Category Archives: nonsense poetry

Happy 208th Birthday Edward Lear!

Happy 208th Birthday Edward Lear!

Here is the Bicentenary birthday Google Doodle again from 2012

lear12-hp google doodle

and for your birthday this year we give you the fabulous Michael Rosens’s 2007 Owl and Pussycat poem from the Guardian.

Michael Rosen

Happy Birthday Mr Lear (and get well soon Mr. Rosen!)

Lockdown Lear Limericks anyone? 

Lots of Home Learning ideas for introducing more nonsense and Lear-ning  into your home schooling:

Warning – do not attempt any sea journeys in a sieve!

Why not? There’s a Physics or Science lesson idea hidden in there somewhere, how to waterproof a sieve.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, May 12th, 2020

Stuff and Nonsense at Falmouth Art Gallery 22 June to 7th September 2019


Sneaky Peek: Part of my Edward Lear collection on display soon at Falmouth Art Gallery’s Stuff and Nonsense exhibition (22 June to 7 September 2019)

When I  went today from Z to A … from the Zoo to the Art Gallery

Spent Monday afternoon this week amidst the busy-ness of an art exhibition being taken down and a new one “Stuff and Nonsense” being put up at Falmouth Art Gallery in Cornwall, quietly shifting bits of my small Edward Lear collection around this lovely lockable well-lit wall cabinet.

Eventually after several hours, it settled to look like this. I wanted it to look a bit like a bookcase or bookshelf, so some titles are showing their spine only.

“Follow Alice down the rabbit hole and emerge into our extraordinary summer exhibition! A celebration of the stuff we all like – from the bizarre to the everyday.
All ages will be delighted by the nonsense rhymes and illustrations of Quentin Blake, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and Spike Milligan; fantastical stories including Rossetti’s wombat and the Cottingley Fairies; hilarious new automata; and shrines and assemblages from local artists and community groups.”

Featuring loans from the British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, TATE, Tower Hamlets Local History Archive, the Victoria & Albert Museum and private collections. Supported by the Government Indemnity Scheme and a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant from Art Fund.    (Exhibition blurb)

Many illustrators have produced illustrations of ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’ by Edward Lear, which was voted the Nation’s Favourite Children’s Poem in 2014:

Within the ‘window cabinet’, there are a selection of these old and recent illustrations of ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’ poem by Edward Lear himself, Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Voake, Claire Ruddock, Michael Foreman, L. Leslie Brooke,  Malcolm Greensmith and even’ Owl and Pussycat’ stamp first day cover postmarks.

In the window cabinet, there are also Lear nonsense illustrations by Arnold Lobel and vintage hand puppets. There are several examples of Victorian era copies of  Lear’s own limericks, nonsense botany (The Biscuit Tree and  Tigerlillia terribilis) and one reproduction of his superb bird illustrations which he painted and engraved the animal collections  at Knowsley and London Zoo in early Victorian times.

I’m not sure if my loan contribution from the small Newquay Zoo collection and my own private collection of Lear stuff is classed as ‘nonsense’ (from one of Britain’s finest nonsense poets) or ‘stuff’ because I have slowly been collecting ‘stuff’ about Edward Lear for years. Maybe my window  collection is both happy nonsense and stuff at the same time.

On display also are other people’s family shrines and collections from small mantlepiece collections etc, to bigger collections  because everybody I know collects some meaningful stuff.

Falmouth has an interesting collection of children’s book illustrations and automata to draw on for this exhibition

Arguably my Lear window cabinet collection is also small shrine to a man of silliness, ‘bosh’ and ‘nonsense’. Some of my pieces are ‘memorabilia’ books, an enamel plate and mug (for children or collectors?) from the Royal Academy 1988 centenary exhibition of his death.

There is a lovely photographic portrait of the bearded Lear on the front of  an Arts Council Edward Lear exhibition catalogue from 1958. Elsewhere his cartoony self caricatures and self portraits can be seen, amidst all the cats!

