When I picked some favourite poems from my April cloud challenge, I showed how poems can do many different things with the same topic. You can check out the post here.
I had a long list of ideas for May but in the end picked my favourite thing to write about: 🐈⬛ cats and dogs 🦮. My own poetry books brim with cat and dog poems. Maybe because we had three cats and two dogs and they would always end up in a poem! Not all at once though. They liked to be the star and have a poem all to themselves. We have no pets now, but my daughter has the cutest new puppy named Pablo. And my friends have gorgeous newish kittens!
You can write a cat poem, or a dog poem, or a cat and dog poem.
Ten TIPS for POEMS
ONE: Play with sound. Listen to the sound of every line. Make patterns that sound good with dog or cat words. Try short lines or long lines. Listen to how words sound as partners (elastic cat, darting dog, gingernut cat, chocolate chip dog).
TWO: Play with detail. Use you eyes to gather words that show what the animal looks like, how they move and sound. All cats look cute but not all cats are sleek and the colour of macaroni cheese!
THREE: Tell a story in a poem.
FOUR: Use your imagination. Invent your pet. Or use a real pet and invent something about it. Your poem can leap and bound in any direction you want.
FIVE: Memory. Go scavenging for a fascinating memory about your pet cat or dog (or someone else’s).
SIX: Use humour. It might be all the way through or saved until the last line! You choose!
SEVEN:Mood can be like the poem’s heart beat. Sometimes it is a challenge to write a sad poem without ever using the word sad. Or happy. Or mad. Other times those are the words you want to use. You choose!
EIGHT: Poem forms are like poem houses. They have rules but you can always PLAY with the rules. There are so many forms. Haiku, sonnets, acrostic, limericks. People write whole books about them.
NINE: I love how poems can surprise me. It might be the word you choose. What happens. The first line. The last line. What you don’t say. What you put next to something else.
TEN:Layers are fun. Poems have a truckload of things going on. Maybe everything above without realising it. I don’t think about it when I write a poem, but later I might see I have used my ears and eyes, my heart and mind. It makes me feel good when I write a poem, and writing a poem is always a mystery! It is a discovery. It is a hot air balloon ride. It is archaeology. It is a road trip. It is what you want it to be. No rules. Or you can use rules! The important thing is you enjoy writing it, and maybe you will discover a little something about words, yourself, and the world.
🦮 have FUN 🐈⬛
Deadline: 28th May
Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to include: name, age, year, name of school
Put CAT or DOG POEM in subject line so I don’t miss it.
I will read at end of May and post a few favourites. It’s not a competition but I will give a few books away.
Poems are like the sky. Every sky view and every poem shows new lights, new cloud patterns, changing moods. Poets have been writing cloud poems for centuries, and we have been gazing into the sky since the year dot.
This month I have picked a few poems to show how poems can dance and sing in multiple ways. Just like the clouds.
I am sending a book to Tom, Ana and to Scarlet.
I am a big fan of imagination in poems. You can step off from real things and see where your words will lead you. I loved Tom’s poem because it surprised me. It’s not a bouncy castle, it’s bouncy candy floss! And somehow he carries us from melting chocolate to a comfy bed. Genius. I loved Ana’s poem because she imagines what it is like from the point of view of a cloud. And her poem goes full circle! Sublime.
Inside the cloud is melting chocolate. Inside the melting chocolate is bouncy candy floss Inside the bouncy candy floss, Is a warm comfortable bed.
Tom, age 7, Y3, St Andrews
Clouds Live With Us
Clouds in the sky They smell like peppermint They hear us talk They see us live They can touch the horizon They can taste the fuel from an aeroplane Clouds in the sky
Ana, age 8, Westmere School
I also love humour in a poem. Humour can make you laugh out loud but it can also be a quiet smile. Cooper’s poem made me smile. The poem is imaginative. The ‘nose’ line made me smile and it got me thinking how clouds look like all kinds of things. Ah! The idea of a pet cloud! Amber’s poem also made me smile as I loved the idea that she is so loud she would never be able to hear a cloud anyway! Two double brilliant quiet smile poems.
