The mark of a skilful children’s poet is that the poems can be enjoyed just as much by adults. This is certainly the case with The Language of Cat, Rachel Rooney’s first book of collected poems.
In it, as the title suggests, we are invited to view the world from unusual perspectives, be it that of an animal, an imaginative poet, or indeed an autistic or dyslexic child.
This is a book brimming with witty invention. ‘Signature’ tells the tale of a boy with unfortunate initials, whilst in ‘Boast’ people are said to swallow inanimate objects, thus taking on their properties:
I’ve got a friend who swallowed a lamppost.
He lives down our street.
There are droll narratives such as ‘Post’, in which a queen plans to swap places with a commoner, and ‘A Greengage is a Type of Plum’, a true story and a warning against the over-consumption of that particular fruit.
Word games, shape poems and quasi-mathematical riddles abound, each page a playground for new ideas. Rooney never underestimates what children can absorb, nor, over 91 pages, does she ever rest on her laurels or resort to the merely cute or twee: ‘Calculation’ documents the mathematics of love in four shrewd lines; ‘Acceleration’ offers a kaleidoscopic vision of aging; ‘Elizabeth Quinn’ details the perils and pleasures of sensitivity (“There’s a girl that we know called Elizabeth Quinn/Her eyes are too big and her skin’s too thin”); and ‘Target’, in the closing pages, is a bold manifesto of poetic intent.
The stylised pen and pencil illustrations by Ellie Jenkins are, although effective, perhaps less impressive on the whole than the poetry. The best of them do make a strong visual impact however, enhancing the poems they accompany.
All in all, The Language of Catis a great debut boasting an embarrassment of riches that will have readers young and old purring with pleasure and gratitude.