High up on the top shelf for adults and tall children to read  adults is one such Royal Academy book with a lovely 1939 poem by W.H. Auden (he of “stop all the clocks”, used in Four Weddings and A Funeral”) and print of Lear illustrations alongside pictures of Lear’s grave and that of his beloved cat Foss, his pussycat. (Sadly Lear never seemed to have a pet owl in the same way. Maybe it sailed away, for a year and a day …)

Elsewhere scattered amongst loans from the  British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, TATE, Tower Hamlets Local History Archive, the Victoria & Albert Museum and  Spike Milligan’s family are some more bits of nonsense that I have picked up for or since the Lear Bicentenary in 2012.

Continuing a long running partnership including Darwin’s bicentenary 2009, Falmouth Art Gallery and Newquay Zoo were planning a 2012  event or exhibition, which sadly due to ill health never happened. Lots of other zoos and museums and galleries happily did celebrate Lear’s birthday and bicentenary on May 12th 2012.

So here we are, celebrating nonsense, only seven years late …

Hugh Stewart, the Falmouth born film producer (1910-2011) amassed in later life a collection of over 100 translations and audio recordings in different languages of ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’ poem – we hope that some of these audio versions are available as an audio part of the exhibition.

What else is on loan from the zoo and my collection?

Stuff and nonsense in my collection that wouldn’t fit into the Edward  Lear window display has snuck into other cabinets as ‘placeholders’. Hopefully they will hold these places into the exhibition. It’s quite competitive for space as there is a lot of nonsense out there!

Other pieces are more officially framed up – some hand painted Lear limerick pages (by a child?) marked W.L.A. 1893 and  some of the lovely Royal Mail Stamp postcards  from the 1988 Lear Issue with Lear drawings.

Out of curiosity, like many zoo keepers, I have a wide collection of animal related things from animals on stamps and cigarette cards to lead and plastic zoo animals. Working on the education / children’s side of zoos I have collections of ‘animals in art’ books, postcards and poetry books.

I have included a couple of ‘flip the animal body parts to make a new mash up nonsense animal’ books by Sara Ball (‘Porguacan’) and Tony Van Meeuwissen (‘Remarkable Animals’) ;  some of Tony’s original book illustration paintings for this book are on display. Alongside them are my fabulous full set of 1934 Wills’ cigarette cards Animalalloys. These are suitably randomly arranged in 16 weird animal combinations inside the glass display case. Sadly none of them (yet) make rude animal names.


All 48 of the Animalloys cards, but not in their Falmouth Art gallery exhibition random order.

Looking at these ‘mixed up’ animals, I was reminded of a comment by Amelya, one of the local Newquay primary school children whom I worked with on Newquay Zoo’s 50th Anniversary (this May 2019). She had an imaginative prediction of how zoos will have changed in another 50 years, by our zoo centenary in 2069. Knowing that many animals were becoming rare or extinct, she thought, why not invent new ones?  “In 50 years time zoos will be full of animals. Animals with different DNAs all mixed up to make them really cool and even more cute and scary.”

Having a childhood love of fantastic nonsense from Lear and Lewis Carroll through to the Goons, I have included a couple of the published Goon Show Scripts 1 and 2, reproduced with the cast’s crazy Goon character doodles, alongside an old 1960s Penguin collection of Spike Milligan paperbacks with his great doodles and illustrations to illustrate his silly verse and ‘Milliganimals’.


Spike Milligan and other Goons actors doodled these (reproduced) scripts.

Keeping the zoo connection is an old Jersey Zoo / Dodo Club Millennium Calendar, salvaged after zoo use.  Inside and hopefully finding a place on display is a colourful and daft Gerald Durrell cartoon drawing of his travels and animals, like the drawings  that he used to do live and in public! As Lee Durrell his widow says, “Gerry loved sketching, and he would illustrate his lectures about animals and the [Jersey Zoo / Durrell Wildlife] Trust with quick doodles using a marker pen.” (quote from Durrell shop website, see Blog Post Script B.P.S.)

