Post-Career Old(er) Educator Finding His Way as a Full-Time (Publishable) Writer Recommends Good Poetry Collections for Young(er) Children in Celebration of National Poetry Month

books_reading_glass_hiresApril is National Poetry Month, and that makes the month an especially good time for you to saunter off toyour local library to grab a few of themany wonderful poetry collections that crowd the children’s book market these days and spend some time each day reading poems with the kids you know that speak to their interests, experiences, and imaginations. Make the reading an enjoyable experience, one so appealing that kids will be hooked on poetry for the rest of their lives!

Let that enjoyment begin early on by sharing poems that have something to say to young children as they navigate their preschool experiences and make their way through the primary elementary school grades. In the following collections, there are bound to be any number of poems that will delight young children and their adult allies. And with so many poems to choose from, bypass the ones that don’t excite, move on, and find ones that do!

In my future poetry alerts, I will be working my way up the age ladder, drawing your attention to collections that have the potential to make poetry meaningful throughout childhood and into adulthood. Along the way, I’ll describe some of the techniques we can draw on to make poetry come alive whenever we set out to share poetry in meaningful ways.

Does anyone out there love poetry as much as I do?

  1. Coombs, Kate. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Illustrated by Meilo So. Chronicle Books, 2012. In addition to identifying sea creatures large (“Oarfish,” “Gulper Eel”) and small (“Sea Urchin,” “Prayer of the Little Fish”), the poet invokes images that create an atmosphere of wonder (“Sand’s Story,” “What the Waves Say” “Tideline”) awe (“Coral,” “Tide Pool Shopping,” “Not Really Fish”), and gratitude (“Song of the Boat,” “Blue Whale,” “Ocean Reality”). Brilliant full-color watercolors complement mood, movement, and sentiment.
  2. Davies, Nicola. Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature. Illustrated by Mark Hearld. Candlewick, 2012. Moving through a year of seasons, Davies and Hearld offer observations and information about the natural world as well as reflections, short narratives, and suggestions to help children enjoy nature’s constant changes. Hearld’s paper-cut collages, woodcuts, and other mixed-media techniques, complement the album of ideas, images, and moods created by Davies’s evocative poetry. Science meets poetry and poetry meets science through rich images and thoughtful poems. Each reading deepens the experience in word, picture, and heartfelt reflection.
  3. Hopkins, Lee Bennett, (Ed.). Cimb Into My Lap: First Poems to Read Together. Illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Simon & Schuster, 1998. The eight sections into which Hopkins has arranged a selection of more than fifty gentle poems are tuned to the young child’s curiosity and growing recognition of the folks and experiences that define his or her world. Thus, the poets fathom whimsy (“Worlds of Make-Believe’), relationships (“Some People”), self (“Me!” and “Little Hands and Fingers—Little Toes and Feet”), and the security of home and caring family (“Good Night”) —topics tenderly illuminated with Brown’s affectionate watercolors.

The poets range from classical (Eugene Field, Sir James M. Barrie, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll) and modern (David McCord, Charlotte Zolotow, Nancy Willard, Karla Kuskin) to contemporary (Deborah Chandra, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Mary Ann Hoberman), and all of their offerings are gifts to be read aloud. A worthy companion to Hopkins’s Side by Side: Poems to Read Together (Simon & Schuster, 1988).

