Poem of the Day


The Bear


Awakened from his sleep

down from the Forest Wilderland

the bear appears

to smell the river.

Upstream he stands – with

water pulsing past his feet,


birds, shrieking in spring skies.


he watches salmon as they leap –

rivulets of hunger in his mouth.

His clasping teeth,

with sharpened claws,

grab the salmon flapping

in their grief.

He bears his prizes to the slippery edge,

skinning flesh

and finally crushing bones.


towards a warming sun,

he sniffs the air,

remembering then,

his recent sleep



© Jill Carter-Hansen 2014

P O Box 1381                                                                                                               

 Darlinghurst   NSW 1300                                                                          

 E jill@visonaryimages.com.au

Vroom, Vroom!: Poems about Things with Wheels

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Vroom, Vroom!: Poems about Things with Wheels selected by Mark Carthew, illustrated by Paul Nicholls (Teacher Created Materials, 2013

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Racing cars feature on the cover of this hardback book devised for an American market with Australian input from the compiler and packager (Denise Ryan and Associates). And too, there are plenty of colourful vehicles displayed through its 24 pages, from tow trucks to fire brigades to trains. One can imagine a boy reader aged 7 to 8 years flicking through the pages. Hopefully he will also read the nine poems with titles such as ‘The Robot’, ‘The Yellow Bus’ and ‘Tractors, Trucks, Trains and Trams.’

As with all four of the poetry books in the Read! Explore! Imagine! fiction reader series, anthologist Carthew has included his own, original work, namely four poems in this collection of nine poems. Happily, he has also made use of poems by well-published Australians, Max Fatchen, Janeen Brian and Doug Macleod.

There’s an excellent poem, ‘Song of the Train’ by David McCord with lots of repetition of ‘Click-ety-clack/Click-ety clack/Click-ety, clack-ety/Click-ety/Clack’ – great for reading aloud, and perhaps accompanying the recitation with percussion sounds. Another poem which caught my interest was ‘Engineers’ which used lots of ‘machine’ words such as ‘Piston, valves and wheels and gears’ and lots of onomatopoeia.

It would be wonderful if these durable and attractive books with well-selected verse and colourful, appealing illustrations were readily available for young Australian children.

Giggles and Niggles

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Giggles and Niggles by Jenny Erlanger, illustrations by Loren Stewart (Haddington Press, 2007) RRP $15.00

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Giggles Erlanger - Copy

The cover of this book and the poems it contains clearly demonstrates this is a child-friendly collection. Many poets writing for children suppose that younger readers are generally more interested in nature (weather, birds, animals, trees etc) than in poems about children’s lives. But Erlanger ‘gets’ it; that more than anything kids want to read about themselves and their lives. Thus, in this 70 page collection of rhyming poems, you will find titles such as ‘Blabbermouth’, ‘How to Get Rid of Peas’, ‘Party at Luna Park’, ‘Teacher’s Pet’ and ‘School Sleepover.’

The poems are not categorised under sub-headings which is fine as this is really a collection for dipping into. Appropriately, the first poem in the book, is titled ‘Me’; this is immediately followed by poems about swimming, bath-time, shoes that hurt, a baby brother’s tantrums and so on. Most of the poems are shortish, no more than a page (or a page and a half), another way to get children reading. (My observation is that most children prefer short poems to long narratives). In ‘My Classroom’, the narrator says, ‘Our room’s like a packet of smarties./It’s crammed full of colour and fun./Every spot, every place/Every spare bit of space/Is filled up with things we have done.’ Like all of the poems in this book, this poem is child-centric and therefore full of child-appeal.

Some of the shorter poems I particularly enjoyed were ‘I Win!’, a quatrain about winning at a family game of Monopoly, ‘Operation Teddy’ about a stuffed bear being repaired and ‘Assistant Cook’ where a child helping in the kitchen really only wants to lick the bowl (don’t all kids?) Erlinger not only writes gentle, simple, charming and easy-to-read verse, but she knows exactly how a child thinks and behaves — and what interests him or her. One can imagine a teacher reading these poems to her class, or a parent being read Erlanger’s poems by his or her child. The poems are also ideal for reading on the page. Black and white line illustrations by Stewart who has won awards and scholarships in the fields of design and illustration enhance the book as well.

