A poem to celebrate an exceptional wattle season..

A poem I wrote a couple of years ago for everyone who loves that amazing yellow beauty…and this year, I’m republishing it to celebrate a truly exceptional year in the wattle stakes!

Wattle blooming

Sudden bursts of gold,

Sweeping colour bold,

By rivers, by roads, in country and town,

In farms and gardens, the wattle’s the crown.


Of the end of the winter, beginning of spring,

The blooming of wattle will sing and sing

Of birds in their nests and the warm days to hand,

For the wattle is blooming across the land.


Sophie Masson


Five Favourites 22: Meredith Costain

Today’s five favourites have been chosen by Meredith Costain.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, with illustrations by Ruth Gervis

I have read this book so many times over the years it is falling apart. It made me long for a life in a genteel inner-city London, one of the three little ‘Fossil sisters’ tenderly cared for by a guardian and a no-nonsense and very proper English nanny, and earning their keep on the stage. The scene where they vow to get their names in history books has stayed with me forever (and set me on the path to becoming a writer). I devoured the rest of her books one after the other.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I suspect I loved this book so much because I identified so strongly with Jo. She spent every spare moment she could reading, writing, crunching apples up a tree or acting out plays with her sisters. I also admired the family’s dogged insistence on making the best out of every situation: the scene where the four sisters are hand-hemming a bed sheet (hemming being something I hated doing myself) and imagining each seam was a new continent to be explored is wonderful.

When We Were Very Young by A A Milne, with illustrations by E H Shepard

We recited a lot of poetry in our house when I was growing up – and this book (along with Now We Are Six) contained some of my favourites: ‘Disobedience’, ‘The King’s Breakfast’, ‘Happiness’ and ‘At the Zoo’. All his writing had such wonderful, matter-of-fact rhythm that went marching through your head. The perfect companion to the perfect Winnie-the-Pooh.

A Book For Kids by C J Dennis

I went to a tiny two-roomed country primary school where our wonderful teacher shared his love of rhythm and rhyme (and the new kids on the block – The Beatles!) with us every day. He introduced us to the poetry of C J Dennis and I still know most of the poems off by heart, particularly ‘Hist!’, ‘The Ant Explorer’, and ‘Triantiwontigongolope’.


The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs by Darlene Geis, with illustrations by Kenyon Shannon

My brother and I fought for ownership over this book (I’m happy to say I won – it’s currently sitting on my ‘beloved books’ shelf). We spent hours poring over the words and images and had fun trying to pronounce their unpronounceable names (so different to the names of animals we had first-hand knowledge of: cow, dog, chook, rabbit, horse). The blend of hard facts and narrative and its conversational tone made it perfect for young readers desperate to find out more about these fabulous beasts from another world and time.

Finally, just want to add some ‘near misses’: I feel like I will have betrayed these lovely books if I don’t give them a mention as well!

Near misses: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, Ash Road and Hills End by Ivan Southall, What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge, Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner, Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff.


My prize-winning poem, Paddock Life

I’m very pleased to report that a poem of mine for children, Paddock Life, has won third prize(poetry category) in well-known children’s poet Jackie Hosking’s annual Poetry and Stories in Verse Competition, the results of which have just been announced!

Congratulations to all the prize-winners and highly commendeds, and many thanks to Jackie for running the comp and always supporting poetry for children!

Below is my poem. Hope you enjoy.


Paddock life

by Sophie Masson


She has all the morning alive in her throat,

Silvering the air with a fresh stream of notes,

She’s dressed for a show in her black and her white,

And her song will remain even when she takes flight.


The spiders spin their silk all over the place

Patiently weaving fine patterns of lace,

Turning grass clumps to cities and fences to art,

As they work and they wait and they prowl and they dart.


Over the fence, look! There he goes,

That famous acrobat striking a pose!

Up on two legs, then down on four,

And with the tail, he adds one more.

Blue tongue lizard

From his home in a log the blue tongue clumps out

Like a mini dinosaur he stomps and stalks about,

His tongue flicking in

His tongue flicking out.