Do you have a Pet Cloud?
Could go as grey as an old rusty car Love goes all around the big blue sky Or a white bump, bigger than a book Us and clouds are not the same Does a cloud have a nose? Soft and white all over
Cooper D Age 8 Westmere School
I’m loud But not clouds They stay quiet They’re soft and fluffy. I’ve never heard a cloud Because they’re quiet And I’m loud.
Amber P, 7 years old, 3, St Andrew’s College Preparatory School
Sometime poems are like miniature stories. I love the way Sonia’s poem is full of cloud characters that come alive with strong detail. I also like how she has added in some cloud terms for an extra layer of interest. Brilliant!
The clouds are kittens playing in the sky Batting at the sun through it’s way too high Jumping and tumbling little and light All through the day and into the night
A dragon snakes through the sky Rainbows glittering in his eye Morning sun turns scales gold He sings his song a tale so old
Antelopes jump on cumulus clouds Their heads turn to the sun bowed They land on altostratus fields In the moonlight, their horns shine like steel
Songs run like cirrus through hearts Staring all day watching clouds change and restart The moon smiles the stars grin Natural beauty like this is very slim
Sonia, age 12, Y8, Selwyn House School
Physical detail and strong similes can make a poem come alive! Liliana has packed terrific detail in her poem. I loved imagining the ballerina cloud. My head is bursting with cloud pictures after reading her poem. Scarlett has also packed sublime cloud detail in her poem. The similes are fresh and surprise me. Every word is carefully chosen and adds to the cloud images. Each line also sounds wonderful. Try saying: ‘whirlwind gusts’ and ‘sugar spun pink’. Genius! Both poets have used ears and eyes to produce standout cloud poems.
Colourful, depending on the time of day Light and full of air Over the ground and the tallest buildings Up, up, up in the sky, higher than the Sky Tower Dancing like a beautiful ballerina Soft and fluffy as sheep’s fleece.
Liliana Age 8 Westmere School
Ghosts in the sky Haunting the sun, overshadowing the world Grappling at the paint doused sky Being whisked away by the whirlwind gusts
Sunsets powdered with a sprinkle of fog Mist clinging to the ground, sugar spun pink Islands In the sky Kites scattered like sprinkles
Scarlett, age 12, Y8, Selwyn House School
Poems can be simple like my cloud photo above, or knotty and thick with fascinating sounds and ideas, moods and images. I love layers in poems! All the poems I have picked have more than one thing to admire. Check the sound. Check the images that unroll. There may a terrific slice of something real or an imagination bounding. I am finishing up with Rebecca’s poem which imagines, invents, and has used ears and eyes in its making. Wonderful!
Sheep in the sky
Sheep clouds jump about the sky with no care in the world. Occasionally one turns black, and the shepherd shears them all, and down below we see it fall and call it rain and snow.
Rebecca F, Age: 8, Selwyn House
I had such fun reading all the poems you sent me. i hope you try my May challenge (up this week). Read my tips and starting point and play with what a poem can be or do.
Elsie reading to students at South Brighton School
Kia ora tatou e hoa mā,
We are thrilled to announce that the Elsie Locke Writing Prize is coming to Toitoi in Term 2, 2022! The prize commemorates Elsie Locke’s life and career as a writer, historian and activist.
The Writing Prize is offered by the Elsie Locke Memorial Trust. It provides a wonderful opportunity for young writers ages 5-13 to develop an original piece of writing for publication inspired by New Zealand history and Elsie’s work for peace, the environment, women’s issues, and our community.
Submissions can be any writing on a topic – past, present or future – that you think would have been of interest to Elsie. For example: personal narratives, poems, articles, essays, speeches or plays. The winner will receive $250 and their story will be published in Toitoi 29. They will also receive a copy of Toitoi’s latest hardback publication – Jillion 2.
