80 by Roger McGough

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80 by Roger McGough

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Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A perfect book of verse for the young – perfect, that is, until you find them all equally brilliant and thus a little unable to stand out from such hallowed company.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780141388823

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Yes, Roger McGough has hit 80 – and it's a query in the reader's mind as to whether he's 80 years of age or just celebrating 80 books, as he's been very highly regarded in poetic circles for so long now that both seem plausible. In fact, this book is designed to applaud his ninth decade's arrival due in November 2017 (his birthday is 9/11 – that's the British 9/11, not the other one), and it dutifully compiles 80 poems – with a bonus, new one on the back cover. You also have to take pause in estimating his life's achievement by thinking that not every book of his is, like this one, family-friendly and classroom fodder – but still, such is his output that selecting 80 best must have been no easy feat.

Everything here is designed to delight the young reader, from his snappy and witty verses to his own illustrations, which hit on his sense of humour just as do the words. Now I've read half a dozen new books of verse for new young poetry audiences this year, and wondered why they struggle to sustain the old-fashioned rhyming schemes and meters of old, in favour of broken lines and modern blank verse. This book, in easily covering everything in bounce and rhyme, may have shown me why. There is a paradoxical fault here, that with practically everything here being in couplets and verses of four, and with similar meters throughout, it can seem a little samey. His ease with finding a rhyme where you thought them not possible means they can run on into each other. It would seem they are just too good.

But that's perhaps also the fault of this reader, who could not hope to ration these verses, and sped through the book with much pleasure. There are flippantly funny verses here – a pet duck loses its voice, a man makes jellyfish pie, and we ponder how life would be without noses – as well as the likes of 'Rainbow Menu' and 'Reward and Punishment', that don't go for the outright laughs. I have to also mention 'The Colour Collector' and its companion 'The Sound Collector', for being the usual ABCB verses but unusually creepy 'what if's for it.

It's not just the rhythms, the joke rhymes and the punchlines here – there often are great phrases that really stand out. You can teach kids Ted Hughes and his Crow til the cows come home, but here, in the context it sits, the line the hiatus of a hawk is, to me, perfect use of words. And I could have highlighted several such mature, non-condescending, proper verse lines, that have been inserted into these fun rhymes for the young, just because the author can. Like I say, this must have been a struggle in compiling, and the result is something that is so uniformly fabulous it can almost be a little too homogeneous. But boy isn't that a wonderful problem to have?

This is just lovely, and I thank the publishers for my review copy.

Another deserved career-so-far summary for the same shelf is Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses.

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Buy 80 by Roger McGough at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 80 by Roger McGough at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy 80 by Roger McGough at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 80 by Roger McGough at Amazon.com.


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