Preview: Ted Hughes: Collected Poems For Children, National Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

The actors Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings join the writers Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo, current and former Children's Laureate respectively, to read some of Ted Hughes's poems for children, illustrated by projections of Raymond Briggs' original drawings.

Hughes (1930-1998) wrote countless volumes of poetry and prose for children throughout his life. His first poetry collection for children, Meet My Folks!, was published in 1961. "Ted felt that good writing was good writing, no matter whether it was for children or for adults," says Morpurgo - who founded the Children's Laureate with Hughes in 1998 after a lengthy fireside moan together about the state of children's literature. They became close friends as they were neighbours in north Devon and first met one day when Hughes was out fishing. "Ted was irritated that people would separate out the work he did for adults from the work he did for children. He valued it all the same."

Among the poems by Hughes that Morpurgo adores are "Barley" - "the story of the growth of a grain of barley and how it feeds the entire world" - and "Cow" - "a witty poem that ends with what a cow leaves behind when it walks along," says Morpurgo. "It is the kind of language with which you have to engage. You don't have any choice. It is like listening to Beethoven. You don't walk away from it. It is a language that moves you whatever the subject matter."

Morpurgo, the prize-winning author of more than 100 children's books himself, says that it was Hughes who encouraged him as a struggling writer "trying to find his voice": "Ted Hughes is a great example of how wonderful literature for children can be. You don't have to write down to them. You can make it as deep, rich and powerful as any literature for adults."

Ted Hughes: Collected Poems for Children, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (020-7452 3000; www.national theatre.org), tonight, 6pm

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