Cloud Busting

It comes as no surprise to learn that Cloud Busting won a Smarties Silver Book Award. It’s a cautionary school tale in verse on a familiar topic – an uncool new boy, a growing secret friendship, cruelty, betrayal, and finally, a heart-sore lesson. But it’s the mastery of the telling, and the apparent effortlessness of the style that wins the reader over. There’s no spare word. The language is lucid, uncluttered, and the tale moves along at a swift, measured pace. So, while it’s simple and straightforward enough to appeal to younger readers, it sacrifices nothing in achieving that end. It’s full of twists and turns, of parallels, surprises, rever- sals, making it an unputdownable page-turner. Close examination reveals that underlying the narrative thrust is the book’s consummate but unostentatious formal accomplishment. Proto-haikus, limericks, and shape poems vie with blank verse in shaping the tale. The chapter in which teacher Mr Mackey introduces his class to the ‘pure paced rhythm’ of haiku emulates that form and ends with an achieved, poignant, minimalist poem of regret for Davey, the bullied outcast. The verse paragraph entitled ‘Putting the boot in’ takes the shape of a boot, and is followed by Davey’s reaction to taunting and provocation, told in blank verse. What might have presented difficulty – how to disclose the cloud burst of emotions that creates the current of the tale without allowing it to become mawkish or self-indulgent – is avoided, not least because of the poem’s humour, often self- directed, often dark. It effectively creates some emotional distance and offers relief from the intensity of the narrator’s perturbation, but it does not prevent the reader empathising with the protagonists. My only reservation relates to the poem’s last verse chapter, a Whitmanesque final hymn that does not altogether sidestep the trite. But let that not discour- age the reader from savouring what is otherwise an intense lyrical feat. I can see this book appealing to teachers who want to teach students about verse form, and I hope that its usefulness will not detract from its delight.

Age range: 6–12.