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Out and About: A First Book of Poems by Shirley Hughes

Author and illustrator Shirley Hughes is a Grande Dame of British Children's literature. Her 1977 picture book, Dogger, won the Kate Greenaway Award (the British Caldecott) and, in 2007 it won the public vote for best Greenaway ever. Reading Out and About: A First Book of Poems, it's easy to see why she is so beloved in England. Although she was born in 1927, Hughes clearly still has a vivid memory of what it is like to be a child and see the world with a wondrous and fresh eye. As Hughes says in her author's note, while a poem doesn't always have to rhyme, for her, "words and pictures go together, so I cannot think of an idea for a poem without sitting down at my drawing board and searching for my paints."

Out and About: A First Book of Poems features Kate and he baby brother Olly, "always ready to open the back door and set out down the garden path to see what each day has to offer." Kate and Olly are actually the stars of several picture books in the UK that have a sort of Dick & Jane vibe. Hughes presents the explorations of Kate and Olly in four sections, one for each season, starting with Spring and the incredible illustration below.

My favorite poem from Spring, and maybe even the whole book, is the final one in the section, is Sunshine at Bedtime. The world is alive, the streets are "full of blossom, / Like pink and white snow," but the sun is still out at bedtime, "Why isn't it dark? / Yet high in the sky / I saw the moon, / Pale as a ghost / In the afternoon." What a lovely image, one that is immediately evokes memories.

Poems of weather - wind, rain and the mud that comes later - are rich with descriptive words that you can feel and smell. Hughes's summer poems capture the spray of the ocean, the splash of the paddling pool and the cool quiet of a hiding place in the tall grass. She even includes a poem about being sick in bed, another happenstance of childhood. Out and About: A First Book of Poems is a genuine treasure - one of those books that, read over and over in childhood, will live long in the memory of adults.

Source: Review Copy


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