An entertaining journey with a surprise twist at every turn

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am

New and Collected Poems for Children
By Carol Ann Duffy
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 978 0 571 21968 1

If you would never think about reading a book of poetry, then here is the book to convince you to try. You might like some poems you studied at school, but would not dream in a million years of opening a 270-page book filled with nothing but poems.

Where is the story to keep you turning the pages? Where are the characters to entertain and interest you?

Carol Ann Duffy's New and Collected Poems for Children is as bright, entertaining and energetic as any novel. It's just something different, and it might take a bit of bravery to give it a try.

This is not, as the title suggests, a book just for children. The poems in it might be about childhood things, but this is a book for any reader who likes sparkling entertainment. It is a book about everything and it touches places a novel cannot reach.

When we read a novel, we start at the beginning and read on in a straight line until we get to the end. A book of poetry invites us to do something else.

Poems are small, self-contained stories or pieces of a story. Duffy's wonderful collection can be dipped into just as we would dip into a lucky bag not knowing what we are going to get. Give it a try and you might just get hooked.

One of the amazing things about this collection of poems is the variety of topics Duffy covers. She moves from love to death to religion to just plain fun with no effort. Duffy is a writer who believes that variety is the spice of poetry. One of her longer poems is called No Stone Unturned, and this is certainly the case with the 150 poems here.

If you think poems are dead and dry, think again. There is not one boring idea in New and Collected Poems for Children.

Part of the pleasure of taking this journey with Duffy is not knowing what she is going to come up with next. A giantess asks where she can find seven small girls to be pets. A little girl dreams of Elvis Presley becoming her babysitter. The oldest girl in the world remembers how life used to be.

People play a big part in these poems, but so do crazy ideas. Have you ever been to a stick insect's funeral or counted to a billion? Would you like to meet the Loch Ness monster's husband? It all happens in Duffy's poetry.

Why do we have to go to school? Duffy paints schools as incredible places where children discover wonderful things. You might see school in a different light after reading Your School, and even the boring calling of the morning class register takes on a new life in Mrs Hamilton's Register.

Duffy is a playful as well as a profound poet. Her new book is a delight wherever you dip in. Give it a try and you are sure to be amazed, entertained and surprised.

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com