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Brian Patten (1946-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1946 in Liverpool, England; Education: Attended secondary school in Sefton Park, Liverpool, England.


Office—c/o UK Touring, The Croft, Old Church Rd., Worcester WR13 6EZ, England. Agent—c/o Puffin Books, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England.


Writer. Worked variously as a journalist, gardener, and newspaper vendor. University of California, San Diego, Regents Lecturer, 1985.


Chelsea Arts Club.

Honors Awards

Eric Gregory Award for poetry, 1967; Pernod Poetry Award, 1967; British Arts Council grant, 1969; special award, Mystery Writers of America, 1977, for Mr. Moon's Last Case; Cholmondeley Award, Society of Authors, 2002.



Portraits, privately printed, 1962.

(With Adrian Henri and Roger McGough) The Mersey Sound: Penguin Modern Poets 10, Penguin Books (Baltimore, MD), 1967, revised edition, 1983.

Little Johnny's Confession, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1967, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1968.

Atomic Adam, Fulham Gallery (London, England), 1968.

Notes to the Hurrying Man: Poems, Winter '66-Summer '68, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1969.

The Home Coming, Turret Books (London, England), 1969.

Little Johnny's Foolish Invention, M'Arte (Milan, Italy), 1970.

Walking Out: The Early Poems, Transican (Leicester, England), 1970.

The Irrelevant Song (also see below), Sceptre Press, 1970, revised edition, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1975.

At Four o'Clock in the Morning, Sceptre Press, 1971.

The Irrelevant Song and Other Poems, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1971.

When You Wake Tomorrow, Turret Books (London, England), 1971.

And Sometimes It Happens, Steam Press (London, England), 1972.

(With Michael Baldwin and John Fairfax) Double Image, Longman (London, England), 1972.

(Co-editor) The House That Jack Built: Poems for Shelter, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1973.

The Unreliable Nightingale, Bertram Rota (London, England), 1973.

Vanishing Trick, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1976.

The Sly Cormorant and the Fishes: New Adaptations into Poetry of the Aesop Fables, illustrated by Errol Le Cain, Kestrel Books (Harmondsworth, England), 1977.

The Shabby Angel, 1978.

Grave Gossip, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1979.

(Editor) Gangsters, Ghosts, and Dragon Flies: A Book of Story Poems, illustrated by Terry Oakes, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1981.

Love Poems, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1981.

New Volume, Penguin (New York, NY), 1983.

Gargling with Jelly, illustrated by David Mostyn, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1985.

Storm Damage, Unwin Hyman (London, England), 1988.

Thawing Frozen Frogs, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor) The Puffin Book of Twentieth-Century Children's Verse, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Viking Kestrel (London, England), 1991.

The Utter Nutters, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1994.

Grinning Jack: Selected Poems, Flamingo (London, England), 1995.

Armada, HarperCollins (London, England), 1996.

(With others) Five Finger-Piglets, illustrated by Peter Bailey, Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2000.

Poetry included in anthologies such as Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse.


The Elephant and the Flower: Almost-Fables, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1970.

(Adaptor) Jumping Mouse (based on a Native American folktale), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1972.

Manchild, Covent Garden Press (London, England), 1973.

Two Stories, Covent Garden Press (London, England), 1973.

Mr. Moon's Last Case (also see below), illustrated by Mary Moore, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1975, Scribner (New York, NY), 1977.

Emma's Doll, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1976.

Jimmy Tag-Along, illustrated by David Mostyn, Viking Kestrel (London, England), 1988.

Grizzelda Frizzle and Other Stories, Viking (London, England), 1992.

Impossible Parents, Walker (London, England), 1992.

The Magic Bicycle, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.

The Blue and Green Ark: An Alphabet for Planet Earth, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2000.


The Pig and the Junkle, produced in Nottingham, then London, England, 1975.

The Sly Cormorant, produced in London, England, 1977.

The Ghosts of Riddle Me Heights, produced in Birmingham, England, 1980.