  1. Lewis, J. Patrick (Ed.). National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar. National Geographic, 2012. The 200 mostly short poems cover a delightful range of classic and contemporary poets, including Robert Louis Stevenson (“The Cow”), Walter de la Maré (“A Warbler”), Lewis Carroll (“The Crocodile”), Benjamin Franklin (“Butterfly”), Maxine Kumin (“The Horses”), Jack Prelutsky (“The Walrus”), and J. Patrick Lewis (“How to Tell a Camel”). Impressive, as well, is the range in form and style, including limerick, haiku, shape poetry, free verse, and rhymed verse, with the poems thoughtfully categorized by the characteristics and traits of the animals represented such as “the big ones,” “the little ones,” “the winged ones,” “the water ones,” “the strange ones,” “the noisy ones,” and “the quiet ones.” Stunning, full-bleed photographs capture and the variety, beauty, and peculiarity of these fascinating creatures. A book to pore over…and over…and over again.
  2. Mannis, Celeste Davidson. One Leaf Rides the Wind: Counting in a Japanese Garden. Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hurting. Puffin, 2005. A kimono-attired child guides readers through a traditional Japanese garden. Meditative haiku and lush jewel-toned pictures reveal the tranquility of the garden and the wonder of the eleven items the gracious child observes and explores.
  3. Mora, Pat. Confetti: Poems for Children. Illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. New York: Lee & Low, 1996. Free verse poems celebrate the rhythms and uniqueness of the Southwest and its culture as seen through the eyes of a Mexican-American girl. Many Spanish words are interwoven into the verses and translated in a glossary at the book’s end. Acrylic illustrations, rendered in hot colors reflecting the sun, their swirling, dreamlike patterns suggest the vastness of the land and the freedom of its inhabitants.
  4. Muth, Jon J. Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Scholastic, 2014. In twenty-six haiku —each a variation from the traditional five-seven-five syllable form —the lovable panda Koo, at first alone and later joined by an alert boy and girl, romps through the seasons savoring each unique experience that nature offers him and his companions. The palette of the quiet watercolor-and-ink pictures changes to reflect the contrasting moods and textures that each season holds in store. In an author note, Muth encourages readers to follow “an alphabetical path through the book by following the capitalized words in each haiku.” Readers first met Koo in Muth’s Zen Ties (Scholastic, 2008).
  5. Prelutsky, Jack. Ive Lost My Hippopotamus. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. New York: Greenwillow, 2012. What a romp! Offered here are more than 100 silly and downright hilarious poems mostly about animals, some real-with-a-twist (an elephant that’s artistically talented, an octopus that’s great at multitasking) and others strangely imagined (a wiguana, gludu, appleopard). The bottom line? Look closely, use your imagination, and you’ll find humor all around you. Haiku, rhymed verse, shape poems, and an occasional limerick add variety, and Ubanovic’s whimsical black-and-white line drawings serve up a steady beat of pun, slapstick, and farce. A call to action for read alouds, oral interpretation, and readers theater.
  6. Prelutsky, Jack (Ed.). The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Random House, 1983. There’s something of interest and delight for every child among five hundred poems that are divided into child-friendly subject areas such as living things, home, seasons, domestic and wild animals, and children themselves. There are classic poems by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, and others, along with modern and contemporary verse by Shel Silverstein, David McCord, Mary Ann Hoberman, and Karla Kuskin, all told in a diversity of form, tone, and mood. Lobel’s upbeat drawings fill the entire volume with lively, quirky drama and an offbeat, somewhat radical attention to childhood imagination.
  7. Salas, Laura Purdie. Water Can Be . Illustrated by Violeta Dabija. Millbrook, 2014. With the aid of softly textured art work that feels like a meditation, the poet describes water’s many functions in rhyming pairs while also exploring water’s effects on the environment and, ultimately, on our lives. The poems are rendered in brief inventive, thought-provoking metaphors that encourage discussion and could lead to a guided writing activity. The author/illustrator pair have also collaborated on A Leaf Can be (Millbrook, 2012), which also offers fascinating observations of the natural world.
  8. Yolen, Jane, and Peters, Andrew Fusek (Eds.). Heres a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2007. EC~ An over-sized, spacious anthology of more than 60 small poems arranged into four categories that cover four significant features of the very young child’s world: “Me, Myself, and I,” “Who Lives In My House?,” “I Go Outside,” and “Time for Bed.” These are well crafted poems by some of the most outstanding children’s poets, including Nikki Grimes, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Rosemary Wells, Jack Prelutsky, and Lillian Moore. While many of the children depicted in the mixed-media illustrations appear happy and contented as they dance, romp, gesture, and play together, others are seen in the throes of anger, jealousy, and tantrum. It’s all good, real, rhythmic, and entertaining poetry that’s bound to amuse babies, infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and the kindergarten set over and over and over again. Giving voice to the poems with kids this young can be a first step toward readers theater experiences. To continue the spell, try Yolen and Peters’s Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems (Candlewick, 2010).

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