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The Storybarn Selects… From The Reader Bookshelf

Written by Lily Kehoe, 3rd November 2023

We're continuing to delve into the Children and Young People's Reader Bookshelf with a review of Chris Riddell's anthology Poems to Live Your Life from Head of Children and Young People, Kara.


Gwendolyn Brooks said that ‘Poetry is life distilled’, and Chris Riddell’s fabulous and richly illustrated curation of ‘Poems to Live Your Life By’ encapsulates that sentiment perfectly.

The collection contains Chris Riddell’s favourite poems ‘about life, death and everything in between’ and is arranged into 8 clear sections, each section focussing upon emotive themes, themes that get to the very heart of what it is to be human. The sections cover a huge breadth of feeling, there is plenty of nonsense and humour to be found, but there is also tragedy, heartbreak, romance and loss: Musings, Youth, Family, Love, Imaginings, Nature, War and Endings, the clearly arranged themes cover it all!

One of my favourite things about this collection (beside the fact that the hardback, deep purple, clothbound edition is a thing of total beauty) is the fact that it is so unbelievably accessible and appealing to even the most reluctant reader of poetry. Work by the likes of Tennyson, Shakespeare and Keats sit perfectly alongside printed lyrics by performers such as Nick Cave, Phoebe Bridgers and Kae Tempest, and with Chris Riddell’s distinct illustrations, each poem is brought to life with his own, unique take.

I remember all too well my own reluctance to engage with poetry when I was at school, despite being a voracious reader. I can’t help but wonder if ‘Poems to Live Your Life By’ had been around when I was a teenager, that might have been a very different story. I think I will be gifting an awful lot of copies of this gorgeous collection going forwards…

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