Born rough on the streets of Brooklyn this is Spot’s story, told in his own voice and from his unique point of view.
56th International Children and Youth Book Fair Bologna in April 2019
Zaro Weil, the Cambridge School of Art and many, many, wonderful books. A walk through the 56th International Children’s and Youth Book Fair Bologna in early April. By GEORG PATZER and SUSANNE MARSCHALL
Everything was different this time. The> Trois Ourses <from Paris have ceased their work and were no longer at the joint booth> Small World <. For the first time, Rachael Kim was not at the Korean booth to show us new books and translate. Our bar in San Ruffilo closed at 10 in the evening and there was not much food there either. And for the first time, we’ve had a “book launch” of a wonderful book of children’s poems, which we – at least a little bit – helped to get started.
Otherwise, everything was as always: wonderful books from which we have many, many bought, interesting people, density, intensive discussions, long lines of illustrators in front of the stands, good food, a lot to drink … because Bologna is also “la grassa” And in addition, in the bars and restaurants, people happen to be meeting people at the fair. Or the other way around. So it started last year in the small restaurant Il Marinaio in the suburb of San Ruffilo, where we always live.
At the next table sat Zaro Weil and Gareth, we started talking, we talked, we got together at the fair – because of course they were there too. They were curious, open to everything, but the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University, did not know them yet. We sent them to this booth, where graduates of the illustrator classes always show their theses, not yet published books, “dummies.” Where each year you can discover exciting new stories: In recent years, for us Ellen Vesters with their dark, impressive book and Lele Saa with their mourning history and their mother’s red scarf. There, Zaro found Junli Song, won her as an illustrator and published her book. And celebrated this on Monday at the fair. And then with us in an osteria.
We have continued this year. Because Zaro did not know Katsumi Komagata either. And was thrilled with “Little Tree” – and as she cautiously turned the pages and the two discovered the poetic parable story, was touching to touch and reminded us of our first look in this noble-priced book: One of the librarians of the Trois Ourses retired white gloves, leafing devoutly and slowly and did not even let us touch the book. (I’m curious when Katsumi will receive the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize – so far the prize is a bit Euro-heavy.)
And we almost succeeded in making them and Mauro Bellei acquainted with exceptional books: a playful school of perception. But on Wednesday the two of them were heading for Venice again, where they “canoodleten through the winding streets,” as she wrote. After all, we were able to show him her book, he was immediately impressed by the harmony of the design. Dancing the words with the images and the other way round, the river for the eye and absolutely wanted to have one.Zaros Buch hat eine lange Geschichte: Vor vielen Jahren hat sie Gedichte geschrieben, dann hatte sie einen Verlag mit 30 Angestellten, und nachdem sie den aufgegeben hat und nach Südfrankreich gezogen ist, kamen auch die Gedichte wieder zu ihr zurück. Und wieder gründete sie einen Verlag, aber nur für sich selbst, für ihre Texte. ›Cherry Moon‹ heißt das Buch, und ihr Gedicht ›strawberry‹ erinnerte mich sofort an die Gedichte von William Carlos Williams:
if I were as red as you
I’d wind up in a basket too
Es sind Gedichte über kleine Dinge, über die Natur, den Frühling, den Sommer, den Wind, über Bohnen und Fledermäuse oder Steine, ›Don’t be bored rock‹ heißt eines:
don’t be bored rock
once you were orange fire
thundering down some
mountain slope or
hurtling silver sleek
through deep sky
maybe you were thrown up
sputtering red by
an ancient fuming volcano or
born with the planet in a
starless galactic bang
to be carved sharp by ice
rounded by raging wind
but whichever it was
being still now is good
you have so much to remember
Die Illustrationen von Sunli Song erzählen manchmal eine andere Geschichte, vertiefen Aspekte in eine Richtung, die von den Texten höchstens angedeutet wird. Es sind Drucke in zurückhaltenden Farben, blau und rot, und das auf den ersten Blick Plakative löst sich schnell in Bewegung auf, in eine hintersinnige Mehrfachbedeutung, wenn sich die Käfer auf den Blättern räkeln oder die Pflaumen vom Baum fallen im Sommergedicht ›Plum tree (summer)‹ (es gibt noch ›spring‹, ›autumn‹ und ›winter‹), das mit den Worten endet
never heard of it«
One of the recurring highlights of the fair is always the Cambridge booth. Everything there is of course professional, some rather mainstream. The stand is tiny. And always so well attended that you have to be hell-bent not to tear the many books out of the wall shelves. But if you are lucky, the small sofa in the corner is free, and if you sit first with a stack of books on your lap, you will not get up so quickly.Funny was the book by Adam Beer about a dog on an island that played so beautifully in peace and then got angry when suddenly excursionists came with other dogs, and the discussion about it with the other students (“Do not mention Brexit!” ): We thought it was wonderful that the illustrations were in black and white, much more powerful and clear, but his classmates had persuaded him during the course of their studies to try more with color … Impressive and subtle are Lindy Norton’s> The Visitor <and Bethan Welby’s Ghosted, a touching ghost story that deals with unfinished business and a mysterious death many years ago. Also smart is Al Rodin’s story> Lia & Lion <, Lia and the Lion: a quirky mischievous story with few, but pointed words and funky twists and turns, and the stroke is equally mischievously vivacious with soft quaint accents. Both want to have a pet and go in search: Lia looks up, the lion down, Lia looks to the left, the lion to the right. At some point they see each other at the same time and both think, “That’s the right pet.” Sitting in the meadow and watching each other: a little astonished, a little suspicious, but most of all curious. To the left, little Lia, who is perched on a round stone, bright red is her hat with the broad brim, and her little boots also flare in the same color, on the right Lion, a splendid specimen of a lion with a handsome mane. But that’s not how it works. How the two collide and what happens then
Incidentally, the discussion about Adam’s books took place in our Stammbar near Piazza Maggiore, where we once again sat for a long time and talked to a Viennese student couple on the right, then two older French women, and on the left were three Italian illustrators from southern Italy , which we met again the next day at the fair, then a larger group of Cambridge students. This is normal in Bologna, the fair is more familiar, not comparable to Frankfurt, and you meet again and again. Also Zaro we ran the first time on the first day in the middle of the arrival crowd in the arms. Incidentally, her book has already been selected on an English list as the best children’s book of the year.