Gargling with Jelly: The Play!, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1991.

Also author of plays The Tinder Box and (with Roger McGough) Behind the Lines, produced in England; author of television plays The Man Who Hated Children (adapted from his book) and Mr. Moon's Last Case; author of radio play The Hypnotic Island, 1977.


(Selector and author of introduction) John Clare, Clare's Countryside: Natural History Poetry and Prose, Heinemann/Quixote Press (London, England), 1981.

The Story Giant, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001.

Recordings include Selections from Little Johnny's Confession and Notes to the Hurrying Man and New Poems, Caedmon, 1969; Vanishing Trick, Tangent, 1976; The Sly Cormorant (read with Cleo Laine), Argo Records, 1978; and Gargling with Jelly, HarperCollins, 1993.


British poet and children's author Brian Patten explained in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers: "My chief aim in writing poetry for children is to delight, in writing poetry for adults, to remind them of what they forgot they knew." With the abundance of plays and poems Patten has published during a career spanning several decades, he has achieved this goal, his children's books including Jumping Mouse, Grizzelda Frizzle and Other Stories, and the poetry collection Thawing Frozen Frogs. In addition, Patten's verses for young readers have been anthologized in such books as Five Finger-Piglets, a humorous collection that includes poems by Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, and Jackie Kay, and he has himself served as editor of several critically praised anthologies.

In Patten's profusely illustrated The Blue and Green Ark: An Alphabet for Planet Earth young readers are taught the alphabet in relation to the planet Earth and its myriad components. From mammoths to marigolds and gorillas to gold-dust, each letter is accompanied by illustrations depicting elements or inhabitants of the planet. Patten's story reflects the Noah's Ark legend in its reference to Planet Earth as "an ark adrift in the dark," and other references to myths and folktales are also included. While Patten's poetic musings were criticized as being somewhat "pretentious" by Kathy Piehl in School Library Journal, the variety of art—eleven illustrators contributed to the volume—was lauded. Praising the book's verbal and visual imagery, Ken Marantz in School Arts called The Blue and Green Ark "a fine resource for art programs at all ages."

Also inspired by the poet's interest in ancient stories, Patten's Jumping Mouse is based on a Plains Indian creation myth about the interconnectedness of life. In the story, a mouse who can jump high enough to catch sight of a different world, resolves to attempt the journey, praying that if he is eaten by a predator, he will serve as a good meal. Ultimately, the jumping mouse is transformed into an eagle and in that form attains his goal, giving the story meaning on "a series of … natural and symbolic levels," according to St. James Guide to Children's Writers contributor Robert Protherough. Travel and transformation also serve as central themes in Patten's The Magic Bicycle, when a boy who accidentally collides with a pedestrian discovers he has tangled with a witch after she invokes a spell that forces him to pedal his bike around the world.

Discussing his works for children, Patten once remarked, "I am interested in fantasy, but always set the fantastic against realistic backgrounds, so that the everyday world is put into different perspective. I feel that this combination helps to develop the imagination. It is also a way of commenting on our hopes and fears. 'Reality' is not constant. Each child and adult creates his own version of it, depending on his needs."

Biographical and Critical Sources


St. James Guide to Children's Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Reading Today, June, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of The Blue & Green Ark, p. 32.

School Arts, December, 2000, Ken Marantz, review of The Blue and Green Ark, p. 56.

School Library Journal, March, 2000, Kathy Piehl, review of The Blue and Green Ark, p. 260.

Times Educational Supplement, February 19, 1993, p. 6; November 12, 1993, John Mole, review of The Magic Bicycle, p. R6; July 11, 2003, p. 36.

Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 1990, Sean O'Brien review of Grinning Jack, p. 803; November 22, 1991, Peter Keating, review of The Puffin Book of Twentieth-Century Children's Verse, p. 22.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1995, p. 115.


Brian Patten Home Page, http://www.brianpatten.co.uk/ (February 6, 2004).*

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