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.


An interview with Janeen Brian


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“Poetry is on an exciting tipping edge at the moment. It’s ripe for picking and we want to keep on applauding those teachers and parents who lay poetry before children as often as possible. And also applaud the School Magazine and other children’s magazines that wholeheartedly support and show the value of poets and poetry in our lives.”

-Janeen Brian

When did your interest in poetry begin and what were the circumstances?

It’s hard to recall an actual moment but I always loved the rhythm of words, the puns, the skipping rhymes and special words that jumped from a page of writing. I didn’t put any special feelings to this; it just was what it was. Poetry at home? Dad had funny sayings and skitty little rhymes, so I suppose I absorbed the language of those. Poetry at school? Only those poems found in the general classroom readers and one especially which was taught to us in Year 7 called Silver, by Walter de la Mare. I loved the sounds and the tranquility of the poem, beginning with: Slowly, silently, now the moon/walks the night in her silver shoon./This way and that she peers and sees/silver fruit upon silver trees.

Did you write poetry as a child?

I don’t remember doing very much writing of any sort as a child. I may have, but sadly, it’s a vanished memory.

When was your first poem published?

Two poems came out at the same time, but in different magazine age levels in the School Magazine, in 1983. One was called A Circle of Song and the other, Jigsaw Bits. I still like them.

Who are some poets whose writing you love?

Lorraine Marwood, Stephen Herrick, Sharon Creech, Michelle A. Taylor, John Malone, Rachel Rooney, Claire Saxby, Max Fatchen, Michael Rosen, Jack Prelutsky, Louise Greig, Rosemary Dobson, and many other early Australian poets, plus Basho, the Japanese poet who writes haiku.

Have you had any poetry writing mentors?

I once did an online course with Lorraine Marwood. Great!

What inspires you to write poetry?

It’s the brevity of the writing. It’s ‘handleable’, manageable and so self-contained. I can take a moment and transform it. I can play with words and hold my breath at unexpected outcomes. It’s tight and charged with a fuse that can light up emotions.

When you are writing a poem, what comes first – a subject, a line, a word?

More often than not it’s a word or a phrase that I’ve either thought of or, hopefully, written down. It’s usually weighted with some experience or emotion from the time – but that may change according to the poem and how the words are released.

Do you workshop you poems with anyone?

Sometimes with Lorraine, but no-one else, really.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When it’s said all it, or I, have to say. When it’s as clear, simple and as rich as I can make it at the time. When I’ve checked that I’ve come up with appropriate words, or metaphors, or sensory images. However, if I leave the poem for a while, there’s often another tweak done here and there!

How do you know if a poem is good?

I think one of my poems is good, when it fulfils all those comments mentioned above and when I can read it with satisfaction and still experience the same, positive feeling each time.


From the School Magazine.


Weekly updates

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Here are this week’s updates.



‘A meeting with Max Fatchen’ by Janeen Brian

Link at: https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/articles/a-meeting-with-max-fatchen/

To view a list of all articles, click on the Articles heading.



Susan Stephenson who runs the blog site The Book Chook provides a link to her article ‘Ten Top tips to engage kids with poetry’.

Click on News or the link here for the direct link to her article: https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/poetry-news/1359-2/


Poets A-Z

A new bio has been added to our growing list of talented Australian poets.

Katherine Gallagher

Link at: https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/australianpoets/f-j-2/katherine-gallagher/

All listed poets can be viewed here or via the drop down menu (Poets A-Z).


That’s it for this week.


Di  Bates