Yes, the winners. They also have a lot to talk about, the Bologna Ragazzi Award is one of the most important in the international children’s book industry, and in addition to the amusement and the amazement and discovery, a visit to the award-winning is a must. As always, the Koreans are present, this year, among other things, with an honorable mention of the book “A Shadow” by Chae Seung-Yeon from the publisher Bandal: a book in which animals gradually gather in a long shadow, a lion, a giraffe, a raccoon, a monkey … Then the shadow becomes ever narrower, the animals have to move together, then pile up like the Bremen Town Musicians. And then comes the trick … (will not reveal). A successful work in the category> Opera prima <(first work), a playful homage to children’s fantasies,
In der Kategorie »Fiction« gehen zwei Erwähnungen an ›Et puis‹ von Icinori (ein französisch-japanisches Paar, Verlag Albin Michel Jeunesse, Paris) und ›À travers‹ von Tom Haugomat (Verlag Thierry Magnier). ›Et puis‹ erzählt eine völlig verdrehte, geheimnisvolle und nicht sofort entschlüsselbare Geschichte von Wesen mit einem Hammer- oder Schraubenkopf, die Monat für Monat die Wirklichkeitskulissen verschieben und die Natur domestizieren und verbauen, sodass z.B. in einem Monat eine schaumgeborene Göttin dem Meer entsteigt, während sie im nächsten vorn am Rand steht und nicht recht weiß, wohin sie mit ihrer Muschel soll. Jedes der vielen Details findet sich auf dem nächsten Blatt in veränderter Form wieder, jede der Dutzenden Figuren hat seine eigene Geschichte, und es würde Tage brauchen, sie alle zu entschlüsseln oder auch nur nachzuverfolgen. Haugomats Buch erzählt ohne Worte, nur durch die eindrücklichen Bilder die Geschichte eines Manns, der geboren wird, aufwächst, älter wird … auf der einen Seite ist ein Bild seiner Geschichte zu sehen, auf der gegenüberliegenden sieht man das, was er sieht: ein Buch, einen Nachbarn, die Sterne durch ein Fernglas, die Mondlandung im Fernsehen, die Raketen in Cape Canaveral, seinen alten Vater. Es ist eine anrührende Biografie, die auch in die Zukunft führt, ins Jahr 2021, in einer Drucktechnik mit nur drei Farben, sehr minimalistisch.
Bei ›New Horizons‹ ist der Gewinner ein wunderbares Kunstbuch: ›A History of Pictures (for Children)‹ von David Hockney und Martin Gayford, illustriert von Rose Blake, die uns das Buch signierte und ganz stolz eine E-Mail von Hockney zeigte, in der er ihr zu ihrer Arbeit gratulierte – schade, dass es keine Postkarte ist. Das Buch basiert auf Gesprächen zwischen dem berühmten Maler und dem Kunstkritiker. Es springt von einem Stier in der Höhle von Lascaux (15.000 vor u.Z.) zu Picassos Eule von 1952, von Jan van Eycks Arnolfinis zu Hockneys ›Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy‹, von der Mona Lisa zu einem Foto von Marlene Dietrich – eine anregende, bilderreiche, schlaue Art, durch die Kunstgeschichte zu führen, ohne kunstgeschichtlich schlau daherzukommen, ohne erhobenen Zeigefinger, sondern erzählend, neugierig und neugierigmachend.
Deutsche Verlage setzen mehr auf Altbewährtes wie Kuh Lieselotte vom Sauerländer Verlag: „Was bei uns funktioniert, funktioniert in anderen Ländern nicht unbedingt«, sagt Ilka Wesche vom Fischer Verlag, »aber Tiergeschichten gehen immer, wie Lieselotte.« In über 20 Sprachen ist die Kultkuh übersetzt, Spanien, Dänemark, Polen haben sogar das ganze Programm. »Und die Bücher von Gudrun Mebs«, erzählt Wesche, „sind ganz besonders in Korea beliebt«. Das neue – hurra endlich – ›Ferien nur mit Papa‹ liegt druckfrisch am Stand. »Allerdings«, sagt Anne Brans vom Hanser Verlag »verkaufen sich Kinderbücher, die literarischer sind, nicht so gut in Deutschland« – wie etwa die von Mebs oder Moeyaert – zwei herausragende und außergewöhnliche Autoren…
Bei Carlsen sind die Conni-Bücher seit über 25 Jahren ein Highlight und begeistern nicht nur in Deutschland. Ganz allgemein sind Freundschaftsgeschichten und magische Mädchenbücher sehr beliebt, wobei der Markt eher unvorhersehbar ist – so der Tenor der Verlage: Deshalb versuchen sie, mit einem vielfältigen Angebot die unterschiedlichen Ländergeschmäcker anzusprechen.
