As a children’s poet and Lowell parent with three kids, April is, of course, my favorite month of the year. Why? Because it’s National Poetry Month, making it the perfect occasion to share my love of poetry with kids and their families. Below I discuss the whys, whats, and hows of sharing poetry with kids. These ideas come from my personal experience and from conversations with Lowell librarians and teachers—Christine McDaniels, Melissa Hill, Domi Long, and Mike Woods—and fellow parent, Sarah Harding.
Why share poetry with kids?
- Poetry, like other forms of literature, can be entertaining, beautiful, and meaningful. It can provide a mirror for us to see ourselves and know we are not alone, and it can provide a window into others’ experiences, to help us understand the lives and perspectives of people different from ourselves.
- But poetry is unique. It’s different because it’s so compact and because it has a song.
- Young children are drawn to language with rhythm and rhyme. They love to sing and chant and play with language. Rhythm makes language easier to learn. Learning to rhyme helps children attend to the smallest bites of language. The phonemic awareness children develop through rhyme ultimately helps them learn to read, spell, and write.
- Poetry’s compactness makes it easy to share. A poem can be read in a few minutes and discussed in a single sitting (though of course repeated readings and discussions can bring greater depth).
- Poetry’s compactness often necessitates active reading.
- The imagery in a poem inspires us to make pictures in our heads. This type of picture making is an important component of reading comprehension.
- Metaphor and other literary devices require us to think creatively and analytically, thinking through connections we might not have made ourselves. How is love like a rose? How is revolution like a carousel? How are the rules of basketball like the rules of life?
- All that is left unsaid by a poem, all the empty spaces, requires us to think inferentially, to fill those spaces and make those connections for ourselves. Understanding a poem often requires work.
- Poetry provides a perfect place to practice the active reading skills we hope our children will apply to everything they read.
What kinds of poetry do kids like?
All kinds! Of course children are drawn to poetry that’s silly and makes them laugh. But why stop there? Kids also enjoy poetry they can connect to. They enjoy reading about the world around them—trees, animals, stars and planets, birds, snowstorms, summer. Kids also enjoy poems that speak to their experiences—climbing trees, staying up late at night, making and keeping friends, living with siblings.
Kids enjoy poems that make them think—poems with a bigger meaning. They even love poems that require a little effort to figure out—poems that reward them with a satisfying aha!
Children and teens (and grown-ups, too) are also drawn to poems that tell a story. Perhaps you’re not familiar with novels in verse, but it is a very popular genre among older children and middle school kids. A novel in verse tells an extended story through a series of poems instead of prose. Many recent award winners, including Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, which won the 2015 Newbery Award, are novels in verse.
What’s the best way to share poetry with kids?
Of course the best way to share a poem is to snuggle up and read it together. You might want to read each poem a couple of times to enjoy the sounds and the rhythm and let the poem sink in. After that you might share what you particularly enjoyed, what surprised you, and what you wonder about it. Poems make lovely surprise gifts, tucked in a pocket or a lunchbox or under a pillow. They are also a great way to celebrate a birthday, a holiday, a snow day, or a hot August afternoon.
Where can I find great children’s poetry?
Everywhere! These lists include writers of classic children’s poetry, as well as writers working and publishing today. Their books can be found in Lowell’s library, your local library, your local bookstore, or online.
Some of my favorite anthologies of children's poetry include:
- The 20thCentury Children’s Poetry Treasury, edited by Jack Prelutsky
- Good Books, Good Times!edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
- Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
- National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis
- Poems for the Very Young, edited by Michael Rosen
- The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (in English and Spanish)
- Poetry Speaks to Children, edited by Elise Paschen (This one comes with a CD so you can hear the poems.)
Some recent award-winning and best-selling novels in verse:
- Tamara Will Wissinger, Gone Fishing (grades 1-4)
- Kwame Alexander,The Crossover(grades 4-7)
- Sharon Creech,Love that Dog(grades 3-7)
- Margarita Engle,Silver People(grades 6-8)
- Nikki Grimes,Words with Wings(grades 4-7)
- Thanhha Lai,Inside Out and Back Again(grades 3-7)
- Marilyn Nelson,How I Discovered Poetry(grades 6-8)
- Andrea Davis Pinkney,The Red Pencil(grades 4-7)
- Jacqueline Woodson,Brown Girl Dreaming(grades 5-8)
You can’t go wrong with any of the poets below.
- Arnold Adoff
- Calef Brown
- John Ciardi
- Kate Coombs
- Rebecca Kai Dotlich
- Aileen Fisher
- Doug Florian
- Christine O’Connell George
- Charles Ghigna
- Cynthia Grady
- Eloise Greenfield
- Nikki Grimes
- David Harrison
- Lee Bennett Hopkins
- Paul Janeczko
- XJ Kennedy
- Karla Kuskin
- Irene Latham
- Gail Carson Levine
- J. Patrick Lewis
- Myra Cohn Livingston
- David McCord
- Eve Merriam
- Lillian Moore
- Heidi Mordhorst
- Marilyn Nelson
- Naomi Shihab Nye
- Linda Sue Park
- Jack Prelutsky
- Bob Raczka
- Michael Rosen
- Laura Purdie Salas
- Joyce Sidman
- Shel Silverstein
- Marilyn Singer
- Eileen Spinelli
- Amy VanDerwater
- Lee Wardlaw
- Janet Wong
- Valerie Worth
- Jane Yolen
How do you like sharing poems? Feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments box below.
Elizabeth Steinglass writes poetry every day. Read more of her poetry and find tips for writers on her blog. You can also find her on Twitter @ESteinglass.