The Puffin Book of 20th Century Children's Verse (Puffin Books) Paperback – 26 Sep 1991
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Although the range of poems goes from nonsense and humorous poems to serious and poignant poems, there are a few over-reaching themes: many have a Biblical themes, such as G. K. Chesterton's "The Donkey" and Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance," and a few others enjoy the subject of children that are unexceptional in school, but are abundant in imaginative life. There is also more than one that centres on the phenomena of snow, and of course plenty that highlight the pains of teachers, homework, siblings and other relatives.
On the whole, Patten has a wonderful mix of different poets and genres, presenting a book full of every possible kind of poem you could imagine, both familiar and brand new. Beloved poems such as Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and Dahl's "Down with Children!" from "the Witches" are present, as is Yeat's haunting words: "Come away, O human children.../ For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand..." and Banjo Paterson's "Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with Me?"
Among the funny poems are Morris Bishop's priceless "How to Treat Elves", whose final line never fails to make me laugh and A. E. Housman's abrupt "The Grizzly Bear": "The Grizzly Bear is huge and wild/ He has devoured the infant child/ The infant child is not aware / He has been eaten by the Bear..." There are the more serious ones, such as Vernon Scannell's "The Apple Raid" and Adrian Henri's "Tonight at Noon", both of which begin as fun, light-hearted poetry, but end in utter poignancy.
My other two favourites that I just have to mention are Edward Lowbury's "The Huntsman" and Walter de Mare's famous "The Listeners" - but there's so much material here that it's impossible to do it all justice. The fact that Patten orders the poems in the reverse order of when they were published is fascinating, as it's like taking a poetic journey back in time, and I felt that ending with Thomas Hardy's "Transformations" was an amazing choice, as it remarkably echoes Phillip Pullman's major idea in his "His Dark Material" trilogy. "Northern Lights" of course was not published till four years after this anthology, but for such an old poem to connect with such a contemporary idea is rather uncanny.
Brian Patten supplies us with an introduction, as well as several indexes and biographical notes on all the poets, and Michael Foreman simple but imaginative illustrations dot every other page. They are somewhat unnecessary, since the poems create their own pictures in one's mind, but do not detract from the book in any way. For a celebration of Puffin Book's fiftieth year, this anthology is thoughtful, funny, intriguing, sad and celebrates the work of many poets and their gifts to children.