Oh, es gäbe so viel zu erzählen: von den anderen Preisen, von den deutschen Büchern und den deutschen Verlagen, dem Gastland Schweiz mit seiner Ausstellung von Büchern, illustrierten Schweizer Fachbegriffen (Berge, Ziegen, Heidi) und Illustratoren (Francesca Sanna oder Albertine, Petra Rappo haben wir dann gleich am Stand der Cambridger kennengelernt). Von den vielen wunderbaren Büchern, die wir noch entdeckt haben, auch die von Mauro Bellei. Von den Koreanern des Verlags BIR, die uns Jin-ho Jungs Buch ›The Stars and Me‹ extra aus Korea mitbrachten, damit wir es doch noch kaufen können (das hat letztes Jahr nicht geklappt), von Jean-Vincent Sénacs Buch ›How to draw a Chicken‹, das uns der Tate-Verlag geschenkt hat, weil wir so offensichtlich begeistert davon waren, von den vier Schweizerinnen im Bus, die Kinder an die Literatur heranführen, von einigen herausgeputzten Frauen und so mancher kleinen Skurrilität am Rand ………. viel, viel, viel könnten wir erzählen.
Nächstes Jahr wieder!
ZULETZT ERSCHIENEN IN JUGENDBUCH
” Exquisitely simple poetry about nature with warm, almost vintage print illustrations to accompany, about a plum tree in spring.”
30 BESTCHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR 2019 FROM
TODDLERS TO TEENS.
Nicola Christie April 5, 2019
‘Spot Guevara lives happily on the tough streets of Brooklyn, until the dreadful day when his whole family is captured by the dog police and he has no idea where they have been taken. Vowing never to give up looking for them, Spot must learn to ward off danger, to discover which dogs-and humans-may be trusted, and how to find happiness despite all that has happened. Spot Guevara is an adventurous tale full of love, loss, courage and family values, told with lightness and humour.And engaging, bold modern print and Katy Riddell’s lively illustrations will help even less able readers to become hooked.
CAROUSEL GUIDE Spring 2019
Circus magic, forest wonders and a hero dog
“If your youngsters are barking mad for canine capers, then here’s an action-packed adventure story starring a lovable dog coping with life on the mean streets of New York City.
Spot Guevara: Hero Dog – the first book of an exciting new series that is perfect for young readers – is based on the real-life sheep dog of author Zaro Weil who lives in France and has also written poetry for children.
Spot, a lively puppy with a lovely story to tell, is brought to life by a gorgeous gallery of colour illustrations from Katy Riddell, daughter of the former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, and an illustration talent in her own right.
Born rough on the streets of Brooklyn, the seventh puppy in his mum’s litter, Spot relates his story in his own inimitable words. Spot loves to roam the city and meet new friends, like the human Perfecto Guevara who brings Spot and his family scraps of food, as well as cuddles and lots of love. Spot also has to learn to fend off danger, and find about other people and other dogs.
But one terrible day, Spot’s entire family are carted off by the Dog police while he is out exploring and he vows never to give up searching for them, even if it means crossing the frighteningly huge Brooklyn Bridge…
Youngsters will love following Spot’s adventures and misadventures in New York City as he confronts tough enemies and becomes the ultimate lovable doggy hero. Written in chapter book format, this is ideal reading for children to enjoy on their own, or to cuddle up and share with an adult.”
Lancashire Evening Post
Monday 29 April 2019
Staring at the colourful outdoor banner on a wind-swept Bologna morning March 2018, I could hardly believe I was back at a book fair. I hadn’t been to one since Frankfurt, eleven years earlier with my previous company MQ Publications.
Now I was back; older but probably not much wiser. Still here I was, for some baffling reason known only to the gods and my two dogs, entering a new phase of publishing and writing. And, unlike the heady days with my old publishing company, I knew hardly a soul here. No meetings. No appointments, No crazy publishing dinners. So. Where to begin? What conversations as a newcomer in the children’s book world were there to be had?
I suppose the first thing that struck me, having delicately navigated the complex layout of the place, was the visceral shock. Such a profusion of tantalising imagery. So many beautiful pictures on display. I was a hare stuck in headlights; paralysed not with fear, but with awe. Each aisle opened up endless vistas of delight. Such imagination. Verve. Intimacy. The world should really be a better place with so much glorious art to be had.
I felt the stirrings of spring. Of growth. This razz-dazzle ‘fair wandering’ gave rise to a vague instinct about a new poetry book. I remember coining the title and sub-title in my mind while resting on a bench outside the doors struggling with a double scoop chocolate ice cream cone in the sun.
OK. Now I was now on the hunt for visual inspiration.
I found myself walking past the Cambridge Art School stand. Our fab new German friends (George and Susanne) had recommended it to me over a chance meeting at dinner the night before. Fascinated by the lively pictures adorning the walls, I wandered in. It felt like home for some unaccountable reason. As I ran my fingers through the student portfolios on display, my breath caught. I had spotted it. Junli’s portfolio. Some wonderful creatures jumped out at me; funny, warm-hearted and beautifully drafted. Treasures really. I asked about these prints with a pounding heart. Sounds odd, but I take illustration very very seriously. (My old company had published, amongst other things, loads of striking gift books and the idea of books as wonderful packages to read, look at and hold has always resonated for me.)
‘Oh. Those prints are by Junli Song. She is just graduating this year. Would you like an appointment to see more later?’ No question. Of course, I wanted to see more.
Coming back the next day, the stars smiled. Junli was actually working on the stand and we got to meet. That was the clincher. She was smart. Talented. Funny. I showed her my just published poetry book, Firecrackers. She seemed to like it so I gave her a copy.
