Posted by: Erica Gillingham | April 19, 2012

NaPoWriMo, or Why Poetry for Children Inspires

I am Erica my eyes are blue.

I am Erica and who are you?

I am Erica and I’m not mean.

I am Erica in the blue jeans.

Yep, you might have guessed it: this the first poem I ever wrote for school. I was quite chuffed really, at age 5, of my poetic license in rhyming ‘mean’ with ‘jeans’–yes, I did talk that way, and yes, an ‘s’ isn’t a huge difference, but, c’mon, I was 5… The point being that my schooling was rich with poetry as a child and I have never forgotten its impact.

The assignment was based on Gertrude Stein’s* poem “I am Rose” in which the first two lines of my poem are the same as Stein’s (hey, I have blue eyes, too), but hers ends with “I am Rose and when I sing/I am Rose like anything.” I found Stein’s poem again as an adult when I was given Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry (2007). The poems were collected by Jane Yollen and Andrew Fusek Peters, and the entire book is illustrated by Polly Dunbar.

Let me just say, this is a beautiful book. Over a hundred pages long, this big square picture book is chocked full of well-known British (and some American) poets & poetry. Here’s a Little Poem is split into four themed sections: “Me, Myself and I…”, “Who Lives in My House?”, “I Go Outside”, and “Time for Bed” which is helpful for those poignant moments when a well-timed poem would be useful just then. They also aid in giving the reader a sense of each theme, i.e. of family in the “Who Lives in my House?” section and of the seasons in “I Go Outside”. The accompanying illustrations are lively and cheeky, playful for the youngest poetry reader/listener.

A poetry collection for the slightly older child, The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry (1999) ed. by Brian Patten introduces the concept of reading poems by single author, rather than on a theme. The collection includes poems by Spike Milligan, Kit Wright, Michael Rosen, Charles Causley, Roger McGough, Benjamin Zephaniah, Brian Patten, Jackie Kay, John Agard, and Allan Ahlberg.** This concept is highlighted by an interview with each author at the beginning of their section where they discuss themselves, poetry and their experiences as a child. The poems range from downright hilarious to sentimental.

In contrast to the previous two books, the poetry books that had the most impact on my childhood were Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974) (given to me on my 8th birthday) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1985) illustrated by Michael Foreman (my 9th birthday).*** Silverstein’s book opens with this poem:


If you are a dreamer, come in,

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in!

Come in!

As a child, those words were magic. I read the book cover to cover and again and again. I memorised poems for school and, as a teen, I even got my campers to perform “Band-Aids” during summer camp! I still laugh at the black & white pen drawings, silly situations and deliciously made-up words by Silverstein. This book is a classic if there ever was one (and I don’t know anyone who would dispute it!).

A Child’s Garden of Verses is contrasting in both its tone and illustrations. Depicted in watercolours, Foreman brings “The Land of Counterpane” and “The Land of Nod” to life, among other scenarios and imaginings of Stevenson’s poems.  The poems very much reflect Stevenson’s own childhood and I could endless get lost in his faraway places or ordinary scenery. The poem “Foreign Lands” best exemplifies both for me:

Up into the cherry-tree

Who should climb but little me?

I held the trunk with both my hands

And looked abroad on foreign lands. (first stanza only

Romantic, yes, but Stevenson gave me a sense of permission to write my own poetry, whatever it was I saw or imagined.

And that reason, writing poetry, is what kicked off my critical cogs for this post in the first place! As you have probably seen across the “interwebs”, this month is both National Poetry Month and National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) in the US. Modelled after National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the US in November, NaPoWriMo challenges poets to write 30 poems in 30 days. (Silly me, I’ve been doing this during NaNoWriMo, not knowing there was a NaPoWriMo at all! Until now…) Given my current work in Children’s Literature, I wanted to tie my two loves together and share them with you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this picture book adventure down Poetry Lane for NaPoWriMo & would love to hear about some of your favourite poetry books for children–or, even your own childhood attempts at a poem or two! Do share!

*Incidentally, there is a beautiful picture book about Gertrude Stein written in verse by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Calef Brown entitled Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude (2009). If you’re a fan of Gertrude Stein + picture books, don’t miss this one!

** Illustrators for The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry include Spike Milligan, Fritz Wegner, Sheila Moxley, Sue Williams, Ali Chatterton, David Mostyn, Lydia Monks (a personal favourite), Alison Jay, Korky Paul, and Emma Chichester Clark.

***If you don’t know when to give a child a poetry book, a birthday is an awesome opportunity. I’m not sure if my first one came on my 8th birthday, but regardless I’ve been getting poetry books now for at least 20 years on the day of my birth. Like I said, awesome.

Posted by: Erica Gillingham | April 12, 2012

Urban Babies Wear Black

Urban Babies Wear Black

Michelle Sinclair Colman and Nathalie Dion, Berkeley: Tricycle Press, hb. 978 1 58246 158 8, $6.95, 2005, 20pp.

