Chrissie won the Belmont Poetry Prize for children’s poems in 2002, and was a runner-up. Her first children’s collection Now You See Me, Now You ... (Rabbit Hole, 2002) was shortlisted for the inaugural CLPE Poetry Award in 2003; republished in 2009 it was selected as a Poetry Book Society Choice for the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf. Her second children’s poetry collection I Don’t Want an Avocado for an Uncle (Rabbit Hole, 2006) was shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Award 2007 and was a PBS Choice for the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf. Avocado was also selected as one of four single poet collections for the 'Boys into Books 5-11' booklist (School Library Association).
Chrissie has been guest reader on Carol Ann Duffy’s Arvon course for children’s poetry at Moniack Mhor. She has read her children’s poems at the Hay, Wigtown, Ilkley, Aldeburgh, Ledbury, Wenlock, Edinburgh and West Cork festivals, and in the Children’s Room of the Poets House New York. She contributed to ‘Poetry Pie’ and ‘The Rhyme Rocket’ for Cbeebies TV, and to the Oxfam CD of Poems for Children. Her children’s poems are widely anthologized and feature in Michael Rosen’s Puffin anthology A-Z – The Best Children’s Poetry. Her third children’s collection The Humpback’s Wail appeared in 2010. It is also a PBS Choice for the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf. In 2012 Chrissie made an hour’s recording of her children’s poetry for the Poetry Archive.
Her ‘New and Collected’ children’s poems ‘Stars in Jars’ was published by Bloomsbury in February 2014, illustrated by Calef Brown.
Chrissie’s poem Death in the Poetry Library was The Sunday Poem in the Independent on Sunday. It was read by Roger McGough in a BBCR4’s Poetry Please edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Poetry Library, and was repeated on BBCR4’s Archive Hour to celebrate the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall. It features on the Southbank centre audio tour. Her poem I Don’t Want an Avocado for an Uncle was also The Sunday Poem in the Independent on Sunday. Her collections have been reviewed in The Guardian, The Telegraph, T.E.S., Carousel, Books for Keeps, Writing for Children, The School Librarian, Writing in Education and on websites including Book Trust, The Reading Zone, Write Away, ReadPlus and Bookbabblers.
Comments and reviews
Stars in Jars
'The lovely, rhythmic opening poem ('Sky-High' p. 9) in this collection gives the book its title: William's rocket trip to the moon and beyond sees him returning with a 'trail of stars' that he brings home to keep them 'safe in jars'. It's an appropriate metaphor for the poems in this book as they are indeed the stars in jars. Here's an opportunity for the imaginative teacher to set up 'poetry star jars' round the classroom into which children could insert their favourite poems. There are familiar themes here but often with unfamiliar twists. The whole gamut of family characters are represented but grandma - in a surprisingly touching poem - is a nun: 'My grandma is a fun nun / and apart from God's, she's mine' (p.23). There's a twist on the well known rhyme with 'Sam, Sam, Quite Contrary' (p.11) which, in common with so many others in the volume has a memorable, lolloping rhythm. If you're worried about the demands of having to learn poems off by heart, where better to start with the downright absurd fun of 'The Hysterical Tulip' (p.7) which simply requires repetition of the same line...? There are poems that invite exploration of language. 'Birds 1' (p.89) offers a rich opening into the wonderful world of collective nouns. There are poems here that could provide potential starting points for children to write their own versions: there are lists to be written: 'Possible Presents' (p.35); 'For Christmas' (p.136); 'Food Sense' (p.59); there are poems that could be extended ('Boxes at Chapel Street Market', p.60; 'The Listening Station', p.68). I love poems about poetry itself so I was delighted to discover the final poem in the book: 'What does poetry do?' (p.141). A poem such as this can help children feel the power of poetry: It nosedives from the top of the fridge / Into a bowl of rapids, / it crawls along the floor / and taps you on the knee, / it changes the colour of a room, / it puts great wheezing slices of life / into bun trays with or without punctuation./ It manages this all by itself.' Alison Young, Reading Zone website, March 2014 www.readingzone.com
