Sunday, 11 August 2013

Top Shelf Books #5 – Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg

The Next Addition to The Top Shelf is

Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg

It’s a book of verses about primary school, both from The Points Of View of the pupils and the teachers, covering everything from whining children and grumpy teachers to underachievement, best friends, excuses, snow, monsters, guilt, supply teachers, God and missing scissors.

‘Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?’

More often than not I don’t like poetry, so I’m particularly impressed with the collection in Please Mrs Butler, which are (is?) detailed, evocative and funny.  They also vary a lot in tone and style, some aimed more at The Child Audience, frenetic, repetitive, rhyming and silly, while others are more thoughtful or atmospheric.

I was first acquainted with some of The Poems (especially the title poem itself) early in infant school, as The Teacher often read it to us.  It was a firm favourite with The Class and as such was less of a favourite with me.

But when I was a little older, I got a copy of the book myself and was able to appreciate The Poems properly.  I recall The Mother was always very fond of ‘Slow Reader’.  One of my favourites, for its perfect ending, is ‘Glenis’.

It’s a testimony to Ahlberg’s acute observational skills that the book was published before I was born and yet by the time I was reading it his evocation of school life was still vividly recognisable.

I enjoyed these poems when I was a child because I was immersed in this world and enjoyed the parody of the familiar, while it works just as well in retrospect because as an adult I can now better understand the perspectives of the adults in The Poems as well as enjoy The Strong Sense Of Nostalgia it creates.

There’s a sort of sequel

Heard It In The Playground

As a child, I was more familiar with this follow-up because I owned it first, although I knew Please Mrs Butler from school.  But rereading them both as an adult, although Heard It In The Playground is still very good, it doesn’t surpass the first collection.

Heard It In The Playground also has songs and group performance poetry, which gives it a slightly more ‘aimed at school children’ feel, but it’s still enjoyable to read alone.

These poems aren’t just for children.  Anyone who’s ever been through a school, pupil, parent or teacher, will enjoy them.

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