Spreading the words

Spreading the words

It was an honour to be invited by CLPE to be the chair of the judging panel for this year’s CLiPPA(CLPE Children’s Poetry Award). The CLiPPA is the UK’s only award for published poetry for children and, through it, CLPE have done so much to celebrate not just the quality of new poetry for children, but its importance and impact.

Poetry really matters. And this year perhaps more than any for our children, it can help us to understand their whirligig of emotions and help make sense of the world. It provides a sense of freedom, missing from so much else today, freedom to play with words, meaning and ideas. As one of the young performers at the Poetry By Heart ceremony at The Globe said, "I love all the variety that you find in poetry and I also like that it can be about absolutely anything."

Through its Shadowing Scheme, the CLiPPA introduces thousands of children to poetry in the most joyful of ways. CLPE’s resources help teachers explore the books on the shortlist and turn favourite poems into lively, expressive performances by individual children, duos and whole classes. A record number of schools signed up for last year’s Shadowing Scheme and the 2021 scheme, launching in October, is likely to attract still more.

Too many people are still wary of poetry though. Many don’t meet a poem between nursery rhymes and the GCSE set texts. Primary school should be a time to explore and enjoy poems. Perhaps we should just think of a poem as a nursery rhyme that has grown up. Children love nursery rhymes and football chants and a poem has fun with words in a similar way. Or as Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, "Prose is words in their best order; poetry - the best words in the best order". 

I don’t want any child to miss out on being introduced to poetry, which might just become their favourite thing; and that’s another reason why the CLIPPA is so important: it’s a pointer to the best poetry for children published each year, and a great place to start. 

This year’s shortlist, which I had the privilege of announcing live on stage at The Globe in front of an audience of poetry-loving young people, reminds us what the best poetry for children can do. The list is varied - a picture book, an anthology of slam poetry, outstanding single collections and a verse novel; it features many brand new voices, and one of our best-known children’s poets; and there are books for audiences of all ages, from the very young to teenagers. Each of them could start a lifetime of poetry pleasure. And all of them I would press into adult hands too. 

Here are the shortlisted books, organised in order of reading age: 

Big Green Crocodile Rhymes to Say and Play, by Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, Otter-Barry Books: a collection of new nursery rhymes, this is a book for grown-ups to share with the very youngest and enjoy together. It’s also beautifully presented and perfectly illustrated, an ideal first poetry collection.

Bright Bursts of Colour by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated byAleksei Bitskoff, Bloomsbury Educationhe poems in Matt Goodfellow’s collection range from the silly to the sensitive, and all will resonate with children aged 7 – 11. Matt captures the child’s eye view with dynamic representations of real-life experiences, and a great understanding of a child’s sensibilities. 

On the Move by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker Books: On the Move is both personal and universal, with messages of home, identity and family. Intensely felt emotions are delivered with a perfect sense of understatement. Accessible to primary school readers, this is a book to move readers of any age.

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, Penguin: compelling, powerful, and authentic, Mann’s verse novel – her debut - speaks directly to its YA audience. With a fresh voice, an old form is made spectacularly new.

Slam! You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, chosen by Nikita Gill, Macmillan: Nikita Gill brings together some established voices alongside many poets making their first appearance in print; this is a book that will engage young people with its diverse subject matter; it is curated with real skill.

Please join me and my fellow judges, poets Zaro Weil and Amina Jama, Julie Blake of Poetry By Heart, and Charlotte Hacking of CLPE, in spreading the word about the shortlist. Let’s bring the power of poetry to even more young people.

Allie Esiri curates live poetry events and bestselling poetry anthologies that include A Poem for Every Day of the YearA Poem for Every Night of the Year and Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year. A Poet for Every Day of the Year will be published in September 2021.