Poetry book review


silly-squid-Silly Squid!

Poems about the Sea

by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Cheryll Johns

(Omnibus book from Scholastic Australia)

HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9781742990965


Reviewed by Dianne Bates


What a handsome book of poems for children this is, so lovely that the publishers (rightly) thought to present it in hardback. Flipping through the pages is an absolute delight as the full-page illustrations are colourful and beautifully depicted. And too, the design of the book is very appealing with hand-written font for the poems and facts about the sea creatures depicted on every page typed around the borders.

Each poem is devoted to a single creature, such as a crab, a sea star, Leafy sea dragon, whale, squid and many more. The poet forms vary from poem to poem but all are jolly and enjoyable. In ‘Stingray’ for example, there are three repeating lines interspersed with a three line rhyming line. ‘Shark’ is presented as quatrains with rhymes on the second and fourth lines. Each one of the poems has a light, deft touch and none of them is a line too long. Most of them are narrated by the sea creature they describe with each poem giving (accurate) factual information. Here’s just one example, from the poem, ‘Jellyfish’:

‘…we come in different sizes                                                                                          

 and people call us ‘jellies’.                                                                                                                            

We have no bones, nor heart nor brain –                                                            

not even jelly bellies!’

Faced with information like this, a curious child is likely to go off to an encyclopedia (or Google) to check out if the facts are true, and might thus find out even more about jellyfish.

Researching and finding poems from hundreds of poetry collections in order to compile an anthology a few years ago, I looked at a wide range – and of course have included Brian’s poems in my book, Our Home is Dirt by Sea (Walker Books Australia, 2016). This latest collection by Brian is probably one of the very best single poet collections I came across. It’s highly recommended for readers aged 7 years and up.



New poetry anthology review

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When the Moon is Swimming Naked: Australasian Poetry for the Chinese Youngster, Edited by Kit Kelen and Mark Carthew (ASM Poetry, Association of Stories in Macao, 2014).

When-the-Moon-is-Swimming-Naked-cover-art copy

This 220 page paperback anthology ‘for the Chinese youngster’ was, according to co-editor, Dr Mark Carthew, ‘an enormous drawn out speculative project… driven by the translators and readers at the Macao end.’ Certainly to have a children’s poetry book which is bi-lingual (English and Chinese), translated by sixteen Asian translators (some of whom contributed to the anthology), is a massive – and innovative – project and is a credit to the co-editors who volunteered their time and energy.

The book’s cover is not as child-friendly as it could have been, showing a muted blue swirl with white shapes, including a moon on it, and with a vertical row of Chinese characters and a horizontal English title. There is a contents page, and in the back an index of first lines and biographical notes of the Australian poets. All pages of poems have poems in English on even pages and the Chinese interpretation on the opposite odd pages. The typeface throughout is small, about eight point, which might make it difficult for younger children to read. The book could have done with another proof-reading as there are numerous typos, including some poems mistakenly printed in bold. Poems are not grouped under sub-headings but are arranged alphabetically in order of the poets’ names.

This is an uneven collection. Many of the poems are written from an adult point of view and would seem to be primarily for adults. Happily, others are more child-centric. For this reason it is difficult to hazard a guess at the age of the targeted readership. ‘Difficult Love Poems from a Step-Parent’ by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, while poignant and beautifully written, is one example of a poem too sophisticated for a child under the age of 15 to comprehend. ‘Resonating chambers’ by Ashley Clarkson, about playing musical instruments, might be understood by a teenage reader, but certainly not by a younger child, nor would Claine Kelly’s ‘While Poets Chant in the empty boathouse,’ about an older woman reflecting on her adolescent love. Another poem with an adult perspective, Martin Langford’s ‘Their Son’, which questions the behaviour of a teenager, is yet another example of a poem suitable for an adult readership — and there are many more.