It is well worth a trip to see the rest of the Stuff and Nonsense exhibition (22 June to 7 September 2019) that I saw in part being mounted around me. I can’t wait to go back and see it all up and busy with people.  The exhibition should appeal to children and adults of all ages, perfect for the school summer holidays. Award-winning  Falmouth Art Gallery is well known as “Fabulous, Free and Family Friendly.” Exhibitions are often accompanied by a programme of fun art workshops as well.

FAG website

The exhibition  title phrase “stuff and nonsense” or “non-sense” itself has interesting and illustrious origins:

I hope you make it along to and enjoy this interesting and varied exhibition.

You could have great fun counting how many owls and how many pussycats you can see in the whole Stuff and Nonsense exhibition? Tigerlillias count! 

Thanks to Henrietta, Natalie and all the amazing team at Falmouth Art gallery for their hospitality, putting my small part of their exhibition together.

Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Education Department, 20 June 2019.

Blog Post Script 

Jersey Zoo / Durrell Wildlife Trust are selling some Gerald Durrell drawings as prints as fundraisers for conservation:

National Poetry Day Nonsense!


“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat”

Celebrate National Poetry Day 28 September 2017 with one of the UK Nation’s favourite poems. Here are a few fun ideas from our blog archive for teaching more nonsense (poetry) in schools

lear stamps

Edward Lear bicentenary 2012 logo

Edward Lear bicentenary 2012 logo

and videos and translations of the poem in many world languages

STOP PRESS – the website itself has now lapsed and the material has moved, file by file, by its creator Attila Veres to

owl and pussycat puppets 004

How will you celebrate National Poetry Day?

Blogposted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo, 28 September 2017



A 205th Birthday Gift for Edward Lear

International Owl and Pussycat Day, the 12th of  May 2017 last week was the anniversary of Edward Lear’s 205th Birthday.

lear 2017 a

To celebrate, my small birthday gift this year to Edward Lear are three pages from a book of his own limericks.

lear 2017 b


These three musty old pages  have been torn out and the balck and white illustrations by Edward Lear have been hand-painted by one WLA on 5.12.93. This is presumably Tuesday the 5th of December 93 (probably 1893?), five years after Edward Lear died in 1888.

Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Nothing much else happened on this day.

Who knows why these were painted or ripped out or who WLA was? Enjoy their colourful Victorian watercolour efforts anyway.

Lear 2017 c

Happy Birthday Edward Lear  (albeit a few days late)

Read past blogposts for ideas on celebrating Lear’s Birthday or using nonsense verses for literacy fun in schools.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, marking  International Owl and Pussycat Day, May 12th 2017

Interesting Literature blog’s view of The Owl and The Pussycat

The ever interesting “Interesting Literature” Blog by Oliver Tearle this weeks features an analysis of interest to teachers and older secondary and A level / degree students of the nation’s favourite poem “The Owl and The Pussycat” by Edward Lear.  Does it mean anything at all?

“But this all still leaves us with the question: is ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ meant to mean anything? Is it simply delightful fantasy (it features anthropomorphic animals, after all: the owl and the pussycat can talk, the owl sings a song and plays the guitar, the pig engage in financial transactions, and the turkey officiate at ceremonies), or is it making a commentary on Victorian society?”

Many interesting points raised about or by this rewarding and intriguing ‘nonsense’ (or is it?) poem.


Happy Christmas to all our readers!

Posted by Mark Norris.

Happy 204th birthday Edward Lear!

What nonsense and bosh to mark Edward Lear’s 204th birthday!

Edward Lear bicentenary 2012 logo

Edward Lear bicentenary 2012 logo

Three ways to celebrate this year’s International Owl and Pussycat Day 2016 to mark Edward Lear’s birthday on 12 May.



