Top Texts for March

This months Top Texts have been chosen by Jane Bednall, a former teacher and Deputy Head.

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

A powerful exploration of emotions and their expression in a wonderful blend of words and art. I can imagine children reading this lively poem by Maya Angelou their bravery strengthening as they repeat the line ‘Life doesn’t frighten me at all’.The poem invites us to read it aloud and conquer our fears and feel proud. Jean-Michel’s Basquiat’s edgy and colourful streetwise paintings add great power to Angelou’s refrain ‘Life doesn’t frighten me at all’. The conversation between word and image, encourages discussion and questions for the reader about fears and overcoming them. Two short biographies are useful in setting a context for the reader. This book introduces younger readers to the paintings of Basquiat which express a range of emotions that weave together the rhythms and textures of the city, making this book an interesting challenge for children and adults.. Influenced by television, film, politics, sport, old photographs and the music of Jazz, Rock and Hip Hop, Basquiat created the tag SAMOc and drew and painted on buildings’ walls throughout lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. His canvases reflect influences of the city with African, French, Latino-Caribbean traditions, featuring people of colour that had rarely been shown in modern American Art. . I think this book will inspire children to write poems about conquering their fears and paint expressive, bold and brave images of their emotions. I am sure some children will embody some of the images like the dragon on the front cover (reminiscent of the monsters in ‘Where the wild things are‘) and cathartically stomp and shout out their fears.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

This is a vibrant collection of poetry and is a brilliant way of drawing children into reading and loving poetry. The collection of 51 poems from 42 poets and performers celebrates a diverse range of poets from the past including James Langston Hughs and W.E.B Du Bois, iconic poets like Maya Angelou and James Berry OBE and contemporary poets and artists including Common, Kanye West, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tupac Shaker, Stetasonic, A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifa. This beautifully produced book is multimodal with lively illustrations from six illustrators including Kristan Balouch and Alicia gel de Dios and has a CD with thirty recordings. This book gives children many ways into the poets’ work, they can perform them aloud, read them quietly, talk about the illustrations and meanings of the poems, sing along to the CD or make their own celebration of poetry with a beat. I learnt about this great book in Darren Chetty’s insightful article Beyond the Secret Garden, Rap, Rhythm and Rhyme There are short biographies of poets, artists and illustrators all adding to the richness of the text. As long as people have stories, there will be rhythm, rap and hip hop. ‘Not only will children love the great poetry but I am sure they will be encouraged to write and perform their own poetry, echoing Stetsasonic lyrics: ‘We wanna make this perfectly clear We’re talented and strong and have no fear Of those who judge but lack pizazz Talking all that jazz.’

Rhythm and Poetry

Karl Nova says in his introduction ‘I use poetry to say what is hard to say any other way. I use poetry to make sense of all the thoughts in my head and feelings in my chest. I use poetry to capture moments like when I take photographs, when I perform them it is like I am taking pictures from my phone and showing them to you. So let’s have a look at some lyrical pictures…That’s what it is all about, being heard.” The poetry by this Hip Hop artist will draw young people in and fire their imagination, with the beauty of his rap lyricism and his Hip Hop influenced poetry that displays wit, humour and positivity. His lively commentaries after each poem give readers brilliant insights into his life, work and passion for rap and poetry.When I ask young people if they like poetry they normally say no. When I ask if they like rap, the answer is normally yes. When I show them that rap is actually an acronym for rhythm and poetry and a form of poetry it leaves most of them surprised’…rap employs all the literacy devices and figures of speech that great men like Shakespeare used.’ Joseph Witchall provides some expressive and humorous black and white illustrations, like his break-dancer enhancing the poem ‘The Dancer’. This collection reflects Karl Nova’s journey of growth from childhood to adulthood through the lens of hip hop culture and his approach will engage young people because he understands how to meet them where they are. His poems travel across many subjects.


About this month's reviewer

Jane Bednall, a former teacher and deputy head, has taught from Nursery to 6th form in East End boroughs. In Newham, advisory work CPD and partnership work was developed with Primary schools to facilitate teachers to plan a more diverse and culturally inclusive curriculum.Training materials ‘Developing a Culturally Inclusive Curriculum’ were recently republished by Jane has a deep love of children’s literature and hopes that students’ right to be represented in voice and image will be strengthened by educationalists #reflectingrealities and #readingtheonepercent. You can follow Jane on Twitter @BednallJane.