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News Search for Stoke schools 'laureate of nonsense'

Staffordshire University and Higher Horizons+ are again teaming up with the Sentinel and Stoke on Trent Live for Our Big Read.

Lear inspired illustration by lecturer Gareth Cowlin
Image: Lear inspired illustration by lecturer Gareth Cowlin

With this project, we are trying to make English fun and raise literacy levels across Stoke-on-Trent.

Helen Norman, Higher Horizons+

Year 9 pupils are being urged to follow in the footsteps of Britain’s ‘laureate of nonsense’ by writing their own comic poetry for a new book.

The anthology will coincide with the 175th anniversary of the publication of Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense, which pioneered the use of limericks.

Staffordshire University and Higher Horizons+ are again teaming up with the Sentinel and Stoke on Trent Live for Our Big Read which gives schoolchildren the opportunity to have their work included A Book of Stokie Nonsense.

Cartoon and comic arts lecturer Gareth Cowlin said each of the winning entries will be illustrated by students at the university.

He said: “If Year 9s can come up with a limerick that paints a really interesting picture, the students are going to be excited about drawing it. They want to draw something fun.

“For the entries, a limerick would be ideal. But other nonsense verse is fine. We are looking for something that will make the reader smile. Lear had such a unique style, so it will be interesting to see how young people emulate that. Young people have got wild imaginations.”

The poems can be about anywhere and anything, so don’t have to focus on North Staffordshire. But the organisers are looking for a celebration of nonsense rather than realism.

The competition is being supported by Higher Horizons+, which is part of the Uni Connect outreach programme designed to raise aspirations across Staffordshire.Once the book is complete, a copy will be sent to every 13 and 14-year-old pupil in Year 9 across Stoke-on-Trent schools.

The winners will also be invited to a master class at Staffordshire University in 2021 – the 175th anniversary year of Lear’s first nonsense-inspired book.

Helen Norman, from Higher Horizons+, said: “They will do a session on creative writing and comic art. Then they will be presented with their awards, which will include a framed copy of their entry and its illustration. With this project, we are trying to make English fun and raise literacy levels across Stoke-on-Trent.”

Year 9 students can either enter via their school or by sending their individual entries directly to They should include their name and school in the email. The closing date for entries is October 23.

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