The benefits of poetry to young children are huge. They learn how to listen and understand. The use of language helps them fall in love with words and sounds, rhythms and structures. They pick up speech patterns and new vocabulary which in turn supports their ability to speak and learn to read and write. The imagery they hear helps build their imagination and influences their play. I could go on but I sense you dropping off at the back there. So, we’re agreed that poetry at an early age is A Good Thing.
The majority of young children’s access to poetry is in the form of nursery rhymes and rhyming books. Some of these books are excellent and get children engrossed in poetry without realising it. The rhyming is fluid and secondary to the story and children are learning poetry by osmosis, just sucking it in as they listen to a brilliant story. Great. But there are a lot of rhyming books out there that are… not so good, that seem… a tad forced. I often find that the meaning of a sentence goes completely over a child’s head when the word choice or sentence structure is altered specifically to fit a rhyme. The books become awkward and clunky. Ohhhh it drives me crazy. Why ruin a child’s comprehension and enjoyment of a story just to make a book rhyme? Infuriating. The fantabulous Elli Woollard wrote a great post about this on the ReaditDaddy site where she says “what a book needs isn’t rhyme, but rhythm.” Yes! So many of the benefits from reading poetry are derived from the use of rhythm and language as opposed to the actual rhymes. So instead of an awful book where sentences are squashed into ‘a poem’, try a book where the author has thought carefully about word choice and rhythm and imagery. A book like Pittipat’s Saucer of Moon by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Maria Nilsson.
Pittipat is a kitten who believes the moon is a saucer of cream and dreams of drinking it up. In dream sequences we are taken along on his adventure at sea as he climbs up the night sky to reach the moon. With delicious turquoises and yellows, wonderful dreamlike illustrations and great play on imagination, this is a very beautiful book. I love the way the waves and the moon have been brought to life and characterised. But it is the language that makes this book truly special.
Pittipat’s Saucer of Moon introduces children to language and rhythms in a different way. It does rhyme in places but far more importance is put on the choice of words and the rhythm of the text. There is beautiful use of assonance and alliteration, making each word stand up and be counted and savoured.
The rhythms used through the text ebb and flow, carrying you through and then snatching you up. The words are so perfectly crafted that the rhythms alter the feel and sound of the lines as new characters are introduced and suddenly you are reading in a different tone, a different voice. Without even trying you have taken on the essence of this new character. That is very clever writing.
Pittipat’s Saucer of Moon is a book to be savoured. It is one that should be given time. On the front cover it says ‘Purrfect for Bedtime’ and it is exactly that. Perfect for snuggling up with and letting go. You can’t rush through a reading of this text, it needs breathing space, it needs to be in control. But when you are in hands as safe as these you can afford to sit back, take your time and let the language carry you on its journey.
Source: Kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.