|Collecting Poetry||A Few Great Poets||Poetry Breaks||Performing Poetry|
This is why poetry is especially suited to children. If you think about the promise of reading as something that will help a child never to be lonely, you need to give a child poems to keep tucked away, to take out for warmth on a long walk to school across the snow or counting the minutes until you return home from work or waiting on the stairs in secret for a postman to deliver a package; those little moments of anticipation and vastness overwhelming to a child's spirit. Those moments need poems the same as a balloon needs a wrist to weigh it down, same as a pocket needs a penny. Poems are the cousins of songs, and are as necessary in the family of joy. How can they be included in daily life, and how can they be made special and celebrated?
Kids love to collect baseball cards, beanie babies, rocks, autographs, Crazy Bones, chewed bubble-gum specimens...so why not poems? Anthologies are collections of poems by all different authors, and are great places to hunt. My most dog-eared are Talking to the Sun compiled by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell, Wider Than the Sky; Poems to Grow Up With compiled by Scott Elledge and Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. Collections like these offer very general samplings and classic fare, but there are also smorgasbords suited to very specific tastes. For instance:
seasonal poetry anthologies...
Winter Poems selected by Barbara Rogasky
The Sky is Full of Song selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
Ghost and Goose Bumps...Poems to Chill Your Bones selected by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray (one of my all-time favorite collections, pages loose from use)
cultural poem anthologies...
Cricket Never Does : A Collection of Haiku and Tanka collected by Myra Cohn Livingston, ilustrated by Kees De Kiefte
Pass It On: African American Poetry for Children selected by Wade Hudson, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
anthologies about the environment...
The Earth Is Painted Green : A Garden of Poems About Our Planet selected by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Earthways, Earthwise: Poems on Conservation selected by Judith Nicholls
anthologies about animals...
The Beauty of the Beast selected by Jack Prelutsky
Eric Carle's Animals, Animals selected by Eric Carle
anthologies about friends...
You And Me: Poems of Friendship selected and illustrated by Salley Mavor
Very Best (almost) Friends collected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Christine Davenier
I Like You, If You Like Me : Poems of Friendship collected by Myra Cohn Livingston
anthologies just for being a kid...
Oh, Grow up! Poems to Help You Survive Parents, Chores, School and Other Afflictions by Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Ten Second Rainshowers: Poems by Young People compiled by Sandford Lyne, illustrations by Virginia Halstead (outstanding!)
See what I mean? Dinosaurs...sports...pets...weather...space...travel...love...loss, you name it! There's an anthology and a poem for every person, place and thing; all the themes that exist within children's fiction and non-fiction exist within poetry, as do all the opportunities for interest and integration. Say, for instance, you're going to a dude ranch. Read Home on the Range: Cowboy Poetry selected by Paul Janeczko, ilustrated by Bernie Fuchs. (If you live on a ranch, read the poems to the horses.) Or say you are too tired to cook, and you order Chinese food. While you're waiting, share a few from Maples in the Mist: Children's Poems from the Tang Dynasty collected by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng or Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes selected by Robert Wyndham, illustrated by Ed Young.
Once children have been exposed to both general and thematic anthologies and collections by individual authors, children can simply decorate a box, a large jar, a photo album or a notebook to keep their favorite findings, or they can compile and illustrate their own anthology, creating a volume that really reflects their own tastes and favorite themes and that they will want to return to again or again. Explore illustration with your aspiring anthologist by asking questions: should pictures be colorful, take up a whole page, or do such illustrations detract from the poems, are simple line illustrations more complimentary? Are photos more suitable, can I take them myself of cut them out of magazines? Explore choice and order: do I want to alternate long and short poems, what sort of mood do I want to evoke with the first poem, or with the last? There are no right answers, only judgement calls. Children will soon discover that besides the skill that goes into writing or reading poems, there is a certain talent to anthologizing poems.
Prelutsky provided a new generation with fresh collections of verse. Following in Silverstein's footsteps, The New Kid on the Block (containing the classic poem "Homework! Oh, Homework!"), Something Big Has Been Here and A Pizza the Size of the Sun are generous volumes, sparsely illustrated in pen-and-ink by the gifted cartoonist James Stevenson. Prelutsky, however, is lighter in tone and is more prolific than Silverstein, adding to the shelf thematic tomes such as Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep, The Dragons Are Singing Tonight and various holiday collections. His rhymes are impeccable, if at times repetetive and predictable. His kid-appeal is off the charts. Prelutsky's great and underrecognized strength, though, is as an anthologist. Take, for instance, his collections of anonymous poetry in Poems of A. Nonny Mouse and A. Nonny Mouse Writes Again, or the tribute to the animal kingdom, The Beauty of the Beast, benevolently illustrated in brush strokes by Meilo So, or the lively collection of poems "to tickle your funnybone," For Laughing Out Loud.
