Today is World Poetry Day and to celebrate I thought I would review a book of poems by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake – Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard. My edition was published in 1987 by Fontana Picture Lions. I loved this book when I was younger, the poems in it are funny, silly and thought provoking. (Please excuse the unidentified smears of what I can only assume is food on the front cover there – a sign that a book has been truly loved by children.)
There has been a lot of talk recently about the changes to the literacy curriculum and the expectations being placed on very young children in primary schools. So much seems to be geared towards dictating to children how they should construct their sentences, how long they must be or what types of words they need to use in order to make their writing exciting. Writing is a creative form of self expression and with so many rules and dos and don’ts being placed on children I worry that it will block their creativity and turn those that struggle off writing altogether. When I was at school there were “rules”, the ones I remember were “Never start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but'” and “Poems need to rhyme”. I loved to write at school, particularly stories, I would fill page after page in my exercise books. But (see what I did there?) it was this “rule” about poems needing to rhyme that stumped me. I was no good at rhyming, and this turned me off trying to write them completely.
As a child, it was refreshing to read these poems by Michael Rosen, published in a proper book, because guess what? Some of them DON’T RHYME! Scandalous. I had no idea how to even go about writing a poem that didn’t rhyme because it obviously wasn’t in the national curriculum then. I shared this book recently with my bigger boy and the poem that the title of the book is taken from, “Don’t”, is his favourite.
“Don’t” is a rant by a young child who is so fed up of always being told “Don’t” that he comes up with many ridiculous suggestions that he thinks grown ups will tell him not to do next. My bigger boy loves rhyming unrelated words together so this poem is right up his street, he thinks it his hilarious, especially the part about the baby:
“don’t pour gravy on the baby
don’t put beer in his ear
don’t stick your toes up his nose.”
The poems in this book capture thoughts from a child’s eye view perfectly. As adults we stop spending as much time pondering small things like why Keith, who has so many toys, never plays with them in the poem “Keith’s Cupboard”. We are often So consumed by time and schedules that we completely bypass the wonderful amount of things there are to procrastinate with in the bathroom like the boy in “Bathroom Fiddler”. And we sometimes forget just how absolutely great it is to be cuddled as the baby in “Who Likes Cuddles?” shows us. These tiny snippets of life that pass us by are fascinating to children and are the basis of many many questions that any parent of small children is used to answering every day. There is even a poem about them in this book too, “Who? Why? Where? What?”
The book is illustrated by Quentin Blake whose bold outlined, messy haired and ever so expressive characters are instantly recognisable, especially to any child of the 80s like me. The people he produces on the pages of this book aren’t cutesy, they are wild, impulsive, and sometimes goofy. A brilliant accompaniment to the alternative style of poetry throughout the book.
Michael Rosen manages to capture all the funny, scary, worrying and down right silly thoughts that children have and write about them in a wonderfully free and engaging way. I love the way sounds and words are explored, expanded and repeated, they are so good to read out loud. His poems are a fantastic example of how writing should be, especially for children. He shows that any topic can be written about in any way and at any length because what makes writing exciting is being free to get your creative thoughts down on paper. Not how long your sentences are.
There are a wonderful collection of videos of Michael Rosen poems on his website. Brilliantly performed against a plain background by Rosen himself, you can view them here…
Here’s a link to his performance of my boy’s favourite poem “Don’t”
And, as it’s World Poetry Day, here’s another link to a poem by Michael Rosen from his blog site. It’s called “This Poem is a Paper Bag“. I thought it was a perfect one to round off the topic of this blog post.