Sometimes board books simply teach the ABCs or 123s. Other times, a classic picture book story or character is condensed into a more durable edition for the even younger reader. Other times, authors and illustrators take charge of the board book format and make it their own. With the Urban Babies Wear Black series, Michelle Sinclair Colman and Nathalie Dion have done just that–starting with a board book of the same name.

Now if I didn’t live in an urban environment myself, I might not believe that Urban Babies (‘UBs’ for short) really do wear black or do yoga, go to museums, or drink a ‘babyccino’–but they do. Whether or not they enjoy architecture, actually listen to opera or can hail their own taxis is subjective–but fun for the reader nonetheless.

The format of Urban Babies Wear Black, and all of the books in the series, is that the reader meets the ‘baby’ on the front cover. Inside, each left-hand page of the double page spread is black with white writing, detailing the UBs’ actions. On the right-hand page of the double page spread, the reader witnesses the baby in action throughout their urban environment. Sinclair Colman’s words are tongue-and-cheek for the adult and child readers while Dion’s illustrations bring the UBs to life in full pastels. The images have clean lines and the babies always look cool and remain centre-focus as the adults only exists in torsos, hands and feet in the UB’s world.

With ten books in the series, there is a bound to be a book for every child you know: urban, country, foodie and rocker…

Full list of the series available on the Urban Babies Wear Black website:

  • Artsy Babies Wear Paints
  • Beach Babies Wear Shades
  • Country Babies Wear Plaid
  • Eco Babies Wear Green
  • Foodie Babies Wear Bibs
  • Jet Set Babies Wear Wings
  • Rocker Babies Wear Jeans
  • Sporty Babies Wear Sweats
  • Urban Babies Wear Black
  • Winter Babies Wear Layers


Photo by Erica Gillingham

Posted by: Sarah Stokes | April 5, 2012

A Book to Make a Big Noise About

Shhh! Sally Grindley & Peter Utton, 1991, London: ABC, hb, 24 pp.

Having mentioned this book in my top five picture books last week, I felt it was time to review Shhh!. Although I can scarcely contain my nerves for fear of not doing it justice here! Also, a quick trawl across the internet informed me that, at last, the book is finally back in print, having been incredibly difficult to get hold of for the past ten or so years. Hooray for Hodder Children’s Books!

So, back to the wonders of my battered old ABC copy. Shhh! engages the reader from the outset, encouraging silent attention as we enter the book’s initial pages, enticingly disguised as a giant’s castle door. The reader is addressed directly throughout the sparce written text, with a mixture of simple commands and observations to aid the reader’s cautious journey through the rooms of the imposing castle. Fold-out pages reveal a giant cat, mouse, hen, all pets of the giant, as well as the giant’s wife, busy preparing an enormous supper for her husband. The giant himself, however, remains eerily absent in the early part of the book.

Children delight in opening the flaps to check that their reading hasn’t disturbed the various characters as they creep by. ‘I think I heard a MIAOW. Look through that door and see if she’s still asleep. She is? Good.’ In this way, a constant dialogue is kept alive between text and reader as the furtive journey unfolds.

Metafictive references abound on every page: ‘If you don’t whisper, you’ll disturb the giant’s hen, who’s busy laying eggs just over the page.’, which I personally find extremely satisfying, as they draw continual attention to the fact that this is, after all, only a story book.

But just look at what powers this story book has! It would be wrong of me to spoil the ending, although another trawl through existing  on-line reviews of the book would suggest that other reviewers do not share my principles …. I think the final page of Shhh! should reveal itself directly to you in all its fabulous surprise and glory. Trust me, it’s well worth the wait!

HT to Hodder Children’s Books for image.

Posted by: Sarah Stokes | April 2, 2012

My contribution

To continue Erica’s list of picture books to inspire and desire, here are my own personal suggestions, although keeping the list to just five titles was not an easy task!

  • Shhh! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
  • I am I by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
  • The Tunnel byAnthony Browne
  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
  • The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

I can’t wait to read your lists!

Posted by: Erica Gillingham | April 2, 2012

International Children’s Book Day

Today, 2 April, is International Children’s Book Day! Hurray!

For the International Book Board for Young People (or, IBBY for short), this year’s event is sponsored the Mexico National Section. The title is ‘Once upon a time, there was a story that the whole world told.’

In honour of inspiring ‘a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books’, I’ve made a my own quick list of 5 awesome picture books.

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
  • Queen Munch and Queen Nibble by Carol Ann Duffy and Lydia Monks
  • The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
  • Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Leave your own favorite 5 in the comments section below!
HT IBBY for the poster photo!
Posted by: Erica Gillingham | March 29, 2012



Oliver Jeffers, London: Harper Collins Children’s Books, hb. 978 0 00 726386 8, £10.99, 2011, 32pp.

Have you ever gotten a kite stuck in a tree? What about a favourite shoe? A sail boat? An Orangutan? Your neighbour’s house?

Well, Floyd has.

Or, at least he did, if he remembers it in the morning…

It all began when Floyd got his kite stuck in A TREE. He tried pulling and swinging but it WOULDN’T COME UNSTUCK.

