By Author / Illustrator
Laura Mucha, Tania Rex
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
Tonight I fancy a flight / so I shuffle my short feathers / and jump...
Take off on a night flight, have a monster's lunch, listen to birdsong, shout out the Apatosaurus rap and check out Alexander Fleming's petri dish. The read the note Cinderella left for her Ugly Sisters! A spectacular debut collection from an exciting new poet who is also a brilliant performer of her work in schools and festivals.
Laura Mucha is a well-established, prize-winning poet so this debut collection for children is long overdue. Thanks to the great Otter-Barry imprint for bringing it to us! With the accompaniments of Tania Rex's bold illustrations, this is a really lovely addition to a class poetry collection.
In the poem of the title, 'Dear Ugly Sisters' (p. 8), Cinderella enumerates her completed jobs in a feisty farewell note to the sisters. In amongst mention of the cooking ('bread has been baked, veggies are chopped'), cleaning ('cleaned up the bathroom, cleaned up the sink') and other mundane jobs, she slips in that she's 'married a wonderful prince that I met'. It's a witty start and sets the tone for the rest of the collection. Set across a double-page spread, we see her striding away from the house (pumpkin duly noted!) about to follow a path to a splendid castle.
Other poems touch on magic and traditional motifs. In 'Wanted: Wizard's Assistant' (p.88), some delightful alliterative 'Qualifications' ('potent potion pondering') sit alongside the daily 'Job Description' - 'wand wobbling on Wednesdays / thunder formation on Thursdays'. A poem such as this offers a strong model for children's own writing. Then there's a Roald Dahl-inspired take on 'Rapunzel' (p.50), full of distorting twists and turns on the original.
Children will enjoy unravelling the three narrative voices in 'Did you Sleep well?' (p.55): the pea (I'm a pea, / not a pillow./), the prince and the princess. Here again there's scope for extending the idea to other stories (Daddy Bear, Daddy Bear's bed...).
Another feature of the book that makes this special are poems where additional factual information is supplied to augment the child's enjoyment of the poem. 'The Lonely Side of the Moon' (p.20) draws attention to Michael Collins' role in the Apollo 11 mission: incommunicado for 48 minutes as he travelled behind the moon: '...But over / here, it's just me/ and radio/ silence.//
Tania Rex's birds are scattered across the 'Listening to' double page spread (p.26), which brings different bird song to life through an acrostic form (BIRDSONG):
Iiiip iiiip iiiip'
A key denotes which bird matches which song. There's a rich opportunity here to introduce the poem using an audio of bird songs.
'Fleming's Petri Dish' (p.84) takes the form of a petri dish featuring some grumpy bacteria; whilst Pasteur's achievements are celebrated in a mesostic of RABIES (p.85). As an aside here, I wish more teachers would use the mesostic form - it's so much more versatile than the acrostic as replicating this poem in full demonstrates:
'Louise PasteuR / kept kennels of / mAd dogs / Bravely exploring vaccines whilst / Hounded by crItics, / Until a mother bEgged him to / Save her child. So he did.' ('RABIES')
There is so much more: poems about family and feelings, food, and the obligatory dinosaur rap (which doesn't disappoint!).
But to conclude, I want to focus on a highlight of the book: a poem written in collaboration with children around the world: 'Key Workers' (p.16). This really is a poet for these times and one that children could emulate with its gentle, repetitive structure: You sprint, lift and listen / to heartbeats, worries, / and the puff / and gasp / of ventilators. / You inject painkillers / and courage./
96 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant
Suggested Reading Age 7+