By Author / Illustrator
Valerie Bloom, Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
I travelled once around the world
On stars with flaming tails,
And touched the colours of my dreams
Along some silver trails.
Look out for best friends, pancakes, and Grandad singing; discover a river dolphin, a poison dart frog and the most dangerous animal in the world; imagine a talking nose, meet the Zimbats of Zingley Dell and find the colour of your dreams.
This is another beautiful compilation from Otter-Barry who have assembled a dream team in the form of poet, Valerie Bloom and illustrator, Ken Wilson-Max. Stars With Flaming Tails takes its title from a line in the last verse of the last poem in the collection, 'The Colours of my Dreams' (p.94): 'I travelled once around the world / on stars with flaming tails, / and touched the colours of my dreams / along some silver trails.//
The poems take the reader on a journey through five sections. The opening focus on 'Family and Friends' sets the tone for poems to come. They are infused with humour, tenderness and moments that make the reader pause and reflect. We are welcomed, literally, with 'Welcome' (p.10) to a new baby; part lullaby, part love song, this is a gentle, lyrical start. Such tenderness is echoed in 'You Are' (p.12): 'You are the perfume of the jasmine / Winter's virgin snow / The softness of a velvet cushion / A sunset's golden glow. //'. A few pages on, 'Nothing to do' (p.14) takes the form of a mother's lament about the state of the room: 'It appears that all your bedclothes /Have been fighting with your bed, / And that plate of old spaghetti / I am sure has long been dead./' In more sombre mode, 'The Wall' (p.33) really is a poem for our times as 'The Soldier' (p.28) with its focus on boy soldiers.
There's a nifty section on 'Fun with forms' which starts with 'Terms' (p.35). With a light touch, the reader learns about rhyme, simile etc. And then enjoys a witty turnaround at the end.
Then 'Our World' opens with the sprightly 'Weather's Ball' (p.51) in which 'Tornado tangoed with Thunder, / Lightning limboed with rain,/'. Children will be intrigued by 'The Moon told the Wind' (p.52). What is the secret that the moon told the wind?
In 'Animals' we encounter some ferocious species: the malaria carrying mosquito, anopheles (p.63), piranha (p.64), a poison dart frog (p.67) and a scrawny vulture. In 'Talented' (p.73) fascinating animal facts are celebrated: 'The cricket's ears are in its legs, / the snake hears with its tongue, /'.
The final section is, quite simply, 'Unbelievable'. There's a teacher playing the piano with his ears (p.77), and we meet the Zimbats (p.86) whose 'hearts were in the right place,/ But there was only a space where their brains should be./' 'Jack's mother' (p.90) tells us that their fortune has been made by macabre means as it transpires that Jack is 'charging folk a pound to see the dead giant in the garden'.
Wilson-Max's empathetic black and white illustrations make a significant contribution to the impact of the poems. I love the child guarding the secret in 'The Moon told with Wind' (p. 52) or the elusive, shadowy figure for the cinquain 'At Once' (p.39).
96 pages / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant
Suggested Reading Age 9+