Top Text for February

Bob Cox seeks to support schools’ work on using quality texts for quality writing​.

Poetry Jump Up

Compiled by Grace Nicholls

As I’m reviewing top class poetry anthologies from the past, I have to include this collection from poets around the world which was very influential at the time it was published in 1990 (Puffin) and deserves new attention. The range of ideas, musical rhythms, telling phrases and humour is huge. Every teacher will recognise the potential for learning and for wonder whether in Dionne Brand’s ‘Wind’ or Maya Angelou’s study of old age or the beating rhythms of life expressed: Friday night baking; school life; scorpions and crabs; families; skipping ropes and alligators. John Agard’s ‘Poetry Jump Up’ sums it up: the collection is like a carnival of life and shows how poetry can reach us all with ‘plenty perspiration and a little inspiration’.

Complete Poems for Children

James Reeves

Have you heard that phrase ‘best kept secret’? Well, it could be applied to the brilliance and the seemingly effortless simplicity of James Reeves’ poetry. This collection covers from 1950-1975 and will offer teachers and pupils endless experimentation with sounds, fantasy creatures, puns and clever character creations. The best known are probably ‘the sea is a hungry dog’ or ‘slowly’ but we have also had terrific feedback from the ‘Prefabulous Animiles’ section especially ‘Hippocrump’ or ‘The Doze’ or ‘The Osc’. Let your pupils browse, read, enjoy and delight in phrases like ‘his trembling whiskers tickle so’ (from ‘Snitterjipe’). I can’t think of a poet who manages to use repetition and rhyme to such good effect but always includes the unexpected too, often in a single word. If you want to teach your pupils about originality in poetry via familiar themes like nature and creatures then James Reeves’ poetry will signpost the way. This edition is illustrated by Edward Ardizzone.

Collected Poems for Children

Ted Hughes

This brilliant collection, illustrated by Raymond Briggs, includes poems composed from 1961 until Ted Hughes’ death in 1998. Hughes always experiments with wordplay and image making whilst playing to a child’s imagination. His work is accessible yet hugely original. You have heard of the ‘Iron Man’ but what about ‘The Iron Wolf’ who ‘licks the world clean as a plate’. For exquisite fun, why not try the ‘Meet My Folks’ section where we can all find an echo of someone in our family; or the Moon poems where a whole world of images unfold. There is ample opportunity for teachers to delve deeper and richer even in a single ending like in ‘Moon Whales’: ‘their eyes closed ecstatic’. Ted Hughes reflects on why we write in his seminal work, ‘Poetry in the Making’, 

‘it is occasionally possible… to find the words that will unlock the mansions inside the head and express something…..and in that same moment make out of it all the vital signature of a human being…….and when words can manage something of this …we call it poetry’


About this month's reviewer

Bob Cox was an English teacher for 23 years and then a school improvement consultant; but for a long time now he has been a freelance educator, presenter and advisor. He is the author of the ‘Opening Doors’ series which seeks to support schools’ work on using quality texts for quality writing. Developing a love of literature, including poetry, past and present is central to this. The new books are ‘Opening Doors to a Richer English Curriculum’ for both 6-9 and 10-13 year