Guest Author - Asha Sahni
The Oldest Girl In The World - a children’s poetry collection by Carol Ann Duffy – is a volume that could appeal to readers of any age. The poems are memorable, humorous and accessible. Some have a sing-song quality to them that helps both in reading on the page and reading aloud – one of Duffy’s strengths is performing her poetry, and she has done a lot of work with children.
Dive in and read poems that capture imagination and spin webs of story that are often highly visual. A few examples...
A Bad Princess - a young princess meets a Tree Girl that is her double who scares her so much she runs into the arms of her future husband. Duffy’s poems are rarely simple, and this one turns on her description of the Prince – read it and see what you think.
Pestle and Mortar - a woman suggests to her daughter that they go to sea in a pestle and mortar, taking turns rowing. The illustrations that accompany this poem are magical.
The Oldest Girl In The World - the title poems is addressed by the narrator to children. The oldest girl in the world talks of the sharpness of her senses when she was young, giving examples of what she could hear, see, taste, smell and touch.
Vows - first a bride, then a groom speak of all the people they will not marry. The final two lines of the poem are spoken by bride and groom together.
Towards the end of the book there are two series of linked poems - Gifts and Numbers. The gifts include a cigarette, a word and a silver thimble. The numbers range from marks given for a dance, a picture, a poem and a tune to eight 8-year-olds.
Some of the poems, particularly the ones that start most lines with the same words, feel as if they could have come from exercises in a writing class – ideal examples to use with children and young people when encouraging them to write their own poetry. They can also be used as inspiration for group poems – ask everyone to write line (or two or three) starting with the same words, gather them in and put all the lines (or one from each person) together to create a poem.
I would not recommend this as a book for young children – I found The Oldest Girl In The World in the adult section of my local library. A lot of the poems would be appropriate for teenagers. Some, chosen at a parent’s discretion, would be great to read to younger children – for instance Don’t Be Scared - a poem that beautifully likens the dark to images that are not fearful – from a sequined black dress to the hole behind the strings of a guitar. Opposite this poem is one of several illustrations by Markéta Prachatická that capture the essence of the words scattering the book, from a scarecrow with a crow on his arm to a miniature king.
Duffy’s poems lend themselves to sharing – try reading them aloud, even if only to yourself, and taste the difference in quality of silent reading and a power which is part of Duffy’s Scottish heritage. – spoken verse.
If you have not read Carol Ann Duffy before I would recommend this book as an introduction to her poetry. If you have read her before or seen her perform you may want to consider this book as an addition to your library. If you have children that are studying Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry (which is included in some English Literature syllabuses) they may find this book a useful accompaniment to study of specific poems. The Oldest Girl In The World contains a lot of Duffy’s trademarks including acute observation, humour, playfulness and an ability to capture the essence of moments in life.