Poetry Friday: Congratulations to John Agard, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Yesterday it was announced that poet John Agard has been awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.  And what is especially exciting about this news?  Well, apart from the fact that this fine poet’s work has been suitably recognised, it’s exciting also because much of Agard’s wonderful poetry is aimed at young people.  The Poetry Archive website, a great place to begin exploring Agard’s work,  describes him as a “unique and energetic force in contemporary British poetry” – and two of his collections were highlighted in his selection for the Medal: Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009), which along with an accompanying DVD brings together performances of some of his best poetry spanning 30 years; and his recent book Goldilocks on CCTV (Frances Lincoln, 2011).

John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949 and moved to the UK in the 1970s.  Along with his partner, fellow-poet and often co-author Grace Nichols, Agard has been an important voice for promoting awareness of Caribbean culture in the UK, breaking down barriers and broadening perspectives on poetry (and he is currently one of the Advisors for the Caribbean Poetry Project). The British Poet Laureate Carol Ann  Duffy says:

John Agard has always made people sit up and listen. He has done this with intelligence, humour and generosity. He has the ability to temper anger with wit and difficult truths with kindness. He levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn’t encountered it before. In performance he is electrifying – compelling, funny, moving and thought-provoking. His work in Education over years has changed the way that readers, writers and teachers think about poetry.

Here he is reciting his superb “Listen Mr Oxford Don”, one of the poems on the John Agard Live! DVD created by Pamela Robertson-Pearce to accompany Alternative Anthem:


I recently selected Agard’s The Young Inferno in my Top Ten Multicultural Ghost StoriesGoldilocks on CCTV continues the inspired partnership of Agard’s poetry with Satoshi Kitamura as illustrator and the contemporary take on fairy-tales  is just wonderful!  You can read “Pumpkin Biker Cinderella” on the Frances Lincoln Website (go to the “Excerpt” tab), and here’s a video of a dead-pan Agard reading the hilarious title poem:

And finally, since our current theme at PaperTigers is Cats and Dogs, do read “Books Make Good Pets” – witty and wonderful!

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe – head on over…

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary – My Top 10 Multicultural Ghost Stories

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

I thought I’d counted very carefully, honest guv’nor, but somehow one extra ghost snuck in there – I’m not sure which one – and I’ve ended up with a ‘Reader’s 10’. (If you’re not sure what a Reader’s 10 is, you’ll need to look at Janet Wong’s Top 10: Multicultural Poetry Picks (2002-2012)). So here’s a list of my favorite ghost encounters – they cover a range of age-groups and genres. Some of the ghosts are friendly, some make you ponder, and some are just plain terrifying…

~ The Young Inferno by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura – I’ve blogged about this modern take on Dante’s Inferno for a teen audience here and here.  It sends shivers down my spine every time I read it.

~ Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne – Miku has just moved from Japan to the UK and it soon becomes clear that several yokai demons have followed her there.  When her little brother is kidnapped, her empty, snow-bound secondary school unexpectedly becomes a battle-ground… this will have you on the edge of your seat!

~ Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott – I read this earlier this year on a very choppy ferry crossing and was so riveted that I remained oblivious to the scene of sea-sick desolation around me – yes, I loved it.  Read my review here.

~ Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara – it was love at first sight here with both the illustrations and the sweet story of a witch and her cat who move into a new house that’s full of ghosts.  Imagine putting ghosts through the washer and hanging them up as curtains!

~ Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan – Hannah meets more than she bargained for when she goes to stay with Japanese family friends for the winter – and readers might just have to sleep with the light on after being carried along through the pages into the small wee hours!

~ Just In Case by Yuyi Morales – in this gorgeous sequel to the equally funny and delightful Just A Minute, the ghost of Zelmiro “helps” Señor Calavera to find twenty-two (Spanish Alphabet) presents for Grandma Beetle’s birthday – and tricks him into giving her what she wants most…

~ Requiem for a Beast by Matt Ottley – there are many ghosts in this tour de force combining spoken and written text, graphic narrative, and music that blends Australian Aboriginal song and movements from the Latin Requiem: both in the lost memories of the stolen generation, and at the end of a young man’s physical and psychological journeys to come to terms with his family’s past.

~ Home of the Brave by Allen Say – a man’s kayaking excursion suddenly brings him into a bewildering, dreamlike encounter with the ghosts of Japanese-American children incarcerated during the Second World War, and jolts him into insight of his own family history.

~ The Barefoot Book of Giants, Ghosts and Goblins retold by John Matthews, illustrated by Giovanni Manna – as might be expected from a Barefoot anthology, this is a beautifully presented and the nine stories from all over the world make great read-alouds. Most notable among the ghosts is the love-sick Cheyenne “Ghost with Two Faces”.

~ The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee – I have to admit, I had real difficulty deciding which one of Paul Yee’s ghost stories to choose for this list… They are all compelling books that are impossible to put down so I’ve gone for The Secret Keepers for purely personal reasons because I was there at the launch and heard Paul reciting the opening.