I knew Junli could be the magic ingredient for Cherry Moon.
We continued to communicate during that spring and I was thrilled when Junli agreed to work together with me on Cherry Moon, my third solo Poetry collection and Junli’s first published book project.
The months that followed were filled with joy; lots of laughter and great lashings of creative-flow as Junli and I discussed every aspect of every poem and illustration. Junli by this time had left Cambridge and had gone back to her hometown of Chicago for a print fellowship. But that didn’t stop us skyping nearly every week.
Happily, Junli and I worked closely together in a very old-fashioned publishing model: the publisher/writer…me, working directly with the illustrator. No art director. No editorial director. Just us.
What I experienced as an author was exhilarating. Junli was able to take my concepts…my words…my arrangements on the page… and transform them like a fairy godmother into something new and original. And she did it all the hard way. With detailed and gaspingly original prints.
Her magic wand created a world of snail funerals, animal picnics, fleas jumping over the moon, floating creatures, bats piloting little jet planes and more. Concepts and visualisations I had never thought of. Meanwhile the cover had definitely by now turned into the ultimate mid-summer night’s dream animal/humanromp.
What had started as a smallish book with 37 illustrations, grew into a block-buster 180 page poetry book with over 50 remarkable printed illustrations.
I wanted to give a number of the poems two spreads each because it seemed that the poems called out to become little visual stories in their own right and to have their own narrative. My instinct and Junli’s was to allow the child (or adult) reader the space and time to linger just a wee bit longer on the ideas and themes presented in the poems.
Unimaginable. Certainly more expensive. Crazy? Rhetorical question.
And now, a mere year later it is April 2019 and (lightening speed in publishing) Cherry Moon is making its debut in May. It has already received some great reviews. Plus how exciting that Junli was honoured to have been chosen by the Bologna Art Organisers to have six of her prints displayed. A great first achievement for her.
Junli and I were both at the Bologna Book Fair this April. Troika Books (our co-publisher) and ZaZaKids Books (my little company) and Saltway Global distributors hosted a fabulous Cherry Moon book launch celebration at the fair. Loads of buzz and even more Prosecco.
But the best thing of all is that Cherry Moon is as Junli and I envisaged it. Only better. Because nothing beats holding a real living and breathing book on your hands.
I am thrilled to have received this pre-publication review…Our first..
A Rhyming Play
by Zaro Weil
Once upon a time, when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco
And hens took snuff to make them tough
And ducks went quack, quack, quack O
There was an old sow now
I don’t mean a cow now
Who wore a pink wig
And had three little pigs
One day Mama said
I love you all three
All three I do
We love you too
Well they kissed and hugged
And danced all around
Oinked and made some happy pig sounds
A chortle a churtle
A gurgle and squeal
Turned in circles and kicked their heels
Now it must have come as quite a surprise
When Mama grew silent and with misty eyes called
Little Piglets, Piglets three
Come sit close to me
But Mama. Why are you talking so seriously
Because it’s time. It’s time You’re old enough
You’re all looking piggy, plump and stuffed
Its time Its time for you to leave home
Piglets three, you’re on your own
They exclaimed in most urgent of tones
We love it here, Mama
This is our home
They cajoled, coaxed, begged, and whined
They pleaded and pouted
I won’t change my mind
You see all creatures must leave home sometime
Well sadly they left with a tear and a sigh
Waved goodbye to their old pig sty
To that safe and warm place they waved goodbye
They didn’t notice Mama with the tear in her eye
But just as they were treading out the front gate
Mama turned around and hollered
All four locked in a warm embrace
And Mama with concern all over her face said
Remember this and hear me well
You must all find a home to safely dwell
We pigs have an enemy who’s mean and tough
You can recognise him by his huff and his puff
He’ll pretend to be friendly and wear a wide grin
But he’s a WOLF and he’ll eat you
by my chinny chin chin
The pigs smiled bravely
Ha ha ha Mama, we’ll be OK
But down inside each was scared to go
And they didn’t want the others to know
Don’t worry about me
If I meet the wolf then one two three
I’ll let him know who’s the boss
I’ll pull on his nose
He’d better watch out
Cause pigs are tough as well as stout
Don’t fear for us Mama we won’t be alone
We’ll protect ourselves
We’ll build a new home
One last hug was passed around
And then the pigs were on their own
After they’d been walking
They all began talking
One to another
Sister and brother, here’s a good spot
A solid plot of land on which to build
Now my best guess is that our house
Should face the West
Sister, I don’t agree
‘Cause South is where I’d like to be
Wait a minute, if we build a place
East is where I’d like to face
They argued and shouted all that day
All three tried to get their way
The third pig tried to stop the row
But the other two pigs just stepped on his toe.. ow
Leave us alone
We know what we want
And off each went with an oink and a grunt
Well there was nothing more to do or say
So the third little pig she went away
Now the youngest little pig off she did trundle
When she came across some straw in a bundle
She stopped and paused and raised a hoof
I’ll use this straw for a house with a roof
And it’s very very very clear
My house should face exactly here.