Email your writing to email@example.com by July 8, 2022 and include your name, age, school and a parent or teacher’s name and contact details. Check out the submissions guidelines here, then take the leap! We can’t wait to hear from yo
Elsie Locke was a writer, broadcaster, social historian, environmentalist, and an activist for peace and civil rights. She campaigned for women’s rights, nuclear disarmament, social justice, and the environment. Learn more about Elsie’s life here.
Elsie was also a writer. She wrote stories and books about New Zealand and its history for children and for adults, and enjoyed writing by young people as much as writing for them. Elsie was a contributor to the School Journal for more than 40 years. Learn more about Elsie’s life here.
Elsie learned to speak te reo Maori as an adult and used her analytical skills to support iwi to research the history of their land. She was also a keen tramper and swimmer, and brought up four children. See some photos from Elsie’s life here.
For centuries poets have written cloud poems. I will never grow tired of the way clouds drift in and out of poetry. They can be the star of a poem or a passing shadow. They can add mood. They can add to a scene. They can add mystery. They can add beauty.
From my kitchen table, I have an excellent view of clouds bustling to and fro, from the Tasman Sea to the Waitākere Ranges. Sometimes they sit and sleep like tiny cloud islands above our bush. They surprise me and delight me. I watch them every day!
For April, I challenge you to write a cloud poem. Clouds (or a cloud) might be the star of your poem, or clouds (or a cloud) might have a bit part. Over to you!
I will read all the poems at the end of the month and choose a few favourites to post. It is not a competition but I will give a few books away as I love giving books away.
Tips and starting points
Draw a cloud then fill it with as many cloud words as you can. Think colour, texture, movement, shape, size. What do they remind you of? Use some of your words to kickstart a poem. Or any of the ideas below.
Find some cloud facts and use one to launch a poem.
Tell a cloud story in the form of a poem.
Write a poem as though you are the cloud. From its point of view!
Make a concrete cloud poem (or shape or picture poem). Use some poem lines or cloud words to make the shape of a cloud (or clouds).
Make a pattern poem with your cloud words. Listen to the sound your pattern makes. Does it make your ear HAPPY?
Make a cloud pattern poem that pleases your EYE!
Let your imagination go running with clouds! Who knows what will happen in your poem. It will be a poem discovery.
Go outside and describe the clouds you see in a poem.
Base your poem on a cloud experience.
Make a cloud list poem.
Add another character to your cloud poem. What or who will it be?
Go hunting for cloud similes. Which ones put a smile on your face?
Say your poem out loud and see if there is anything you want to change.
Try not to send the poem the day you write it. Read it the next day or even the next week and see which bits you might want to tweak.
Deadline: 26th April
Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to include: name, age, year, name of school
Put CLOUD POEM in subject line so I don’t miss it.
I will read at end of April and post a few favourites.
What a flock of fabulous bird poems flew into my email box over the past four weeks! And what fun I had reading them all. I loved the way your word choices brought BIRDS alive in your poems.
It was so hard picking just a few (out of hundreds) to post. Sometimes a group of children used the same model (for example, recipes or what’s inside something and inside something else). I only usually pick one or two to post of the same poem model so some of you will be disappointed not to be picked. I also like to spread my picks across schools and across the country which is why it is important to let me know your age, year and name of school.
I loved the way some poems were imaginative and made me laugh out loud. I loved how some poems showed me the bird so beautifully I thought it would fly out of my laptop screen. Some real-bird poems needed to do some bird fact checking! Not all birds are good fliers or can go high in trees.
This is not a competition, but because I love sharing books, I am sending a book to Charlotte G (Selwyn House). Charlotte sent me a bird poem every few days. I suggested she put them in a little notebook. She could even illustrate them. Also sending a book to Cooper at Westmere School, Alfie from St Andrew’s and Porou at Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School.
One thing that shone through this month is:
💜 children in Aotearoa love writing poems 💜
I will post my April challenge in the next day or so.
The Perfect Bird
The perfect bird is definitely A Tūī, why I think it’s perfect Is because its plume is as White as a cloud and it has Blue and black feathers And that’s why I think it’s the perfect bird.