This is a poetry collection that should be in the hands of all young readers from the ages of seven to ten years.
Inspired by A.A Milne’s poetry in her early pre-school years, Jenny has been writing rhyming verse since she first learnt to write. Her children’s poems, most of which are written through the eyes of a child, draw attention to the simple everyday things and emotional ups and downs that help shape our lives.

Jenny has had a number of poems published in “The School Magazine” and two poems were published in “Hopscotch” (Jelli-Beanz Publishing, 2011).
Giggles and Niggles is Jenny’s first volume of children’s poetry. Although the book is currently out of print and may be difficult to obtain now from bookstores, Jenny has a number of extra copies she can send to interested buyers. Her email is jennyerlanger@optusnet.com.au and the book costs $15.

The Duties of a Cat


The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford (Pitt Street Poets, 2013) RRP $12.00

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Described as a ‘softcover pamphlet’, this small (110 cm X 160 cm) chapbook with French flaps contains 12 poems by Blackford and seven delicate line drawings by Michael Robson. Each of the poems invites one to take a close look at cats that Blackford has obviously closely observed and documented.
The title poem, ‘The duties of a cat’ is divided into seven sections, each of which show cats’ movements, body parts, mischievous behaviours and hunting abilities. In the final section, Blackford humorously recounts the ‘noblest occupation for a cat, by far/is killing the bathmat.’ Underlying this and all of the poems in this appealing, crisply written collection is the poet’s love of and admiration of feline friends. In ‘En pointe in sheepskin boots’, Blackford asks ‘How can a/full-grown cat bear to restrain itself from crunching/through your teasing fingers, pink as wriggly worms?’ It’s almost as though the reader can literally, like the poet, feel a cat in their hands.

Pic Jenny Blackford with cat

Although Blackford is a regular contributor to The NSW School Magazine, she has also published poems in a wide number of adult literary magazines such as Westerly, Quadrant and Dreams and Nightmares. Some of the poems in this slim collection might be understood by prepubescent children, but the majority would seem to be for young adults and upwards. To give an example: a verse (in ‘Dream Hunt’) which would perplex even the best-read teenager, reads ‘Even the red-eared hounds who hunt with Hearne/respect the great white cat with eyes of flame/who runs beside their Winter King, chasing/the heavy-antlered stag that stole the Sun.’ In ‘Their quantum toy’, a line such as ‘gravity is stern as death/implacable’ and even the title ‘gravity’s their quantum toy’ is beyond the comprehension of the average child and probably most teens.

However, some poems, such as ‘Something in the corner’ which is about a cat scratching at a wall because of something it hears behind it, or ‘Blue mouth eerie open’, about a cat confronted by a bluetongue lizard, can easily be understood by younger readers. ‘Cat channelling his inner harp seal pup’ is fun, with a cat draped on a chair compared to a harp seal pup, ‘Only/the eyes are wrong…’

Blackford, like all good poets, has an original perspective and conveys this with rich, imaginative language, using words such as ‘winterplump’ and ‘sweet foolish lump of fur’ to describe a cat. I loved the ‘sweet wobble low on the belly’ of a stalking cat, and ‘under the honey sun his hidden eyes are/blue as summer sky.’

As one reads each of these poems it is clear that the poet has captured the essence of cat and done so in language that is sharply realised and often memorable. The poems would best be read aloud by adults and discussed with a child to get the fullest appreciation.

To order The Duties of a Cat, visit http://www.pittstreetpoetry.com/jenny-blackford. The collection is also available as an e-book.

Jenny Blackford’s poems and stories have appeared in Westerly, 30 Australian Ghost Stories for Children, The School Magazine and more.  Hadley Rille Books published her YA-crossover historical novel in 2009, and her first poetry collection, The Duties of a Cat, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in late 2013. She won the Humorous Verse section of this year’s Henry Lawson literary competition.

Speak Up! review

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Speak Up! Poems selected by Mark Carthew, illustrated by Annie White (Teacher Created Materials, 2013)

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This 20 page hardback book is part of a series of poetry books meant for emergent readers, thus all of the poems here are short and easy to read. Some of the eight poems are traditional (Chinese, French, origin unknown, Jamaican and English) while the remaining few are by Dennis Lee and Emilie Poulsson (1853-1939). Most of the poems are about animals (chickens, mice and monkeys) and insects (bees and mosquitoes) while the penultimate poem is the well-known ‘Grand Old Duke of York.’