'(Age: 7+) Recommended. Poetry. Humour. This lovely volume of short poems would suit classroom use as well as another book of poetry in the library. Gittins, often a poet in residence or speaker at schools in Britain, has four published books of poetry, each about all sorts of topics, most very funny. Over one hundred poems deal with topics such as The British Museum Print Room, How to Make a Cup of Tea, Computer, The Ballet Teacher, The Fragrant Pirate, and so on. I loved the poem about the sloth, especially after reading The Advertiser with its article about the sloth in the Adelaide Zoo being the oldest in the world and Death in the Poetry Library with its image of the poet's words 'lapping along the corridor', or Dusk at the Botanical Gardens, Bath with its image of the half pancake moon, and remembering the tastes of summer in winter in Summer Pudding. Many of the poems are just a joy to read alone or aloud with a group, and I can imagine these being read out in the classroom. Some are a little more serious, while some are wonderful models for children's writing. Here I am thinking of poems such as the group of limericks, or Sam, Sam, Quite Contrary, Suzannah the Tailwagger, The Hysterical Tulip or Riddle. This infectious book would be ideal for leaving out for kids to pick up and read to themselves or their friends.' Fran Knight, 14th February, 2014, ReadPlus website, South Australia www.readplus.com.au
'A poet who really knows what children enjoy, Chrissie frequently visits schools and the time she spends with her audience is reflected in the appeal of her poems which often feature familiar settings - families and school, of course. There are many different moods in the poems - humorous, wishful, imaginative - something for everyone and a perfect collection for the classroom. Birds II is a wonderful example of her use of language and is written in a style that will encourage children to experiment with writing poetry themselves.' Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch website, March 2014
The Humpback's Wail
'This lively collection is packed full of poems on any number of topics, such as food, animals, brothers, friends, and embarrassing dads. Some poems delight with detailed observations whilst others play skilfully with form to produce sound-poems like 'Wasp on the Tube' whose protagonist buzzes around 'causing a hummmmmmmmmmmmm' and upsetting commuters.' Mandy Coe and Fiona Waters, selectors for the Children's Poetry Bookshelf
'Chrissie Gittins' poems are imaginative snapshots taken with a quirky edge that appeals to children. She crafts the language and surprises the reader; many of the poems would act as creative catalysts for children's own writing. She is one of the best 'children's poets' currently writing and visiting schools.' Pie Corbett (quote on back of the book)
'Gittins is a very good reader. Her latest for kids is The Humpback's Wail, and I recommend it, for its charming illustrations by Paul Bommer, and the poems themselves.' Todd Swift, Eyewear
‘This is a lovely collection of poems of varying length that are a pleasure to read. The accompanying illustrations by Paul Bommer are clear and quirky. Chrissie Gittins chooses subject matter that appeals to children - the minutiae of everyday life is evident. The poems cover birds, embarrassing dads, sleeping in your uniform, food, playtime, teachers, hiding, historical figures - "Queen Victoria Was bursting with euphoria When Prince Albert's ambition Produced the Great Exhibition" and so much more. There is a fabulous illustration accompanying "Iris Upsidaisy" of Iris' corkscrew curls. I enjoyed the way that the reader has to read "Suzannah the Tail Wagger" backwards - it takes a little while to work this out. Gittins uses simple language to convey everyday life with humour and warmth. There is something for everyone in this book of poetry that will appeal to both children and adults.’ Jane Peplar, Write Away website, 2010
‘Quickly becoming one of the best ‘children’s poets’ currently visiting and writing in schools, Chrissie Gittins’ poems are wonderful, imaginative snapshots of experiences, places, emotions and much more, taken with a quirky edge that reaches out knowingly to children. Although I would suggest her appeal is far wider than just children. Chrissie Gittins demonstrates a playful, almost mischievous command of language; carving out a surprise for the reader within every stanza. Likewise her subject matter is instantly accessible, obviously rhythmic and occasionally visual. This collection – dedicated to the ‘children of Lewisham’ – is indicative of the commitment shown by Gittins to promoting poetry within schools; in 2010 she was appointed Lewisham Borough’s first Writer-in-Residence. Furthermore, this book represents a great introduction to reading poetry out loud. My class would wait expectantly at the end of each day, hoping that it would be their turn to read a poem out aloud to the rest of the class; a triumphant collection for teachers, parents, adults and children everywhere.’ Laura Ciftci, School Librarian, vol. 58 no. 4, Winter 2010
‘For gentle but often surreal language, little people should sit cross-legged on the carpet with a copy of Chrissie Gittins’s latest poetry collection, The Humpback's Wail. As a poet who regularly visits schools, award-winning Gittins knows how to help children let their imaginations wander. For example, in Night Sky In The Clun Valley she’ll point out that ‘the sky is throwing out woks, the moon is munching bananas, and the stars wear sparkly socks’. Helen Brown, Telegraph, 24th July 2010
