My favourite poems for children

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So a lot of this blog to date has been devoted to my reviews of great/hilarious/uplifting children’s fiction, but sometimes what you need is something a little shorter, something that can be digested whole in just a couple of minutes and leave an impression on you for the rest of the day. A survey on reading for children published by The Independent today drew attention to the fact that many parents shorten the stories that they read to their children. It could be lack of time, it could be that our attention spans are getting shorter…but I hope you can allow yourselves a snippet of time to read some of my favourite children’s poems. Do you have any that you feel should be added to the list?

A Silly Poem

Said Hamlet to Ophelia I’ll draw a sketch of thee,

What kind of pencil shall I use? 2B or not 2B?

Spike Milligan

 I had a little nut-tree

I had a little nut-tree,

Nothing would it bear

I searched in all its branches,

But not a nut was there.

 
‘Oh, little tree,’ I begged,

‘Give me just a few.’

The little tree looked down at me

And whispered, ‘Nuts to you.’

Roald Dahl

Now We Are Six

When I was one, I had just begun.

When I was two, I was nearly new.

When I was three, I was hardly me.

When I was four, I was not much more.

When I was five, I was just alive.

But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever

So I think I’ll be six now and forever.

A.A. Milne

Valentine

Chipmunks jump, and greensnakes slither.

Rather burst than not be with her.

Bluebirds fight, but bears are stronger.

We’ve got fifty years or longer.

Hoptoads hop, but hogs are fatter.

Nothing else but us can matter.

Donald Hall

 

History and crime in children’s fiction – the perfect partnership?

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I started 2014 with the decision that I wanted to read more children’s fiction with a historical setting. One of my favourite reads of last year was Christopher Edge’s Twelve Minutes to Midnight, set in the dark streets of Victorian London. I’d particularly loved the way in which he wove together crime and history and when I got to the library, I decided that this is exactly what I wanted more of.

Crime and history have had a long and successful marriage in adult literature with recent popular works including Death comes to Pemberley by P.D. James and Half Moon Street by Anne Perry, and their stirring combination is now seeping through into children’s fiction. Below are my thoughts on what makes Twelve Minutes to Midnight so enthralling, and a review of two other brilliant works which straddle these two genres.

Twelve Minutes to Midnight – Christopher Edge

The protagonist is Penelope Tredwell, who is an orphan living in Victorian London. She has inherited a popular magazine, The Penny Dreadful, which reports on strange criminal events which are taking place across the country. Penelope is no stranger to gruesome stories, and is intrigued when she receives a letter from the governor of Bedlam, the psychiatric hospital for the mentally deranged. She finds out that a strange occurrence plays out at exactly the same time every night – the patients begin to furiously scribble on all surfaces that they can get their hands on. What they write, later comes true in reality. Penelope has to solve the mystery before the world is plunged into absolute chaos.

The Hanged Man Rises – Sarah Naughton

Like Penelope, Sarah Naughton’s protagonists are also orphans and live in Victorian London. Titus and his sister Hannah go to live with trusted Inspector Pilbury following the death of their parents. The Inspector successfully manages to capture and kill a dangerous child murderer. The problem is that the murders continue and suspicion grows amongst inhabitants of the city. Titus is faced with the task of solving the mystery of the murders in a world in which everyone is a possible suspect. I particularly loved the characterisation in this story, which almost carries connotations of Oliver Twist, with street urchins running riot and adults struggling to keep the peace.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders – Kate Griffin

Kate Griffin shows us a different dark face of Victorian London, ruled by opium and dodgy business. Lady Ginger is the leader of a criminal empire which is growing in its strength. She holds absolute dominion over everyone who comes into contact with her, and particularly the poor girls who are in her employment. However, she is faced with the problem of a thief who is stealing some of her girls. She is determined to catch him in the act and uses one of her boldest girls, Kitty, to seek him out at a public event, at which she is performing her very own trapeze act. Kitty must perform her task well, otherwise her brother Joey’s life will be on the line. A cracking story for slightly older readers than the previous two books.

Do you have any other recommendations that I should add to the list?

