Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things
London, Penguin, 2010, 200p
Michael Rosen is a genius of the written word, but everybody knows that. The concept of this novel arose from Rosen's childhood, during which he noticed his parents' incredible ability to remember all the tiny mistakes he had ever made and to recall them at a moments notice whenever he made a new one.
The Big Book of Bad Things starts with a poem about a young Michael breaking his toothbrush, having bent it a little too far. Rosen tells universally experienced tales of childhood, from misbehaviours at home to failures at school. This collection is full of observational humour about the comedy and tragedy of life, and questions pondered by young minds, and the peculiarities of things parents say and do.
Naturally, I have a few favourites. 'They Don't Love You' starts off as a profound, thought-provoking exploration of that feeling some children experience of being the least loved: you expect it to end with some great, eye-opening revelation, but instead, Rosen suggestion makes you laugh out loud.
Then there are wonderful poems about language, such as Words Are Ours, which demonstrates the power and variety of English vocabulary. Sometimes, he also brings in Yiddish words spoken by his parents, which he uses to explore the diversity of languages and also to show some of the strange things his parents say.
Elsewhere, 'The Rhythm of Life' is a pacy, bouncy poem full of repetition - the sort of poem Rosen is talking about when he suggests all children are able to memorise some poetry.
Michael Rosen is the sort of writer who inspires children because his poems are so realistic and true. They are not the sort that take weeks to decipher or interpret - they are funny, everyday and uplifting. Rosen shows his young audience that poetry is what you want it to be, it is what you make of it, and everyone is capable of creation.