I've been wanting to share this round-up for a while now. Over a year ago, we started a little tradition in our family entitled 'Poetry-Slam Wednesdays'. As with typical quirky family traditions, this one started without much planning or foresight...it's something I tried out one night on the fly (it was actually Valentine's Day 2017 and I was trying to kill some time before my husband came home for dinner) and we had checked out some poetry books and this amazing DVD from the library, A Child's Garden of Poetry. I mentioned the concept of a poetry-slam to my boys and they were intrigued (the trick with young boys, I am finding, is to use the word like 'slam' and then they are all ears). We read some poetry, watched the film that showed middle-schoolers doing a poetry-slam and they were sold. Since we were having dessert that night (we usually don't do dessert on weeknights but again, this was Valentine's Day) I told them that the poetry-slam would happen before our special dessert. And again, they were totally on-board. The only parameters are that you come having either written your own poem, copied down someone else's to recite, or do one on the fly (our 3.5 year old particularly likes this option, wink) and a special dessert is always included (note that special to my kids is as simple as yogurt drizzled with maple syrup). And I've realized that kids like poetry best when they've heard it read to them or have read it themselves. I don't get too technical with them yet, at their ages (3-8), it's all about exposure to the greats, and having fun with it in the process. Below are some of our favorites...enjoy.
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices: This one by Paul Fleischman must be read aloud by two people. It's all about the insect world so I was honestly a bit suspect at first, but so well-written and fun to read together and hear the cadence of the lines along with the two voices in tandem (you see this particularly in 'The Grasshopper'!)
A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends: I remember that feeling of reading Shel Silverstein for the first time as a kid and thinking: adults can really write silly stuff like this?! And this is actual poetry? As a child I would read these books over and over again (these are my well-worn childhood copies but you can still find them on Amazon) and my siblings and I used to read them aloud to each other, giggling the entire time. When I showed them to the boys, they had equal reactions; jaw-dropping admiration for the zany wit of Silverstein and unable to put them down.
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word: This collection of poems takes a word that children recognize, such as 'Pepperoni' and arranges them so that they become a poem of short lines: One / pie / no / pepper / onion. It's genius and it took us a while to get used to author Bob Raczka's style, but we appreciate it and love it!
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems: Another Bob Raczka one that we love. This is a collection of visual poems (i.e: the one entitled 'Clock' actually looks like a clock) and it makes the kids think hard about what he's trying to convey with his 'word paintings' as he refers to them. Even the table of contents is drawn to look like a table!
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons: Oh how I love both Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad! And combined they are a powerful creative duo with this collection of poetry that celebrates the seasons. Each poem is entitled a different day of the year which helps kids connect what is happening weather-wise to their feelings. From the example below ('march 22') you can see that this is a collection that speaks to adults as much as it does for kids. I have several memorized as do my boys! One special moment came last August when my middle son and I were picking ripe tomatoes out of the garden and he goes "Mom, I get it now! When GREEN becomes TOMATOES". Ah, YES.
just like a tiny, blue hello
a crocus blooming
in the snow
Beastly Verse: This one is new to us this year but boy did it get our attention with the combination of classic poems (Lewis Carroll's 'The Crocodile' and William Blake's 'The Tyger' just to name a few) and bright bold illustrations by JooHee Yoon. So far we've just been checking it out from the library but it's been such a hit here, I have a feeling it'll end up as someone's birthday book gift soon. And the clever British poetry has won us over: 'in what furnace is thy brain?' is now a well-repeated zinger around these parts.
enormous smallness: This isn't so much a collection of poems as it is a biography about poet e.e. cummings but it includes several of his at the end so I wanted to include it here. It was fun to explain to my kids that it wasn't that long ago that someone decided to break the poetry mold and try something innovative (all lowercase, lots of punctuation, etc). It's a creative and inspiring read!
The Blacker the Berry: This one is a collection by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper (both Coretta Scott King honorees) about all the shades and hues of the color black. The poems are short enough to hold kids attentions and the illustrations are done in whimsical soft palettes. And while some kids may be too young to comprehend the double entendre of many of the stanzas, I feel like this is a great one to have in a home library as they can easily grow into it. Lots of wonderful themes about self-love, diversity, and acceptance. One of my favorite lines from the book: "colors, without black, couldn't sparkle quite so bright".
A Child's Garden of Verses: Take the liveliness of Robert Louis Stevenson's poems and combine them with the loveliness of Tasha Tudor's illustrations and you can get a fabulous treasury that you'll read over and over again. This one is oft reached for on our Poetry-Slam Wednesdays when they'd rather recite than write.
A Song About Myself: John Keats' poem comes to new life in this picture book that is wonderfully illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka.
Thunder Underground: We love this fabulous collection of poems about life underground (caves, subways, animal burrows, tunnels, etc). It's a unique mix of physical science & poetry and definitely speaks my boys love language! Poems by the formidable Jane Yolen, colorfully illustrated by Josée Masse.
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer's Market: Our little small town's farmer's market is right next to our library so some of our favorite weekend mornings spring through fall involve biking or walking downtown, picking up eggs, greens & berries and swinging by the library. This one channels your inner foodie and celebrates all things fresh with poems such as "Is it Ripe" to "Sally's Sweet Corn" and gets everyone in the family looking forward to the next market day.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton: Another one that is a bit more of a biography but I felt like needed to be included was the story of George Moses Horton, known as the 'slave poet'. His life story is incredible and he's the first Southern African-American man to be published. I'd read it with kids 7 and older; the content is mature but the text is delivered in a gentle manner for kids to understand and I love the yellow, green and blue 'hopeful' hues. Written and illustrated by Don Tate.
Miguel's Brave Knight: In this one, author Margarita Engle channels what a young Miguel de Cervantes must have felt like growing up with a gambling father that put the family into debt several times. All this family drama would lead to many daydreams of knights on steeds that would right everything that was wrong with the world. We've read an abridged version of 'Don Quixote' so my children (at least, the boys) are familiar with the basic storyline and were inspired to see how Cervantes dreamed up a story that would essentially become the first modern novel.
I'm Just No Good at Rhyming (And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups): This one is hilarious! We just discovered it recently but my boys tore through it. Written by Chris Harris, it's full of word play and zany humor and in the right spirit, you'll enjoy it just as much as your kids do! Lane Smith's illustrations here add the perfect touch. This is a must-have for your playful poetry nights.
Poetry for Kids Series (individual titles below): OH.MY.GOODNESS. This series of books is just wonderful. The series began in 2016 with the majority of the titles published in 2017 and most recently, Shakespeare in 2018. Each book provides a brief bio about the author, lovingly illustrated poems, definition of key words (to help the younger set) and depending on the book, commentary for each poem (for example, in the Whitman book, NYU Professor Karen Karbenier, PhD, explains Whitman's poetry). I gifted my 4 year old the Emily Dickinson one for her recent birthday and while I know she is still too little to fully appreciate it, Dickinson's poems are accessible to a wide age range and the watercolor illustrators are lovely and keep her engaged while I read. I will probably gift my boys the Frost and Whitman ones for Christmas. You know a series is good when it's hard to choose but trust me, these make a fabulous addition to any home library, kids OR adults.