Benjamin Zephaniah visits You and Yours
On Wednesday, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah was our 'pop-up guest'. Because he's a writer, he works from home and punctuates his day with Radio 4. I know he's tuned in at noon because he called the programme once, when he was told to leave an all night Sainsbury's because 'they didn't allow men in on their own'. That was a few years ago but when we were talking about a children's books programme as a You and Yours in the run up to Christmas I wondered if he'd like to come on.
As I said on Wednesday Benjamin Zephaniah has been called 'the reigning king of children's poetry' he's also writing a successful series of novels for teenagers. One of the novels, 'Refugee Boy' is being discussed soon on Book Club on Radio 4.
So I contacted his agent, who gave me an email address and Benjamin agreed to join us.
I've known who he is for a long time but I have to confess I hadn't read a single word he's written until last year when I went to a Christmas concert in Oxford to raise funds for MacMillan the cancer charity and heard an actress read his 'Turkeys' poem.
I thought it was wonderful and through that poem I've started reading more and more of his work, from the witty, delightful, children's poems to the blazing brilliance of 'Naked'. If you love poetry and you haven't read Benjamin Zephaniah yet, then I think you are missing out.
On You and Yours when we talk about books we look at the way the market works. So we had two discussions with Benjamin in mind - one on children's poetry which is out of fashion with publishers, the other on pop-up and novelty books. These novelty books sell well as Christmas gifts but prices are rising because of higher production costs and changes in the rules about VAT.
If Benjamin is the king of children's poetry, Lucy Cousins the creator of Maisy Mouse will always be the queen of pop-ups for me. I love that chunky little mouse, with the big knickers, so robust and so beautifully drawn. Again, I emailed her agent and she said yes.
So there was just one more element we needed - some children of course.
Once a while ago, we talked about children's books on the programme without asking a child to contribute a review. Always when a programme is over, you realise there are things you could have done better, but that felt like such a glaring omission, we vowed never to do it again. Step forward the children of Betty Layward Primary in east London.
We took to the school, 'Maisy's Show', a new pop up edition of Peter Pan published by Templar, another Christmas book 'Father Christmas All About Me By Me' and a new collection of children's poems compiled by Michael Rosen.
How did I choose them? The poetry collection was recommended by The Poetry Book Society but the other choices were more personal: my son Tony who is 11 spotted the Peter Pan when we were out Christmas shopping and he'd chosen it as a present for his cousin.
The Father Christmas Book came via a friend who is a freelance PR. I saw her in the summer when she happened to have had a proof copy of it and I thought it was extraordinary. It had an old fashioned silver sixpence stuck in for a pudding, and a Christmas letter from a soldier at the Front. And at £24.99 it's expensive for a children's book and illustrated perfectly the rising production costs and retail prices.
I went to the school on Tuesday morning with the programme's producer Steven Williams who later edited these interviews back at the office while I wrote the scripts. The children were delighted with the books and they loved the poetry. The revelation was Father Christmas which I thought was too densely packed with text for children of primary school age and was probably more of a grown-ups posh coffee table book. The five year olds loved it and quite literally couldn't put it down - I think because of the sheer quality of the illustrations.
What did we do with these review copies? We left them with the school of course......