If you are looking for poetry to engage your Year 6 pupils then you need to look no further than this brilliant collection from CLiPPA winner 2019, Steve Camden. It speaks to children in a relatable voice, exploring many facets of Secondary school: from the daunting first day, lessons that seem pointless, dealing with changing friendships, first love, career choices, embarrassing siblings and of course teachers.
Coming from an acclaimed spoken word artist, it is no surprise that the poems come alive when read aloud or performed. I could see this book uniting a class and their teacher before they go their separate ways. It would work well to fill those last few lessons at the end of term when engaging pupils becomes increasingly challenging.
The poem that had the most significant effect on me personally as a reader was ‘Real World’:
in a bunker
somewhere in the world,
there are man-made nuclear weapons with
Enough destructive power to decimate
The entire planet several times over, primed and ready to be
launched at the touch of a button by self-serving government idiots in
unfair positions of power that give them
the ability to wipe us all out in the blink of an eye
and you want me to concentrate
on Shakespeare’s use of alliteration in Act Two?
Despite being a polite and conscientious pupil back in my Secondary school days, I do remember questioning ‘What is the point of learning this? Mostly to myself but as I got older sometimes directly vocalising my apathy towards my unsuspecting teachers.’ This poem shouts the message that we must make learning relevant; we must focus on context, relating to the wider world and the individual – make meaning that is meaningful with texts we share with our pupils. This doesn’t, of course, mean we should avoid Shakespeare – I am myself a huge fan. But before we dissect the parts of speech and technical vocabulary, which yes is necessary to discuss literature and identify patterns in a scholarly sense, let the writing speak to us, move us, make us ponder and connect with the world and each other and ourselves.
The portrayal of teachers is balanced. ‘Something Starts’ connected me to two things immediately: Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ and Frank Cottrell Boyce recounting a defining moment from his school days with an inspirational teacher.
These poems stand alone, sit together and make excellent springboards to a variety of texts. Double Science would be an excellent hook for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright as it subtly introduces the realms of quantum physics and the feelings many tweens have about their own identity. The collection would also work alongside Karl Nova’s Rhythm and Poetry (another former CLiPPA winner) and would also bridge beautifully with Malorie Blackman’s verse novel Cloud Busting.
The final two poems invite the reader to look forward to the first day and fast forward to the end of Secondary School, reflecting on what in reality is yet to come. The perfect stimulus for children to take stock of where they are in their education and their lives. Camden doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics, but he also paints a picture of hope, excitement and opportunity.
One note to teachers: ‘Science Block Toilets’ does include two slang expletives in the form of graffiti – the perfect opportunity to discuss the inevitability of encountering such terms in the Secondary school environment and exploring their actual meanings.
Ultimately this collection is the ideal vehicle for exploring the feelings of children as they make the transition from Primary to Secondary school.
Winner of the CLiPPA 2019.
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Copyright: Just Imagine Story Centre Ltd 2012-2019. All rights reserved.
These notes may be printed freely for use in classrooms but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of the author.