Well she built that house in a minute or two
And when that first little pig was through
She stood and smiled
Say this looks good
I’ve got the best place in the neighbourhood
She kicked up her hooves and did a roll
And into the front door she did stroll
Said the second pig from where he had stood
That’s not so good
I’m going to build mine here out of wood
Yes indeed indeedy yes
My house, my house is gonna be the best
He built that house in a minute or three
And then the middle pig shouted
He kicked up his hooves and did a roll
And into the front door he did stroll
The oldest pig thought out loud
My brother and sister are certainly proud
‘Listen Piglets hear what I say
Straw and sticks won’t keep the wolf away’
PIGS 1 and 2
Ha ha ha sister don’t you see
You’re jealous cause you don’t have a house like me
The third pig thought and thought
Sticks and straws, straws and sticks
I’m gonna build mine out of bricks
I’ll work hard and I’ll work long
To make my house as strong as strong
She built that house in an hour and a day
And when she was done she thought
This brick house will
Keep that Wolf away
She kicked up her hoofs and did a roll
And into the front door she did stroll
Just then when the third little pig was done
The Wolf came along feeling hungry
I am hungry and what I could dig
Is a round little plump little
Fat little pig
Came the sounds as clear as a bell
That’s a pig I can tell
What a sound! What a smell!
Gently he rapped
Softly he tapped
And with the widest possible grin
Open up piggy, I know you’re in
It’s the wolf! It’s the wolf
I can tell by the grin
Not by the hairs on my chinny chin chin
Look little Pig don’t be a clown
Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff
And I’ll blow your house down
I dare you I dare you
Taunted the first little pig
And the Wolf…well…he did
That house that was built in a minute two
Fell to the ground
Away it blew
Wheezed the Wolf creasing with laughter
His heart all aglow in hungry rapture
(RUNNING INTO PIG NUMBER ONE’S HOUSE)
Hello little piggy
(NO ANSWER) Wait! Where can she be?
(HOT FOOTS IT OVER TO PIG 2’S HOUSE AND
Open up the door, brother, it’s me.
The Wolf he was angry and went over and stood
In front of the second house made of wood
Just then two little pigs looked out
What joy What joy
Two pig snouts
The wolf he quivered with delicious delight
I can eat two piggies if I play things right
‘Open up, Darlings it’s your Mama Pig’
PIGS 1 and 2
Can’t fool us, Wolf. Mama wears a wig
Open up the door, pigs
Don’t be clowns
Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and
I’ll blow your house down
PIGS 1 and 2
Go on Go on
Cried the two little pigs
And the Wolf, he did
That house that was built in a minute or three
Collapsed to the ground
For the world to see
Wheezed the Wolf, his voice in song
But when he looked around
The pigs were gone
(THE TWO PIGS RUN INTO THE THIRD HOUSE)
With a rage and a fury all over his face, he cried
They must be at the other place
He sneakily stalked over to see
When he eyed the pigs
One two three
If I play things right
I get to eat three pigs tonight
Open up Piggies it’s your long lost brother
We don’t have another brother
I already checked with mother
The Wolf he stormed and ranted and swore
He pounded upon the brick house door
Open up. Open Up.
Let me in
Not by the hairs on our chinny chin chins
Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and
I’ll blow your house in
We dare you We dare you
The Wolf huffed and puffed but to no avail
He grunted and groaned until he was pale
He grew dizzy and staggered all around
Finally the Wolf just collapsed on the ground
PIGS 1 and 2
Whispered the pigs as they stepped outside
But just as they spoke
The Wolf jumped up exclaiming, JOKE
Around and around the three pigs fled
Around and around the four of them sped
The pigs escaped inside once more
And the Wolf he howled
till his voice was sore.
Sister, brother, this plan I must call
Here’s how we get the Wolf to fall
I know we can do it
We’re a great team
PIGS 1 and 2
We are We are
They snorted with a gleam
Now use your brains
Consult your wits
We’ll gather bits of straw and sticks
And little sister up the chimney you must climb
And poke out your head
I can do that just fine
( SHE SCAMPERS UP AND POKES OUT HER HEAD)
Oh Wooolllfff. Try to catch us this time
I’ll get you. I’ll get you
You’re not hard to find
Snarled the Wolf as up on the roof he climbed
The pigs light the branches
till a fire burned hot
On top of which they placed a huge pot.
Dinner for me. Dinner for me.
Here I come piggies One, Two and Three!
The Wolf leapt down the chimney
A mean gleam in his eye
Little did he know he was soon to die
For he met his sad end in a pot of hot water
He drowned and perished forever after.
The three little pigs stood for awhile
Then one by one each began to smile
From a smile to a grin
By their chinny chin chins
Till all you could see was a pile of pink wiggles
They kicked up their hoofs
Rolled around on the floor
And lived together in that brick house
KIDS AND POETRY: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
The day I sat down to write this paper, a snail began a slow tour up the glass door in the kitchen where I was sitting surrounded by piles of books, electronic things and scribbled papers. ‘What’s he doing here?’ I mused, taking my eye off the ball for a moment. Maybe it’s a sign. I like signs. I turned around again and the snail had vanished. Where had he gone? The penny dropped. Little snail was surely a sign of how I wanted to start out our seminar. I needed to pose the question about why on earth I’d be interested in such a strange little flat-footed thing; something both odd and everyday. Not at all cuddly. A spirally creature riding a trail of slime…seen in a flash…vanishing in a blink.
What in the world do wandering snails have to do with poetry, you may ask? What is poetry, exactly? What do children have to do with poetry? What role do imagination and creativity and reading play in this whole scenario? And listening?
Let’s go back to our snail. And special moments. And signs. And the mystery of rituals. Now imagine yourselves five years old. Your pet hamster dies … or you find a dead bird … what do you do? You make a parade. Maybe you create a burial ceremony. But whatever the action, you have a deep-seated need to create something special.
