I first knew these poems as a child and now I have my own charity shop copy I’m loving them all over again as a teacher. Take the title poem which begins
Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?
Go and sit in the hall, dear
Go and sit in the sink.
Take your book on the roof, my lamb
Do whatever you think…
It really is a poem for anyone in a school, or who’s ever been to school.
This is the only poetry collection I know that is separated into sections: School Time, Play Time, Dinner Time (including the classic ‘Dog in the Playground’) and School Time Again. It’s also beautifully illustrated by Fritz Wegner; in my head, this is what my school days looked like.
Without over quoting, it’s quite hard to give a sense of the scope of this collection, but it does fit into ninety-odd pages the kinds of frantic ups and downs that make up the long school day. There are gangs, friendships and break-up, including the wonderful ‘Small Quarrel’ ‘She dipped her paint brush in my yellow / I washed mine in her paint water. / She did something too small to tell what it was / I pretended to do something’. As with ‘Mrs. Butler’ we see teachers from the students’ point of view (for example, in the poem ‘Complaint’) and we see children with the teachers’ eyes: ‘When you frown at me like that, Colin, / And wave your arm in the air, / I know just what you’re going to say: / ‘Please, Sir, it isn’t fair!”
Like the best children’s stories, the best children’s poems are really for readers of all ages. I can’t recommend Alhberg’s poems highly enough, in fact, I’m just about to go back to re-read them again!