I distinctly remember my mother reading poetry to me when I was quite young. Shel Silverstein, A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame), and rhyming picture books regularly made their way into our read-aloud sessions. We loved them, and still quote our favorite lines to each other whenever we get the chance. Despite this, by the time I got to college, I had formed a less-than-stellar relationship with poetry.
I think it had something to do with the way the subject was taught at my high school. The poetry we learned there was old, impressive, important, and full of themes, motifs, and whatnots. While I was impressed and fascinated by the beauty and imagery in the pieces, they always felt distant. They weren’t something I could cozy up to and read for the fun of it, but something meant to be studied and taken seriously. In my head, reading poetry was the kind of work that required time and brainpower.
I think our kids deserve better than that.
As an adult, I’ve had the great luck to discover that poetry is a living, vibrant, meaningful thing that absolutely can be enjoyed in sips as well as gulps. It can be happy, sad, funny, touching, and, yes, it can require deep thinking, but not necessarily hours of study, to understand.
These days, I’m a huge fan of National Poetry month. In my experience, poetry:
* Broadens our world view by showing us things from a different perspective
* Introduces new vocabulary, and the idea that playing with words can be fun
* Helps people (including kids) embrace and use their own personal voice in a way unique to them
In short, poetry is priceless.
With that in mind, we of the Children’s Department have included the names and brief reviews of some of our favorite works of poetry published for kids in 2017 – early 2018. We hope you are able to use these books to build up your children’s love of language to be so strong that it’ll take more than a dull poetry class to knock it back out.
Happy National Poetry Month!
Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures photographs by Joel Sartore, words by Kwame Alexander
For ages 4 – 8
The stunning, vivid, gorgeously detailed photographs are the real show-stoppers here, but the poems are also worth the price of admission. Each page features a different species of animal against a solid background (either black or white), punctuated by brightly colored haiku. Published by National Geographic Kids, the creators’ hope is that, in coming face-to-face with these animals, readers will be more apt to protect them and their habitats. They make a very compelling argument. Share today.
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
For ages 8 – 12
Two students, a black boy and white girl, are assigned to work together on a writing assignment. Using this fictionalized framing, poets Irene Latham and Charles Waters (who give their characters their names) write poems that look at how similar situations are experienced differently by the two characters. Latham and Waters have created an accessible and unflinching look at issues of race and culture in our schools and communities. Some of the poems are difficult, but the collection ends on a decidedly hopeful note as the two children, who originally thought themselves so very different, discover that through listening and questions, a friendship is blossoming. Highly recommended for home and school, this book is sure to generate lots of important, and timely, discussion.
(Review by Mrs. Amanda)
Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs by Carol Murray, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
For ages 6 – 10
Quick, snappy little verses about bugs fill this nicely informative collection. Each page is devoted to a different creepy-crawly, complete with cute-but-accurate portrayals in the illustrations. An informational blurb sits beneath all the poems, and every bug has a longer paragraph about it at the end of the book. Fun, factual, all-around enjoyable: should be a hit with anyone who’s interested in the subject (and might even convert those who aren’t too sure).
Earth Verse: Haiku From the Ground Up by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by William Grill
For ages 7 – 10
Earth science in haiku form might seem like an odd combination, but this book makes it work. Divided into sections devoted to minerals, rocks, fossils, and more, kids get a clever glimpse into certain elements that make up our planet. Crafty word play and impressionistic artwork in a blue-red color scheme add further interest, and informational paragraphs at the end of the book fill in some of the factual gaps. A good selection for those interested in science, as well as those who appreciate seeing how far poetry can stretch.
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares Para Cada Dia de la Semana by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrations by Maya Christina Gonzalez
For ages 5 – 10
This vibrant, bilingual (English/Spanish) collection is a joyous celebration of family and daily life. Following a child through their week at home and school, readers are introduced to a large, active family enmeshed in a close-knit community. Young readers (and their adults) are sure to find plenty to relate to. The artwork is stunningly stylized, with lots of Latin inspiration. A must-read for any home on the block.
I’m Just No Good At Rhyming: And Other Nonsense For Mischievous Kids And Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
For ages 7 – 10
These poems are funny. A great many other reviewers have compared Chris Harris’ work to Shel Silverstein’s, and while I agree that they have the same sort of feel, Harris’ style is unique to himself, and it’s wonderful. There are poems in here perfect for reading out loud, perfect for reading to one’s self, and perfect for giggling so hard one has to take a moment to breathe. Mr. Smith’s illustrations are equally fantastic and match the tenor of the poems beautifully. Hats off, gentlemen – you’ve made a delightful thing.
Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček
For ages 3 – 7
Split into several sections (“Big and Small,” “Colors and Shapes,” etc.), these poetic observations about the natural world will capture the attention of little zoologists everywhere. Combined with striking, textured illustrations in saturated colors, these poems will transport young readers under the sea, into the jungle treetops, and everywhere else that animals thrive. Just be prepared for a lot of questions when the kids’ curiosity gets fired up! An A+ selection.