Jeff Moss and Douglas Florian
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?Obviously influenced by the poetic elite aforementioned, these fellows each had published thick volumes sparsely and cunningly illustrated in pen and ink, but like chickens and eggs, they have managed to maintain flavors all their own. Jeff Moss was a famous unknown poet before his first bestselling book The Butterfly Jar; he was the lyricist behind Sesame Street's hit song "Rubber Duckie." Douglas Florian exploded on to the children's poetry scene with his cymbal crash of a collection, Bing Bang Boing, and then with slimmer collections which pay tribute to beasts and birds such as Mammalabilia, Insectlopedia, On the Wing, In the Swim and his recent Lizards, Frogs and Polliwogs. Florian's word play and wit are truly original and makes for a nice bridge for children who never tire of "punch line" poetry yet are ready for a more literary flavor. (I said literary. Not stuffy. See his latest, Laugheteria, to see what I mean.)
Perhaps a better name for this poet would be Colin McNaughty, as he is Prelutsky's talent with Dennis Rodman's testicles. Only British. (Do they play basketball in England much?) His poetry and zany artwork remind me of the "Wacky Packages" bubble-gum spoof cards of my childhood...do you remember them?...at once gross and strangely inspired. Children love his poetry as much as they love a poop joke. And that's a lot. Add sass to a poetry collection with Making Friends with Frankenstein, There's an Awful Lot of Weirdos in Our Neighborhood and Wish You Were Here (And I Wasn't).
Iona and Peter Opie
The Opies are renowned folklorists and smarty-pantses who compiled the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and a number of scholarly works, but children not yet attending the Ivy Leagues will thank them for collecting the schoolyard rhymes found in I Saw Esau, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Since Peter's passing in 1982, Iona gathered Mother Goose's finest feathers and nested them in the two volume set, My Mother Goose Library, illustrated by Rosemary Wells. While there are many lovely editions of Mother Goose available, this is the collection I have come to depend on and if you share only one or need a perfect baby shower gift, this is the set I recommend.
Mary Ann Hoberman
I was first awed by Hoberman's book-length poem A House is a House for Me because of the unrelenting brainstorming that occured within the poem. No, not brainstorm. Brain squall. Brain typhoon. The kind of creative thinking that I have really only seen in kids and geniuses. Hoberman's poems are each small testaments to the sensory and imaginative life of children, and a hundred of them are collected in The Llama Who Had No Pajamas, illustrated by Betty Fraser. Her collection of family poems, Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers illicited as much spirited recognition and discussion from fourth graders as well-written fiction. Hoberman is also a great justice-of-the-peace between poetry and the picture book form, creating perfect marriages in her books And To Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends and One of Each.
I have had so much success with reading every single one of Judy Sierra's poems aloud that I have to say she is one of my very favorite poets. "I Am Looking for My Mother" in Sierra's book of penguin poems, Antarctic Antics, inspired cheers, laughter and requests for four re-readings from the second grade . Equally enjoyed was There's a Zoo in Room 22, a collection of class pet poems from A to Z, a feat that for most poets looks good on paper, but in Judy Sierra's case, actually looks good on paper. Her poems are polished kid-pleasers.
Fleishman won the coveted 1989 Newbery Award for his inventive Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, a collection of verse from a entymologist's POV and illustrated by Eric Beddows. The poems are carefully scripted so two readers can share them aloud at once, indeed, making a joyful noise. More poems for two voices (bird voices, this time) are found in I Am Phoenix, and a small symphony for four pre-teens is composed in Big Talk, illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe.
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems; Extra Innings: Baseball Poems; Dinosaurs; Blast-Off! Poems About Space; School Supplies: A Book of Poems; My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States...with over seventy anthologies, mostly thematic, is it any wonder this premiere writer and collector of poetry is a favorite among teachers? It is somewhat ironic, since Hopkins himself didn't like school growing up. Perhaps this contributed to his unique flair for finding poetry that speaks to the reluctant reader, and in particular, he has the poetry skeleton key to little boys' hearts. One collection I share the most is Through Our Eyes: Poems and Pictures About Growing Up. It only contains sixteen poems, but it is a great example of the art of the anthologist, choosing just the right poems that work individually to create a new whole, like a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Grab your jump rope! Lee captures all the rhythms of schoolyard chants and ties them up in poems. Among his many collections, Alligator Pie written in 1974 won the Canadian Library Associationšs Book of the Year and won a Hans Christian Andersen honor, and almost thirty years later, Lee proves hešs still got rhythm in his picture book collection Bubblegum Delicious. Even Mother Goose herself would find Leešs verse unflappable.
McCord's book Every Time I Climb a Tree, illustrated by Marc Simont, is one of the most personally satisfying books of poetry I have ever read...or shared. It wins the "Poetry Book I Would Take With Me If I Was Trapped on an Island in a Lord-of-the-Flies-Type-Situation" award, because it has everything I need to keep children poetically engaged. For instance, children love to chorally scream to "Bananas and Cream," they memorize "The Pickety Fence" with the same vim that they memorize gangsta rap and become reflective with each line of "This is My Rock."