Knee deep in grass, in the bright golden day,

The cattle are making their very slow way

Down to the dam where they’ll drink and they’ll chew

And they’ll stare and they’ll dream the whole day through.



One Minute till Bedtime blog tour

one-minute-till-bedtimeToday I’m taking part in an unusual kind of blog tour–highlighting a poem that was considered but not in the end accepted for the fabulous US-published children’s poetry anthology One Minute till Bedtime, chosen and compiled by prominent US poet Kenn Nesbitt. It’s the idea of well-known children’s poet and fellow Australian contributor to One Minute till Bedtime, Jackie Hosking–an unusual way of highlighting the poetic richness that’s out there!

The poem of mine that’s been chosen for the anthology is called Seagull Beach Party, and you can read it in the anthology–but this one, Windmills, though it wasn’t chosen, is still one I am pretty happy with! It was inspired by seeing heaps of the ‘white giants’ on a visit to Scotland.


by Sophie Masson

The giants on the hill paddle in bright air,

Eddies of fine cloud flying everywhere.

A gust of wind excites them as they gather in the crop;

A sunny stillness quiets them, their arms go slow, then stop.

In humming rows they stand,

White giants across the land,

Waiting for a breeze to blow,

Waiting for a chance to show

They can thresh the wind without a care,

And harvest and mill the breath of air,

To turn into heat and light,

Far away and out of sight.

In humming rows they stand,

White giants across the land,

Looking across the seas,

Waiting for the breeze.



Interview with Kenn Nesbitt, poet and compiler of One Minute till Bedtime

kennwithbooksIn 2014 I and many other writers received a lovely and unexpected invitation from prominent American children’s poet Kenn Nesbitt, asking if we would be interested in submitting poems for an anthology he was compiling, One Minute Till Bedtime, which would also include such contributors as Jack Prelutsky, Jon Scieszka, Jane Yolen, and Lemony Snicket. Talk about great company! And I was so thrilled when Kenn accepted my poem, Seagull Beach Party.

Two years later, and this week sees the publication of One Minute Till Bedtime. Containing the work of many poets from the US, UK, Australia and Canada, selected by Kenn, and beautifully illustrated by Christoph Niemann, the book is published by Little, Brown and is available around the world, including Australia. To celebrate its publication, I spoke to Kenn about the project, his own career, and children’s poetry in general.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of One Minute till Bedtime, Kenn! It’s lovely to see it out there. How did you come up with the idea for this unique poetry anthology?

Many years ago, the poet Bruce Lansky pointed out to me that most children’s poems can be read in an average of about one minute. Since then, I have tried to encourage teachers to take one minute of their school day to share a poem with their students.

When I was named Children’s Poet Laureate, I decided to create a website called PoetryMinute.org to give teachers a resource where they could easily find one-minute poems to share with their students for every day of the school year.

While I was in the process of creating this site, I was approached by Susan Rich at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers about creating a book around this idea of one-minute poems. She and I decided that bedtime might be the perfect time for a book of short poems, and One Minute till Bedtime was born.one-minute-till-bedtime

The contributing poets come from around the world. How did you go about sourcing poems for the anthology? 

Over the years that I have been writing children’s poems, I have developed relationships with many poets throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. I called on many of these authors, and reached out to lots of other poets whose work I admire. Thank goodness for email and the Internet. A project like this would have been much more difficult 20 years ago!

With its wonderful poems, lively illustrations by Christoph Niemann, and attractive design, One Minute till Bedtime is a most appealing book for children and their parents. And obviously there’s a lot of work behind it. Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting together such a big project with the publisher, Little, Brown?

To begin, I wanted to create a collection that focused on the work of living, working children’s poets, rather than reprinting classic and public domain works. So I sent out a call for submissions to over 200 poets from around the world, looking for brand new poems that had never before appeared in print. I received submissions from roughly 170 different authors. I read them all, highlighting the ones that I thought might work. Once I knew which poems I wanted to include, I printed them all out and spread the papers around my dining room table, looking for natural pairings between poems and organizing them into sections.

