Poetry Friday: Meeting up with Debjani Chatterjee

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Let's Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World. edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D'Arcy (Frances Lincoln, 2011)I was in Sheffield (UK) yesterday and met up with Debjani Chatterjee and her husband, fellow-poet Brian D’Arcy, which was definitely something to celebrate – so for today’s Poetry Friday, I turn to the recent book they edited together, Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World, imaginatively illustrated by Shirin Adl (Frances Lincoln, 2011). And since the joyous Jewish festival of Purim falls this weekend, here’s the beginning of “Three Loud Cheers for Esther: A Poem for Purim” written by Debjani and Brian:

Listen to the tale of Esther:
The story of a savvy queen
Who became her people’s saviour.
Let’s hear: ‘three loud cheers for Esther!

Stamp your feet and shake your gregger…’

The whole poem evokes a traditional Purim spiel, reflected also in Shirin’s illustration in the book, which shows a young audience enjoying a puppet play, greggers and hamentaschen in hand, for, as we learn in the backmatter information About the Festivals, “Home-made rattles called greggers are shaken to drown out Hamen’s name whenever it is mentioned.  Poppy-seed cakes called hamentaschen or ‘Haman’s ears’ are eaten.”

Let’s Celebrate! is a wonderful gathering of poems, bringing together a whole world of festivals, so I was delighted to hear that a second anthology, this time about children playing around the world, is nearing completion. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye open for it and I’ll keep you posted!

It was lovely to catch up with Debjani and to meet Brian – thank you, both.

Poet Debjani Chatterjee and Marjorie Coughlan (PaperTigers) in SheffieldPaperTigers

Debjani shared with me some of the beautiful poster poems she had created as part of a community mother-daughter poetry project with Roshni Sheffield Asian Women’s Resource Centre. She is also very  involved in running a local cancer support group called The Healing Word, and you can read some of her powerful poetry about her own cancer journey in her Dare to Dream collection, and in this issue of Poetry Express, the journal of Survivors’ Poetry, which promotes poetry by survivors of mental distress (Debjani is its patron).  Debjani is also a noted translator of poetry – do read these “Eight Poems by Five Bengali Poets” and her prize-winning translation of some of Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work.  You can find out more about Debjani and her many books of poetry and children’s stories on her website.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Sheri Doyle – head on over… And Happy Purim!

Week-end Book Review: Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy, illustrated by Shirin Adl,
Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World
Frances Lincoln, 2011.

Ages 5-11

Let’s Celebrate is an effervescent anthology of diverse poetry put together by poets Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy. It invites young readers to share in the exuberance of a wide array of festivals celebrated around the world. Starting with “The Chinese Dragon” bringing in the Chinese New Year, ending with “Kwanzaa” in December, and visiting different cultures, countries and religions in between, the book takes children on a journey whose unifying thread is the happiness that each of the festivals awakens. Children will likely find poems relating to festivals that are familiar to them, and their curiosity will be aroused to find out about the rest. Endnotes about each festival give relevant background; and again, children may want to know more after reading them.

The poems themselves come in a variety of forms – some with regular patterns of rhyme and meter, others in free verse. There are choruses that just have to be chanted aloud, like “Carnival! Carnival! Everybody shout out – Carnival!” in Valerie Bloom’s wonderful poem “Carnival”. There are also translations, like the selection of Japanese “Cherry Blossom” haiku; “Dance, Dance: A Poem for Rangali Bihu” from Assam; and extracts from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes”, used to commemorate the Spanish Tomatina Festival. Illustrator Shirin Adl’s exuberant splashes of red paint certainly get the message across here!

In fact, the illustrations are a joy throughout. Adl uses an effective blend of painting and paper/fabric/photographic collage (I especially love the seeds, pulses and herbs illustrating Chatterjee’s acrostic “Diwali”). Plenty of authentic contextual detail helps to bring the celebrating to life, and lots of happy children and their families are an open-armed invitation for young readers to join in the celebrations too, whether it’s helping to scrape pancakes off the ceiling while “Tossing Pancakes” (by Nick Toczek), running to “get your skates on” for the “Ice Festival” (by D’Arcy), or counting out the significance of each candle for “Hannukah” (by Andrea Shavick).

So yes, let us indeed celebrate – you can’t help but be caught up in the joyous spirit of this anthology. And with every day being a festival somewhere in the world, as Chatterjee and D’Arcy point out in their introduction, if there isn’t a poem for their particular festive day (or indeed, even if there is), Let’s Celebrate! will doubtless inspire young readers to compose one of their own.

Marjorie Coughlan
November 2011

Reading the World Challenge 2011 – Update 3

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Since my last update on this year’s PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge, we have added some great books to our list.