Or perhaps you are older and you spot a racing hare or a totally orange sky or what looks like a dinosaur print. You want to capture the excitement, the awe, the fluttering pulse you have at that moment. It feels only right to give shape to the feeling that sits inside of us. Maybe even to tell someone else. To share it in some way. Maybe that inside feeling is a rock. Perhaps it’s a swallow.
Our job is to guide children to recognise that giving expression to what rests in their hearts is a good and fundamental thing. That process is called arts education. We need to teach our youth that what matters to us as humans is important. We need to validate ritual and understand it’s relationship to poetry.
Let’s begin with Sylvia Plath. She once commented that a poem is a smallish thing. Something akin to a glance. The same glance you might have in the seconds between when a door opens and when it quickly shuts. What might we see in that instant…maybe a bird, or a bee, or a mountain, or a train, or a garden, a raindrop, your cousin, a heart, a city…that’s how small a poem is and how big at the same time. Imagine a paperweight. One of those old fashioned glass balls that has a country scene inside of it; trees, a pond, a snowman, a barn. Now turn it upside-down and watch the snow fly down. Everything is changed. That’s how a poem takes place. A poem has the capacity to change how we see things.
Philip Larkin insisted that he wrote to preserve the things he had seen or thought, or felt; both for himself and others. This impulse, to preserve the images we encounter in life, he felt is basic to the human experience.
Ted Hughes argued that poetry writing and reading for kids is really a matter of getting them to think for themselves.
Let’s step back a bit. Let’s talk about the building blocks of a poem; words. We’ll return later to the other living parts of a poem; the images and rhythms. But for now, let’s consider words; words we all come to learn and experience each day. And let’s add to that a big concept that we educators and artists and parents think about so much; imagination.
This might be a good time to let you know a bit about me, about me and how I relate to words. I don’t remember exactly why or when I started to write poetry. I cannot recall an AHA! moment, or my first lines, but one thing I do know, I have always been encouraged to follow my instincts. And my instincts and desires were not very different from those of any other child.
Like everyone else I loved to play and to make things up. Imagination was the obvious currency. Music, dance, and words of all varieties, for various reasons, took a big hold on me. I don’t think this was so unusual. Most of my friends followed the same path. We found ourselves in a dynamic world in America during the 50’s and 60’s where words, lyrics, rhymes and tunes were around us continually and stimulated us to the core. There was exciting just-sprung rock and roll, newly re-discovered folk music, the Broadway show tunes my parents listened to, the endless jingles on television. All new. All thrilling. My friends and I sang along to everything, danced, made up plays, struggled with guitars and learned lyrics. These were powerful influences.
As an adult I came to understand that having fun with words which somehow sounded just perfect next to each other, with their rhythms, energy and imagery, led me down a path where putting words together was an adventure. I loved these words and it didn’t take long before I discovered poetry and its trusty sidekick, metaphor. At around nine or ten, I remember sitting on my parents’ front porch and reading THE WORLD’S BEST LOVED POEMS over and over. I memorised a lot of pieces in that book, including The Gettysburg Address, Sir Walter Scott and Longfellow, without fully understanding what these poems were about. I think I did it just for the pleasure of saying them out loud. And memorising them was fun; I could repeat these words over and over whenever I felt like it.
Looking back, it’s clear that the sheer joy of playing with language, exciting muscular and visionary language that sounded great, was as natural to me and indeed all children, as breathing. I heard the sounds. I pictured the words. Imagination was the currency for this language play.
Now imagine a primitive culture. Native Americans, for example, had only oral language for most of their history and lived in direct and intimate contact with nature. They were part of a society where plants, trees, animals, water, rocks and cosmic entities were daily companions. It would have been natural to reach out, talk to, placate, celebrate and relate to those forces in a personal way.
Now imagine someone from the tribe walking on the savannah. She looks at the grasses blowing lightly in the distance. She turns to her partner: ‘Look. The feather grass is brushing the sky.’ Has she written the world’s first poem? Has she created the world’s first metaphor? Perhaps the partner turns back and replies: ‘No, the spear grass is slapping the sky.’
I think the primary way we see the world is poetic. We are born alone into a vast profusion of life, a world rich in colour, shape, music and sound whose patterns are always changing. A world at first incomprehensible.
We strive our whole lives to make sense of that world. I believe that the principle path taken, the way we try to learn about everything around us, from the first days when hominoids walked the planet, has been one of assimilation and pattern processing. This route, making imaginative and creative order out of chaos, with play at its core, is an intrinsically artistic process.
So when our Native American sees the grass and compares it to a feather brushing the sky, she makes a poetic leap. By doing so, she is asserting her creativity and individuality. Her friend, who compares the grass to a spear which is slapping the sky, engages in the same process. In the end, it’s never just a question of WHAT the world is out there, but WHO AM I in relation to the world out there.
These Native Americans have synthesised their understandings of two elements, grass and sky, and have created two different interpretations, both based on familiar elements and both re-ordered to different effects. She and her partner have dipped their toes into the creative process and, in so doing, hitched their wagons to the stars.
Unfortunately this different way of seeing things, this synthesis of ideas (a and b equals not c but say…x, w or z) is one which diminishes and fades as we grow up in contemporary society. Not only are we not in a close relationship to nature, but education directs us towards empirical learning and to structures where creativity, imagination and artistic synthesis play an often reduced role.
But the artist, like the child, cannot help but respond to a different set of imperatives. Her impulse is to make things up, create illusions, offer alternatives. A child gathers in the world through the senses. And when these senses are fed and developed, the child naturally exhibits far greater acuity, understanding, perception, and appreciation of the world she finds herself in. As a result, problem solving becomes a whole lot easier. In every field. For the child is poised at the beginning of a long quest for definition and self identity. Such is the value of an arts education; one where story and poetry fit naturally onto the first team.
