OC LIVE : Turning Back the Pages to Youth : Writer Crosses Bridge to Childhood Via the Nose
Michael Rosen will be 50 soon, but his age is fluid to the readers of his children’s poems and stories. In the time it takes to leaf through one of his books, he can go from an 8-year-old careening downhill on a go-cart to a parent digesting the humorous views of a toddler.
The author or editor of some 100 books, Rosen is touted by his publisher as “the British Shel Silverstein,” and a London Times critic wrote that his poetry “gives us one of the best verse portrayals of childhood since A.A. Milne.” Fans of illustrator Helen Oxenbury of “Tom and Pippo” fame may know Rosen for his retelling of the children’s classic “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” illustrated by Oxenbury.
Still, he is not nearly as well known in the United States as he is in England.
Only a fraction of his books have been widely available in the United States. But that could change with this year’s American release of “The Best of Michael Rosen” (Wetlands Press) and a Rosen-edited anthology of children’s poems and wordplay titled “Walking the Bridge of Your Nose” (Kingfisher Larousse).
On Saturday, locals will have a rare chance to meet this poet-anthologist-author-broadcaster during the Orange County leg of a statewide promotional tour. Rosen is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the California Reading Assn. conference today and Friday at the Disneyland Hotel (that event is for members only), and he will read from and autograph his books Saturday morning at the Whale of a Tale children’s book store in Irvine.
If you miss him there, you can catch him in a live interview on Radio Aahs (AM-830) during the children’s station’s “Disneyland Live” broadcast Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Rosen winds up his California tour Nov. 15 with a conference and public reading in San Diego.
Like many authors who also happen to be parents (he has five children and stepchildren, ages 8 to 19), Rosen has often found inspiration in the minutiae of family life. His “Eddie in Bed” in “The Best of Michael Rosen” will strike a chord with any parent who has dealt with a tiny interloper in the marital bed.
The thing that makes Rosen’s work so accessible to children and adults is his knack for plucking humor from a situation and displaying it in such a way that readers of all ages can share a good laugh or a tender moment over it.
“A lot of my works deal with interactions between adults and children; they just happen to be written from a child’s perspective,” Rosen said by phone from the BBC studios in London, where hosts two radio shows dealing with literature.
Consider “The Car Trip,” in which two brothers sharing a back seat take turns aggravating the driver, their mom:
My hands are sticky.
He’s playing with the door handle now.
I feel sick.
Your nose is all runny.
Don’t pull my hair.
He’s punching me, Mom.
That’s really dangerous, you know.
Mom, he’s spitting.
“By and large, I start from a real situation and spin off,” explained Rosen, “whereas Shel [Silverstein, author of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and other children’s books] mostly works in the belt of fantasy.”
Some of the pieces in “The Best of Michael Rosen” in which fantasy does come into play are wonderfully childlike, rattling on in the same impassioned, sometimes disjointed way that children use to describe their dreams. There are also silly wordplays and poignant recollections.
Rosen said that his secret for keeping such a strong link with his youth is that he doesn’t “dig rivers between the bits of my life.”
“In our culture, we tend to make rigid breaks in our lives,” he said. “We look back at things and think, ‘Ah, that’s when I was in junior high; I’m not like that any more.’
“For me, there’s no discontinuity between the time I was 2 and the age I am now; it’s all connected.”
Rosen said that when he’s talking with children at student workshops or public signings, he encourages them to mine their own experiences through poetry.
“Quite often, kids get hung up because they think poetry has to conform to a certain pattern,” he said. “But I think patterns emerge when you chew over what you’re thinking about.
“Say a teacher gives a child some pattern, like ‘green is . . .’ and the child fills in the blank. If the kid says, ‘Green is garbage,’ and the teacher says, ‘That’s not poetic; green has to be dreamy and beautiful,’ that’s the wrong way around. Writing matters more than that; it should be like you’re plowing things over in your brain that you care about.”
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* What: Reading and book signing by British children’s poet Michael Rosen.
* When: Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to noon.
* Where: Whale of a Tale children’s bookstore, 4187 Campus Drive, Irvine.
* Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road exit. Drive south on Jamboree, then left onto Campus Drive. The bookstore is in the Irvine Marketplace, across from UC Irvine.
* Wherewithal: FREE.
* Where to call: (714) 854-8288.