Encouraging reading for pleasure

I recently read an article on The Guardian website, which outlined the findings of a recent study on reading – results showed that reading for pleasure is more important to a child’s educational achievement than their family’s wealth or social class. But my friends who are teachers frequently stress the difficulty that they have with encouraging pupils to read – and here I don’t mean reading the set texts required by the curriculum or for an exam; I mean reading for the sheer enjoyment of it. So what more can be done to promote reading amongst children of all ages?

At the Nosy Crow conference last September, I met Tracey Corderoy, a fantastic children’s author who travels around the country organising ‘activity days’ for her young readers. She showed us how she would literally bring her stories to life by carrying costumes (allowing children to dress up as characters from her books), arts and crafts materials and other props to her interactive book days held at Waterstones around the country. The results so far have been more than encouraging – children are engaged and excited. Younger siblings often come along and get carried away in the fun of it themselves.  It would be great if more authors followed Tracy’s lead and met their readers face to face.

The National Literacy Trust does a lot of work to promote reading amongst children and adults. I’ve recently heard about their ‘paired reading’ campaign in which older children are partnered with younger or less confident readers to not only help them with reading but also share their favourite books.  I think the key issue that needs to be tackled here is the perception of frequent readers as bookworms or nerds – reading doesn’t have to be an isolated activity. Much can be done to make it sociable and fun.

The Reading Agency is another charity which coordinates Chatterbooks groups run in libraries and schools. On their website, there are tips on setting up reading groups for teenagers and details of their Instragrammer in Residence project which involve authors making inspirational videos about books of their choice – a great innovative idea!

But perhaps the most challenging task for teachers is encouraging parents to help their children with reading. Often, the parents themselves don’t enjoy reading, or aren’t sure how to spark up their child’s interest in books. The Discover Centre is a story museum which has some engaging tips to help families enjoy books. I’ve also found that children’s librarians are a great source of inspiration – an example is Janet Pamela Noble, who writes regular reviews of the latest exciting children’s fiction, absorbing both parents and children in her love of reading.

If you have any of your own tips on encouraging reading for pleasure, please share!

Hungry for more Hunger Games

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I’m not a massive fan of dystopian fiction films, but I caved into my friends last week and decided to go and see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I surprised myself by leaving the cinema desperate to read the entire trilogy. Hats off to Suzanne Collins – I was utterly engrossed in the world of Katniss and the other tributes, forced into a bloody battle that they didn’t want to fight.

Desperate to read more dystopian fiction, I went on the search for some other new releases . They may not quite be the next Clockwork Orange, but here are three suggestions that will definitely keep you gripped. Enders Game was recently out in cinemas and I wonder if the other two will follow in its tracks?  If you have further suggestions to add to my reading list, please post them below.

Orson Scott Card  – Ender’s Game

Title character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games whilst in reality he is saving the earth from a real alien attack. The Formics, or more popularly, Buggers have already attacked the world twice and people are certain that a third invasion is coming. Ender is one of a group of children trained from age 6 in an off-world facility called Battle School, and their training consists mostly of games. The adults who run the school are desperate to save the world and its appears that they don’t have Ender’s best interests at heart.

Margaret Peterson Haddix – Among the Hidden: Shadow Children

Peterson Haddix sets her story in a scarily realistic world in which overpopulation has spiralled out of control and families are not allowed to have more than two children. Bad luck for Luke, who is the third child in his family who is constantly forced to hide in order not to become victim to the draconian laws by which the country is governed.

His miserable life changes when he meets another of his kind, Jen. She is the daughter of a Population Police official and decides to take the ‘shadow children’s’ situation into her own hands by organising a protest march to try and free them.

Scott Westerfield – Uglies

The world that Scott Westerfield has created is centred on the importance of beauty. The protagonist Tally is about to turn sixteen and receive her license for turning pretty. At that point, she will undergo an operation that will turn her from a repellent ‘ugly’ into an incredibly attractive ‘pretty’.

Tally’s new friend Shay would rather risk life on the outside and not undergo surgery. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and she has to face some difficult decisions, as the authorities have placed her before the ultimate choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.