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Tony Mitton (1951-) - Sidelights

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British children's book author Tony Mitton is known for his creative, energetic, rhythmic texts for small children. In the United States, his best-known works may be Down by the Cool of the Pool and its sequel, Dinosaurumpus!, originally published as Bumpus, Jumpus, Dinosaurumpus. Both works feature a host of critters—in Down by the Cool of the Pool, barnyard animals, in Dinosaurumpus!, dinosaurs—dancing, jumping, and stomping about. "Storytime listeners will want to get up and dance, too," while listening to Down by the Cool of the Pool, thought School Library Journal reviewer Elaine Lesh Morgan. "Fortunately," as another reviewer noted in Publishers Weekly, "the author and artist wind down the energy as effectively as they turn it up." In a review of Dinosaurumpus!, a Kirkus Reviews critic thought that Mitton took an oft-used subject, dinosaurs, and "somehow—perhaps through the rhyme, perhaps through the sheer ebullience of language—tapped into a satisfying freshness."

Plum is a different type of book, aimed at a slightly older audience. The twenty poems in this collection vary widely, from humorous original works (particularly "Mrs. Rummage's Muddle-Up Shop" and "Elegant Elephant Delicatessen") to more thoughtful poems based on British Isles folklore (including "Green Man Lane," "St. Brigid and the Baker," and "The Selkie Bride"). School Library Journal reviewer Grace Oliff thought that the more introspective poems were better than humorous ones: "Mitton is at his best where his words evoke lingering moods and images," she wrote. In the title verse, the narrator speaks to a piece of fruit: "Don't be so glum, plum. / Don't feel beaten / You were made to be eaten." The poem "The Minstrel and the Maid" is "the highlight" of the collection, thought a Publishers Weekly contributor: "verse and illustrations work together to demonstrate the flirtation between the two subjects, each beckoning from one side of the spread." Mitton concludes the book with "Instructions for Growing Poetry," a poem that teaches students how to reflect on words and images.

Mitton once told SATA: "I was born in 1951, in North Africa, the son of a soldier. Until I was nine, we lived mostly in Africa, Germany, and Hong Kong. So I didn't really get to know Britain until I was nearly ten. . . . I write poems and stories for school reading books and also for books you buy in the bookshops. I especially like writing in verse, using rhythm and rhyme. I also very much enjoy planning picture books and writing the words for them. But I need other people to do the pictures. I would like to learn to be an illustrator too, but I like working on the words so much that I don't think I'd make the time to practice....

"I live in a small house in the middle of Cambridge with my wife and two children. . . . We also have a sweet cat called Tiggy. I like the town and many of the people, for it's the only place I've ever stayed for a long time. But my wife and I often wish we'd settled somewhere where there are better places for walking, like cliffs and hills with good views of the landscape.

"I honestly think that what I most like doing is writing poems, and working with words in verse. I love fiddling about until I've got it just right (though sometimes I can't). I've always loved reading poems and stories, though these days I find it harder to get proper time for reading, as I'm often busy writing. It's especially hard to find time to read longer books, like novels, so I have to choose carefully to find books that are really worth the time I give to them. I have a great interest in folk and fairy tales and legends, and when I was younger (in my teens) I used to spend a lot of time learning and singing folk and blues songs which I accompanied on the guitar. I think I learned a lot about verse and poetry from doing this, even though writing songs is not quite the same as writing poems.

"I'm not often stuck for ideas with my writing. More often I'm waiting to get the time to get on with something I want to write. Sometimes I get up very early in the morning and do one or two hours writing while most other people are asleep. That's a very good time for me, as my mind's very fresh and clear and no one comes to interrupt. Sometimes, if I have a very good or strong idea, say for a poem, I get a bit frightened to start on it, in case it doesn't turn out well. What I do then is just start writing things down and keep going at it, even if it doesn't go well to start with. That usually works.

"What else do I like doing? Cooking, baking cakes, social meals, and family life. As a family, we talk a great deal about all sorts of things. I love reading to my children and talking to my wife, who knows a lot about books, art, history, and lots more. If I had time to spare, I'd like to be in a folk band and play traditional British and Irish folk music.

"When I was about nine, and rather miserable and lonely in a strict little boarding school, I stumbled on a novel during the enforced half-hour of reading after lunch. It was called Prester John and was by John Buchan. This is the first novel that I can remember reading for pleasure. It really gripped me. I remember the bereavement of finishing it and being unable to find anything that matched it for me then in power and style. I recently had a similar experience (thirty-seven years later) when I read the first two parts of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy (Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife)....

"My reading of poetry was galvanised by my brother putting a typed copy of a poem by W. B. Yeats up on our bedroom cupboard door. I must have been about thirteen at the time, and he would have been fifteen. The poem was, I believe, the much celebrated 'Lake Isle of Inisfree.' I liked it so much that I got hold of a copy of the Macmillan Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. For a long time, my favourite poem was 'The Song of Wandering Aengus.' I still love Yeats's lyric writing, and writing this paragraph has prompted me to get my copy down and dip into it again after a long gap."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Mitton, Tony, Plum, illustrated by Peter Bailey, Scholastic (London, England), 1998, illustrated by Mary Grand Pré, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2003.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Dinosaurumpus!, p. 908; May 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Plum, p. 1659; October 15, 2003, Jennifer Mattson, review of Goodnight Me, Goodnight You, p. 420.

Guardian (London, England), July 14, 1998, Lindsey Fraser, review of Plum, p. 2.

Instructor, October, 2002, Liza Charlesworth, review of Plum, pp. 37-38.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1994, p. 166.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Down by the Cool of the Pool, p. 662; March 1, 2003, review of Dinosaurumpus!, p. 393.

New York Times Book Review, April 11, 1999, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of Flashing Fire Engines, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2002, review of Down by the Cool of the Pool, p. 62; September 16, 2002, review of Amazing Airplanes, p. 71; January 6, 2003, review of Dinosaurumpus!, pp. 57-58; February 17, 2003, review of Plum, p. 75; July 14, 2003, review of Amazing Machines, p. 78.

School Library Journal, May, 1997, Marsha McGrath, review of Rosie Rabbit Goes to Preschool and Rosie Rabbit's Birthday Party, pp. 108-109; July, 2002, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of Down by the Cool of the Pool, p. 96; March, 2003, Dona Ratterree, review of Dinosaurumpus!, p. 200; May, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of Plum, p. 140.

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