Our relationship with the world around us, the natural world, has become a lonely distant cousin compared to the energy and sense of companionship with nature our species must have felt thousands of years ago. But what redeems humanity is that every child plays and therefore has within them the ability to synthesise and make things up. No matter what the era, the circumstances or place. Imagination is our birthright; our natural human need to learn and create new kinds of meaning for ourselves and others.
Someone who was eloquent on the subject of children and imagination was the recently deceased American novelist, children’s author, essayist and poet, Ursula K Le Guin. It was her view that children are born with imagination, just as they are born with a body, intellect and the capacity for language; these are all essential to their humanity, things that they need to learn to use well. For this reason the teaching, training and practice of imagination needs to begin early, just as children are taught other life skills. In her view, the best way of doing this is through listening to stories; because stories are central to the literature of any society, wherever we might be born. Stories are the way information is shared and passed down through generations.This interaction with story is vital for exercising the imagination. For when we hear a story, we visualise it…feel it…and even become it a little.
Key to all of this are words. We are a wordy species, indeed words are the wings that imagination and intellect fly on. Music, dance, the visual arts and crafts are important as well. But to train the mind to really take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and power, nothing equals a poem or a story.
It is through Story that a culture defines itself. Every culture teaches its young how to grow up and how to be members of the society. For a child, this process is at the centre of it’s world, for stories teach you how to behave in the world and what’s expected of you. How to be the best you… you can be. Where you learn what’s what and who’s who’s and who’s on first; a place where you get it. Where you know how things are done. And this centre, Ursula K le Guin calls HOME. Not just your home with your Mum and Dad but your imaginary home. The place where you are safe to be you. But you can’t get to it unless the people who inspire you show you how to imagine it. These people might not be your parents or teachers. They might not even speak your language. They might even have been dead for a thousand years. They may be nothing but words on paper. Ghosts of voices. Shadows of minds. For it is the stories which guide you home to your human community.
As we all well know, it is vital to teach children to listen. Listening is an act of community which takes space, time and silence. Reading is a means of listening. It’s an act. You do it. Moreover, you do it at your own pace and speed. You can take in what you want. Reading a story you are told something. And even though you’re alone, you are in communion with another mind. You have joined an act of communal imagination.
Children must learn how to invent their lives. Make them up. Imagine them. Without imagination, our lives get made up by other people.
Now let’s go back to poetry. To that glimpse of this or that which takes our hearts and makes us feel a little different about the world.
There are four ways in which I think poetry and children walk side by side.
Firstly. Children, like poetry, think about and refer to the big picture. Why is the sky blue? Where does my dog go when it dies? How come I look like I do? A child’s approach to this life they find themselves in is unashamedly philosophical. Kids question. Everything. The impulse is an honest and necessary one. And poetry, in it’s simplest apparition, takes the form of questioning the existence of whatever reality we come across.
Questions and Answers
Q: What’s inside the sun?
Q: What’s inside the earth?
A: Colours before they get their names.
Q: Who made the first circle?
A: Someone who got very dizzy.
Q: What draws the bee to the honeysuckle?
A: Ten million summers.
Q: What roars inside a seashell?
A: Beach lions.
Q: What roars inside you?
A: My blood
Q: How does one tie a rainbow?
A: The first thing is to find the ends.
Q: If it’s noon here, what time is it on Mars?
A: A billion years before noon.
Q: How long does it take to move a mountain?
A: Depends on the number of ants available.
Q: At what speed does a moth move to a lamp?
A: At light speed.
Q: Why is the letter I dotted?
A: To have a good time.
Secondly. Children, like the poet, perceive and experience the world with a closeness, excitement and clarity of vision adults often lack or have forgotten. The child will not just point to a worm wiggling in the ground. He reaches down to get closer. To see it. Maybe pick it up. The world outside stirs us on the inside in ways we don’t always grasp. A whipped up ocean might trigger the possibility for unfettered ideas, a beautiful meadow or sparkling stream may offer a chance to dream big, a dead cat on the road or strange sounds at night may unleash thoughts that lurk somewhere distant within. Nature looms large with both children and poetry. The feeling of biting cold wind, or gentle snow falling, or a hot sun; these things we feel on the outside, can shape inner experience to a high degree for a child. And for a poet. Focusing on landscapes; things both large and small, particular and general are a ritual in the child’s everyday. And all of these contribute to a vast palette of inner life; of memory, emotion, intelligence, common sense, imagination. It is precisely these heightened perceptions that put both the child and poetry in touch with the universals. Concepts that offer us new ways to see the world..new eyes. We in turn perceive things according to the stored experiences we already know.
How to Get an Idea
Dig into Mud
Open up a new box of crayons
Run your finger through a bag of marbles
Skip a stone across water
Ask a cat to lend you one
Stand quietly under a dictionary
Stick out your tongue and say, “Ah!”