Together, we have read two new autobiographical picture books: Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011) and Ed Young’s The House Baba Built (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) – both wonderful, and I’m not going to say much more about them here as we will be featuring both of them more fully on PaperTigers soon. Those are our reading-together non-fiction books for the Challenge.

As our local book, we tried reading a book of folk tales from the North York Moors, where we live in the UK, but discovered the stories formed part of a tourist guide, including instructions for getting around… we extracted what we could but it wasn’t a very satisfactory read. It has made us not take beautifully illustrated and retold folk tales for granted!

Older Brother has read Rainbow World: Poems from Many Cultures edited by Bashabi Fraser and Debjani Chatterjee , and illustrated by Kelly Waldek (Hodder Children’s Books, 2003).  He dipped in and out of it through the summer break and we had to renew it from the library several times…

Older Brother has also been totally captivated by A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness. After reading the story of Sadako for the Reading Challenge way back in its first year, he’s wanted to know how to make the cranes but I have two left hands when it comes to origami – or at least I thought I did, until I received a review copy of A Thousand Cranes from Stone Bridge Press.  Recently revised and expanded from the original book by renowned origami expert Florence Temko, it’s a super little book, with good clear instructions for beginners like us, and giving background about both the offering of a thousand origami cranes as a symbol of longevity, and specifically the story of Sadako and the Thousand Cranes.  Older Brother, now that he is older, (more…)

Poetry Friday: New Zealand Trains and Trees

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I came across this amazing video from the New Zealand Book Council yesterday for the first time, courtesy of Christine Lim’s Illustration blog (part of a great post about inspiring kids to love books, by the way):

Although the narration is actually prose, it made me think of poetry and I started looking for a train poem to compliment it. There are a couple of train poems in the “Rainbow Alliance – travel and landscape” section of Rainbow World: Poems from Many Cultures edited by Bashabi Fraser and Debjani Chatterjee (Hodder Children’s Books, 2003/2004) (you can read my Poetry Friday post from last year about this great anthology here) – but then I found this one at the end of “Tree in the Heart – mystery, myth and magic” and knew it was the perfect match – not only is it from New Zealand too, its exhilaration seems to me to be echoed in the energy of the paper art in the stop-motion video. So enjoy!

Tree in the Heart of the Void

The beginning was void. The first thing to be
formed in the heart of the void was a tree.
This first tree sprang out of a womb of energy,
and, emerging from its millions of buds, there
sprouted the whole of creation.

Traditional Maori
(creation myth from New Zealand)

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Anastasia at Picture Book of the Day – head on over…

Poetry Friday: let’s join in some Animal Antics

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Animal Antics by Debjani Chatterjee (Penine Press, 2000)When I interviewed poet Debjani Chatterjee back in 2006, she told me all about her time as Poet-in-Residence at Sheffield Hospital. Out of that experience came a delightful book of poems called Animal Antics (Penine Press, 2000). The poems are mostly short, snappy and memorable. There are poems like “Dancing Ganapti”, “Vishnu’s Eagle” and “Mela Menagerie” which draw on Debjani’s Indian heritage; and there are others whose characters are recognizable in fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

We love the snake-shaped “Aching Bones” that begins:

“There’s nothing badder
than an adder
with aching bones.”

but for Poetry Friday at the PaperTigers Blog, how can I resist… yes, “Paper Tigers”. Here’s the first half:

The paper tigers are news deciders,
travelling hither,
travelling thither,
tyrants of the Tigris river.
Married to the tigeresses
owning trigger happy presses,
their hides are bound with
their brains embalmed with

Don’t you just love it? This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by A Wrung Sponge – head on over.

Poetry Friday: Around the World in Eighty Poems

Friday, October 15th, 2010

In the new issue of PaperTigers, poet Debjani Chatterjee gives a list of poetry books in the Personal Views section entitled Borderless World: Multicultural Poetry for Children and Young Adults.    I found one of her suggestions at my local library.  It was Around the World in Eighty Poems selected by James Berry and illustrated by Katherine Lucas (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2001.)  This wonderful book  contains 80 poems of differing forms and origins.  A map at the beginning of the book shows where all the poems come from, and the poems are organized in the following index by their culture of origin.