  1. You could read the famous and favourite poem in whatever language you choose!

You can find the original poem at

2. You could sort back here through years of occasional blogposts for lots of ideas for celebrating or teaching nonsense!

lear stamps

Lear 1990 centenary stamps from our Darwin 200 sister blog site

3. You could buy something nonsensical and joyous like these “puppetry training aids” that  I found in crazy and colourful Danish store Tiger   emerging online and across UK high streets:


Only a £1 or 2  for these puppetry teaching aids at Tiger

And some suitable puppetry training nonsense ideas to use these wiggly eye rings (this sounds better in Danish):

Celebrate wildlife however weird, wacky or fantastical.


Posted by Mark Norris on International Owl and Pussycat Day 2016

Happy 203rd Birthday Mr Lear – it’s International Owl and Pussycat Day again!

Today’s marking of Edward Lear’s 203rd  birthday 12 May 2015, celebrating this pioneering wildlife illustrator and creator of nonsense verse, celebrates his nonsense botany:


A beautiful little something from our collection, using the 1988 centenary stamps and a great Owl and Pussycat postmark!

If you want to find out more about using postage stamps within teaching, check out the blog posts and links on our  Darwin200 stamp zoo website blog  

Find out more about Edward Lear, his famous poems and teaching and literacy ideas on the links and previous posts of this blog.

Happy Birthday Mr Lear!

Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo

Owl and Pussycat carved tree sculpture, Treefest Westonbirt 2013

Owl and pussycat  carvings by Dave Lucas, Westonbirt Treefest 2013  Source: FOWA website

Owl and pussycat carvings by Dave Lucas, Westonbirt Treefest 2013
Source: FOWA website

After chatting online to Forestry Commission colleagues at Westonbirt, I came across these fabulous pictures of The Owl and the Pussycat carved from a tree trunk by David Lucas. It was carved as part of Treefest 2013 and has now apparently been donated to Coln House School for their sensory area. Lucky school!

Owl and pussycat  carvings by Dave Lucas, Westonbirt Treefest 2013  Source: FOWA website

Owl and pussycat carvings by Dave Lucas, Westonbirt Treefest 2013
Source: FOWA website

I’ve sat in some good storytelling cahirs in schools and school grounds in the past, talking about animals but these really are magnificent!


You can see the statue in use at:

See others on the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum website

You can see more about the next Treefest 2015 at:

Happy New Lear 2015!

For more info on this Guinness parody of Lear see

Happy New Lear, a parody of Lear by Guinness and artist John Nash 1957

Happy New Lear, a parody of Lear by Guinness and artist John Nash 1957

Happy 202nd birthday 2014 Mr Lear!

Happy 202nd Birthday Mr. Lear! I cannot believe it is two years since zoos, museums, galleries, libraries,  schools and many others around the world celebrated Lear’s bicentenary on May 12 1812 / 2012 .

The last year or two since Edward Lear’s 200th birthday  has seen further Lear events (see Facebook link below). 2013 also saw the spirited sequel The Further Adventures of the Owl and The Pussycat by children’s author Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, Stick Man, Tiddler and other much loved captivating rhyming modern classic children’s picture books.

The poem / sequel is beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Voake, illustrator of many other interesting plant and animal based children’s books.

You can take a peek inside the book at the Puffin website.

I’m sure Mr Lear would be very proud that his characters live on.

We couldn’t let Lear’s 202nd birthday go past without rounding up some of the interesting online resources of inspiring nonsense (poems) for classrooms, in case you missed them :

1. Online Puffin Live interview  Further Adventures read by Julia Donaldson

2. Puffin Virtually Live Teachers Pack with lots of nonsense ideas, mask templates

3. Event kit for libraries and teachers from the Reading Agency  with games, puzzles, masks

4. More owl poem ideas for teachers and uniformed group leaders

5. Telegraph interview with Julia Donaldson about Further Adventures

Maybe its time for more Lear Prequels and Sequels:

What might Julia Donaldson write next? The Previous Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat? Or you class if you happen to be teaching nonsense in the classroom?

