Once Upon a Christmas, edited by Beattie Alvarez

I slid down the icy balustrade outside our town house. The chill of the evening fairly took my breath away, then, I was airborne. I landed in the flurry of snow at the base of the stairs, startling the band of carol singers who had just crossed the street.
Father opened the door and took in the scene. ‘Please forgive us,’ he said to the carol singers. ‘My singers who had just crossed the street.
Father opened the door and took in the scene. ‘Please forgive us,’ he said to the carol singers. ‘My daughter has no fear.’
Michael Pryor The Spirit of Christmas

For adults who remember the Christmas Annuals of their childhoods, Once Upon a Christmas will feel familiar, while for children who may not have encountered such an offering, it will prove an unexpected treasure. With over 150 pages of stories, poems, illustrations and more, the anthology celebrates a huge variety of Christmas traditions and imaginings.

The stories are from different cultures, and represent both Australian Christmas settings and traditions as well as those from around the world and in different time periods. The range of genres is also wide including historical fiction, modern fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction, humour, and poetry. Black and white illustrations throughout are complemented by coloured plates in the centre of the book. Creators whose work appears in the book include Susanne Gervay, Ursula Dubosarsky, Duncan Ball, Sophie Masson and more.

Once Upon a Christmas is a book which will be treasured.


Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon a Christmas, compiled and edited by Beattie Alvarez
Christmas Press, 2014
ISBN 9780992283858

Available from good bookstores and online.

Guinea Pig Town, by Lorraine Marwood

It was our brother’s idea
to build a town,
a small town
for many guinea pigs
which kept multiplying –
cream ginger and black
wisps of colour and rabbity-mousey
features, all ours.

So begins the title poem of this beautiful collection of animal poems from one of Australia’s leading children’s poets. Stretching over four pages this poem, the longest in the collection, tells the tale of siblings building a ‘town’ for their guinea pigs, but it is more than just a story – it is a celebration of childhood, of pets, and of the magic way in which poetry can bring such events to life.

Other poems are much shorter – just a few lines of perfect poetic observation, as in Storm:
The wind so strong
a dragonfly cartwheels
along the ground

But whatever the length, the quality of the poems is consistent. Each new poem is a delight waiting to be discovered, and, like the subject matter, to be wondered at. From cute and cuddly kittens to scary spiders and thrilling frill-necks, there is an animal on every page for young readers to enjoy, whether they read cover to cover, or dip in and out.

New children’s poetry collections are few and far between in Australia, which is regrettable, but fortunately Marwood, (with the support of publisher Walker Books) continues to produce quality collections of Aussie children to savour.

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781922077424

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Best Australian Poetry 2005, guest edited by Peter Porter

‘Best’, the editor of this collection tells us, is a difficult concept, because once you pass the number two , the comparative disappears into a mass of superlatives.With forty poems included in this collection, there are a lot of ‘bests’, but Porter (the aforementioned editor) tells us he had an embarrassment of riches to choose from and has chosen from them those he sees most worthy of the title. As an expatriate Australian with eighteen published volumes of verse and prizes including the Forward Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, Porter is well qualified to act as Guest Editor and judge of what constitutes the best of Australian poetry.

To qualify for selection in the volume, poems must have been written by Australian poets and published in an Australian journal in the preceding year. The poems selected came from forty poets, published in 14 different journals – ranging from The Age and The Australian to Island, Meanjin and Southerly.

The poems on offer range from short and whimsical (in Bee Season Kirwan Henry that he likes bees
If not for their sting
Then for their stripes.
to the long and serious, such as Under the Shaded Blossom in which John Jenkins details an imaginary meeting between poet Wallace Stevens and mafia boss Meyer Lansky.

For those who like to read and digest poetry, this is a fine collection and for those who would like a taste of what is on offer, this is an excellent starting point. Other poets represented here include Fay Zwicky, Les Murray, John Kinsella and Bruce Dawe.

The Best Australian Poetry 2005, Guest Editor Peter Porter
UQP, 2005