My daughter and I have been reading this book together.  Since poetry is a short form, I like to have my daughter read the poems to me.  She sometimes takes issues with the metaphors;  often she is quite literal in her interpretations, and yet other times she enjoys the sounds of the poem or the subject (of course, she picked a poem “All the Dogs” to read as dogs are her current obsession!).  I liked the way we browsed through the book together, looking at the illustrations and titles to figure out which poem we wanted to ‘encounter.’  Poetry books are special that way; they are not necessarily meant to be read in a linear fashion.  A poet I once read, talked about poems in a book being like pictures in a gallery — the poems are self-contained units of art meant to be appreciated in a singular way as one would gaze on a painting.  Around the World in Eighty Poems is the kind of collection one can browse through and select accordingly.  Katherine Lucas’ illustrations in soft dreamy pastels supplement the poems beautifully.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Liz at Liz in Ink.

Poetry Friday: It's a Rainbow World…

Friday, May 21st, 2010

RainbowWorld: Poems from Many Cultures, edited by Bashabi Fraser and Debjani Chatterjee (Hodder Children's Books, 2003)What a lovely name for an anthology of poetry – Rainbow World: Poems from Many Cultures (Hodder Children’s Books, 2003). Edited by Bashabi Fraser and Debjani Chatterjee, and illustrated by Kelly Waldek, it brings together more than 80 poets, focusing “on the voices of Black and Asian poets from Britain, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and the continents of Asia and Africa”. The poems are divided into different sections – I’ve chosen extracts today from poems in the first and last “chapters” – firstly, from ‘Who’s Who – race, culture and identity’, part of the poem “a ‘coloured’ girl, I sleep with rainbows” by Lucinda Roy:

I am black. I am white.
I am the colour of the sun at noon.
I breathe with the sea.

For coloured girls who sleep with rainbows
there is light in the spittle of strangers.
My father, as black as brown can be;
my mother as white as the half-moons in his nails.
I am their tangible kiss.

And, from ‘The Last Word – peace and harmony’, part of a poem called “The Unknown You Have Made Known to Me” by Rabindranath Tagore from India, translated by Debjani Chatterjee:

I fear to leave a place I know of old,
Who knows what the future will unfold?
I forget the simple truth that within
The new, you are the familiar.
You have brought the distance near, my friend,
And made a brother of the stranger.

To read the rest of these poems, get hold of this superb anthology – mine came from my local library. It’s chockablock with poems that are soul-searching, identity-searching, thought-provoking, whimsical, catchy and just plain fun.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Laura Salas over at Writing the World for Kids. Head on over…

Poetry Friday: Holi with Poetry Pie

Friday, March 13th, 2009

British-Indian poet Debjani Chatterjee emailed me the other day to let me know that CBeebies (the BBC’s children’s channel) were going to be featuring her poetry on their Poetry Pie programme – I caught up with the episodes, from Wednesday and Thursday, on-line and think it’s a delight!

The episodes are only available for a few days after the broadcast so hurry and watch them – with your little ones! Debjani’s poem for Holi is brought alive by, of all things, a hamster!

The programmes are only a few minutes long – but what a great way to get small children into poetry in this multi-media age!

***Update! I hadn’t realised that the links would only be available in the UK… so if you’re seeing this from within the UK, you can go ahead and watch. And for everyone else, Debjani has very kindly given permission for us to reproduce Holi – so here it is, in trusted back and white! Thank you, Debjani.


Waters splash!
Colours flash!
Holi’s here –
a thrilling time of year!
Red, blue, orange and green,
happy splashes can be seen
on my cheeks and on my clothes,
on my hands and on my nose.
Holi’s here –
a thrilling time of year!

Sitars strum,
Tablas drum!
Holi’s here –
a thrilling time of year!
Red, blue, orange and green,
sparkling powders can be seen
on the streets and marketplace,
in my hair and on my face.
Holi’s here –
a thrilling time of year!

© Debjani Chatterjee

This week’s Poetry Friday is over at The Miss Rumphius Effect… Happy Holi, everyone.

“A Special Assembly” or Learning to control asthma, not letting it control you…

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

aspecialassembly.jpgA Special Assembly by Debjani Chatterjee and illustrated by David Lumley was commissioned by the Asian People’s Disability Alliance (UK) to provide information for kids with asthma and their families. You can read here about why the project of raising awareness of asthma in Asian families has become a priority of the APDA.

Debjani’s story is upbeat. Raj dreams of being a world-class cricketer – but it looks like that’s all he’ll be able to do, dream about it, because he has asthma… until a class pen-friend project brings a famous Indian cricketer all the way to a special assembly at Raj’s school. And guess what? He has asthma too!

The booklet would make a good resource for introducing a school pen-pal project, while raising awareness of asthma at the same time. It is available upon request, with a charge for postage and packing only: see here for further details.


Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

… to writer and poet Debjani Chatterjee, who has been awarded an MBE for services to literature in the recent New Year’s Honours in the UK. You can read more about it here.

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