The first collection of poetry for young readers by the unmatchable Carol Ann Duffy is triumphantly uncondescending and unpatronising. While there are moments of exquisite light verse silliness--like the sadly-overtaken-by-TV-scheduling-changes "Ben" (no. 5 in the short sequence, "Boys"):
bigger than fifty men.
I go Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong!
Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong!
on News at Ten.
These are real
poems, alive with spot-on, sophisticated imagery. As in the first stanza of "Little Ghost":
Think of me as a child
Who has swallowed herself whole-
the colour of goat's cheese,
the hue of a buried bone,
the tint of the last dab of vanilla ice-cream
in a cone.
Here, Duffy haunts us with non-colours, tastes, smells and memories: the weight of a small absence. In the following stanza, the (bored) ghost does all the usual poltergeisty things: "I make a portrait fall"; "I pipe my thin spirit noise/on the limy-lemony air./Ooooooooo. Creepy." But when it tries to read, its "smoky fingers can't turn the pages." So not only do we get your standard funny-scary stuff, rendered utterly tangible, but Duffy also weaves a deep and necessary sadness into this tale. After all, a little ghost equals a dead child.
Elswhere in this collection we're introduced to the self-confessed liar; the boy who's in terrible trouble for making a snowball so big his mum thinks there's been an eclipse; a pair of incompatible queens; some particularly unpleasant childminders and a toy dog with a future. And Eileen Cooper's illustrations are fab. Just one word of warning. Watch out for the quicksand. Aaaarrrggghh. --Lisa Gee
About the Author
Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow and grew up in Stafford. She won the 1993 Whitbread Award for Poetry and the Forward Prize for best collection for Mean Time
. The World's Wife
received the E. M. Forster Award in America, while Rapture
won the T. S. Eliot Prize 2005. She is currently Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her most recent volumes are New and Collected Poems for Children
(2009) and The Bees
(2011), which won the Costa Poetry Award. She is Poet Laureate.