How To Make Children Laugh – Michael Rosen (2018)

 

michaelrosen

Here’s a quick and diverting lunch hour read. Quercus have produced a series of hardbacks entitled “Little Ways To Live A Big Life”. We may not all aspire to some of the other titles (How To Land A Plane/ How To Count To Infinity) but they’ve enlisted Michael Rosen on an admirable mission to get children laughing and that’s something that’s likely to be appealing to almost all of us.

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. From the early days of my teaching career I discovered his collection of poems “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here” and carried it around with me in my bag for as long as I was teaching. It was an invaluable resource, it filled the odd moment, it enriched whole school assemblies, it calmed things down and it livened things up. As a young inexperienced teacher fresh from training I became known as the kind of teacher who liked Michael Rosen and from that children understood I loved playing with words, with humour and reading children’s books. This really did forge my identity as a teacher which lasted throughout my career and for which I will always be extremely grateful. And yes, I did manipulate this, at the end of the summer term when I would meet my new class after the where you put your lunchbox and what days do we have PE I would always introduce them to my favourites (usually the poem “Chocolate Cake” was enough to win them over). For this I will always think highly of this poet.

Later on as a senior teacher and Head Teacher I was delighted to bring Michael Rosen in to meet the whole school on a couple of occasions. This man wins children over right away, he actually looks funny. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I remember using a Schools TV series he was involved in with a class of 7 year olds who didn’t know who he was but laughed as soon as his face appeared on-screen, which I was initially unsettled by, thinking I’d put the wrong videotape in, but it was him winning them over from the word go.

michaelrosen2

And as a live performer. Wow! I’ve never seen anyone command a whole school group of Primary children from the wriggling youngest to the too-cool-to-listen oldest with such aplomb and for so long. They would hang on to his every word and the laughter was infectious and totally genuine.

So how does he do this? This book tells us how. He studies and totally understands his audience. He’s done the research, he knows what it is in the wider world that is currently making children laugh and he can pinpoint the rudiments of humour of children, which are, basically, building on anxiety, surprise, absurdity and language-play. If the first one seems a little odd you’ll need to read the book to see how he is able to deconstruct humour to these elements. It’s a convincing argument, used with examples of his and others work.

Nowadays, I don’t personally need to make children laugh but this book has relevance for performers and writers especially, as it is to these it is angled but those who work with children in whatever capacity and even parents would benefit from taking a look. I just enjoyed feeling as if Michael Rosen was talking to me once again- his voice comes through strongly in this. Due to its brevity this series is really only offering a taster so I don’t feel able to shower it in stars, rating-wise but it does exactly what it says on the cover in an entertaining way.

threestars

How To Make Children Laugh was published by Quercus in 2018

Advertisements

How To Embarrass Teachers – Paul Cookson (Ed) (2008) – A Kid-Lit Review

imagesYC433BKV

paulcookson

Is this the perfect back to school book?  A collection of 47 poems and a quiz would seem to be the best antidote for back- to -school blues for both junior school pupils and teachers.

Paul Cookson is a prolific children’s poet and editor of collections with school based poems being a major focus in books such as “Crazy Classroom” (2013), “The Truth About Teachers” (2013), “The Works; Every Poem You Will Need At School” (2014) as well as anthologies on monsters, football, Halloween, disgusting poems and families, so a child-centred poet if ever there was one.  He often collaborates with David Harmer with whom he set up a “Spill The Beans” school based show.  Harmer is one of the poets enlisted for this collection.  There are a couple of very well-known names in Roger McGough and Brian Patten but it’s very much the lesser known poets here who have given me the most pleasure.

There’s a number of over-riding themes in the embarrassment of teachers- practical jokes, wigs and secrets known about the teacher dominate.  The blur between the “teacher” and the private life of the individual provides a rich vein of humour and this works splendidly in Cookson’s own “Mum Goes To Weight Watchers With Mrs Donohue”, an evocative title which just sums up the predicament as Mum is keen to share her knowledge of the teacher with her offspring;

“What she eats and how last week she gained a pound or two

Gossip from the staffroom, who cannot stand who”

The sheer joy of mum’s information comes across strongly as does her retelling of the aerobics class where Mrs Donohue’s leotard gives way;

“Bursting open to reveal her knickers old and blue”

The narrator’s lips may be temporarily sealed but only until the time is right.

