This story goes back a long way, back to 1957. When Christine Fletcher was a 12-year-old student at King Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, Yorkshire she was asked to write a poem about an animal. She doesn’t remember why she chose to write about a crocodile, but distinctly remembers being very pleased with her decision to abbreviate “whenever” to “whene’er” to keep the rhythm in her poem, “If you should meet a crocodile”. She handed in the poem and thought nothing of it. Here is Christine’s crocodile poem, reproduced with her permission:
If you should meet a crocodile
Don’t take a stick and poke him
Ignore the welcome in his smile
Be careful not to stroke him
For as he sleeps upon the Nile
He thinner gets and thinner
And whene’er you meet a crocodile
He’s ready for his dinner.
Imagine her surprise when 49 years later she found out that the poem had been widely published around the world, always attributed to ‘Anon’ (anonymous). After much detective work, Christine discovered that the poem was first published in 1958 in The Faber Book of Nursery Verse, compiled by Barbara Ireson (published by Faber & Faber), while she was still at school.
Christine will never know the exact details of how her poem came to appear in Barbara Ireson’s book. She has been in contact with Barbara, who is very supportive of her quest to get recognition, but unsurprisingly can’t remember where and how she got the poem all those years ago. The most likely connection Christine has found is that Barbara’s husband, Professor John C Ireson, taught French poetry and literature at Leeds University, and that her teacher at the time, Mrs G Jones, had recently graduated from Leeds University.
Since that first appearance, the poem has been used in over 50 publications, some even using the title, If You Should Meet a Crocodile. It has been used as a warning to children in countries where there are crocodiles and in numerous schemes for teaching the primary curriculum.
I only got to hear about this story a week ago, when Christine wrote to me, as we have used the poem in our book, Creative Activities for the Early Years by Barbara Melling. I was delighted to be able to write back to tell Christine that we could action a reprint of Creative Activities for the Early Years straight away. You can read about Christine’s fascinating story on her website: www.ifyoushouldmeetacrocodile.com.
It just goes to show, that no matter how carefully you check to try to ensure that any poems and other quotes are attributed to the correct person, sometimes things can go wrong. Ironically, poems attributed to ‘Anon’ are always seized upon by poetry anthology compilers, as that usually means that you don’t need to trace the initial copyright holder.
We wish Christine the best of luck in getting her and her poem the recognition that they clearly deserve.