The collection includes poems by well-known Australian poets who generally write for an adult readership, such as Peter Stryznecki, Vivian Smith and Mark Tredinnick, but many names are unfamiliar to this reader, such as Vaughan Rapatahana, Phillip A Ellis and Kenneth Hudson. A number of the poets represented are well known as children’s poets, such as Stephen Whiteside, Claire Saxby and Meredith Costain. Also included in this anthology are poems by the sixteen translators whose names are written in both English and Chinese. One such poet is Zoe Fang (Fang Xiaojun) whose poem, ‘baba’s big hand’ I found endearing and quirky.

Interestingly, many of the poems are nature-based with titles like ‘Frill-necked Lizard,’ ‘Thylacine’, ‘Welcome Swallows,’ and ‘a leaf remembered from Susquehanna’, which might well appeal to Chinese readers young and old. Most of the poems are written in free verse, with only a few rhyming poems, such as ‘Gym-bo’ (Vashti Farrer), ‘Grandma and the Mouses’ and ‘The Elephant who Lost his Tail’ (Andrew Lansdown). Sadly, there is little in the way of playfulness and/or humour in most of the poems.

Some of my favourite poems in this collection include ‘Shoefiti’ (Meredith Costain), ‘A Bedtime Story (for a boy)’ (Rebecca Kylie Law), ‘Blunder the Wonder Cat’ (James Norcliffe), ‘Train Song’ (Mark Macleod) and ‘The Dangerous Dinosaur’ (Stephen Whiteside) – all of which have child appeal and read well aloud.

‘Pride Comes before a Fall’ by co-editor Kit Kelen, contains one of my favourite couplets in the book: ‘Now the woodcutter/takes down the shadows of trees.’ In Laurel Lamprell’s ‘Joy Riders’, school children steal a car only to finish ‘Straight down the road/Where eternity waits/In the guise of a lamp post.’ As here, there are some excellent concepts and descriptions in many poems, but words like ‘animus’, ‘geomorphology’, fractious’, ‘polophonic’ ‘meniscus’ and ‘syncopation’ and numerous other complex words that occur in poems throughout the book are well beyond the comprehension of most teenagers, let alone children.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, I congratulate the compilers and publishers on this anthology — no doubt a massive feat — for taking the time and care to make Australian children’s poetry accessible to a foreign market. Hopefully the book will be distributed in Australia, too, and allow our country’s teachers and students to see the work of new and more established poets.

Dianne (Di) Bates is a well-published children’s author and editor who has established a unique blog site, Australian Children’s Poetry, http://wwww.australianchildrenspoetry.com.au to showcase children’s poetry written by Australians to the world. In 2015, Di’s anthology of Australian children’s poetry, Our Home is Dirt by Sea, will be published by Walker Books Australia. Di’s website is http://www.enterprisingwords.com.au

Weekly updates

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Here are this week’s updates.



New article:  Entering Poetry competitions

Click here for the link to a guest post by Ashley Capes, on the BusyBird Publishing website, which gives poets ideas how to maximise their chances when entering a poetry competition.



All competitions are now on the main ‘Competitions‘ page – listed in order of deadline submission date.

Please refer for upcoming competition deadlines.

Click here to view: https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/competitions/



Former editor of the NSW Department of Education School Magazine, Jonathan Shaw, has posted a great review of Billy that Died with its Boots On by Stephen Whiteside (Walker Books Australia 2014).

Please click here for the link.


That’s it for this week.


Di Bates

Friday Update


Here are this week’s updates:



The Ipswich Poetry Feast website has now released details on the 2014 International Poetry Writing Competition.

The Competition Opening Date: Sunday 6 April 2014; Closing date  is Fri 1 August 2014 at 5.00 p.m.

Please click our Competitions  page for the updated details.

Don’t forget to check our  competition page for end of April deadline submissions.



Poetry Book Review – Verses for Children by various poets (Pine Street Poets, 2013)

To view, please click on the Review page.


That’s it for this week.