Listening to Josie Whitehead read her poetry is like watching words jump off a page.

She brings each verse to life, throwing in various characters’ voices, and the rhythmic collection of words roll off her tongue. The Ilkley grandmother started writing poetry a few years ago “just for fun”. But, thanks to a chance remark at a local school where she was helping children to read, Josie is now about to become a published poet – at the age of 68.

Five anthologies of Josie’s work are being published by AMS Educational Publishers in Horsforth. The 330 items include humorous nonsense poems, spiritual, reflective poetry, and poems about things like Christmas, Halloween, school, the changing seasons and animals. The anthologies will be available to buy, and for schools to use. Josie’s work is also the inspiration for an animated film made by Bradford University students. The Wizard Of Alderley Edge has been shot by informatics students, as part of their degree course.

A retired business studies teacher, Josie harnesses writing techniques she used in her career to create poems helping children with literacy. Her poetry also reflects issues relevant to young children, such as starting school and having an invisible friend.

“I hit on topics close to children’s hearts,” she says. “Children love the rhythm of poetry, but I like it to have a message too. I wrote one for National Poetry Day called Heroes And Heroines, about how we don’t need to worship celebrities because heroes can be ordinary people.”

Josie wrote a handful of poems for fun one Christmas and has written hundreds over recent years.

“It took off when I went into a school to listen to children read,” she says. “I mentioned to the teacher that I’d written some poems and she asked the children if they’d like me to read one to them. I was a bit embarrassed, but I read one called Mickledy-Me, and they loved it. Six-year-olds can be very honest so you’re never quite sure what reception you’re going to get!

“After that, the children expected me to read them a poem every week – it went on from there. I’ve been encouraged by the children to write more. I still think of it as my new hobby!”

Josie became a prolific writer when a back injury confined her to home. She’s a regular reader at Ilkley Literature Festival’s Children’s Corner and, through her website, her work has been introduced to schools overseas. Through Skype – software allowing users to make voice calls over the internet – she reads poetry to classrooms around the world. Josie’s poetry is written to be read aloud, with the metre – basic rhythmic structure of a verse – designed to help awareness of phonetics; the sound of words translated into the written word. Josie says this is key for helping children with reading and writing. “As a teacher of Pitman’s shorthand, which is phonetic, and a high-speed shorthand writer, I can split a word down into sounds in a fraction of a second, which has helped me to write well in rhyme,” she says. “I’ve done some free verse, but children love rhythms. Poems are short and children like them to be repeated.

“They love the combination of rhyming, stories and fun, and they like to supply rhyming words. Poetry needs to be heard; it helps children soak up language, learn new words, and learn about personification, metaphors and alliteration.

“I wrote a poem about the little donkey which took Mary to Bethlehem, it’s one of my most popular poems, especially at Christmas.

“I’ll never forget a dear little boy sitting cross-legged on the floor, completely enthralled by it. Children suggest subjects for me to write about, and I test new poems on my grandchildren first.”

Josie encourages children to read poetry aloud. “With poetry comes performance,” she says. “It helps with confidence and voice projection.”

It’s heartening to know that in an age of high technology, young children are still into poetry. “It’s as popular as ever,” says Josie. “I visit schools and libraries, and children bring in costumes and masks to interpret my poems. For a writer, that’s lovely to see.” Josie’s love of poetry began in childhood. “I grew up in the war years and we didn’t have many books, but I liked writers like Lewis Carroll and Robert Louis Stephenson. I enjoyed reading their work and having it read to me.

“When I was 11, I wrote a poem called In My Garden, which is included in my anthology.”

Josie is looking forward to her poetry being published shortly. “It’s an educational publisher. Having been in the world of education all my working life, I’m delighted that my poems will be going primarily into schools, as well as bookshops and libraries,” she says.

“It’s nice to leave a little of myself in education, as classrooms were where I spent the happiest hours of my life.”

For more about Josie’s poetry, and information about her book, visit