The delight of finding something unexpected about teachers comes across very well.  In two poems the summer break provides an escape from machismo for two male teachers in Claire Bevan’s “The Rugby Teacher’s Holiday” and Gareth Owen’s great character study of “Oh Mr Porter”.  This is also evident in Celia Gentile’s deliciously naughty “Skimpily Red” where a pupil witnesses the purchase of a sexy undergarment from Next.

“Miss Nixon’s rather strict and prim

She teaches us RE

The knickers she was purchasing

Were silk and r-e-d.”

 A visit to the cinema with Miss canoodling with her boyfriend in the seat in front provides great excitement in “Did Miss Enjoy The Movie?” by Richard Caley;

“This was great, two things to watch

The film and Miss Smith too

Perhaps I should have turned away

But then again, would you?”

 Classroom jokes can be practical as in David Harmer’s strongest effort on show “Tricks With My New Rubber Mouse” with its great depiction of a prank played on “dear trembly Mr Taut” or can be used to just pass the time such as in the game played by the pupils every time “Miss Fidgetbum” sniffs and coughs in Trevor Millum’s poem.  Double standards are always a cause for classroom outrage as evidenced by Marian Swinger’s “Good Manners” and school life is depicted in its technicolour awfulness in moments provided by the overzealous caretaker in the poem by Trevor Harvey and the school fete where the kids can’t get to throw sponges at the Headteacher in the stocks because the teachers are all there first in the poem by Andrew Collett.

Most of these poems rhyme, have quite simple forms and read aloud beautifully.  If I was still teaching this book would form part of my “emergency pack” in my bag.  Not as essential as Michael Rosen whose “Quick! Let’s Get Out Of Here” would be pulled out of my bag regularly but it would certainly get a new class on the teacher’s side even if it might just give them undesirable ideas.

threestars

 

How To Embarrass Teachers was published by Macmillan’s Children’s Books in 2008

Michael Rosen’s A to Z (Puffin 2009)- A Kid Lit Review

 

imagesYC433BKV

rosen2

Subtitled “The Best Children’s Poetry From Agard To Zephaniah” and with a foreword and selections by Michael Rosen you know you are in safe hands.  Rosen’s “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here” is my all-time favourite children’s poetry book and this man has done so much over the years to get children excited and motivated by poetry, both to listen to it and read it aloud and also have a go at writing their own.  I consider him to be one of the most significant living children’s writers and I’ve met him a couple of times and he is an extremely affable man as well as possessing the great talent of holding a school hall full of restless youngsters in rapt attention.

With this collection Rosen has achieved very much what he set out to do- find us a selection of the best modern children’s poetry and present it alphabetically.  He smoothly gets round any difficulties with the format via his charm and good humour – “Q here for the poet/ Get in line/ No pushing” and for U “U are the poet and here is your poem:” with ruled lines for the reader to write own attempt on, but where the poets are accommodating and do have surnames which fit into Rosen’s alphabetical format they get two bites of the cherry, with two poems each.

Despite many years out of the classroom I still read poetry books like a teacher, looking for those I want to share further, making notes of titles and revisiting them until I’ve got the book summed up in around 10 poems and finding myself choosing the one that has made the most impression on me.  I know I shouldn’t be looking for a “winner” in a poetry book but can’t help myself doing it, I’m afraid.  As an adult I think I favour most the poems that offer a real snapshot of time which brings memories and associations of my own childhood coming back, rather more than the playing with rhymes and rhythms that children respond to so well and of which there are many poems in evidence in this collection. So for me the best on show is Alan Ahlberg’s magnificent “The Mighty Slide” which features 7 pages devoted to the playground ice slide.  I’m sure many of us would remember waking up on snowy school mornings realising there could be a patch of ice in the playground that we would be able to skid over.  Now, frowned at as a thing requiring its own risk assessment and a bag of grit it was full of excitement as it transformed the familiar school playground into something special and Ahlberg gets this just right – the first arrivals, the development of technique, the queuing, the moment when all is perfection quickly followed by the deterioration of the ice and the whistle which ends the fun;

“There’s shouting and shoving:  “Watch this!” “Watch Me!”

“I’m floating!” “I’m falling!” “Oh, Mother!” “Wheee!”

