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A Kid in My Class: Poems by

A Kid in My Class: Poems by

Rachel Rooney
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781910959879


What a lovely collaboration between two acclaimed figures in the field of children's literature this is! CLIPPA prize-winner, Rachel Rooney, brings a whole school classroom to life (and I don't just mean its pupils), beautifully complemented by former Children's Laureate, Chris Riddell's witty and sympathetic illustrations.



The collection gets off to a flying start (literally - Riddell pictures her on Pegasus) with 'First' (p.10). This is the annoying child who is always first. Enjoy the laugh-out-loud ending: 'Were she a poem, you'd know where to look: / she'd push her way past to the start of the book.//'



New arrivals in school in school should be alerted to 'Tips for the New Boy' (p.14): 'On Fridays, we always bring in a box of Gummy Bears / to share with our friends./'. Endings are everything for Rooney, and here there's a challenge for the reader: that incites re-reading 'Don't believe everything you've been told. / Only one of these statements is true.//



Everyone is here: the 'Teaching Assistant' (p.80), the 'Substitute Teacher' (p.78) and a 'Job Share' (p.76) which Rooney uses as a powerful vehicle to take a side-swipe at teaching styles: with Mr Rote the days are 'Got it all wrong days. Rotten and long days. / Days when I feel like I'm failing some test. // On the other hand, when Miss Muse takes over these are 'Soar in the sky days. Bursting with pride days. / Being alive days. Those days are best.'//.



As well as the many rhyming poems, there are other forms too. Take 'Fidget' (p.26) which takes the form of a kenning: 'Nose fiddler. Desk drummer. / Tune hummer. Pencil twiddler./'



Whilst much of the tone is humorous, the anthology is shot through with tenderness and empathy. 'Seeker' (p.32) is a touching, simply expressed poem about the experience of a refugee child: 'Eyes as wide as continents brim with the water between. / Seeks a different further. Looks back on what has been. /. 'Talking Hand's (p.62) is a dialogue between a non-hearing and hearing child: She cups her hand to her ear / as if holding an empty seashell against it. / I say Listen //, whilst 'Inscrutable' (p.50) is about a child is an elective mute.



The poems would stand proudly on their own but the addition of Riddell's illustrations adds another rich dimension. Each poem includes a black and white mug-shot of the protagonist (and these also feature on the end-pages). These are expressive, sensitive portraits. Just look at the sideways glance the child in 'Dishonest' (p.74) is giving the reader, or the eye-popping child bursting to answer every question in 'The Questioner' (p.70).



Alongside these, there's an illustration, often sprawling across the pages, in subtle shades of blue and grey. Some are realistic (look at the simplicity of the listening shell on p.63) and add a counterpoint to the poem: in 'Tough Kid' (p.57) the illustration has an imposing shadow of dad over the crouched child (even the hamster is cowed). Others feature the fabulous imaginative creatures who characterise so much of Riddell's work. The poor 'Substitute Teacher' (p.78) is confronted by a class of weird, not completely benign creatures - a not very subtle but suitably hilarious reminder of just how scary supply work can be! And then there's the hamster... without offering a spoiler, look out for the class hamster's escape in 'Accident Prone' (p.18) and his appearances thereafter. It is only right and proper that it's the hamster who has the final word: 'The Hamster Speaks' (p.82).



88 pages / Ages 7-11 years / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.


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