Thursday 13 July 2017

A Pocketful of Rhymes

A Pocketful of Rhymes by Max Fatchen illustrated by Kathy Creamer (Second Look) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780994528018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

What a wonderful idea it was of Australian publisher Christmas Press to introduce a second imprint to re-introduce children’s books which were popular in their day and/or which have gone on to become classics. Hence this collection of poems, his 13th book, written by Max Fatchen, first published in 1989 by Omnibus, is now given new life with an introduction by award-winning author/poet Janeen Brian, and illustrations by Kathy Creamer.

Fatchen (1920 – 2012), a children’s writer and journalist who published more than 20 books over his career, including poetry collections, was much-loved and granted numerous awards including the Centenary of Federation Medal. His poems were widely anthologised in Australia and overseas. In her foreword, Brian says her late friend ‘has a poet’s second sight, which helps us to look at life, and particularly nature, with fresh eyes.’ Reading these poems which have quirky – and often humorous – ways of looking at situations, one has to agree with Brian that they ‘bounce with joy and fun and questionings’ and are ‘a testimony to the man himself.’

‘Sing a song of poetry/A pocketful of rhymes’ are the first lines that lead into this easy-to-read and delightful collection of poems, each one of which offer ‘a slice of verse!’ Many of the poems, though not all of them, use rhymes, but all have rhythms that engage one so that the lines often cause one to recite them aloud. Topics are child-centric from ‘Welcome Aboard’ (‘A truckload of  cattle?/Why no, the school bus!), to ‘Camp Crazy’ (two words on each line), to ‘Say Cheese’ (where a group of children are being photographed – and of course, ‘you…you little wretch…/YOU MOVED!)

Raised in Adelaide Plains of South Australia, Fatchen often writes about animals and country with poems such as ‘Late Gossip’ (‘Small, lively birds with feathered zest/…chatter in a final flight…), “Magpie Mayday’ (‘With terrifying swooping/Aerobatic magpies come,/Swiftly looping-the-loop’ and ‘Does this Sound Fishy?, about a gigantic cod caught on the Murrumbidgee. There are also lots of short, pithy and witty poems in this collection about aliens landing in a school yard, a boy with dirty fingers, a girl playing her school recorder and sports day. And much more.

Printed on good quality (will never go brown) white paper, the pages are frequently illustrated by Creamer with engaging black and white line and wash pictures that are sure to appeal to young readers. There’s an illustration, for instance, of a droning teacher, a Frankenstein-like brother in bed and the back view of a naked girl (accompanying the poem ‘Just Look at your Clothes!)

Here’s the last stanza of this poem:
          ‘Do stop all the flurry
          A silly old worry.
Our clothes we will always get torn in.
          So let’s all go nude
          And be terribly rude,
Just wearing the skin we were born in.’

Thank you Second Look for reminding oldies what a wonderful writer Max Fatchen was, and for introducing a new generation of readers to his work. This book is highly recommended for children aged 7 to 10 years; in fact, it’s ideal for anyone who loves polished and entertaining verse.

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