~ The Ghost Fox by Laurence Yep – a small boy has to use his wits to save his mother from the evil Ghost Fox intent on stealing her soul.  Vivid descriptions and attention to detail; plkenty of tension and some humor too.  Favorite quote: (Fox speaking to servant) “Fool, you don’t celebrate a great victory with turnips.”

And P.S. If you haven’t yet seen our fabulous 10th Anniversary Giveaway, announced yesterday, go here right now!


Poetry Friday: The Young Inferno by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Next week the UK organisation, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education will announce this year’s winner of their CLPE Poetry Award.  One of the books on the shortlist is Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Frances Lincoln, 2011) – I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I’m working on it, since they have already shown themselves to be a first-class creative partnership.  In fact, their previous collaboration, The Young Inferno won the CLPE Poetry Award in 2009.  I blogged about The Young Inferno a couple of years ago (and I refer you to that post for a longer overview) but it’s just come out in paperback, which gives me the perfect excuse to revisit it!

It’s Agard’s Canto 3 that resonates most with me at the moment – as the “Hoodie Hero” steps through the door of the Gate Cinema aka the entrance to Hell, into the unknown – wanting to go forward, but dreading what he is about to discover:


When I saw these words above a gate
I felt a sad and weird sensation.
‘Can we turn back?’ I said. ‘Is it too late?’

My teacher [Aesop] smiled and said, ‘This is Hell, my son.
What do you expect? A red carpet
and bunches of flowers that say Welcome?’

Then holding my hand, he whispered to me,
‘Nothing is more fearsome than your fear.
Just think of Hell as a scary movie.’

And with these words of encouragement
he led me down starless winding stairs.
I could hear voices coming from a basement.

Tantalising?  I hope so.  Just as would have been the case for Dante’s contemporary audience, this 21st-century update is filled with a blend of characters and stories (many from Aesop’s Fables) that will be both well-known and unfamiliar to today’s young readers.  Agard’s powerful, energetic verse and Satoshi Kitamura’s extraordinarily powerful illustrations together pack a rare punch. (Do take a look at our PaperTigers Gallery featuring some of Satoshi’s wonderful artwork) Now to seek out Goldilocks on CCTV

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Tara at A Teaching Life, where the title of her post seems to fit perfectly with the style of The Young Inferno!  Head on over.

Poetry Friday: Poems Inspired by Music

Friday, September 11th, 2009

PaperTigers most recent issue focuses on music.  In the Illustrator’s Gallery is featured the work of Satoshi Kitamura — an artist who has a ‘gift for illustrating poetry.’  In the gallery, one can see images from the book The Carnival of the Animals: Poems inspired by Saint-Saëns Music. As the title states, the book contains an array of poems (edited by Judith Chernaik) on the various animals featured in Camille Saint-Saën’s musical piece.  A CD accompanies the book.

My daughter and I recently had the opportunity to try the book and the CD out on our son’s brand new computer.  Using Windows media player which plays the music with accompanying graphics, we listened while flipping through the book.  The CD contains the poems read aloud followed by the musical pieces.  My daughter enjoyed anticipating which animal would come up next by looking at the pictures collected on the front page of the book and guessing through elimination which animal was next.  It was fun to see how image, text and music combined to create an overall effect or sense of the featured animals.  Sometimes, the poems were a reversal of the stereotypical image of an animal.  In “Tortoise” for example, poet Chernaik writes of a tortoise who “dreams of twirling on tabletops,/turning cartwheels,/kicking up her heels at the Carnival ball.”  My daughter disagreed with this picture, but I could see where the music might have inspired the poet’s notion of a tortoise as a dancer, say, in a slow but elegant waltz.  Here’s a video link to the poem and music: Carnival: Tortoise

Animals make wonderful inspiration for all kinds of art — music, poetry and drawing.  Carnival of the Animals is a great book for combining all these art forms to give a child a unique experience of text, image and sound.

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Wild Rose Reader.

Books at Bedtime: Millie's Marvellous Hat

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I have always loved hats so I couldn’t wait to get my hand on a copy of Satoshi Kitamura‘s latest picture-book, Millie’s Marvellous Hat (Andersen Press, 2009) – and indeed, it is a joy from beginning to end. It seems a simple enough story: but the resonance of its message, the power of imagination to transcend reality, means that children will never tire of hearing it read to them over and over again as they pour over Satoshi’s uncluttered but detail-filled illustrations.

Millie spots a beautiful hat in a shop window on her way home from school and goes in to buy it – there’s just one problem: it’s hideously expensive and in her purse Millie has… nothing. Hmmm. That could have been the end of the story but no, because the very proper, besuited shop assistant fetches just the hat for Millie from the back of the shop:

“This is a most marvellous hat, Madam, ” said the man.
“It can be any size, shape or colour you wish. All you have to do is imagine it.”

I know this is only a story, but I could have hugged him! And as Millie walks out of the shop wearing her new hat, her imagination takes flight.

Then she discovers that she’s not the only one with a special hat: as she looks around her, she notices that everyone else has one too. There are delightful parallels between what people are doing and the hats they are wearing – and a very special moment occurs when Millie smiles at an old lady whose hat is a “dark, murky pond”: birds and fish “leapt out of her hat and onto the old lady’s”, who we then see striding through the park reenergized with a lovely smile on her face. The final illustration of Millie sitting at the supper table with her parents is an absolute treat too, and will have both children and adults chuckling: but also imagining all the possibilities behind it.