Put an empty picture frame on the wall and wait
Thirdly. Children like poets, anthropomorphise the world. I believe our first view of the world, once we acquire language, is an imaginative and poetic one. What we don’t understand, we endow with understandable human attributes; animals say all kinds of things, shadows need to be tamed, stars answer our wishes. The anthropomorphising of the universe is part of growing up. To understand the world, we recreate it in our own recognisable image. When a child stops for a long time to stare at a wonderfully shaped or bizarre stone, that stone may take on new dimensions. For if we look at something long enough and hard enough, the object in view can take on a new identity. Rocks become figures, clouds take on shapes, sounds begin to say something. And more. This personalisation of the environment, is the beginning of metaphor. The first sparks of poetry. How does the fog come? It comes on little cat feet. This is problem solving of the highest and most imaginative order.
last evening you
rolled so loud and silver
past my window
that the shadows
woke and wove their dark
over my bed
in the criss-cross of
I knew what to do
and fold into a
Fourthly. Children, like good poetry, are in perpetual motion. They run. Bound. Hop. Skip. They surprise us with their rhythmic sleight of hand, confound us with symmetry, lull us with melody. For children and poetry share the internal beat of new life. It surges throughout bodies and poetic lines. Children are far more expressive than we are as adults. Because our movements tend to become unexpressive and restrictive as we get older, we tend to lose the bond we once had to the physical environment. But for children playing and moving freely, a certain vibrant memory is developed. A sense memory. A child can freely call on this store of memories as he listens to a story or poem. For poetry relies on the senses; on words that not only have muscle and rhythm, but which you can practically see or taste or feel or smell. These words are exciting. They stir something in you. Creativity depends on this sense memory, on the child’s ability to recreate from his store of remembered motor, auditory and visual experiences. These things are at the core of the creative act.
My first blush of poetry happened because when I was a child I believed that the sun rose the instant I opened my eyes in the morning. I remember lying in bed and opening one eye at a time, seeing if I could fool the sun. But the sun was always there. Loyal to me. And I realised I was queen of the sun. These pre-school fantasies we all have are personal myths. I collected many such myths from friends and family, and they formed the basis of my first book of poems, published by Orchard Books and Houghton Mifflin in 1989 and entitled; ‘Mud, Moon and Me’.
So. Reading, listening, re-acting to the world, these are the things which make us human. What is it that makes us the kings and queens of our world? That offers us the possibility to shape our world? What is it that gives us the vision to express or understand the heady sentiments and urges that rest deep within us; the misty moonlit non thoughts? Those profound things that make us each different and special? That special view of the world when it is turned upside down and covered in falling snow? It is poetry, words raised to the highest level of expression.
Not only does poetry allow us to be who we are, but it gives us the opportunity to be many of the things that we cannot imagine ourselves to be. Listening to a poem, hearing the sway and swing of the words, feeling them grip us even if we don’t understand them all is part of a magical process. Poetic language is living, full of sudden leaps and shadows and endless nuance. These things never truly follow a straight path. Poetry is like that. Daytime logic is cast aside for night time dreams. For poetic language lives on rhythmic cloud and speaks oh so loud to a listening mind. As poets, artists, teachers, librarians, parents, our charge is to keep young minds listening.
Ted Hughes, in a wonderful series created in the 60’s for BBC Schools Broadcasting Department called, ‘Listening and Writing,’ described this responsibility perfectly: ‘I assume that the latent talent for self-expression in any child is immeasurable.’ Words to cherish. He goes on to say that in teaching writing, it’s not for we teachers to say, ‘How to Write,’ but rather ‘How to say what you really mean.’
And what do we mean? For the most part, I must admit that I often don’t quite know what I mean. And worse, I don’t know that I don’t know it. But something is gnawing away at me. The way things do when you dream. Here is where I am in luck. I have a notebook and pencil. I start to write down things I notice. I could notice a lot of things, but my brain selects things for me. It takes me some time to work out. Writing is for me, a kind of teasing out process. I bring this up, not to talk necessarily about me, but simply to point out how much there is in each of us waiting to jump out. Like a bunch of little white rabbits ready and eager to hop out of a hat. Here is an adult poem I wrote exactly about this process.
BAREFOOT ON THE BEACH
scanning the offerings of last nights tide
gulls – shadowless still – flock before us
their sharp cries crack
barefoot on the beach
we follow those match-stick prints
it’s a gumdrop canvas already
bathers towels parasols
we stroll along light as froth
stepping over seashore secrets
snug in wet sand
laughter threads round us
swirls like candy floss
a pale shell catches my eye
it is spiralled orange and white
wind polished to a gleam
a miniature house of some long lost creature
a baby sea horse in my story
the empty shell so delicate
one of millions of sundry small things
washed in by chance
the scent of salt captures me
I float featureless
empty as a puff
the fullness of things blue
a puzzle swells
splits open like a clam sunning
how strange it is to spot this shell
not any other
to draw it and it alone into my universe
and what other things are there to catch my eye
flutter down my spine
dragged in by some restless
tide of my own
and might things random
be not random at all
that what I choose to scan rests
in some shadowy pool
some lost landscape of buried secrets
wedged tight behind my reflection
only to wash up
in the great fullness or emptiness
of some moment or other
A poem poses another way of looking at things. When a child hears or reads a poem, she knows and feels from the tip of her nose to the tips of her toes, that there IS another world out there. A special world. A wild world. A free world. A world where we can catch a shadow or ride a dragon or talk to a daffodil. And it is our job, as adults in this arena, to make sure our children are well looked after. That they are allowed and encouraged to dream. That they have an active and vibrant relationship to poetry.
For those of you who are lucky enough to be involved with children and poetry writing, I take my hat off to you. This is one of the finest human experiences we can offer our kids.
So to end, I hope my little snail has made it someplace wonderful by now. That he is dreaming his little snail dreams and drinking all the rain juice he can hold.
I would like to leave you with verse from Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Weave a circle around him thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed
and drunk the milk of Paradise
The milk of paradise is none other than the wondrous self we can discover, not in some far away Xanadu, but inside ourselves. Inside the heart of every child. And that is why we must take care of the storyteller, the poet and the child. Why we weave a circle around him thrice.