Along the way, I tracked everything with spreadsheets, including submissions, selections, the order of the poems, and so on. While I was doing this, Little, Brown was on the hunt for just the right illustrator. Christoph Neimann was a truly inspired choice. His simple, yet incredibly clever illustrations compliment the poems perfectly.

Once the manuscript was completed, Little, Brown began working with Christoph on the illustrations and with me on the process of proofreading, editing, typesetting, and troubleshooting.

In the end, it all came together beautifully. I couldn’t be more proud of this book.

You are a popular and much-published poet. Can you tell us something about your own career, and how you started? What do you think has changed, if anything, over the time you’ve been published, in terms of attitudes to poetry for children?

I began writing poems as a hobby for my own amusement. I wrote for several years before I ever considered trying to get published. I also created a website, poetry4kids.com, in 1997 to share my work with readers online. I had my first poems published in 1998 in an anthology called Miles of Smiles. My first book, The Aliens Have Landed at Our School! was published in 2001. Since then, I have written many more books of children’s poetry, as well as a couple of picture books and a chapter book.

It seems that there are more poets writing for children today than ever before. At the same time, there are fewer individual poetry collections being published. Many children’s poets have instead turned their talents to writing picture books, novels in verse, etc. Large hardcover collections, such as those of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, are becoming rare as hens’ teeth. Recent books by Alan Katz and Calef Brown are notable exceptions.

It is my hope that One Minute till Bedtime will not only introduce a new generation of parents and children to the joy of poetry, and showcase the works of today’s best children’s poets, but will also show publishers that poetry is worth pursuing.

You are the US Children’s Poetry Laureate and a tireless advocate for poetry. Why do you think poetry is so important for children? And what more do you think could be done to enhance children’s access to poetry?

I was the Children’s Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. Although I’ve passed that torch to my successor, Jacqueline Woodson, I continue to promote poetry to children, parents, and teachers around the world.

I believe poetry is important for children because it is short, fun, and memorable. (Everyone remembers something by Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and probably several other poets of childhood.) This combination makes poetry an easy springboard to reading and writing. Introducing children to poetry can help make them lifelong lovers of the written word.

The best champions for poetry are the earliest ones; parents and teachers. I believe the best way to enhance children’s access to poetry is to encourage parents to read to their kids, and to ask teachers to share poetry in their classrooms. Once they do, they will find that kids can’t get enough.

Small Beginnings, 8: Stephen Whiteside

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Below is a poem, “The Fur and Feather Sailing Club”, that I probably wrote when I was about 19 or 20. I forget exactly. It was certainly before I had had anything professionally published.

I grew up very much under the spell of Banjo Paterson – The Geebung Polo Club, The Man from Ironbark, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, Clancy of the Overflow, The Man From Snowy River.
I also learned to sail as a boy, and loved the adventure and the independence that it offered me.
It is no surprise, then, that I wrote a Banjo Paterson-inspired sailing poem!
In many ways, this poem is a watery version of “The Geebung Polo Club”, although the overall shape/narrative is very much along the lines of “The Man From Snowy River”.
It is probably fair to say that not a huge amount has changed in my writing over the years. I still love narrative rhyming verse, though I generally write shorter poems these days, because that is what publishers want. I tend to play much more now with form and subject matter, but narrative rhyming verse is my default position – something I can always fall back to if all else fails!
The Fur and Feather Sailing Club
by Stephen Whiteside
(first two verses)
A splendid sight the clubhouse was, adorned with flapping flags,

Along the beach, the band in tartan trews;

The car park overflowing with Mercedes Benz and Jags,

Inside the briefing room, the anxious crews.


The myriad spectators sniffed the breeze and sipped champagne,

While their darling little children swallowed Coke,

And no-one seemed to notice, down a long-forgotten lane,

A dusty, dirty, battered Mini-Moke.

READ THE FULL POEM HEREThe Fur and Feather Sailing Club


Stephen Whiteside has been writing rhyming verse for many years. He writes for both adults and children. Many of his poems have been published in magazines or anthologies, both in Australia and overseas, or won awards. He has also self-published several volumes of verse.

