My children love a good story. They’ve been raised on books, from before they were even born. I remember reading out loud while number one child – that’s birth order, not personal preference – was driving Mum crazy, entering the last month or so of pregnancy. We read all the time now; they are immersed in words and stories.
What’s really interesting though, as they begin to express more interest and enthusiasm for one particular book over another, is their response to poetry. They love it; they are captivated by poems in a way that is different to the prose they read or hear.
There’s a playfulness to the language of poetry that seems to more readily connect and align with their understanding of language. From time to time, my youngest still gets words wrong and we laugh together and make up new sillier words, giggling just because of the sound they make. We speak in our own tongue, unique to us, made up of crazy sounds and intonations – we babble away together while they are in the bath. It’s poetry, of sorts.
Don’t get me wrong, we all love a straight-down-the-line story, paragraphs, chapters and all – but there is a freedom and a lack of constraint to poetry that young children seem to instinctively ‘get’. It’s the same with older children. I’ve taught for enough years to know that there’s a point in the academic year when writing can become a slog, a treadmill of planning and paragraphs and punctuation. In this critical state, the only thing that revives the stricken patient is a dose of poetry. It brings life and joy back to the page. Go on, it says – break the rules, have a play.
At home, our favourite poetry collection at the moment is the delightful ‘A Great Big Cuddle’ by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell. It’s a beautifully constructed book, with bold images and lots of uncluttered space for the words to dance and sing on the page. I flick through and choose a poem as soon as my boy yells ‘stop’. We always find a good one – every page is a beauty – but, without fail, I’m not allowed to put the book down until we’ve read a bit of ‘Bendy Man’:
Bendy Man, Bendy Man
Wraps around trees
Bendy Man, Bendy Man
Can’t find his knees.
It’s a lovely book and well worth adding to any library for under fives. Go on, have a play…