As Oliver Jeffers’s website notes, Stuck is ‘a tale of trying to solve a problem by throwing things at it.’ It is also a tale that had me laughing out loud while I stood reading it in the book shop.

A story that begins with a kite, Jeffers’s picture book chronicles Floyd’s creative process as he attempts to get his toy unstuck from a very tall tree. He begins by throwing small objects–his left shoe, his right, the cat. He then gets a ladder, which he throws into the tree as well. After that, the laws of physics really start to break down as this small boy begins to throw everything from the kitchen sink (literally) to a blue whale (my personal favourite).

From a brown squiggle above Floyd’s head to indicate his anger and frustration to a whole pages turning red or pink, Jeffers’ plays with the same vantage point–the tree, Floyd, and whatever Floyd is throwing at the tree–to convey the emotions and events of the story. Thankfully, there is no moralistic ending where Floyd gets into trouble for throwing so many things–and people and animals–into this tree. Instead, the consequences are left up to the readers to decide for themselves.

Should Floyd have thrown all those things up in the tree? Should he get them all back down? What will happen in the morning?! Did he really succeed after all?

A delightful picture book, this tale will have any reader giggling along with Floyd’s antics. Because, while we might not want to admit it, what’s more fun than knowing someone’s about to do something very silly and not being able to do anything but wait and see?

Photos by Erica Gillingham.

Posted by: Erica Gillingham | March 27, 2012

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Shortlist for 2012

The internet is twitterpated with the announcement of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Shortlist for 2012.

Of the eight books nominated, two picture books stand out for me:








Wolf Won’t Bite! by Emily Gravett

Another outstanding picture book from Gravett, Wolf Won’t Bite! (2011) doesn’t disappoint readers who are familiar with this Brighton-based artist. Since my first encounter with Gravett’s Wolves (2005), I have eagerly anticipated book after book. Surprisingly (for me, anyway!), I think my favourite is her Orange Pear Apple Bear (2006), beautiful in board book or full-size form.









The Gift, illustrated by Rob Ryan and text by Carol Ann Duffy

I have to admit that I’ve not been super impressed with how Ryan’s work is suddenly everywhere, but this is a beautiful story of life’s gentle cycles. The story itself, written by Carol Ann Duffy, current UK Poet Laureate, is subtle and sweet while no one can deny Ryan’s talent. His illustrations almost grow from the pages themselves and wrap you into the story, too.

To see a full list of the nominee’s, check out the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards website.

HT, to the CILIP shortlist for the photos.

Posted by: Erica Gillingham | March 26, 2012

Happy Spring!

Hello dear readers!

February flew by. The Spring Equinox come and gone. The clocks changed ’round the world to herald in the summer time. And the picture book postings will re-c0mmence on Thursday.

For now, enjoy the lovely heather in full bloom at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Erica & Sarah

Posted by: Sarah Stokes | February 16, 2012

A Song from the Heart

Anna Hibiscus’ Song

Atinuke and Lauren Tobia, London: Walker Books Ltd, hb. 978 1 4063 1833 3, £11.99, 2011, 32pp.

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” And Anna Hibiscus is a little girl so full of happiness that she needs to find an outlet for it, and fast. So she sets off to ask all the important people in her world just exactly what she can do with such an abundance of happy feelings.

Her Grandfather tells her to count her fingers and toes to see just how big happiness can be. Her Grandmother shows her how holding hands with the one you love can feel simply wonderful. Her Aunties tell her that happiness is a form of strength and encourages her to use such strength help them pound yams for supper. Her friends teach her to turn somersaults, her Uncle turns up the music and together they dance.

Such an infectiously happy story cannot fail to delight its readers, with its combination of affectionate text and glowing illustration. But this book offers something far more than a simple narrative about feeling happy. Anna Hibiscus is a mixed race child, living with her prefominantly black African family and her white mother. In addition to this, her mother is evidently pregnant with a second child.

What I find so refreshing is that, far from being an ‘issue’ book about race or sibling rivalry, the narrative in this picturebook pays no attention whatsoever to either of these two facts. They have no bearing on the story about Anna’s search for an appropriate display of her own happiness. Instead, they are incidental elements which can only serve to deepen a young reader’s appreciation of the story by perhaps being noticed during a second or third re-reading. The family exists in perfect harmony with their world and nothing is made of skin colour or the signs of an imminent birth. It may be this that is making Anna Hibiscus feel as happy as she does. Again, no reference is made to the root of her happiness; there is plenty of space left for readers to make up their own minds.

This is such a positive reflection of a mixed race family and I would recommend it to any reader of any age. Oh, but I warn you: be prepared to sing along with Anna Hibiscus on the final page …. you’ll find it hard not to!

HT to Walker Books for image

Posted by: Erica Gillingham | February 14, 2012

One Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

A little love to spread around to a great tune… Enjoy the book trailer for One Love (2011), based on songs by Bob Marley, adapted by Cedella Marley and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

See you on Thursday!

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