In 2014, Walker books Australia published a collection of his poems for children, “’The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. In 2015, the book won a Golden Gumleaf for “Book of the Year” at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Stephen is a great admirer of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis. He is President of the C. J. Dennis Society, and a key organiser of the annual Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival. The festival is held in October every year at Dennis’ former home in Toolangi, a small hamlet in the wooded hills 65 km east of Melbourne. In 2016 the festival will be celebrating the centenary of the publication in 1916 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”.

A joint celebration of World Poetry Day and The School Magazine


School Magazine mascot

WP_20160229_14_40_48_Pro Jackie Hosking of Pass It On had a brilliant idea for today: jointly mark World Poetry Day and the 100-year celebrations of the world’s oldest continuously-running literary magazine for children. Australia’s very own wonderful School Magazine, by a blog tour highlighting children’s poetry published in the Magazine. And I’m delighted to be part of that fabulous blog tour!

First of all, I want to say that not only do I love The School Magazine, but I owe a lot to it. As a young reader of non-English speaking background who came to Australia as a school-age child, The School Magazine was one of the most important factors for me in discovering a world of English-language literature, both Australian and international. And later it nurtured me as an emerging writer, with my first story for children, Platypus Daybreak, published in the Magazine in 1988–and excitingly, it was illustrated by Noela Young, whose pictures I’d so loved as a child in Ruth Park’s The Muddle-Headed Wombat! (That is is one of the great pleasures of being published in the magazine–your pieces are illustrated by some of Australia’s most wonderful illustrators!) Over the years I’ve had lots of things published in the Magazine–short stories, articles, plays, and lately, poetry too. My recent success with poetry in The School Magazine has in fact also played an important part in not only encouraging me to write a great deal more of it–but also successfully submitting it for publication in anthologies both here and overseas, and for that I’m grateful once again to the Magazine.WP_20160229_14_41_27_Pro

I’ve had three poems published so far in The School Magazine in very recent times–Wings in ‘Touchdown’ May 2014 (illustrated by the great Bronwyn Bancroft); Building Site Zoo in ‘Countdown’, WP_20160229_14_41_14_ProApril 2015; Bushland rainbow in ‘Blast Off’ , June 2015 (both illustrated by the wonderful Matt Ottley) and coming up in April in ‘Orbit’ this year, Dance of the autumn trees, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft.WP_20160319_07_08_27_Pro


So today I’m republishing here, below, the full text of ‘Building Site Zoo’ , with a pic of that page in the Magazine, for your enjoyment! Happy World Poetry Day to everyone–and a very happy 100th birthday to that great literary treasure, The School Magazine! And below the poem are links to other blogs on the tour.

(Please Note: The poem text is copyright to me, illustration reproduced from The School Magazine, copyright to Matt Ottley, design copyright The School Magazine. )

Building Site Zoo

by Sophie Masson

Morning has started and with it too

The day of the beasts from the building site zoo.


The mighty bulldozer wakes with a roar,

Lumbers to work, always wants more,

Paws at the dirt, churns up the ground,

Bellowing challenge to all that’s around.


Jack hammer, jack hammer,

Hops like a roo,

Jump jumping jack hammer,

Show off, that’s you!

Jack hammer, jack hammer,

Stop, that will do!


Concrete mixer’s hungry jaws

Chewing and mashing with never a pause,

Turning sand and gravel so coarse

Into the finest, silkiest sauce.


The cranes are fishing up in the sky,

Patiently dropping their lines from on high.

They never get bored, they never get tired,

They never get angry, they never get fired.

Their long arms don’t shake

As slowly they take

Their prey from the ground to the air to the ground.


Look! Listen! Every day they start up anew

Those amazing beasts from the building site zoo.




Other blogs on the tour:











An interview with Jackie Hosking

pass it onLike many other children’s authors and illustrators in Australia, I’ve subscribed for quite a while to Pass It On, Jackie Hosking’s weekly ezine, which like Di Bates’ fortnightly Buzz Words, is full of useful information, news, interviews and tips. But Jackie is also very busy on many other fronts in the children’s book world, and in this interview, I speak to her about the wide breadth of her talents.