And all the while from the frosty ground

That indescribable sliding sound

Yes, snow’s a pleasure and no mistake

But the slide is the icing on the cake”

This is marvellous stuff and can also be found as the title poem in Ahlberg’s 1989 collection, one of his many beautifully observed poems that celebrate the life of the primary school. His closing couplet is magnificent;

“Some plough the land, some mow or mine it;

While others- if you let them-shine it.”

Whilst we are talking about beautiful observations of childhood Michael Rosen himself is one of the best and in the collection we get the very satisfying “The Noise” exploring his father’s reactions to the sheer volume of having two boys.  In a similar style I also loved Paul Lyalls’ “My Mate Darren” a tale of a friend whose living rooms games of war with toy soldiers are brought back to him ten years later.  I do not know his work but after this might very well seek out his collection “Catching The Cascade” (2009).  There’s the poignancy of memories in John Mole’s “The Shoes” and Gareth Owen’s discovery of what is making the noises in his “Empty House” would freak me out more than discovering an actual intruder.  It’s great to have a bit of peril in children’s poetry.  It’s ingrained in us our early rhymes such as “A Dark, Dark House” and “What’s The Time Mr Wolf?”

Of the poems where the sounds of the words rather than the theme are the central focus there are some solid examples on display, including a number with Caribbean heritage which would work well with a class of children.  I had a very big soft spot, however, for a Scottish dialect poem “Dino’s Cafe” by Matthew Fitt which tells the tale of Dino working in his cafe;

“In a brichtly-coloured peenie

Dino redds up a Panini,

And he dichts doon aw the tables wi a cloot”

Poetry for children should be read aloud and this really benefits from this (Accent not essential as the words lead you to the correct sounds).  The food-based punning of Andrew Fusek Peters’  “Attack Of The Mutant Mangos” comes thick and fast and would have a class of children groaning with joy.  To calm things down I would suggest Benjamin Zephaniah’s “People Need People”, a rational, thought-provoking verse on the importance of having others around us.

I’ve just picked out a handful of the poems as a taster for the whole book but I see what I’ve done and I’m going to air it before any criticism.  I haven’t mentioned any female poets.  There is a gender bias in the book anyway with, after a quick count, 16 of the 61 poets women and there are women poets of great calibre.  I really enjoyed the selections by Carol Ann Duffy, Dilys Rose and Coral Rumble, for example, but I’m also aware that on this occasion I found myself going back to re-read the poems by the men mentioned.  Is this some gender related thing in that I found when looking back to childhood it was the male poets that spoke most to me or is it just coincidence?  I don’t know and it’s probably best not to get stressed out about what is a highly readable, very entertaining selection of poems from the best of modern children’s poets.

fourstars

Michael Rosen’s A-Z was published by Puffin in 2009

Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here – Michael Rosen (1983) – Kid-Lit Review

imagesYC433BKV                    quickThis for me is the greatest collection of children’s poems. My well-thumbed copy was always an essential part of my teaching equipment when I was teaching in Primary schools and it saved me many times during my career. How much I loved the enthusiasm that the children always had for these poems, especially the sequence of Eddie poems, which is what makes this collection stand out from the rest of Rosen’s work. In recent years these poems have added poignancy as Rosen’s son Eddie died from meningitis as a young man. This group of poems dotted throughout the book provides a memorial more vivid than baby photographs. “Eddie in Bed,” “Eddie & The Wallpaper”, “Eddie & The Nappy”, and “Eddie & The Birthday,” in particular are brilliant snapshots of life with a toddler. Poems that recall episodes in the poet’s past are full of the vitality of children’s language, something Rosen does so well, together with the tinge of guilt of recalling past ‘naughty moments’, which speaks directly to children hearing or reading these. “Washing Up”, “Chocolate Cake”, “The Watch”, “Go Kart” and “Gymnastics” take all adults back to their own childhoods and are superb examples of accessible poetry. I’d also like to single out a quieter poem, that when teaching I tended to overlook. “Platforms” is a sweet, mellow tale about waiting for a loved one and its inherent sense of anticipation, boredom and relief. In just a few lines Michael Rosen is able to encapsulate so much. You get a real blast of personal nostalgia just reading this. When teaching I was lucky enough to book Michael Rosen to come and talk to the pupils on a couple of occasions (at different schools) and children love this man. This book explains why.

fivestars