As children turn the pages, their own imaginations will take flight and I can definitely see a new Marvellous Hat game emerging. It would work well on long journeys… So what does your hat look like? And what kind of hats are the people around you wearing?

We are delighted to be featuring Satoshi in our current Gallery, which includes this exuberant illustration from Millie’s Marvellous Hat; and do read Satoshi’s recent interview with Booktrust, in which he talks about Millie and says that he is working on a follow-up – hooray!

A Celebration of Music in Children's Literature

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The new issue of PaperTigers, focusing on “Music in Children’s Literature,” is now live!

Music is central to the human experience and has been bound up with poetry and storytelling since time immemorial. We have brought together an international array of writers and artists whose lives and work have been touched by music; and whose work, in turn, reaches out across geographical boundaries to touch their audience.

As the final words of the opera Naomi’s Road say, “We’ll always carry with us these three things. Gift of music. Gift of words. Gift of love.”

We hope that you’ll find inspiration for all three of these gifts among our website’s new features, which include interviews with Joy Kogawa and Matt Ottley; gallery features of Lulu Delacre and Satoshi Kitamura’s work; essays by Jorge Luján and Michelle Lord, and more. Through September, we’ll continue to explore, here on the blog, the ways in which music features in children’s and young adult literature, so read the new features and let us know what you think by leaving a comment on this or any of our upcoming music-related posts!

Books at Bedtime: Poetry Friday – The Ring of Words

Friday, August 1st, 2008

The Ring of Words, An Anthology of poetry edited by Roger McGough and illustrated by Satoshi KitamuraA couple of weeks ago I blogged about our Library Summer Reading Challenge – well, during this week’s library visit I discovered a poetry anthology edited by much loved British poet Roger McGough and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura: The Ring of Words (Faber and Faber, 1998). It is wonderful! My children have been a fan of Roger McGough before they even realised it because he was the narrator for the beautifully produced video of animated Eric Carle stories – now we are enjoying some of his own poems set among this very eclectic collection.

The title comes from a short, thought-provoking poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:


Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Still they are carolled and said –
On wings they are carried –
After the singer is dead and the maker buried.

Set both at the beginning and the end of the anthology, this poem brings the book full circle and each time I read it I feel I am peeling off another layer of meaning – perhaps also because of the other poems in the anthology we’ve read together in the meantime. McGough has indeed been the right person to ring this ring of words – there are poems about everything under the sun, from echoes to ghosts to a cat spinning in a washing machine – all apparently very disparate but all in harmony with each other in creating delightful surprises with words – like Thomas Hood’s “No“, so readable and “modern”, yet Hood lived from 1789-1845! McGough, however, doesn’t give any extraneous information beyond the actual poem apart from the name of the poet – so in a sense it is the perfect introduction for enquiring minds to delve into poetry.

Kitamura’s black and white illustrations shift their style subtly to the poetry – and sometimes add an extra layer of meaning – so for example, June Crebbin’s shape poem “Kite” about a kite getting stuck in a tree is stuck in a tree! It is no surprise when you look deeper into the illustrations to learn that Kitamura won the UK’s prestigious National Art Library Illustration Award for The Ring of Words in 1999.
And so we return to the ring of words and Naoshi Koriyama’s beautiful poem “Unfolding Bud”: yes, you do need to allow poetry the time to unfold –

“Revealing its rich inner self, As one reads it
And over Again.”

And I can see that we will either be hogging this book from the library for a while or we’ll have to go out and get our own copy…

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by The Well Read Child – and as always there’s plenty on offer…

Books at Bedtime: Pablo the Artist

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Pablo the ArtistWe have just returned home from a week in London, exploring the city to dropping point! One place we visited was the National Gallery, where we followed the Chinese Zodiac Trail. We knew which animals to look for from retellings of the legendary selection process, such as The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac. While looking at the paintings, we learnt a great deal about the differences and similarities in the symbolism attached to the animals in Chinese and Western cultures; and Little Brother, who is passionate about dragons, was overjoyed to discover that his birth sign, the Snake, is also known as the Little Dragon!

In the gallery shop afterwards, we found a delightful picture-book called Pablo the Artist by Satoshi Kitamura, which is an enigmatic exploration of the artistic process and where inspiration comes from – I agree with The Magic of Booksreview, where PJ Librarian says “you really aren’t sure at this point if Pablo is dreaming or if these landscape characters are actually real” – it’s one of those books which grows with each re-reading as new details are discovered and absorbed. We especially loved the glimpse of infinity provided at the end, having read The Mouse and His Child so recently, where the picture of the dog carrying a tray with a tin of dog food with the picture of the dog carrying a tray etc. etc. was such a recurrent and pivotal theme.

Not Just for Kids recommends Pablo the Artist and some other picture-books which “introduce young readers to some of the world’s masterpieces”, as does Rhyming Mom.

…And I should just add that Pablo The Artist was one of the picture books nomitated for the 2007 Sakura Awards, which Charlotte highlighted in her last post