The real challenge of writing a blog post for National Poetry month comes from the sheer number of excellent books for kids that feature poetry that come out every year. Not only are rhyming picture books for younger kids constantly in vogue, but the “Novel In Verse” format is becoming more popular every year. Narrowing this list down to just a few examples published in the last year or so was tricky, but the following selections definitely include (some) of the crème de la crème of 2016/2017.
Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell
Ages 3 – 6
This adorable little book doubles as a guessing game! Each page presents a “guess who” style riddle in haiku form, with illustrated hints by the excellent Bob Shea. Kids will enjoy putting their animal knowledge to the test, while simultaneously being introduced to a popular form of poetry. Fun, easy, kid-friendly: a sure-fire win for classroom or family use.
Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost
Ages 3 – 7
Illustrated entirely in gorgeous photographs, this picture book poem tells the story of how two specific fireflies (a female and a male) find each other, even when surrounded by other fireflies. They identify each other by their particular pattern of light flashes, and they follow that “clear silent song” until they finally meet. A page at the end of the book explains more about the fireflies’ method of communication and the importance of nature education and conservation. Nature science, lovely language, and detailed photographs add up to a dreamy choice for any firefly fan.
Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks by Skila Brown
Ages 6 – 9
Sharks are a perpetual favorite in the Children’s Department, and this selection does not disappoint! Each two-page spread features a different type of shark (14 in all) and contains a poem about the animal, a big illustration, and a fact presented in a smaller typeface. The sharks include some well-known varieties (great white, hammerhead, tiger), as well as a couple rarer types (goblin, frilled). The poems are amusing and clever and vary in form. An excellent choice for kids who prefer poetry and science with some bite!
Are You An Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by Misuzu Kaneko, Translated by Sally Ito, David Jacobson, and Michiko Tsuboi
Ages 7 – 10
Half biography, half poetry collection, this book is tender and beautiful. The first part discusses Misuzu Kaneko’s life: childhood, education, writing career, family, final illness, and suicide at age 26. While this sounds very heavy for the intended audience, it is handled with a light touch, and is ultimately child-friendly. The biography is punctuated by samples of her poetry, and more poems are included in the back. The verses are full of empathy and a childlike observations, and the illustrations are lovely. This is a more serious selection, and it is one of the most gorgeous children’s poetry collections available. Perfect to share in a quiet moment.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
Ages 8 – 12
Eighteen fifth graders, the last graduates of Emerson Elementary before it’s razed, are assigned to keep a poetry journal for the year. Some kids take to it more enthusiastically than others, but they all write about their changing lives and families in this diverse and thought-provoking book. All the kids have things going on in their lives – ailing grandparent, absent father, military deployment, poverty, adjusting to a new country, etc – and it’s easy to connect to them emotionally. As the year progresses, the students show major growth as they learn how to make their voices heard. This is a solid choice for independent reading and classroom sharing.
Unbound: A Novel In Verse by Ann E. Burg
Ages 9 – 12
Grace and her family are slaves on a Southern plantation near the Great Dismal Swamp. When Grace – light-skinned and blue-eyed – is sent to serve up at the Big House, her elders warn her to keep out of trouble. It’s hard, though, when the Master and Missus are just plain mean, and Grace has to choke back her feelings about the injustice of it all. When the final straw breaks, Grace and her family have to make a run for it before they are sold: after all, even the Swamp must be better than the auction block and permanent separation. This page-turning historical novel in verse is strongly rooted in fact, and Grace’s narration is honest and emotionally packed. A powerful selection for any young American.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Ages 10 – 13
Nick hates words as much as he loves soccer, but his father is obsessed with the English language and insists that Nick read the dictionary he’s written about obscure vocabulary. Other than that, his life is going pretty well: star of the soccer team, great best friend, cool mom, his romantic interest seems to be mutual. But then he gets news that changes everything, and not for the better. Suddenly, his home life’s a mess, bullies are bringing him down, and even his soccer life is being affected. How can he reconcile everything? Much like the author’s award-winning book The Crossover, this novel in verse stars a likable, believable main character trying to figure out life, sports, and everything in-between. You can hand this book to practically anyone.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
Ages 10 – 14
In this homage to the Harlem Renaissance, award-winning Nikki Grimes reprinted some works by the era’s most iconic poets. She then used those poems to create her own, unique “Golden Shovel” poems, a challenging form that incorporates lines from the Renaissance poems. The effect is stunning, showing that while a great a deal has changed, even more has stayed the same, but hope is never misplaced. Vivid illustrations by some of the best African-American children’s artists of the day are scattered throughout the book. Altogether, this book is a tour-de-force and should be checked out immediately.