11 Beautiful Books of Poetry for Children
If we arrive eager to lap up language, hungry to make our tongues work the magic of speaking, why not read something that begs to be spoken aloud? Why not read that which rises to the occasion and sings music to the ear, with rhythm and rhyme, sound and metaphor? Gertrude Stein said, “Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?” Indeed, why not?
I mean poetry. Perfect for little ears keened to language. And with poetry written with children in mind, humor is often an added musical note.
National Poetry month this fine month of April with its splendid spring light and new green. In the words of Mother Goose, “Girls and boys, come out to play, The moon doth shine as bright as day; Leave your supper, and leave your sleep, And come with your playfellows into the street.”
Leave Your Sleep, by Natalie Merchant and Barbara McClintock infuses new life into classical poetry with Merchant’s wonderful musical renderings. Nineteen songs on a CD that accompanies the book–one for each poem– including Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Land of Nod,” Ogden Nash’s “Adventures of Isabel,” Rands’ “Topsyturvey-World,” and e.e. cumming’s “Maggie and milly and molly and may.” Merchant writes in her introduction that these poems formed the long conversation between her daughter and herself in the early years, poems that taught her daughter about language and human nature and the necessary nonsense to challenge the natural order of things. “Poetry speaks of so much: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment,” writes Merchant in the introduction. “These are the things that make a childhood, that time when we wake up to the great wonders and small terrors of our world.”
Ages 5-9 | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux | November 13, 2012
Carole Gerber, author of Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! vigorously acknowledges poetry’s need to be read out loud. Two voices, in fact, are invited to read her poems. One person reads the lines in one color, another person reads the lines in another color. And the words made up of both colors? You read them together, of course. Two voices, then, to bring to life the honeybee dance, the caterpillar, the worm and snail.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. | February 5, 2013
In a wonderful collection of poems, acclaimed poet Valerie Worth in Pug and Other Animal Poems makes us see with fresh eyes the fox, “Streaking the Dark like a fabulous Comet—Famous, but Seldom seen;” and hear the wood thrush “Filling the air with Silver and water;” and in one of my favorites: “When the earth/shook forth/great beasts/from its deep/ folds, gold/fountains of/lions, red lavas/of horses flowing/down, elephants/in soft gray/pumice-tides/ The bull/ would not Melt: but Had to be Hacked out, Rough-hewn, From the planet’s Hard side, From the cold Black rock That Abides.”
Ages 4-9 | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux | March 19, 2013
What about the turkey vulture, the mole and mosquito and vampire bat? Who will write a love poem to them? Will they forever languish in the world of the forgotten? Diane Lang in Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved?, illustrated by Lauren Gallegos sends her love to the creepy, slithering, and scuttling. Here’s the love letter to the mosquito: “You buzz around; you bite my arm. I must admit you do some harm. But, mosquito, let’s note, too, There is some good in what you do. You pollinate as you go ‘round, Helping plants spring from the ground. I will, behind my screen shut tight, Give you a hand (but not to bite).” Born is a new appreciation for the mosquito, and a pause, a hesitation before I swat them away from my arm.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Prospect Park Books| July 15, 2012
By Barry Louis Polisar; Illustrated by David Clark
We head into the sea with Something Fishy by Barry Louis Polisar, illustrations by David Clark, with silly poems and fun illustrations. Like “Sweetlips Fish:” “An odd name for a fish,/And perhaps a bit explicit./It might be a sweetlips fish,/But I would never kiss it.” Poems are written about the amoeba, herring, horsehoe crab, and even the quiet barnacle.
Ages 7-9 | Publisher: Rainbow Morning Music | April 1, 2013
The poems in Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and illustrated by Robbin Gourley take you deep into the woods, which is personified and inviting: “Forest wildly waving/rows of friendly trees./I’m here. Come visit./Please?” VanDerwater moves with ease into the mind of a chickadee, a fossil, a tree frog, and a young owl on his first flight.
Ages 6-9 | Publisher: Clarion Books | March 26, 2013
By Sid Farrar; Illustrated by Ilse Plume
Haiku is a perfect form for the short attention span. My twenty-one month old loves them, especially those in The Year Comes Round: Haiku through the Seasons, by Sid Farrar, illustrated by Ilse Plume. The form burns everything down to its essentials: “Lawns call a truce with mowers and slip beneath their white blankets to sleep.”
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company | August 1, 2012
Dallas Clayton in Make Magic! Do Good! must have a kid heart because his poems are playful, silly, funny, moving and in that play, sometimes there’s a lesson. Here’s the poem titled “Try:”Today you should ride in a helicopter/today you should tame a whale/today you should race/up to outer space/or at least/ you should try and fail.”
Ages 7-10 | Publisher: Candlewick | November 13, 2012
Here’s something different: Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Nancy Doniger plays with the layout of language, dribbling the poem vertically down the page, like a puzzle, a game. A game because, it turns out, the poem is made out of the words found in the single title word of the poem. For instance, “breakfast,” “after rest eat fast as a beast.”
Ages 8 and up | Publisher: Square Fish; Reprint edition | March 19, 2013
By Arnold Rampersad; Illustrated by Marcellus Blout
In Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry, Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blout have gathered together some of the rich classics from such celebrated African American writers—Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen, Lucille Clifton, and James Baldwin. Here’s Lucille Clifton’s “the poet:” “I beg my bones to be good but/ they keep clicking music and/ I spin in the center of myself/ a foolish frightful woman/ moving my skin against the wind and/ tap dancing for my life.” Or Alice Walker’s “The Nature of This Flower Is to Bloom:” “Rebellious. Living. Against the Elemental Crush. A Song of Color/ Blooming/For Deserving Eyes./Blooming Gloriously/For its Self.” I could go on and on quoting from this book.
Ages 8 and up | Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books | January 1, 2013
Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis writes in poignant verse about the struggles and achievements of seventeen men and women who fought injustice in When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. Lewis often assumes the first person, writing in the voice that thundered, shaking the world. In this compelling collection, you hear the voice of Jackie Robinson, Coretta Scott King, Harvey Milk, and Mohandas Gandhi, and others.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Chronicle Books | December 26, 2012
Nina Schulyer‘s first novel, The Painting, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award and was named a ‘Best Book’ by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her new novel, The Translator, will be published by Pegasus Books in July, 2013. She is the fiction editor for www.ablemuse.com and teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco. For more information, visit: www.ninaschuyler.com.