Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Collected Poems for Children

Collected Poems for Children

Ted Hughes
Illustrator:   Raymond Briggs 
For ages 6 and up
Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2007   ISBN: 978-0374314293

During his lifetime, Ted Hughes wrote hundreds of poems for young people. He was particularly fond of writing poems about animals, both real creatures like seals and skunks, and fantastical ones like the Loch Ness monster and the Mountain Dugong. He is probably most well known for his humorous verse, but he also wrote many poems that have a more serious and contemplative feel.

In this collection, more than two hundred and fifty of Ted Hughes’ poems have been brought together to give readers a memorable reading adventure. The poems are arranged by volume, beginning with The Mermaid’s Purse, and ending with Season Songs. The poems at the beginning of the book are for younger children, while those in the later collection are better suited to more mature readers (including adults).

Young children are going to love reading about the sea creatures that appear in the The Mermaid’s Purse collection. Here they will meet a ragworm, a poor creature that was once “all the rage,” but who was cruelly supplanted by fish, those animals who favor the “Fashion of Flounce.” On these pages they will also meet a mermaid and a sea monster. The latter’s appearance makes a child feel so terrified that he “cannot cry” and is “Completely numb.”

In The Cat and the Cuckoo collection we meet familiar animals like the cow, mole, and donkey. Of course Ted Hughes manages to describe his subjects in wonderfully creative and often amusing ways. We find out that the humble shrew, despite its small size and very “tender, waggling nose,” is a temperamental creature that will, when it meets another of its kind, “fight to the death.” Another small furry beast, the mole, insists that it should always “travel by hole.” Though its sensitive nose is like “a beam of light” cutting through the darkness underground, its eyes are tiny and not very useful.

Next we move on to Meet my Folks, which is where we get to know Grandpa, Brother Bert, and many others. Among other things, we learn that “ma” is a superlative cook who rustles up massive cakes for maharajas, “Whipped-Cream Goose,” and rattlesnake curry with “Crème de la Cactus.” Sister Jane is an honest to goodness bird, a “great big crow” who has to go about disguised so that no one knows what she really is.

These three sections are followed by five others, ending with poems from What is truth? and Season Songs.

Readers will be able to grow up with this book, reading the amusing poems at the beginning of the book when they are young, and exploring the more thoughtful and perhaps and demanding poems when they are older. This is a book to keep at hand, to dip into, and to enjoy at quiet moments.