Maisie M, Age 8 yrs, Year 4, Tāmaki Makurau
car door thief fast creeper foggy feather mist climber star stealer quick jet feathery flapper
Leo, Ilam school
black small feathers ruffle against its body short wide wings spread out ready to soar black beak ready to feast
by Lachlan T, Year 5Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School
Mice eater Or rabbit eater Reaching to grab his prey Eating silently now Perching to go to sleep Outside in the sun, birds play together Raining outside birds hide under leaves, but Morepork is safe in his tree Keep on sleeping now.
Liliana R Age 8 Westmere School
A Tūī’s Dream
I fly over Matariki I dance on the moon I hear my tūī friends calling, in the blackest of nights I play in the fields of green I sleep under the kōwhai tree I dive through the forest of Tāne I hear my name over sing over Aoraki I hear the Harakeke calling me I am free of worry and fear I suck out the kōwhai nectar I am free to dream
Isabelle H, Year 5, Age 9, St Andrews College Christchurch
5 cups of cheeky essence 2 rambows for wings Half a cup of rocky mountain 5 teaspoons of alpine grass 1 scoop of the Tasman Glacier 1 tablespoon of snow Mix it all and carve into a bird shape.
Kobe F, Y5, age 9, St Andrews School
The rare exotic Tīeke Foraging for food on the forest floor Being a little bit cheeky He is so majestic I think that he would be loved Anyone in the forest will know his name
Living on the brink Feasting on grubs He’s always stopping to think Loving being a Tīeke Looking for a drink All he’s doing is being himself
Charlotte G, Y5, age 10, Selwyn House School
As cheeky as a 4-year old stealing a doughnut the Kea is a very intelligent bird
Squawking and cawing a trickster with flaming orange underwings gliding across the mountaintops hail shattering across the sky
Preening its wings with care it can steal your lunch!
by Porou R, Year 4Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School
He’s watching me From the history of the forest shelf He’s watching me The tall totara swaying in the breeze I’m in the forest by myself My short name is Alf He’s watching me
Alfie L, Y4, age 8, St Andrew’s College
Inside the Ruru, a red poppy. Inside the red poppy, chocolate brown feathers. Inside the chocolate brown feathers, the screech of joy. Inside the screech of joy, the red summer pōhutukawa. Inside the red summer pōhutukawa, the beak as yellow as the sun. Inside the beak as yellow as the sun, the R7uru.
Dante A, Ilam School
Wings are still Sometimes moving. Beaks and heads tucked under mother. Feathers and fluff flying everywhere Papa’s home, time to eat. Cheep, cheerp, cheep Delicious to eat.
Ruby R, Y4, Age 8
HOOT! HOOT! HOOT! went owl as he soared through the cold black sky. As cold as ice and black as coal. Then out of the corner of his eyes some prey, he spies. A mouse a rat, a squirrel, a bat. HOOT! HOOT! HOOT!
Cooper O age 8 Westmere School
Its wings are made of manukā Its beak is made of moana Its feet are made of the spirit of Rangi Its eyes are made of Matariki The bird is leaving tonight The trees are swaying
Jessie, Y4, age 7, St Andrews College
There once was a kiwi named Fred Who stopped at the lake to eat bread. The bread was quite rotten Now Fred is forgotten, Because poor old Fred is quite dead.
Anais B age 8 Westmere School
The Black Bird
I am a blackbird flying high in the sky, A model city of ants is below on the ground, Swooping down brings the volume up, The sound of engines and people.
