About John Mole Children's Poems

John Mole is one of our foremost children’s poets. He grew up in Somerset, and is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, including Boo to a Goose (1987), which won the Signal Award for children’s poetry, This is the Blackbird (Peterloo Poets, 2007), Back By Midnight (Puffin Books, 1994), The Wonder Dish (Oxford University Press, 2002), and All the Frogs (Salt Publishing, 2010). For many years he worked as a teacher. He has been poet in residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, the Poetry Society’s Poet in Residence to the City of London, and has presented feature programs for BBC Radio. For many years John has combined writing poetry—for which he has won many prizes, including Gregory and Cholmondeley Awards—with being a jazz clarinetist. That he is also a musician will be unsurprising for fans of his very musical verse, which often performs imaginative variations on existing metrical patterns and rhyme schemes. In a poem like ‘Night Music’, for example, he takes the structure of the nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ and makes it something new, in the way a jazz musician improvises a new melody over an old chord progression:

Hey diddle diddle

The Emperor’s fiddle,

His soldiers are over the moon.

From andante legato

To mad pizzicato

Their wish runs away with his tune.

As this poem demonstrates, Mole’s work engages with often complex issues in a deceptively simple way. Sometimes he deals with large-scale political questions (like the actions of ‘Emperors’ and ‘soldiers’), and sometimes with things a bit closer to home. ‘Embarrassment is in the Situation’, for example, opens with a boy making a grammatical mistake when talking to his mother at breakfast (‘You didn’t ought to have done that, I said’). This small moment turns into a larger consideration of how the way we speak relates to social class. Does speaking incorrectly mean we’re ‘posh’ or ‘common’? And should we even be using such terms? The poem leaves these questions open for us to think about.

Mole’s poetry is also full of characters drawn from fairy tales and children’s books, including a very sinister poem about Captain Hook (‘When you see me smile / You should run a mile / Because I’m as dangerous / As a crocodile’)! One of the most enjoyable aspects of Mole’s poetry is his vivid way of depicting animals, like the bull ‘with a brow of thunder / and a ring through his nose’, or the European Eagle Owl, whose head turns with a ‘fierce gun-turret swivel’. This close examination of the everyday world reminds of how much magic there is around us, if we just stop to look at it attentively.

Mole’s poems are intended to be read aloud, and in this recording his warm and engaging delivery brings out their lilting rhythms and highly musical cadences.

​John’s recording was made on August 22nd 2017 at The Soundhouse, London. It was produced by Richard Carrington.

All the Frogs. Salt, 2010.

This is the Blackbird. Peterloo Poets, 2007.

Back By Midnight. Puffin, 1994.

Prizes

Eric Gregory Award 1970

Signal Award for Poetry 1988

Cholmondeley Award 1994

Recordings

John Mole Children's Poems

1A Ghost Story

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3At The Pantomime

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4Embarrassment is in the Situation

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5First Love

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6First Snow

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7Five Animal Songs

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8from Penny Toys

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9Miss Loman-Lang

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10Moth

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11Mr Punch

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12My Hero

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13Nothing Persoal

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14She Heard Them Shouting

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15The Blackout

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16The Boy and the Sky

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17The Doctor and The Clown

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18The Goldfish

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19The Jigsaw Man - The Invisible Man

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20The Sad Story of Terrible Trevor

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21The Shoes

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22The Song Of Abner Brown

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23Variation on an Old Rhyme

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2Alice and Alice

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Books by John Mole Children's Poems