Liz Berry on judging the CLiPPA

Earlier this month, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award (CLiPPA) announced the shortlist for the 2024 competition, which celebrates outstanding children’s poetry. This year’s judges includes award-winning poet Liz Berry, who discusses this year’s entries and why the competition is so important.

I fell in love with poems when I was very young, and that love has never faded. Folk rhymes, funny poems, lush mysterious verse, poems which sound like a party, poems full of the music of feeling… If we’re lucky enough to meet poems when we’re children, we come to them with an open heart and never learn to feel afraid of them but to see them as companions on our journey.

Photo of judge Liz Berry

The best poetry meets young people where they are and then carries them off to dreams and possibilities. As a teacher, parent and a poet, I love reading and sharing poems with young people and seeing that magic happen, so I was delighted to be asked to chair this year’s CLiPPA. Honestly, what poetry job could be more joyful?

I and my fellow judges – teacher and writer Darren Chetty, Billie Manning of the Poetry Society, poet Laura Mucha and teacher Imogen Maund – had a wealth of wonderful, immensely varied new poetry for children to consider and could easily have come up with a shortlist of ten, fifteen or twenty books. The judging meeting was long but hugely enjoyable as we discussed the collections, passionately championing the ones we loved the best.

Finally, we agreed on our shortlist: five brilliant and very different books. Each of these collections is unique and offers something special. Here are quiet poems, noisy poems, poems to make you laugh or dance, poems to help you think about your feelings, poems that keep you on the edge of your seat. How wonderful it is to see poetry for children flourishing, and to discover such diverse and inspiring voices at work.

A Dinosaur at the Bus Stop by Kate Wakeling, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon, Otter-Barry Books is a wonderful collection for the very young, poems full of music, fun and joy and that are perfect to share and perform.

We loved the range of poets included in My Heart is a Poem, Little Tiger Press, and loved the way their poems help you think and talk about our feelings; ‘A pick and mix of treasures’, said one of my fellow judges, which sums it up perfectly.

Balam and Lluvia’s House by Julio Serrano Echeverria, illustrated by Tolanda Mosquera, translated by Lawrence Schimel, The Emma Press is a gentle, playful book about a little brother and sister living in Guatemala. Of course, they have the same dreams and adventures as children everywhere and this reminded us of Shirley Hughes’ gentle, quiet books in which we come to know a family and their lives. The illustrations in this book are gorgeous too.

And I Climbed And I Climbed by Stephen Lightbown, illustrated by Shih-Yu Lin, Troika Books, is about Cosmo, a young boy who becomes a wheelchair user after an accident. We loved this, it’s fresh, moving and really gripping. We came to know Cosmo and his family so well and understood their feelings.

Our final choice is The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton, Otter-Barry Books. This is a wonderful novel in verse about Nate, navigating year 6, changing friendships, and a challenging home life. Again, this had us all gripped and one of the judges confessed to reading it while walking along! We loved the way Matt Goodfellow uses the beautiful speech patterns of Manchester, and it really does capture the voice of year 6.

And now the CLiPPA magic really starts, because with the announcement of the shortlist, the Shadowing Scheme opens. In schools across the country, teachers will be sharing the shortlisted collections with their classes, children will be choosing the poems that most speak to them, reading them, sharing them, learning them by heart and working up solo and group performances. The CLiPPA recognises that children are equals and collaborators in the poetry magic-making and invites them to keep the poems they read as friends for the rest of their lives.

Thanks to ALCS and its long-term support of the CLiPPA, schools can access a range of superb resources on the shortlisted books created by the team at CLPE. These enable children to get the most out of the collections and include specially filmed video performances by all the shortlisted poets, so that they can get to hear the poems read aloud and come to know the poets. Each year, hundreds of entries to the Shadowing competition are received, teachers submitting video recordings of pupils’ poem performances. The winners are invited to attend the CLiPPA award ceremony, which takes place in July at the National Theatre, London, and to perform live onstage alongside the shortlisted poets. It’s one of the most joyful and uplifting poetry award ceremonies of the year!

I will be there with all this year’s judges, and we can’t wait to see how the books we have selected are enchanting the next generation of dreamers.

Liz Berry is an award-winning poet and author of the critically acclaimed collections Black Country (Chatto, 2014); The Republic of Motherhood (Chatto, 2018); The Dereliction (Hercules Editions, 2021) and, most recently, The Home Child (Chatto, 2023), a novel in verse. Liz’s work, described as “a sooty soaring hymn to her native West Midlands” (Guardian), celebrates the landscape, history and dialect of the region. Liz has received the Somerset Maugham Award, Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and Forward Prizes. Her poem ‘Homing’, a love poem for the language of the Black Country, is part of the GCSE English syllabus.

Find out more about the CLiPPA Shadowing.