by Charlotte Hacking
The CLPE Poetry Award, fondly known as the CLiPPA, is the only award in the country dedicated to children’s published poetry.
In our work with schools, teachers and children across the country, we know what an important branch of literature poetry is, providing the gateway for so many young readers and writers in their journey towards becoming literate.
The award exists to celebrate the best of children’s poetry in all its forms, bringing prestige to the form and prominence to those shortlisted, as well the winners.
It’s an absolute privilege to be a judge on this award. Every year, I get to explore the full range and breadth of children’s poetry that’s been published. Reading through all the submitted titles is such a pleasurable experience, every title offers something to delight and inspire. Coming up with a decision of which titles rise above the rest to make the shortlist is the hard part!
For me, I look through the eyes of all the children I’ve had the pleasure to know over my career as a teacher. I’m looking for the best poetry, of course, but I’m also looking for something that offers something new and special to children, that will encourage them to read, to perform or to show them that poetry is a medium they can use to make sense of or to share their own thoughts and feelings, and that can give them a voice. One of my absolute highlights is to judge the shadowing scheme alongside the award, where schools submit videos of children performing poems from the shortlisted collections, as that’s where we really get to see the impact of the titles we’ve selected.
This year’s shortlist is comprised of books that universally stood out for all of the judges on the panel. Choosing a winner was really difficult, but the shortlisted titles were books that every single one of us agreed on. There’s a really good range to delight children of all ages. Reflecting on it now, what links all the titles is a sense of the experiential - engaging with the natural world in The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and other How To Poems, Cherry Moon and Poems the Wind Blew in; experiencing the rich folklore of Scotland through fresh eyes in Wain and a deliciously visceral experience of food in Midnight Feasts. In a year where experiences have been limited for a great deal of the population, but especially for children, this seems particularly important.
Over the years that I’ve had the honour of judging the award, we’ve seen such a positive shift in the quantity of collections and anthologies submitted, but also in the quality. Back in 2014, when I started as a judge, many of the submissions were standard 12.7 x 0.8 x 19.7 cm texts, with paper so thin that the next poem could be seen through the poem you were reading. This isn’t to say that the poems inside these collections weren’t of quality, but production value adds a lot to the feel of the collection as a whole.
Now, we see collections like Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell’s A Great Big Cuddle and James Carter and Nicola Colton’s Zim Zam Zoom!, which are beautifully produced to engage the earliest readers. Texts like Eloise Greenfield and Ehsan Abdollahi’s Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me and Kate Wakeling’s Moon Juice, offer richly illustrated poems in hand-held size publications for developing readers. And titles like John Agard’s The Rainmaker Danced and Joseph Coelho’s Overheard in a Tower Block offer older readers sophisticated illustrations alongside expertly crafted poems, providing a greater depth of reading experience. This quality of production makes poetry irresistible.
Key titles such as Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Night of the Year winning the Independent Bookshop Week award in 2017 and Fiona Waters and Frann Preston-Gannon’s I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree winning the Waterstones Children's Gift of the Year award in 2018 have also raised the profile of poetry, showcasing poetry as a pleasure to own and dip in and out of or to give as a gift.
Over the last six years, we’ve been really keen to raise the prominence of the award with the children this poetry is published for. In 2015, we launched the CLiPPA shadowing scheme. Each year since, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of schools taking part, from the first year where we had just 42 schools involved to this year, where before the scheme has even launched, we have nearly 500 schools signed up to take part from across the country. This really does engage the children with poetry and its creators and supports them in finding texts that they want to read and buy for themselves. Publishers report a direct uplift in sales as the shortlist is announced and our dedicated resources enable schools to use the shortlisted books in classrooms to inspire children to listen to, perform, respond to and write poetry of their own. CLPE’s Poetry teaching resources also contains a wealth of videos from a range and breadth of children’s poets made up of prominent poets who have been shortlisted for the CLiPPA.
One of the joys of poetry is that you don’t have to read a complete collection all in one sitting. You can dip in and out, share a poem and let it linger, talk about a poem, perform it and let it live within you. Poems shared can also be an inspiration for children to share their own thoughts, in art in response to a poem, in music, dance or drama to accompany a poem or as a stimulus for children’s own poetry.
The important thing is that we make time for poetry and don’t allow it to be marginalised. If we, as adults, have negative attitudes or are hesitant or fearful about poetry, this can be easily passed on to the children. Instead, make time to get to know and read poetry yourself and listen to poets reading and performing their work on the Poetry section of CLPE's website and the Children’s Poetry Archive. Arrange a visit – virtually or in person – from a children’s poet. Seeing a poet bring their own work to life is an inspirational experience for children of all ages. Use the CLiPPA teaching sequences to keep up to date on the best new children’s poetry, as well as recommendations from organisations like National Poetry Day to ensure you stock a range of poetry that will delight and inspire the young readers you work with. Provide opportunities for children to perform publicly at school events or as part of competitions like the CLiPPA shadowing scheme or Poetry by Heart.