Reviews /

Scared?

Authored by Neal Zetter and Joshua Seigal
Illustrated by Zoe Williams
Published by Troika Books

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Scared?: A clever, honest collection of poems looking at fears and things that make us fearful. 

Zeller, Seigal and Williams have made a great partnership here, with poems in a variety of styles, and occasional contributions of artwork, some simple (a child sitting on a suitcase in a poem about divorce) some more complex (eyes in a grey gloom round a computer taking a full page for The Internet is Watching). These two poems give some idea of the range of subjects covered: clowns; snakes; bullies; our carbon footprint.

In school, the range of issues covered might make some teachers wary, but the right poem for the right assembly, or in the hands of the child who needs it, many of the poems could be invaluable. Max is Not in School presents a new, heart-breaking voice in being bullied: ‘There’s a small oasis/in the wide parched desert,/a faint rainbow/in the winter storm’ and Bully is vivid, energetic stuff ‘a vicious, vindictive sore-headed bear’. However, there are poems of a different order: three simple lines on going Back to School, a two-page poem on Gone Off Milk. There are some real gems here. 

My only reservation is that the teacher should know this book well before releasing it into the class: alongside a poem on which Mum is a, well, a mummy and Dad is a werewolf, there is a poem on a Dad as the Incredible Hulk, which begins in a similarly jokey fashion but which is about parental anger and takes a more serious turn. Circle Time is about the devastating effects of family arguments and perhaps the best poem in the collection, but raises a huge number of questions. 

There are big questions about how much children need to be sheltered or have complex issues introduced with sensitivity, but this is an inventive, lively collection with daring and skill at its heart. I wouldn’t shrink from it, under the right circumstances.