'I was delighted when Chrissie approached Parents in Touch to ask us to review a selection of her poetry books as I love to encourage children to read poetry. These poems really will appeal to children, with their quirky take on things familiar and unfamiliar. Often, she needs very few words to convey her thoughts and this simplicity will appeal to children. Her vivid use of language will engage children and stimulate their imaginations, and her topics are carefully selected to appeal. I had to think to read 'Suzannah the Tail Wagger' - a clever use of shape which will hopefully inspire children to try this for themselves. A super collection to share in the classroom.' Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch, April 2011
'Chrissie Gittins’ lovely book of poems for children The Humpback’s Wail includes a variety of funny, thoughtful, playful and sensual, image-rich poems, probably most suitable for primary school-age children. Favourites were the history-inspired 'The Fragrant Pirate' which explores the smells on board a pirate ship; 'Iris Upsidaisy', which describes Iris’ unruly hair and what it gets up to when she is awake and asleep, and the humorous and irreverent 'The Very Fortunate Frog':
On hot days in July / when I’m feeling sleepy-snoozie / a hose pipe fills my fancy home / and turns it into a Jacuzzi'.
The author works frequently with primary schools to encourage a love of poetry in children, and this really comes over in her poetry, which is full of the quirks, strangeness and humour that children love.' Book Trust website, 2011
'The Humpback’s Wail is Chrissie Gittins’ third collection of poems and is illustrated by Paul Bommer. It is marketed for 6 years and up and while you would have to be a proficient reader to pick up on the word play, less able readers can still get lots of enjoyment from listening to the poems. There is a rich variety of poems in this book from the daft to the thoughtful, many of them dedicated to the school children with which Chrissie Gittins has worked. The poems cover topics such as food, animals, sibling relationships, curly hair, dreams of Tina Turner and imaginary people. There are some great snapshot moments of the world from a child’s perspective such as spinning on a roundabout, hiding from mum in a supermarket, and having a holiday in the bath. Historical figures such as Queen Victoria and the extinct dodo are also featured which makes for opportunities to engage in discussion after reading. These poems – where Gittins unites humour with a flavour of history – are some of her strongest, with one of the best being ‘The Fragrant Pirate’ which is about a pampering pirate that uses lanolin for soothing skin and lavender for soothing sleep. Light-hearted sound-poems like ‘Wasp on the Tube’ demand to be read out loud, making the speaker ‘hummmmmmmmmmmm’ along with the winged protagonist. Throughout the poems are enhanced by the fun and clear illustrations provided by Paul Bommer. The final poem in the collection, ‘Lullaby’, soothes the worries of the day away. And for parents who soothe the worries of the day away with a book at bedtime, why not put the prose to one side for now and use this book of poetry instead?' Jen Morgan, Writing for Children, Volume IV, Issue I, January 2013
I Don’t Want an Avocado for an Uncle
‘Chrissie Gittins knows just what words can do: she makes them dance, sing, sit still for a moment and then leap across the page with joy!’ Ian McMillan
‘a lot of ripe good ones,’ John Hegley
‘An enchanting collection full of vivid imagery. Chrissie Gittins’ poems are full of fun creatures and characters, from Mr Fogg the very friendly Dentist to Igor Iguanodon (who loves to dine on orchids). You'll love the way she weaves words together to invite you into her real and unreal worlds!' Children’s Poetry Bookshelf, Poetry Book Society
'Chrissie Gittins observes well in I Don't Want an Avocado for an Uncle, whether her subject is the madness of New York, rain spitting on hills or the final rituals of a family Christmas. What distinguishes the hits is a recognition that there is no such thing as a good poem only for children. These hits work for anyone who loves poetry. There are beautifully observed pieces. The ballet teacher is a good example: "Her voice glancing each child/with gossamer" or: "stripes of shellduck tipped up in a lake".' Fred Sedgwick, Times Education Supplement Magazine, January 25th 2007
'This is a delightful collection of poetry from Chrissie Gittins. The title has been selected as the Poetry Book Society Choice for the Children's Poetry Bookshelf. A warm, witty and intelligent selection, this group of poems covers a whole range of writing which will appeal to young readers aged 7-13. The poems are most refreshing for their breadth, not just of subject matter, but also of emotional response. There is not a breath of pedantry in the whole book - yet there is humour, wit, joy, sorrow and enjoyable quirkiness. At £5.99 this is a bargain, particularly as this book is exactly how children's poetry should be.' Irene Babsky, School Librarian, Spring 2007.
