The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems selected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones
It’s World Poetry Day. This eclectic anthology of poems aims to teach you how to do something, at the same time as teaching you an appreciation of fine poetry. For example, titles include ‘How to Build a Poem’, ‘How to be a Snowflake’, which made me chuckle – the next generation might be surprised at the content!
On a serious note, this is a beautiful selection of poetry, including old and new. ‘How to Tell Goblins from Elves’ by Monica Shannon feels traditional in tone and structure. Phrases including ‘willow clump’ and ‘coverlets of leaves’ speak to our sense of poetry as belonging to the natural world, yet contrasted with Kwame Alexander’s brilliant ‘Basketball Rule #2’, readers feel the brilliance of modern movement, poetic punch and fast flow and rhythm in its ‘Hustle dig / Grind push / Run fast / Change pivot’. Poetry become chant, become the game itself.
The poetry throughout is stirring and heartfelt, pure in form, and clever in wit and language, but also each subject of the poetry speaks carefully to children of primary school age – there are poems on riding bikes, playing table tennis, swings (a beautiful soaring poem from Robert Louis Stevenson – ‘Up in the air I go flying again / Up in the air and down,’), as well as bird-watching, and reading braille.
The collection also tracks cleverly through time. There’s pancake mixing, toasting marshmallows and fireworks, as well as Fourth of July celebrations, trees in winter, and snow.
‘Best Friends’ by Helen Frost sums up the magical elements of poetry – the atmosphere of the ‘summer night’, the anticipated meeting of a friend, the instructions on how to blow a signal through a grass whistle: ‘hold it straight and tight -/bring grass and thumbs/up to your mouth/and blow.’ With a colour wash behind the words – which are themselves given space to breathe on a whole double page spread – the colours capture the beauty of the summer sunset: reds, blues, purples, yellows adrift across the page. The reader can almost smell the summer breeze, the magic.
Some with repetition, some with rhyme – each poem plays with the space on the page, and has been set against beautiful illustrations that are soft and complementary. ‘How to Ride a New Bike’ by April Halprin Wayland is illustrated by a lush autumn day – the bike not the focus of the page, but rather the close-up of the hedge and animals, the bee buzzing, the dog chasing – giving a sense of the freedom and natural wonder expressed by the words of the poem: ‘Quick, quiz, Cycling Whiz’. The poem is cryptic – implying recklessness and speed contrasting with safety and surety – daring to do something.
The ending of the book is smart too – the last poem in the book ‘How to Pay Attention’ comprises two lines only: ‘Close this book. Look.’ Again, beautifully illustrated to show doorway through doorway – a world of openings awaits. Wise, simple, illuminating and inspirational. Happy World Poetry Day. You can pre-order it here. Publishing 4th April 2019.