Jakob D, Class 5, Taikura Steiner School in Hastings
brave albatross flies above the foggy dark forest
huge wings glide through puffy clouds
yellow beak pecks at fish like chopsticks
fast albatross dives smelling its prey 12 miles away
by William H,age 9 Year 5, Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School
The box of all time
I will put in the box the first drop of light I will put in the box the sky on the ocean floor I will put in the box a golden gap with goodies as gold as the sun To this day I will put in the box the fangs of a giant bird as good as the best trained dog ever I will put in the box the silk of the early morning as shiny as silver I will put in the box the sky in the sunny bay I will put in the box sand as golden as gold I will put in the box the first thing that was ever made I will put in the box the cutest toy in the world I will put in the box the first fish ever I will put in the box the pīwakawaka’s call I will put in the box the pines of the trees I will put in the box the tūī’s song
Xander S, Age 8, St Andrew’s College
brown chest beating swaying side to side black white feathers fan out chirps like cracking chips white banded face brushes on fern
By Elise M Year 5 / Age 9Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School
Born from the ashes, Red flaming feathers, Born from the ashes, The Phoenix dives in swoops, It squawks, It flies.
Ruby F, Class 5, Taikura Steiner School in Hastings
The Phoenix Curse
Phoenix flies with the wings of fire, Lighting up the sky all through the night, It drives with talons outstretched, Like a comet hurtling through the sky, It captures a mouse which turns to ashes, The Phoenix curse will be forever.
Brendan F, Class 5, Taikura Steiner School in Hastings
Wheo – Blue Duck
A feathered flyer A river swooper A cold water diver A current glider A swimming master A daring fisher A dream chaser A water champion A wetland sleeper
Saskia F, Y6, age 10, St Andrews School
JJ the Bird
It has red feathers. And it loves the food. It eats worms, dogs, cats, birds and snails. And it zaps people in the arm. Super hard! And sometimes it’s kind. It only does zapping when it is super angry.
Hugo J age 8 Westmere School
Creeper-eater, Insect-eater, Explosive-peeker, Space-bird, A moon-eater, A lazer-bird, A naughty bird, A long-nose bird, A beautiful bird, A room 9 bird.
Benjamin R, age 6, Y2
That’s the sound that the chickens make
Cock a doodle doo that’s the sound that roosters make. Buk buk bukawk that’s the sound that the hens make. Scratch scratch, scratch that’s the sound that their feet make. Peck peck peck that’s the sound that their beaks make. Puff puff poof that’s the sound that the dustbathing hens make. Bawak bawak bawak that’s the sound that an egg laying hen makes.
Marlon, Y6, age 10, Pukete School
Birds flapping. Birds fluttering. Feathers falling on the ground. Cheep cheep. The birds are back.
Angelo, Y4, Age 8, Pukete School
Rustle, rustle, rustle goes the kiwi on the ground. Peek, peek, peek kiwi got a worm! He eats it quick and then he goes back to his den. His wife is in and his twin is in too. And then he played some cards.
Rory age 8 Westmere School
Bird on a branch Red, yellow, blue Bird on a branch Stuck like glue.
Bird on a branch Yellow, blue, red Bird on a branch Read in bed.
Bird on a branch Blue, red, yellow Bird on a branch Just say hello!
Ava J age 8 Westmere School
I Want To Be
I want to be a Kingfisher and fly where the corn is overgrown and water runs freely, And not the sea that bathes in silver moonlight, I want to be a Kingfisher that swoops through the pond catching the fish that swims with glowing pride And not the stars that you see glistening in the darkness of the moon, And don’t come looking for me through the darkness of the night, I’m going to hop away, I’m going to fly away, I’m going to run free through the corn fields and the sparkling morning lake. I’m going to be free
Aveline F, Y6, age 10, Selwyn House School
The birds sing my last lullaby as I cry all day, they chitter all night when I smile at them. The Pīwakawaka dances, The Tūī sings, The Kiwi runs in circles, The Moa cries, The Kea Jumps up and down to the fabulous noise.
Our Bellbird flies to the mountain under the Bright, Smiling Moon, She leaps and dances all the way till dawn. Aunt’s Kōtare flew all the way around the country in the dull night sky, As soft as a feather, she whispers “good night ” to each little child And flew happily home.
Grandpa’s Kōtuku died last winter, But he’ll always remember her life all the time. He’s lonely, he lives near the river as it stares at him feeling sorry. He misses his colourful life, Now, it’s nothing but darkness in his mind.
