Bookshelf Poetry

Poems to Live Your Life By

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Most of us have a favourite poem- or a snatch of one- that we treasure. Many of these seem to live with us from our schooldays, something which reinforces the importance of providing opportunities to explore and enjoy poems as part of any curriculum.

There are a number of poetry collections available at the moment, but this little volume is particularly beautiful in both presentation and content. Quite simply, Chris Riddell has selected some of his favourite poems and has illustrated them in his unique style.

Organised into sections like ‘Love’, ‘Youth’ and ‘War’, there is a carefully balanced mixture of very well-known and lesser- known poems from different periods. Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’, Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 are here in all their wonder and beauty. Here too, is A F Harrold’s poignant poem, ‘I Miss You’, which makes me cry every time I read it. Rachel Rooney’s ‘The Language of Cat’ is another gem not to be missed nor Neil Gaiman’s ‘Witch Work’, each stunningly illustrated.

A collection to treasure and a collection to share, ‘Poems To Live Your Life By’ would make an excellent Christmas - or Jólabókaflóð- present for someone special.

Poems to Live Your Life By Chris Riddell

Macmillian Children’s ISBN: 978-1509814374

Lest We Forget...

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In October 1917, whilst recovering from shell-shock, Wilfred Owen sent a letter to his mother which included a ‘gas poem’. This he revised and edited between January and July 1918 until it became the poem we now know as ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.

Incredibly powerful, deeply moving, Owen’s work describes the harsh realities faced by those fighting in the trenches. My grandfather was amongst them.

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We were very fortunate and my grandfather returned home; many did not. Today marks the 100 year anniversary of the end of the First World War and there have been many tributes to those who have served their countries in many ways.

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Martin Impey and Hilary Robinson have combined their talents to create four amazing, beautiful books about Ben and Ray, friends who went to war together. These are the perfect way to introduce children to the life of soldiers in the trenches, the Christmas truce, the role of animals in war and the contribution of women who nursed soldiers on the battle lines. Their fifth collaboration- ‘A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan’ - is an incredible piece of work, celebrating the lives of those who worked at Heligan in Cornwall.

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In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Martin Impey has used his incredible artistic talents to interpret Owen’s words. This is not for a younger audience, but a heart-felt, gritty interpretation of the horrors experienced by soldiers.

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The book starts with a foreword contextualising the work before showing the revisions Owen made to ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as he edited and developed his work to its finished form. Martin Impey has included some of these alterations as haunting shadows behind the finalised text, adding to the poem’s poignancy.

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Each page is a work of art. Martin’s talent and passion match that with which Wilfred Owen wrote each line and make a worthy tribute to those who fought and a stunning memorial for them. It emphasises the horrors of conflict, refuting ‘the Old Lie’.

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A powerful, significant work, perfect for using at KS3.

Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, illustrated by Martin Impey

Strauss House Publishing ISBN: 978-1527218253

A First Book of the Sea

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This is a beautiful book. Words and images mingle, creating memorable scenes full of colour and life. Gathered into four sections, there are poems and thoughts about many aspects of the sea- its beauty, the pleasure it offers, the life it holds and the human connection to it. There are poems here which will resonate with everyone.

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The first section of poems is entitled 'Down by the Shore'. Here there are poems about the beach, finding pebbles and shells, paddling, making sandcastles... The final poem in this group is 'All Day', a celebration of really looking at and listening to the sea in action as it makes contact with the shore. The picture shows a beach edged with more tropical vegetation than I am used to on my local beaches, but the sights and sounds described are so familiar that any child on any beach anywhere would recognise them. It would be lovely for those of us lucky enough to teach near to the sea to take photos of children like those in the picture and for children to develop their own poems and paintings based on these once back in the classroom.

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The next section is called 'Journeys'  and looks at the movement of both humans and creatures across the oceans. There is much to enjoy here- and much to learn! Do you know about the Sargasso sea or know what an elver is? You can find out in poems here! 'Lord Beaufort's Scale' effortlessly explains the wind force scale, conveying its importance to those on the seas. 

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'Under the Sea' contains poems concerning the negative impact man can have on the oceans. Although this has been touched on in previous poems- 'the man whirls his net...to catch just enough fish for dinner.' (Fishing for Dinner), the writing here clearly spells out some of the negatives; 'Bottom Trawling' and 'Deadliest of All' bear witness to the damage humans are wreaking on the watery world. However, there are also poems in this section that revel in the mysteries of the deep, bringing its marvels to life.

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The final section explores the wonders of the sea. Here you can learn to sing like a humpback whale, marvel at minute plankton, meet manta rays and flying fish. So much to wonder about and to wonder at in these pages.

There is a richness of vocabulary used in these poems which makes them a pleasure to read. The illustrations are fabulous, each worth lingering over and enjoying again and again. 'A First Book of the Sea' is an essential for classrooms and libraries as well as for enjoying at home! All round winner!

A First Book of the Sea     Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Walker    ISBN: 978-1406368956