By Author / Illustrator
Roger Stevens, Mike Smith
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
What is your favourite word?
I like CRUNCHY and FIZZLE and TOAST
CARPET sure takes some beating
But I think I love LOVING the most.
From cool boys and Year Six Sisters to the chicken school timetable; from Dad's terrible dancing to Mum's cunning treasure trail; dogs, hamsters, and dragons; sad times, happy times, love and togetherness - plus the joy and fun of poetry. With themes of Family, School, Pets, the Wild, Being a Poet and Personal Favourites, this is an outstanding, exuberant collection of the very best work from one of the best-loved poets writing today.
Razzmatazz brings some of the best of Roger Stevens' poems all in one volume. A long-time favourite poet of mine and the many children and trainee teachers with whom I've shared his work, it's a delight to lay my hands on this fizzing collection.
The dictionary tells me that 'razzmatazz' means 'noisy, showy, and exciting activity and display designed to attract and impress'. And that pretty well sums up the collection. Its brightly coloured, zany cover captures the mood of the collection as encapsulated by the title.
For noisiness, look no further than 'Louder' (p.18). As Stevens' notes say, this is brilliant for performance as a recalcitrant child is encouraged by their teacher to amplify an introduction to the school's concert. Font size and degrees of boldness encourages the ever-increasing decibels in the poem. On the subject of loudness, you could also try 'Drum Kit for Sale' (p.27)
'Showy': 'Corrections' (p.20) is a personal favourite with Stevens showcasing his word play: 'Teacher said, / Leave out the the, the too's one too too many / and and after the comma / should go after the any.'
'Exciting activity'! 'Chicken School Timetable' (p.24) with its clucking and pecking lessons is potentially very unexciting. In Stevens' hands, it's anything but. I've never failed to enjoy watching children and trainees performing this one ('clucking with attitude / clucking with indecision').
Stevens' irrepressible humour wriggles it way through the book. His take on 'Rock-a-bye-baby (p.50) never fails to raise a smile ('What a stupid place to put the baby!'), nor does one of his most requested poems, 'Dad, Don't Dance' (p.28).
There are quieter, poignant moments too. 'Mum's Grave' (p.38) and 'Messages at school' (p.33) will offer comfort to grieving children. After 'Hole' (p.49), Stevens' note to the reader simply says 'When somebody you love or a pet dies, it's just about the saddest time there can be. So I like to write a poem about it. It's a way to express your feelings and I think it helps you feel just a little bit better.' This is just one of the many well-judged notes to the reader that are sprinkled throughout the book. 'Shouting at the Ocean' (p.86) resumes the theme of writing as therapeutic: 'So if you're hurt, upset or angry / Write down all you want to say / Then post it in the ocean / Watch your troubles float away'//). Mike Smith's comic strip cartoon is the perfect accompaniment to the poem.
The penultimate poem - 'On a Poet's Day Off' (p. 107) - draws gentle attention to the nature of poetry itself (On a poet's day off / Haikus can have a couple of / Extra syllables') and concludes: 'A poet's day off? / There's no such thing!'. Thank goodness: keep them coming please Roger!
96 pages / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant
Suggested Reading Age 7+