Michelle Z, Y6, age 10, Ilam School
A Day In The Life Of A Kea
I soar through the blue sky with the wind beneath my wings A warm fuzzy feeling attacks my body Silky white clouds just above my head The blazing sun shining on my green feathers Lunch has arrived a colony of beetles hide in a log I fly down grabbing each beetle faster than ever I swallow each beetle whole with legs sticking out of my beak The peanut buttery taste bursts in my mouth when I bite down I feel my stomach churning and doing somersaults The beetles aren’t still alive……….. Are they?
Holly S, age 12, Year 8, Selwyn House School
In the pine tree above, A feathered brown creature Is peering down at me. Its large yellow eyes Loom out of the tree Staring curiously. With strong claws gripping the branch, It cocks his head at me, Having an internal battle Whether I’m friend or foe. Opening its beak, It lets out a peculiar sound Almost as if it is demanding “More Pork!’’ It spreads its wings wide Revealing a speckled brown belly. With a whoosh, It is off into the starry night, Catching a meal if he’s lucky.
Phoebe Y8, age 12, Selwyn House School
The kiwi eats insects A kiwi is soft It’s hard to see at night It digs a hole As big as a moon.
We have some exciting news to share. In a live ceremony from Bologna, Italy, earlier this week, Beatnik was announced the winner of the Bologna Prize, Best Children’s Publishers of the Year, Oceania.
The prize, organised by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Italian Publishers Association in partnership with the International Publishers Association, awards those publishers who have most distinguished themselves for their professional and intellectual skills in each of the six areas of the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, Central and South America, North America and Oceania. This annual award acknowledges the best publishing houses from all over the world, so Beatnik is thrilled to have won this prestigious international award!
Beatnik is indebted to the children’s book authors who have trusted us to publish their books. Authors represented at Bologna include the sensational Laura Shallcrass, Dana Winter, Ross Murray, Emily Joe, Louise Cuckow, Toby Morris, Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott.
During these difficult times it’s lovely to be able to stop and take a moment to celebrate and acknowledge those that have supported us over the last 15 years. So THANK YOU and have a lovely weekend.
Ngā mihi, From Sally and the rest of the Beatniks.
The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren with illustrations by Eva Eriksson,
Gecko Press, 2022 (first edition 1979)
What a treat it is to get surprise book packages from children’s publishers in Aotearoa. I am such a fan of Gecko Press books because they always fill me with book joy and book wonder. I always want to give a copy to a friend.
The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren with illustrations by Eva Eriksson is a delight.
The tiny man is very lonely. At the start of the book, the illustrations match the gloomy mood of the tiny man as he thinks his gloomy thoughts. He puts up a sign advertising for a friend, on a tree on his front lawn. And he waits, and he waits, under his gloomy cloud.
After what seems a very long time, the best possible surprise turns up. A surprise that licks and bounds away even the tiniest gloomy cloud. The tiny man has a canine friend.
The sentences are as sweet as honey (translated by Julia Marshall), even on the gloomiest page. The illustrations are warm and alive and captivating.
Like all good stories there is a twist in the tale that makes the friendship story even stronger.
The story was originally published in 1979 (a classic!), these illustrations in 2010, and this English translation edition in 2022.
How grateful I am to have Gecko Press bringing classic stories to translation, stories that touch upon issues that affect us all: loneliness, kindness, empathy, sadness, the importance of connections.
Another precious book that deserves to be read by thousands, let’s say millions!
Barbro Lindgren is a pioneering children’s author from Sweden. She has won many international awards. In 2014, she received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
Eva Eriksson is one of the best-loved illustrators in Sweden, whose awards include the Astrid Lindgren prize and the August award.
Elephant Island, Leo Timmers, trans James Brown, Gecko Press, 2022,
‘Arnold found a use for everything.’
This sublime picture book, written and illustrated by Leo Timmers, is utterly fitting for our catastrophic times.
Arnold is an elephant who loves seafaring BUT one day his boat sinks. In the case of CATASTROPHE, he always puts what he has to excellent use. Like his trunk. Even the tiniest island imaginable (see cover!). You need to read it to discover Arnold’s genius for yourself!