'There are not many solo collections of poetry for children being published lately, so it’s good to see something getting through, even if it does entail small or self-publication. Chrissie Gittins is not the only poet currently to take this course, which neatly sidesteps the problems of being taken up by a major house and undergoing the rigours of being edited to their strictures. The result is a book which bears and wears the individualities and eccentricities of the author. I note that in reviews of her previous collection words like quirky, surreal, idiomatic, and zany come into play. This book has plenty to fall into line with those attributes, but there are also tenderer and more lyrical aspects and moments. There’s a confidence and assurance about her writing that clearly appeals to an audience that is already receiving her with enthusiasm. A reading shows she knows what she’s doing and is creating an idiom of her own. If you’re interested in poetry written for children, you should definitely read this book and see how it takes you and the children you’re in contact with. There’s a distinctive voice evolving here and I’ll watch with interest to see what it produces in the future. The book itself is nicely produced with good layout and typeface and very apt illustrations by Kev Adamson whose work for me, while carrying traces of Satoshi Kitamura, nevertheless has a strong individuality of its own.' Books for Keeps, no 163, March 2007
‘For the real strength of the collection we have to turn to those poems for which the title has not prepared us. These are quiet, pensive, occasionally meditative commentaries imbued with a pleasantly lyrical note, even on such well-worn topics as seasonal change, the aftermath of Christmas or the beauty of the natural world. It is in poems such as these that Gittins finds an engagingly original voice: ‘Gulls chance the churning sea,/Leaves stack up against the thermal door,/ Tips of willows, russet, finger low grey sky./The year is drawing in.’ Shortlisted for the 2007 CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Poetry Award, this self-published book has been attractively produces and presented.’ Robert Dunbar, Inis (the Children’s Books Ireland magazine)Winter 2007 No. 22
'Gittins’s latest collection for children is as cleverly accessible for young readers as it is funny and perceptive. This well-illustrated book includes poems created for specific people, poetry about special experiences (like ‘River Torridge’), about everyday experiences (‘Mr Fogg the Very Friendly Dentist) and unusual combinations (‘My Grandma is a Nun’).