The Pobble Whose Toes Grew Back?  

Further Adventures of the Quangle Wangle’s Hat?

I often wondered what later happened to Lear’s not so well known characters “Four Children who went round the World” – Violet, Slingsby, Guy and Lionel

I like the way Lear inserts some of his other characters into their bizarre world here, as if they just popped next door or tunneled through the pages. it makes the nonsense world just that little more believable.

There are lots more ideas on previous blog posts here and the Nonsense Lit webpage  and Lear events Facebook page

I look forward to many more prequels, sequels, further adventures …

Until then, Happy 202nd birthday Mr Lear, 12 May 2014 !  Happy International Owl and Pussycat Day!








Puppets, poems, owls, pussycats and wedding presents – more ideas for celebrating International Owl and Pussycat day

Decided how you’ll celebrate International Owl and Pussycat Day, 12 May?

12 May is  Edward Lear’s birthday and 2012  is his 200th birthday. A bicentennial of bosh, a bicentenary of nonsense (and some superb landscape and animal paintings too). You might also have noticed it’s Dickens’ 200th birthday in 2012 as well.  Lots of the way Dickens’ bicentenary is celebrated you could borrow as ideas for Lear’s birthday too! see our events page 

 What about an Owl and Pussycat puppet show?  

On my wedding day I was presented by my wife with an unusual wedding present, a vintage pair of Owl and Pussycat hand puppets, old enough to have the cardboard neck tube style head. The Owl and Pussycat poem is a poem about a wedding after all, and I did meet my wife doing puppetry and bug handling for Newquay Zoo on outreach at one of our partner galleries. Like British Sign Language and bugs (the bugs get vertigo and seasick pretty quick), I found that puppets and bugs don’t mix well.  But that’s another story …

We’ll come back to the wedding or birthday present idea in another – but what would you give the Owl and The Pussycat as a wedding gift? Who alive or dead, real or fictional, would you invite to their wedding reception? What nonsense plants would be be their wedding bouquet? Who would design the wedding outfits for guests? And the ring if the piggywig didn’t wnat to sell his? You could design (make and eat!) a suitable nonsense wedding cake, the invitations … Lear loved nonsesnse cookery and there are some nonsense cooking in his books

Puppet theatres were a big Victorian passion and you can see how to make one on the fabulous Victorian Farm Christmas website crafts section with downloadable templates amongst many other fabulous ideas

You don’t need to build a whole theatre, a shoebox ‘television’ http:// or a shadow puppet version are easy enough to rough together.

We’ve used puppets at the zoo and in gallery talks from time to time, using everything from hand puppets to an OHP Overhead Projector  (old technology now, should be few lying around in schools)  to proper lit from behind tissue paper or thin cloth screens and torches.

Esay puppetry? Print out the Owl and Pussycat illustrations on card whatever size you want, cut them out, put them on sticks and away you go …. paint the backdrop, use them as shadow puppets. 







You don’t need much to make a stage – half a blocked doorway with a cloth pinned up (for the Owl and Pussycat Sea, naturally) or an upturned desk will do the trick.

The puppetry portal website has masses of useful information.

The wonderful Rough Magic Theatre from Bolton have Lear and Lewis Carroll shows using a suitcase shadow puppet theatre. Watch their video and you’ll be wanting to make one of these walking spiv suitcase stages yourself!

If you can’t make it to Covent Garden, you visit the fabulous Pollock’s Tpyshop online

More ideas for International Owl and Pussycat Day in the next few weeks – and we’ve loved to hear how you are going to celebrate Edward Lear’s birthday using this poem or any other ways …

Now whicvh of all this will we do at Newquay Zoo on Lear’s birthday, 12 May 2012? So many to choose from?