words, but there is also hope. There is caution, but also inspiration.

If I was being harsh my only minor issue was that I felt some of the later poems in the book were rather repetitive or contrived in their links to the fairytale themes. Personally, I’d have rather had a slimmed down collection with a strong, specific fairytale link, as many of these had, and seen some of the others that linked more broadly to the feminist/mental health/societal themes in a separate collection.

But that’s just me, and I still loved it overall.

However, whether grouped here or separated, within these poems you will find one that speaks to you (most likely more than one) – maybe, like Baba Yaga, you are ageing ungracefully and proud; maybe you’ve encountered your own Prince Charming (spoiler: this is no Disney romance); maybe, like so many of the characters here, you know the power of words to build or destroy:

“They used to burn witches because of stories. A story is no small thing.”

(Belladonna)

Personal favourites included Cry Wolf, The Hatter, The Woods Reincarnated and The Miller’s Daughter. But the one I love best of all, so much so I’d like it printed and framed is the opening poem, Once Upon a Time:

Are you a fairytale fan?

Have you read this – what did you think?

What do you think of the poem I’ve shared here from it?

Hello Old Friend

Today is National Poetry Day.

We have a funny old relationship, poetry and I. Like a friend you realise you’ve not seen in ages – you make an effort to meet up and have a ball. There’s stories shared – laughter, tears drama, the everyday & the big events. There’s disbelief that it’s been so long and promises to do it again soon. Then suddenly a year has passed and you realise you’ve not seen them in ages…

You see, I never read poetry. But I do really like it.

But I never quite know what to read or when – how to choose? Read as a collection, as a whole book like a novel? Or one a day – but when in the day? And which one?

When I started this post, it was going to be something else but as I started writing, it changed and a plan evolved:

I’m going to tackle my long distance love affair with poetry on here. Instead of an annual National Poetry Day (well, ok, as well as) I’ll have a weekly one (Thursday Verse-day?! That’s awful – ideas for a catchy title welcome!)

Each Thursday, I’ll share a poem and/or post something poetry related.

I’m hoping you’ll join in – feel free to share a poem yourself and link back here, or comment on the one I share!

To kick off, I’ll share this one by Sharon Owens. It’s been shared a fair bit on twitter which is where it caught my eye. I especially liked the last 3 lines. What do you think of it?

How do you feel about poetry – do you read it? Do you have any favourite poems or poets?