Tuesday, 31 May 2011

9 More Random Facts About Jan Dean

I can't do joined-up dancing. I went to tap-dancing lesson and could do all the steps, but I couldn't move from one sort of step to the other without stopping completely first. This kind of ruined any dance routine the teacher had planned. I was a waste of space.

My favourite game is Scrabble (or anything scrabble-ish). I like 'in the manner of the word' too and charades. When I was a teacher (millions of years ago) we used to play these on the train coming back from our annual pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon.
Favourite song? Today I am mostly singing 'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes'. Tomorrow it'll be something else.
My favourite place in Britain is Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It's remote and wild, and the sand is white and the sea is turquoise. My favourite holiday destination is Acharacle (Western Highlands) - it's by the banks of Loch Shiel and sometimes eagles fly over it.
My favourite insect is the damsel fly. It has all the oomph of dragonflies without the clunkiness of looking like a helicopter.

My favourite comedian is Eric Morecambe. Brilliant even in black and white. He didn't even have to do anything. Just standing there was enough to make us all feel happy.
Favourite saying or proverb: Fret not lest ye be fretted upon. (Worrying is just no fun.)
My favourite flower or plant is Lilium longiflorum.... as good to say as to look at. Favourite tree? That one with the tree house in it.
Did you know that the colour 'magenta' (a sort of purplish red) was named after the Battle of Magenta (1859) which was famously horrible and bloody. How yukky is that?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Children's Competition

Check out the competitions page for news of how to win Rachel Rooney's The Language of Cat. And please pass this on to children, friends, teachers and anyone else you feel may be interested. Thanks.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Two New Reviews

Click on The Undercover Critic (above and to the left) for reviews of new books by Rachel Rooney and Andrew Fusek Peters.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Child's Garden of Verses

by Trevor Millum
Robert Louis Stevenson is best known for writing Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the famous horror story Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (Treasure Island is still, in my view, one of the best adventure yarns ever written.)  However, he was also a poet and wrote many poems for children. Being a sickly child and spending lots of time in bed, he sympathised with children and the thoughts and dreams and adventures you could have in your mind while stuck indoors.

'A Child's Garden of Verses' contains 64 of his poems for younger readers. Some of them will seem very quaint now or rather 'posh'.  But among this Garden of Verses are all sorts of little treasures. For example, 'Windy Nights' has an air of mystery which could be compared with the famous 'The Listeners'.

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop, goes he;
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

I like 'trees are crying aloud' and the way he uses repetition in the last four lines. The lines themselves pause at 'and then' before galloping back again.

Stevenson is fascinated by the weather - especially wind and rain - and night time. 'The Moon' begins:
The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.
and goes on to list other creatures that are out at night in a way that young writers could well imitate in their own poems. 

One of his main themes is Bed and Sleep, familiar topics to young readers!  Especially, the complaint that 'I have to go to bed while it's still light' and, of course, the classic ‘Land of Counterpane’ describing how, ill in bed, the young Stevenson plays with his toys on the bed around him.

The last poem is a poignant reminder that we all grow up and move away. Stevenson went as far as the South Pacific, dying at the age of 44 on the island of Samoa.

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear, he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

The edition I have is illustrated with the beautiful line drawings of Charles Robinson. There are many other editions of the book, with illustrations by artists as varied as Eve Garnett, Brian Wildsmith, Michael Foreman and Gyo Fujikawa. It would make an interesting project to compare the various artists’ pictures and see how they interpret the different poems. 

Trevor is a writer of all sorts of poetry and short stories for young readers. Most recently 'Double Talk', with Bernard Young, described by Ian McMillan as 'Children's poetry as it should be written - going inside the child's world and returning tired but happy'. Trevor also runs the 'Poetry Place' for Teachit, providing creative ideas for teachers. For more info, see www.trevormillum.co.uk   

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Moon, The and a Classic Poem

by Catherine Benson

When I was very young I saw a picture of the moon in a book. Underneath it said The Moon. I recognised the picture because I often saw the real moon. But the words were an excitement. Moon – yes, with two full moons inside. I asked what the other word was. I was told it was – the.

When I looked at a newspaper I found that word everywhere on the page. I was very excited because here was something I said, a word that I said but hadn’t seen until now – the.

Moon was easy but a word that I said, a word in mid-air was amazing. And here was a picture of that word.

I soon noticed other words that were like that – a, and, I, you, but, if… There were lots to find. And that’s how I began to read. Now reading is one of my favourite things to do. I also write poetry and draw pictures.

By the way, my favourite poem when I was young was Silver by Walter de la Mare. And guess what? It’s about the moon.
Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

For more of Walter de la Mare’s wonderful words why not try the Selected Poems of Walter de la Mare (Poet to Poet: An Essential Choice of Classic Verse)