Leo’s illustrations are intricate, tactile and fill me with a warm picture-book GLOW.
The story is simple, imaginative, funny, WISE.
‘Arnold did his best to salvage the situation.’
You will laugh out loud, you will wonder inside, you will ponder. You will soar like a kite with the joy of reading a book that surprises and delights.
Elephant Island is like a fabulous fable that might be about conservation, or refugees, or human connections and kindness, or community survival. It is also a terrific story for the sake of story and I love it to bits. I am giving a copy of this book to a friend. I recommend you get a copy for yourself and then choose a child or an adult to give a second copy to. GLORIOUS!
‘Good songs travel fast.’
Leo Timmers was born in Belgium in 1970. Trained in graphic design, he illustrates for Belgian magazines and papers as well as illustrating picture books.
‘Now I know their names, They are still strangers but known strangers.’
Bill Nagelkerke is a poet, children’s author and translator living in Ōtautahi Christchurch. He sent me copy of a children’s novel he translated from Dutch as he thought I’d like to read it. And he was so right. I’ll Keep You Close by Jeska Verstegen is exactly the book to be reading now. It is a book that makes you feel and think about the times we are living in, but it is a novel that transports you pack into the past.
Based on stories buried in her own family, Jeska begins with an image of her mother playing Mozart, hiding away with curtains pulled, keeping her handbag close at all times: ‘If she could, she would let the world dissolve like sugar in warm tea’. When her Grandmother calls her by another name, the young Jeska is puzzled. When she does a unit on the Second World War at school, her teacher asks, ‘Could ordinary life carry on during a war?’ More and more, the mysterious past calls her, a past with its dark and dreadful secrets. She looks in family albums, her father’s encyclopaedia collection, she visits her grandmother in a nursing home and asks questions, she goes to the local library. There is personal history and there is national and local histories, and the tyranny of World War Two impacts upon both.
‘I know that some things in your memory can carry on hurting.’
Jeske comes up against issues that we face in different ways today (not the same, not at all): how to survive in a time of global pandemic, how to survive crippling divisions that spark hatred and violence and invasions. In order to understand the contemporary hatred and divisions, stories from the past flash as warning lights. Jeska faces the importance of who we are, how we name ourselves, how we survive. She uncovers a dark secret and she keeps living her day. She adopts a stray cat, makes an island out of craft material, connects with friends. She talks to her grandmother whose mind drifts in and out of reality.
Rather than spoil your reading passage with a detailed plot summary, I want you to read the book yourself, be moved by it, explore its nooks and crannies.
‘I understand silence can be louder than shouting.’
I love this book, yes because it is beautifully written but, most importantly, because it tells a story that resonates in our current global circumstances. So many people are working hard for the good of communities, working hard to respect, support and value difference, to challenge hatred based on gender and ethnicity. To value human life when a pandemic refuses to or when cruel leaders don’t.
Jeske goes hunting in her personal past to understand history and, in doing so, re-views the present. I’ll Keep You Close is a glowing, necessary gem of a book that will wrap you in a hug that is so very warm and human and wise.
‘Could ordinary life carry on during a war?’
Jeska Verstegen is an author and illustrator living in Amsterdam. She is a descendant of Emanuel Querido, the revolutionary Jewish-Dutch publisher who was captured and killed by the Nazis in World War II. Jeska began her career in 1990 as an illustrator for magazines and children’s books. The white sheet of paper feels to her like a stage where you can perform any role, and one day she decided to paint pictures with words as well. Writing I’ll Keep You Close re-acquainted her with herself and also gave her a new color palette of diligently chosen words. I’ll Keep You Close is her debut novel, based on the true story of her own family history.
A former children’s librarian, Bill Nagelkerke has written short stories, poems, plays and books for all ages, as well as translating other people’s books from Dutch into English. His novel Old Bones (2006) was a Storylines Notable Book and Sitting on the Fence (2007) was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2013 he was awarded the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for a distinguished contribution to New Zealand children’s literature and literacy.