An inspiration for poetry readers and writers alike, which will hopefully encourage imaginative use of language and a careful observation of life’s experiences great and small and most of all, an appreciation of the power of well chosen words.' Recommended Books, Booktrusted website
'Gittins’ second foray into poetry for children is enormous fun. In a series of surprising encounters, packed full zany humour, we meet flamingos, nuns, dentists, dinosaurs, old pencil stubs, even the Loch Ness monster! The collection consists mostly of light-hearted lyrics (with a few surprises), and includes a sequence of limericks, some nonsense verse, a shape poem and a riddle. She takes much of her inspiration from the close observation of the world around her: families, ordinary life and the natural world. Thus, childhood experiences such as reading under the covers, visiting the dentist and vying for friendships, are found alongside portraits of eccentric characters and thoughtful meditations on her holidays (from Tresco Bay to New York City). Animals, and especially unusual animals, seem particularly to capture her imagination, perhaps for their quirky individuality. She delights to ponder their thoughts and feelings: the grumblings of flamingos, the contentment of the two-toed sloth and the ruminations of dinosaurs! Stylistically, playfulness and humour predominate (as the title might suggest), giving way periodically to flashes of depth and insight (such an the haunting ‘Lifeline’ or the profound final poem ‘Putting Away Christmas’). Gittins is particularly skilled at the sudden twist, repeatedly using her final line to shock, amuse or tip the reader into profundity. This collection would be enjoyed by children throughout KS2, though some of the more challenging poems invite careful thought from more experienced readers.' Darren Coult, Write Away website
'Chrissie Gittins has a brilliant sense of humour and her quirkiness gallops across every page of this most original collection which is stuffed with daft moments and some serious ones too.' Fiona Waters, Carousel 37, Autumn 2007
'Titles do not always tell the whole story, least of all, perhaps, in poetry collections such as this where the title for the complete volume is shared with one of the included poems. For the strength of the collections we have to turn to those poems for which its title has not prepared us. These are quiet, pensive, occasionally meditative commentaries imbued with a pleasantly lyrical note, even on such well-worn topics as seasonal change, the aftermath of Christmas or the beauty of the natural world. It is in poems such as these that Gittins finds an engagingly original voice: 'Gulls chance the churning sea,/Leaves stack up against the thermal door,/Tips of willows, russet, finger low grey sky./The year is drawing in.' Robert Dunbar, Inis, the Children's Book Ireland magazine, Winter 2007
'A second collection from this poet, just as right as right can be as a poetry book for 7's upwards. There's a broad range of writing here from amusing jokes to poems which, sometimes unexpectedly, evoke responses of deeper emotions. Cleverness, but nor for its own sake, with a great sense of fun and an acute awareness of her readership has resulted in a group of poems which are both entertaining and expanding. A valuable and very friendly collection indeed.' Chris Brown, DCFS Boys into Books Booklist, School Library Association, March 2008.
‘Acute observations of many aspects of life shine through in this collection of poems. We meet some lovely characters such as Mr Fogg the dentist and the grandmother who is a nun. I think my favourite is 'The Pencil Stub' - a wonderful poem about a very simple object, which makes us see it through new eyes. And that is the cleverness of Chrissie's poems - she really makes you think about everyday things. The variety will capture and keep children's attention - people, places and animals, all embellished with humorous illustrations by Kev Adamson. Some poems are funny, some are very thoughtful and all are very enjoyable.' Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch, April 2011
A weekly podcast from the Walking Oliver children's music website www.walkingoliver.com which is run by Paul Austin Kelly - an American opera singer based in Lewes. In this programme - Episode 7, 21st March 2007 - Paul reads several of Chrissie's children's poems.
Now You See Me, Now You ...
‘weird, interesting and humorous poems that will bear repeated visits,’ Roger Stevens, Poetry Zone website.
‘Chrissie Gittins has a McGough-like flair for idiomatic surrealism,’ Michael Thorn, TES.
‘I like the warmth and immediacy of the poems. But I think The Shortest Days is my favourite – limpid and deceptively simple.’ Helen Dunmore
‘clearly focused in terms of target readers (mainly pre-teens) and its bias towards humour, occasionally of a quirky and surrealistic kind as in ‘The Fate of the Butternut Squash’. The line drawings are zany too. Sometimes a more serious note is introduced as in the case of the Belmont Poetry prize-winning ‘The Powder Monkey’, which tells of the days when children as young as six went to sea and served on warships, but usually humour prevails. It has a nice pocket-size feel to it,’ Brian D’Arcy, Writing in Education.
‘a most enjoyable collection … she has a nice quirky viewpoint and is well worth investigating,’ Enid Stephenson, Carousel.
‘Chrissie Gittins takes incidents and objects from her locality (Swimming at the local baths; a heart scarab in a museum) and makes imaginative leaps, excavating the thoughts of a tortoise who has travelled from Turkey to Catford. Especially enjoyable are her excursions into wordplay such as ‘Driven to Distraction’, and ‘Approaching Apostrophes’ is an excellent way to get to grips with this troublesome punctuation mark.’ Ann Lazim for the CLPE Award 2003.