Jackie, you are well-known in the children’s book world for many things, but first, can I ask you about Pass It On, the weekly ezine for children’s authors and illustrators that you edit and publish? How and why did it start, who’s it aimed at, and what have been the challenges and pleasures of running such a publication? 

PASS IT ON was passed to me from the original owner in 2004. Before I ran it, it was only the subscribers who shared industry news that received the ezine each week. Being a newbie writer at the time, I made sure I shared something every week as I found the information invaluable. After 20 weeks the call was put out for someone to take the job over. I put my hand up (after a little trepidation) and ran the ezine on a voluntary basis for 12 months. It wasn’t until subscribers suggested that I should charge for my time that the ezine switched from being voluntary to paid but if you contributed at least once a month I offered a free subscription for the following year. PIO is aimed at anyone interested in the children’s book industry. With so much internet information out there, it acts as a bit of a filter as it only contains information relevant to this industry. So far, not too many challenges have popped up. Some weeks are easier to collate than others. The more subscribers share, the more interesting the ezine becomes. I have a picture of a little red hen at the beginning of the ezine to remind everyone that it takes a group effort to produce a tasty read. Overall PIO is mostly pleasure as I’ve met so many wonderful, generous people through it including your lovely self Sophie!

You are also well-known for your involvement in poetry for children, both as a writer and as a promoter. What attracts you about writing poetry for children? And how important do you think it is for children to read poetry?jackie hosking pic

I love poetry because it’s short. I can see the ending, or the image that I want to portray. I think I might have a short attention span which is possibly why I think children are able to enjoy poetry too. Bite sized pieces of writing, easy to digest. Poetry is painting with words; it’s about communicating an idea, or feeling to your reader in a succinct, yet flowing fashion. No waste. Complete.

You’re also very much a mentor and teacher for authors aspiring to write good children’s poetry. What are some of your top tips for aspiring poets?

While I call myself a poet, I wonder if that really describes me properly. Maybe I’m more of a percussion instrument. I write in rhyme and meter. and while I have written a couple of free verse poems I’m most comfortable rhyming away. So my top tips for aspiring rhyming children’s poets are…

Don’t waste words.

Don’t use boring words.

Use strong verbs.

Use metaphor and simile.

Get others to read your work to you aloud – this will show you where the meter is off.

Understand what meter is and in the beginning be very, very strict with it.

Read people like Seuss, Milne, Carroll, Dennis, Bland, any published children’s poet really.

As an editor, you have worked with authors to improve their work. What in your view are the challenges–and pleasures!–of editing? What does it take to be a good editor?

I love editing. I love reading a great rhyme and tweaking it to make is shine. I also love being able to explain why a rhyme is or isn’t working. It’s taken me a few years to learn how to do this, I used to just say, hmmm this line’s a bit bumpy, which probably wasn’t very helpful. Now I use words like foot and stressed syllables and trochaic tetrameter, much more professional 🙂

jackie hosking bookWith so many different skills, and working on so many different areas, often to help other authors and illustrators, how difficult–or easy!–do you find it to switch the many ‘hats’ you wear? 

What’s nice about wearing different hats is that I never get bored. Also different hats require different moods and once I’m in a mood there’s no stopping me.


Thunderbolt Prize winners: P.S. Cottier, winner of the Poetry prize

Penelope Cottier

The New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing is a respected national award for unpublished short-form crime writing in three Open categories: Fiction, sponsored by the School of Arts, University of New England; Non-Fiction, sponsored by The Armidale Express; and Poetry, sponsored this year by the New England Writers’ Centre and the Armidale Dumaresq Memorial Library. There are also three special awards: the New England Award for a writer resident in New England, sponsored by Reader’s Companion bookshop, Armidale; the Emerging Author Award, for an unpublished writer over 18, sponsored by Friends of Tamworth Libraries; and this year, the inaugural Youth Award, for writers under 18, sponsored by Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard, Armidale.