The book, like the others in the series, is just the right size for small hands, and is well-designed with large font and lots of white space. All of the poems, except for one, are contained on single pages. Illustrations are beautifully executed in muted colours by the Melbourne-based artist.

Teacher Created Materials is a publishing house based in California, USA. Production and design is by Australian-based packagers, Denise Ryan and Associates.

The Billy that Died with its Boots On


The Billy That Died with its Boots on and other Australian Verse by Stephen Whiteside, illustrations by Lauren Merrick (Walker Books Australia, 2014) RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Wow! What a bewdy!’ were the first words that came out of my mouth when I saw the cover of this collection of rhyming poetry to suit ages 9 to 12 years. Whiteside has, according to the bio blurb at the back of the book, been writing rhyming verse for ‘over thirty years’ which totals ‘over 1,000 poems’ for both adults and children. He acknowledges (as do most Australian children’s poets) the support of the New South Wales School Magazine and has included the first publication sources of many of the poems in the book.

This is a joyful selection of poems which cover a variety of topics from birds and beasts, sport, weather (snow, rain, hail, shine), places (out in the bush, the ocean, the beach, around the house, in the garden, in the street) and Christmas. The book begins with three poems about dinosaurs and concludes with two poems (with instructions) for performance. That the two influences on Whiteside’s rhyming verse are Banjo Paterson and CJ Dennis are evidence with the rhythm and word play in many of his poems. There is also much fun here, as demonstrated in ‘I’d Like a Brontosaurus’ where the narrator tells of how he would care for one as a pet: ‘She’d have her vaccinations,/And her heartworm tablets too,/But I’d have to hide her safely,/Or she’d end up in the zoo.’ The poem continues with the housing arrangements (a gigantic oak kennel with scaffolding) that would have to be constructed. This is a long poem, but it thunders along in a jolly manner, with the narrator finally deciding, ‘I don’t want a brontosaurus,/No, a dog will do instead.’

Cover of Stephen W's bookOf particular interest to children are poems about tidying one’s room, how to eat watermelon (and losing the ice-cream scoop from a cone), Dad meeting a Martian, Santa (getting stuck in a chimney), and the comfort of home. The poet pays tribute to two heroes in a poem about Simpson and His Donkey, and with another four page poem, ‘The Sash,’ based apparently on a true incident when our infamous bushranger Ned Kelly saved a young boy from drowning. Many poems reflect on Australia and its climate, such as ‘The Fire’, a narrative over three pages that shows a family escaping a bushfire and the title poem, ‘The Billy that Died with its Boots On’ about a well-used billy (‘Its inside was clean,/With a lustrous sheen./Its outside was greasy and black’) that is ‘tossed from its pack’ and lost forever.

Also reflecting on Australia are poems about the beach (‘The Dumper’, ‘We Headed for the Beach Today’ and ‘The Seaside Cure’). There are also three football poems and one about cricket; the poem I liked best in this sporting section was ‘The Saucing of the Pies’ which is set in the ‘mighty MCG’ where spectators line up for their hot meat pies. Eating hot pies at the football is, writes Whiteside, ‘…a deeply Melbourne feeling.’

Occasionally Whiteside plays around with how the poems sit on the page. In ‘The Chinstrap Penguin’, written as a rap-style poem, many of the lines begin with ‘Doesn’t’; for example, ‘The chinstrap penguin/Doesn’t wear a hat./Doesn’t wear a cap’ and so on. In ‘The Tree for Me’ there is a lot of internal rhyme, while ‘Rittle Led Hiding Rood’ plays around with language which is sure to make children chuckle.

For the most part, Whiteside’s verses are vigorous, deserving to be read aloud for the greatest pleasure, and full of Aussie topics and spirit. There is much in this paperback for any reader to enjoy, both young and old, and much for Australians in particular to relish.

In 2013, Stephen Whiteside won the Golden Gumleaf (Children’s Poem of the Year) in the Australian Bush Laureate Awards. You can read more about Stephen in the A to Z of poets on this blog.

Note: If you would like to win a copy of this book, be the first to write to me at dibates@outlook mentioning the book’s title and including your name and postal address. All entries will be acknowledged by return email.

Stephen Whiteside