The Head That Wears A Crown edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Dai’an Wright

The Head That Wears A Crown – at a glance

School reading lists’s five word review: Fun historical poems for KS2.
Children’s book title: The Head That Wears A Crown – Poems about Kings and Queens.
Children’s author: Emma Piercey and Emma Dai’an Wright.
Genre: Poetry.
Published by: The Emma Press.
Recommended for children aged: 8+.
First published: Paperback 2018.
This children’s book is ideal for: 8-12 year olds interested in history, primary aged readers who prefer short texts, KS2 teachers looking for history topic texts and ideas, KS2/3 history topics, KS2 humanities, KS2 literacy poetry writing ideas, poetry topics. Ideal for KS2 school libraries.

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Our review

Starting with a truncated King Arthur verse and finishing with a perspective piece about Prince George of Cambridge, this diverse collection of poems about kings and queens spans over 1500 years and packs in a wide variety of forms and styles. However, this isn’t a 1950s style collection of paeans to successive royals and there’s no chronology of pencil case history rulers.

No, this anthology picks up on not just the expected, but hones in on the misfits, the misunderstood, the forgotten, the interesting, the known but not as you expected, the almost unknown and the possibly wish you hadn’t known power brokers of British history.

Highlights include an indignant riposte from Ethelred who rejects the slur of being ‘unready’, Richard III as King of the car park, a conversation piece from Henry VII’s frustrated monkey, sorry, marmoset, a love letter from Mary Tudor to King Philip of Spain, a beyond the grave rant from a headless Mary Queen of Scots and viral soundbites from Queen Victoria’s Twitter feed.

One real advantage to this collection is that children will not know all of the monarchs in the poems. King Knut, Harthacnut, Queen Matilda, Elizabeth Woodville and Lambert Simnel will all provoke some internet research and further reading outside of school learning.  Others, such as Boudicca, Egbert (Ecgberht), Alfred and Aethelstan, will be familiar enough to parent purchasers who’ve watched recent historical sagas on streaming TV.

Ideal as an impetus for creative writing and literacy teaching, this anthology includes shape poetry, rhyming couplets, conversation poems, blank verse, ballads, and narrative verse. There’s a wide variety of tones and styles with work from poets including Melanie Branton, Rebecca Colby, Laura Mucha and Brian Moses.

There’s also an interview with historian Dr Kate Wiles of History Today – which will appeal to children looking to delve deeper into the characters. A useful writing guide, which will appeal to independently minded young poets and teachers seeking extension ideas for literacy lessons, rounds the book off.

Our verdict

Aimed at children aged 8+, we think The Head That Wears The Crown would make an ideal class reader for upper KS2 pupils (Years 5 & 6 in primary school), either as a text for history topics, or as an impetus for reading and writing lessons. Many thanks to The Emma Press for the review copy.

If you like this book you might also like Kings And Queens by Eleanor Farjeon and Journey to the Centre of My Brain by James Carter.

Why not have a look at our suggested reading lists for children aged 3-16?

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About Jan Tolkien

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Jan Tolkien is an educational consultant and literacy expert based in North Yorkshire with extensive experience in a wide variety of settings. A teacher with over 30 years as a classroom practitioner, she is also a reviewer of books for children, a copywriter, resource writer and a proofreader.