The Prize, which in 2015 is in its third year, is run by the New England Writers’ Centre, of which I’m Chair, and as the results of the 2015 Prize have just been announced, I thought it would be interesting to interview each of the winning authors, and ask them about their stories, their writing careers, and what they hope winning an award within the Prize will do for them.

Here’s the first of the interviews, with P.S. (Penelope) Cottier, winner of the Poetry category in the Thunderbolt Prize.

First of all, Penelope, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning poem, Criminals who are no longer criminals?

Thanks Sophie.  I was thinking about the way we incarcerate asylum seekers offshore, including children, and whether this would be classed as a crime in the future (it may already be in breach of various agreements, and lead to inarguable crimes such as murder and rape).  From that I started thinking about laws that had once seemed necessary, at least to some, and which later seemed cruel, pathetic, or simply very odd, and which are now repealed.  These laws include those against homosexuality, witchcraft, eavesdropping, and laws about found treasure which I vaguely remembered from studies in first year law.  Finding out that just walking around at night was once a crime was a total bonus, so far as the poem was concerned. I had a vivid image of all those who had been subject to these laws meeting, as ghosts, outside a court room.

The poetry judge, Les Murray, commented on the evocative nature of your descriptions. How did you go about creating that texture?

I try to put aside too much thought when writing a poem.  I like to have a fairly strong idea of what I will be doing before I start, but when I am writing my best work it is as if I am taking dictation from someone unseen.  Not automatic so much as going through the gears in a manual car without thinking about it.  You only become conscious if you miss a gear.

This intense cruising was more difficult here because of the law lurking around like a bore at a party.  (The sort of bore who wears a ‘funny’ bowtie and can’t wait to assail you with stories of his most awesome success.)  But the poem contains more than a whiff of smell, has some sounds I like, word play, and an element of surprise, co-existing with a strong sense of sorrow.  I think I avoided being too preachy or tedious, despite the research wedged in there.

I’m glad that Les liked it!

Have you written poetry themed around crime before? What attracted you to do so?

I was about to say ‘no’, and then I remembered that a poem that was the joint winner of the Arts ACT David Campbell Prize dealt with a father who had murdered his children.  Again it had a element of the dreamlike to it, while dealing with an unfortunately real situation.  It was called ‘Visitation’ and the dead children appear to the mother in her dreams.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I was born in England, raised in Melbourne and live in Canberra, a place I now love, after a long and intense struggle.  My latest publication is a pocket book called Paths Into Inner Canberra, which is an essay with two poems, looking at notions of nature and the way that wild animals can be found a few kilometres from Parliament House.  (Insert politician joke here.)  It gives me great joy that a piece of writing can be produced and sold for as little as $4, and that Ginninderra Press produces this type of publication.  This book can be ordered here.

Of relevance to this award is the fact that I have a law degree.  I go months without remembering that!  I also have a PhD in Literature from the ANU, written on images of animals in the works of Charles Dickens.

I write as P.S. Cottier, which sometimes stands for Post Script, as I started seriously seeking publication relatively late. (I almost forgot.)  I have had three books of poetry published, co-edited an anthology of poems, and have even stooped to prose fictional and non-fictional, as noted above.

What do you hope winning the Poetry prize will do for you as a writer?

This may sound a little cute, but writing poetry is an end in itself, particularly when someone gets to read it.  I am pleased that the poem is being published, and that I managed to write a poem about law reform and the cruelties of the past (and by extension, the current limitations of the law).

I try my hardest not to think in terms of a writing career.  That probably means my view of poetry is hopelessly romantic.  If I want to have a poem I have finished read, I will post it on my blog at pscottier.com as often as submitting to a journal.

But I will certainly buy something cool with the prize money.

As a reader of poetry, what do you look for in a poem? Which poets have influenced your own work?

Invention and surprise are my favourite aspects of poetry.  I like unexpected combinations of words and play.  Huge slabs of self reflection, or emotions thrown at the reader like sodden hankies, are not my favourite things.

I love Emily Dickinson because she avoids easy translation into a single message.

Byron is a favourite because he lurches between tenderness and sarcasm.

I read as widely as possible in contemporary poetry written in Australia and elsewhere.