Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK and the winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award were announced. One of the winning poems was written in the style of a mediaeval ballad but was a commentry on the prime-ministership of Tony Blair. The prizes include school visits and, for older winners, a week-long residential course – and, of course, having their poems published in an anthology – wow! When some of the winning poems are up and running on The Poetry Society’s website, I’ll add a link… here they are!
Stories in verse make really satisfying read-alouds. Children pick up the rhymes and rhythms and love to preempt what’s coming or chant along once the verse becomes familiar. Mine always surprise me by being able to quote what seem to me great tracts compared with what I would be able to come up with! As I’ve mentioned before, we love Julia Donaldson’s books and a favorite is her retelling of the Chinese legend The Magic Paintbrush, which reads in true ballad form, over many 4-lined rhyming stanzas, and with repetitions and recurring themes, such as the steaming pot of shrimps the young heroine Shen conjures up before her astonished family:
“Did you catch some shrimps, Shen?
Did you catch some fish?
Did you gather oysters
To fill the empty dish?”
It’s beautifully illustrated by Joel Stewart, who has a particular talent for illustrating poetry, from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky to Carol Ann Duffy’s zany Underwater Farmyard, another book we have all enjoyed.
Reading this Magic Paintbrush has also led on to us reading David K.S.Tse’s adaptation of the fable, which is a very lively retelling of the story, incorporating all the ingredients children need to be caught up in a tale of enchantment, good and evil, including proverbs and incantations in more or less rhyming verse. Published by Barefoot Books, it’s unfortunately now out of print… Aimed at slightly older readers, it’s also a very different story to Julia Donaldson’s version but the parallels are not lost on the young listener. Both these adaptations are set in Ancient China – now we’ll have to read Laurence Yep’s story of the same name, which is set in today’s San Francisco Chinatown. Perhaps this is a contemporary example of what the poet Debjani Chatterjee told PaperTigers in our interview last year:
I do believe very strongly that the world’s classics and traditional tales cannot belong to just one culture or country. They belong to us all. They are our inheritance and we need access to them. This is what I feel the writer can do – give children that access. And when I find a parallel I find it so exciting.
And, indeed, there is something universal and unifying in the human love of rhyme and rhythm which makes the ballad form and its equivalents such an apt way of telling and retelling these traditional stories…