100 Best Christmas Poems for Children, by Roger McGough and Beatriz Castro
Enjoyable anthology featuring traditional verses and modern classics, encouraging readers to reflect on the Christmas themes of joy, hope and peace for all the world
100 Best Christmas Poems for Children
By Roger McGough and Beatriz Castro
Reviewed by Terry Young
This is a book primarily about the fun of Advent and the exuberance of childhood Christmases. There is some theology in there, but it is mainly – and joyously – that of half remembered lines and hesitant scansion. If you want mystery and reflection, Pye and Boucher’s Celebrating Christmas is a better bet.
But if you have your Advent meditations sorted and you just love the sheer raucous fun of Christmas, doused in sentiment and set alight with gentle humour in a collection that still manages to return to that First Christmas, then this might be for you.
A quick skim of the internet did not turn up anything interesting about Beatriz Castro’s faith (although I realised I’d seen her characters’ big eyes staring out at me before). Her illustrations – sadly in monochrome – are whimsical: some fill enough of the page for the poems to be arranged around them, and some are like postage stamps, affixed to make sure you get the message. They are varied – sand, snow, stables, stars, straw, and spaceships – eclectic and enjoyable.
Roger does talk about his Roman Catholic faith and the way in which it grounds his life (e.g.: This much I know: Roger McGough). As a poet, and with his editor, Philip Law, he has guided the selection from favourites put forward by schools. This was also a lockdown project.
Anthologies are not really for reading cover to cover (although that’s precisely what I did) but for finding out if your favourite authors are in there and writing briskly to the editor, if not. They are also about finding new poets to love. I’ve always delighted in Ogden Nash’s quixotic approach to words (and sometimes to meter) and there was a Nash that was new to me! If you want something traditional, Christina Rossetti is there. If you want something to recite, there’s that old favourite from Clement Clarke Moore (hit your search engine – you’ll recognise the poem immediately, even if you haven’t read it, from the many parodies it has inspired).
Longfellow puts in an appearance if you want classical clout, while Roger himself has contributed a Haiku (as well as something more expected with Alternative Santa). I don’t think I’d come across Clare Bevan before, but Just doing my job is a lovely little number if you want a recitation between the end of the school play and the Christmas tree keeling over onto the stage.
I could understand why my beloved Chesterton did not make an appearance, but I was disappointed that there was no Pam Ayres. My biggest joy was discovering the unguarded faith of some contributors that twinkled through their verse. I hadn’t realised that UA Fanthorpe, for instance, was a Quaker, but it is hard to miss her quietly quirky faith in her contributions, especially, BC:AD.
What more can I say? It’s a frolicsome anthology. You may not like everything, but there is bound to be something in there that you really enjoy because you’ve always enjoyed it, and a serendipitous something that adds to your pleasure this year.
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia