The Shape of Rainbows by Neal Zetter, illustrated by Will Hughes

The Shape of Rainbows by Neal Zetter, illustrated by Will Hughes – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Poetry, snorting, giggles, pleasure, excitement.
Children’s book title: The Shape of Rainbows.
Children’s poet: Neal Zetter.
Children’s illustrator: Will Hughes.
Genre: Poetry.
Published by: Otter-Barry Books.
ISBN: 9781915659163.
Recommended for children aged: 7-9.
First published: Paperback January 2024.
This children’s book is ideal for: reading, performing and teaching in LKS2.

The Shape of Rainbows by Neal Zetter, illustrated by Will Hughes

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Our review:

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One September morning many decades ago I sat in a classroom with thirty-five other eleven-year-olds. It was our first English lesson at Grammar School. We had all ‘passed’ an exam to be there. Only a few weeks earlier we had been at other schools. In my case it was a modern, light building a minute’s walk from my house. The teachers were all women who called us by our first names. At this ‘new’ school, which was in fact old and crumbling, we were always addressed by our surnames.

Our English teacher entered, a man aged about fifty dressed in a suit and a black gown. He handed out a thick hardback book to each of us. It was the Collected Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson, he said, was the greatest English poet of the nineteenth century, and probably of any century. That morning we took turns to read aloud a few lines each of Morte D’Arthur and for homework, we were told to learn by heart the section beginning ‘And slowly answered Arthur from the barge,’ and ending thirty-three lines later, ‘And on the mere the wailing died away.’

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We were tested on this later in the week. There was a punishment for any boy who failed to remember every word. He had to learn more of Tennyson’s poem and endure a test on that as well. I remember some boys sinking into tearful despair at what appeared to them the very real prospect of this torture continuing for years.

I sometimes wonder how many of my classmates now read poetry and enjoy the vitality and excitement of words. Or do most of them associate it with boredom and dread?

When I became a teacher myself, I was determined that no one in any of my classes would ever feel that poems, stories, jokes and the sheer pleasure of using words would become burdensome, stuff that had to be ‘learnt’ in order to become a ‘cultured’ person.

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If I were asked now to make up a package of ten collections of poetry to be shipped out to every primary school in the country, then this would be one of them. Neal Zetter’s poems are funny, surprising, liberating, clever and thought-provoking.

When I’m with my grandson (six in June) we build around ourselves an imaginary world which is a mixture of Mony Python and Spike Milligan. It is a landscape to which any six-year-old can escape and, more importantly, make a contribution.

I will pick two poems from this collection which have been particularly successful with us.

The Day I Ate My School reduced us both to snorting giggles (almost as much as the camp-fire scene in Blazing Saddles, his favourite forty seconds of film.)

I swallowed up the staffroom

The teachers sat within

The office swiftly followed

By every litter bin


The children were delicious

The TAs great to snack

Computers, sports equipment

Fed my hunger pang attack

For some time now we’ve been playing with anagrams, palindromes, homonyms, homophones, acrostics, codes, rhyming games, mad comparisons and expostulations (‘I’m so angry I could spit in the river!’).

R a ndo m has sparked off many games and word experiments.




Your settee

It’s completely ran



Wise wizard

Pet lizard

Pork Sausage

My gizzard

It’s definitely

r A n d o M

This is a lovely book which will bring pleasure and excitement to youngsters aged 6 to 11.

(Oh, and Tennyson is pretty good, especially when you don’t have to learn his stuff by heart.)

Many thanks to Otter-Barry Books for the review copy.

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If you like The Shape of Rainbows by Neal Zetter, illustrated by Will Hughes you might also like: our reviews of Forwards Always by Matthew Hodson, A Passing On Of Shells by Simon Lamb, Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton and Katy Riddell, Poems the wind blew in by Karmelo C. Iribarren and The Girl Who Learned All the Languages of the World by Ieva Flamingo.

Browse our lists of poetry books for KS2

About Laurence Inman

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Laurence is an actor, poet, short-story writer, playwright, screenwriter, cartoonist, public speaker, retired lecturer, and former English teacher. IMDb | Linkedin | Reviews by Laurence Inman