Well I wrote my first poem, When Brian eats my breakfast, in the year 2000 on the Number 4 bus going to school in Abingdon. I was teaching my class at the time about alliteration and wanted to use a poetry to illustrate it, but I couldn’t find any! Having looked for some for a while in school I just started playing about with words whilst looking out of the window at Wootton one morning. I actually ended up using it that very morning, with alliteration and consonant clusters all over the place!
I worked with years 1 and 2 for the next few years. School Newsletter was an early one I wrote, and The Register, which I just love performing with children. They all came gradually as I experienced things in the school I was working in.
As I said, the poems are written based on things I experienced as part of school life. My mum yelled at me this morning was one that came from seeing the way some parents dropped off their children at school. Sometimes you can spot the differences in children’s approach to the school gates. A child might not be acting themselves that morning and when you spend a few minutes talking and listening to them they sometimes tell you that their parent/carer shouted at them in the morning, or admit that they didn’t even get a kiss goodbye. That’s it then, game over before it’s even started - a catalyst for lots of other things happening that day. Maybe it will also make some parents think more about the last thing they say to their child before they go to school! As adults, we can be unaware of how sensitive children can be, it might not seem like a big deal to the parent/carer, but it is to the child!.
How long has it taken you to write the book? Did you just wake up one morning with lots of brilliant poems in your head?
No! Compiling the book has been a gradual process. Ideas for poems seem to come in fits and starts really. I have written short stories and novels for a long time and actually, I always imagined my first published book would be a children’s novel (Watch this space!). Inspiration for the poetry sometimes cropped up from thoughts I had during my working day or my time with my family. Biscuit Girl and Tentacles and chips are both inspired by my wife’s eating habits, which is quite funny really! I used to keep a little yellow exercise book from work (don’t tell them) and it came everywhere with me so I could write any ideas down!
How have you used poetry in your teaching?
Poetry is a great teaching tool. So much can be done with it, it’s so flexible! At a simple level teachers ask children to highlight the rhyming pairs, alliteration, funny words etc. It is good to use for imagery, drama (which children love) and even just chopping the poem up and asking the children to sort the lines into the right order!
I would definitely encourage teachers to use the poems in Poems Beans and Chips in a class setting. I have written the poems and compiled the book with the intention of it being a good book to use in lessons across the country. Some of them particularly lend themselves to performance poetry - The Register and Anger work well in class assembly.
Lots of poetry books these days seem to be black and white and geared towards adults. This turns many children off; poetry needs to be fun! I wanted something glossy, vibrant and colourful for the children to access themselves. Mike, the illustrator has been great for realising that vision really. He read all of the poems and did some initial sketches of the characters as he had interpreted them. It was great to see them come to life! He is very talented and good at paying attention to detail.
What’s the accompanying website all about then?
The website has been developed as a partner to the book. It gives children the opportunity to discuss their own poems, comment on others and enter competitions. Different competitions run over time, but we’re happy to accept submissions from children, teachers and classes at any time - we’ve had really good feedback that the site is a good audience or outcome for classes who have just completed a poetry unit. We’ve had some fantastic poems emailed to us, and we choose a small number of Mike to illustrate which he then produces for the website and as a high-quality hard copy posted to the children.
What is Mike’s favourite illustration?
He likes page 8, Kiki. He doesn’t own a cat or anything, he’s just most proud of that illustration and will tend to sneak it onto any publicity we’re doing - it’s even made it onto the business cards for out publishing company, Moore Than Words!
What’s your favourite poem in the book? Do you have one?
Hmmm, that’s a really tricky one! I don’t know really, I have a few favourites for different reasons. Some I love performing, such as The Banana Family and The Register. I’ve used The Register with a lot of classes and children and have many fond memories of it. I’m proud of Yikes. There is a poet called Graham Denton he said that was like the perfect poem as it uses hardly any words but gets the point across. I’m also proud of I’m not good at anything as that was the first poem where I focused on every syllable, the rhythm and structure from the start, rather than when editing. I was lying in bed at night with it half finished, saving new bits and pieces as draft text messages on my old mobile phone (turning on a lamp and writing it down would have woken my wife up!). There were about one million drafts of that one! Anyway, I like the last verse, I wanted it to have a twist.
What is the most recent poem you wrote in Poems, Beans and Chips?
The last poem I wrote for this book was Is it me? It’s about celebration assembly - something that most primary schools have every week to celebrate the work of the children in class. A colleague once said to me about the fact that sometimes the more challenging children get up to the front more often than the other children who are consistently good. It’s poignant because it’s saying let us not forget those children who are constantly good, day after day. They still need recognition and praise. One of our really supportive parents shocked me when she pointed out her daughter hadn’t been in this assembly all year, I think everyone just assumed she had because she was always so kind, considerate, hard-working and able - but no! What kind of messages does that give to her, her memory of school, and her family and peers?
Is there another anthology on the horizon?
Volume 2 has actually got some darker poems in it. Some touch on bullying and mums in prison, but also it features some poems about great, vibrant teachers… I love being a teacher! I suddenly realised one day that this first book is definitely speaking up for those down-trodden children and the teachers who just oversee them and teach to the majority!
Our book-launch and book-signing
On Saturday 27 November we launched our book with a book-signing (and a book-reading by Ian) kindly hosted by The Bookstore in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. We’re pleased to say we had loads of support and would like to thank Ian and his staff at the store for their hospitality, and also all those who braved the chilly weather to pop in and see us (and bought our book)!
Photos of the book-signing:
Promotional slideshow from the book-signing:
Quicktime Movie - no sound - 10Mb - not for slow connections
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