‘A witty and interesting collection from children's poet, Chrissie Gittins, which features, among others, poems about a six-foot man in a block of ice, a pair of flying shoes, a travelling wardrobe and a squashed poet. The author also explores the use of language itself in poems such as 'Exclamation Mark Park' and 'Approaching Apostrophes'. Chrissie Gittins writes in a refreshingly non-patronising way for children and this collection is charmingly illustrated throughout. These poems will have particular appeal for children in KS1 & 2, but parents will certainly enjoy reading this collection to younger children too.’ Victoria Buckley-Jennings, Man in the Moon website.
'This is Chrissie Gittins’ first collection of poetry for children, originally shortlisted for the 2003 CLPE Poetry Award. Review:
‘What Does Poetry Do?’ asks the title of the final poem in this collection and amongst its answers is one which captures much of the spirit of Gittins’ verse: ]“it puts great wheezing slices of life into bun trays, with or without punctuation.] The energy, vitality and fun of everyday life run throughout these poems, providing entertainment alongside flashes of the profound.
It is no surprise that the collection is dedicated to the poet’s children, for much of her inspiration appears to come from sharing life with them: the struggle to get out of bed in the morning, the painful encounter with the pet hamster, or the desolation of a playground abandoned in the rain. Gittins even breathes life into the inanimate, giving voice to the sulks of a cuddly toy hung up to dry in ‘Bradshaw Plots his Revenge’ or exploring the contrast between Turkey and Catford in the experience of ‘The Well-Travelled Tortoise’. With a childlike imagination, she seems to be suggesting, the mundane can offer doorways into adventure and delight; flights of fancy are waiting to be taken with a ‘travelling wardrobe’ or with brochures stored in the garage.
Language itself takes on a zany life of its own in her many poems devoted to wordplay, from the tongue-twisting ‘Fate of the Butternut Squash’ and the crazy rhymes of ‘Government Health Warning’ to the stretching of idioms in ‘Driven to Distraction’. I particularly enjoyed the sequence of poems which playfully explored the rules (and misuses) of punctuation – a resource sure to enliven many a grammar lesson. Several of her free verse poems would also make great models for children’s own poetry – ‘The Listening Station’ and ‘Messages from the Heart Scarab’ seem to particularly invite this. Sharply observant, warm-hearted and shamelessly eccentric, this collection offers much to enrich the KS2 classroom.'
Darren Coult, Write Away website, January 2010
‘This book contains a fascinating variety of poems, from the very short - I liked High Chair, which says so much in very few words - to much longer poems to really get your teeth into. Many of the poems have familiar settings, which will appeal to children, such as Getting Up and Back to School. I loved the quirky humour of poems such as Driven to Distraction: 'I picked up a bus on the High Street then put it down on the park.' Some have a much more serious message such as the thoughtful 'The Powder Monkey'. There are some wonderful poems on punctuation, which I think would make a great teaching resource. A well-balanced collection which will be read over and over again.' Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch, April 2011
GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING
Don’t squash peas on your knees,
Don’t grate carrot on a parrot,
Don’t tangle pears in your nostril hairs
Never risk a quid on a squid.
Don’t pour bottled beer in your ear.
Never slice apple pies on your thighs.
Never wash your pullovers with yesterday’s leftovers.
Don’t entice a bowl of egg fried rice.
Don’t assume that tarragon’s a paragon,
Or try to run faster than a bag of spinach pasta,
Don’t try a lunge at Victoria sponge,
A cake with a steak is a mistake.
Bravado never works with avocado,
A flickin’s not the thing to give to chicken,
Don’t go and stutter on the b-b-b-b-butter
Never feed mice on ice.
Careful not to ravage a coy savoy cabbage,
Never have a tussle with a mussel,
Don’t ever hurry with a spicy prawn curry,
Don’t boast about your buttered toast.
Don’t pour jelly in your welly,
Don’t dribble tagliatelle on your older brother’s belly.
Never do the tango with a ripe and juicy mango,
If you do then you’re sure to pay the price!
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