Move over, Edward Lear...Kennedy's "X" must stand for eXtra funny. Though Kennedy's own work from Brats, Fresh Brats and Drat These Brats is widely anthologized and his recent collection Exploding Gravy is no exception to his excellence, he and his wife demonstrated their own anthology aplomb with their collection Talking Like The Rain: A First Book of Poems and Knock at a Star : A Child's Introduction to Poetry.
If you're not sure what poems your child will like, call on Lansky's collections. He works with hundreds of kids to rate thousands of poems, and uncovers specifically the ones that children ask to be read over and over again. He compiles these treasures into troves titled Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, A Bad Case of the Giggles, Miles of Smiles, Poetry Party, and No More Homework! No More Tests!: Kids' Favorite School Poems. Even the surliest sixth graders bare their braces in a smile when presented with Lanky's poetry prescriptions.
The art of this accomplished cartoonist was made famous in The New Yorker magazine, but Stevenson eventually turned his attentions to younger audiences. He used his talents to create particularly droll picture books, chock full of clever dialogue and situations, often in comic book form. The big surprise came later in Stevensonšs career, when he proved himself to be a formidable childrenšs poet. His series of collections all with "corn" in the title, Just Around the Corner, Candy Corn, Sweet Corn, Cornflakes, Popcorn and Corn-Fed are all self-illustrated in his signature loose, sketchy style. The poems themselves are humble free verse observations, and will go far to show children that 1) poems donšt have to rhyme and 2) poems donšt have to be flowery and snooty. Children will look at the world in a new way after reading Stevensonšs poems, and begin to see that inspiration for their own poetry is in the simple things all around them. If I were to help you create a guest list for a poetry collection in your home, I would suggest that you should invite Arnold Adoff, Hilaire Belloc, Sylvia Cassedy, John Ciardi, William Cole, Walter De La Mare, Nikki Giovanni, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merriam, A. A. Milne, Lilian Moore, Ogden Nash, James Stevenson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Christina G. Rosetti, Stevie Smith, Judith Viorst, and Clyde Watson. For starters. If you prefer not to entertain such a large crowd in your home, they graciously await to make your acquaintance at the at the library at your convenience, along with these verse-filled volumes:
Poetry virgins, gather ye children's trade collections while ye may! Poetry books can go out of print very quickly, but they can be rescued and re-loved through a used book search at Addall.com. Don't forget, new and outstanding poetry releases are always found in Don't Miss and the Don't Miss Non-Fiction Archives. And really, don't miss! People go to all sorts of lengths to share the best of books with children. But if I could only have one shelf of books from only one genre and still meet that goal of a life-long love of language and literature, that shelf would be POETRY!
But as adults, we are bigger than they are (ha ha) and so we can bang on their doors if we see fit; the trick, I guess, is doing it with panache. The legendary librarian Caroline Feller Bauer suggested knocking softly and carrying a big sign that says "Poetry Break," and interrupt all sorts of mundane activities and routines by holding up the sign and reciting poetry. Bauer generously granted permission for people to non-commercially reproduce the illustrations from her book The Poetry Break (expensive, but also available at the library) for use in non-commercial, educational activities, so you can get the drawings enlarged at the copy shop, color them in, put them on poster board and voila! Attach a clear pocket to the back of the sign so you can slip a poem in and read it. I often used my poetry break sign when I was teaching math, so children would think of poetry as an interruption of math skills and therefore be forever enamored with it. As a librarian, I played the wandering poetry minstrel, briefly popping in to classrooms for a poetry break...this is another great job for a parent volunteer. Keep in mind that poetry breaks also work great ouside of school: pop in at bathtime, defer dinner or hop in front of the t.v. Encourage your children to do the same. Poetry breaks are also exciting in the supermarket checkout line...the airport...the bank...the playground. Too embarassed? Too shy? Worried people will think you rhyme with "crazy"? Let's call "fun" an approximate rhyme for crazy, and admit that we all could use a poetry break (and as usual, if it's going to get done you're probably the one who is going to have to do it). Don't worry, your children will love you for it, especially if you do it before they hit puberty. After they hit puberty, Poetry Patrols can be initiated at the high school level through literary clubs, to make sure poetry is infused in every nook and cranny. Through the "Poetry Break," verse can serve as a public attention-getter, hopefully in lieu of a painful body piercing.
A Few Favorite Poems for Poetry Performance
(found in collections recommended here and/or found in the Poetry Archives):
Best book about
teaching poetry to kids!
Great fiction about
a boy who comes to
A poetry reading or recitation is a lovely program to deliver to older audiences (or poetry performances can be intergenerational if you invite young and old to participate). A local coffee shop would probably oblige to sponsor it, especially if there's media involved; call the community paper a week in advance for coverage. Dress your storytellers as beatnicks for added java flavor, daddy-o. Or, for an evening of refinement (and a great Valentine's Day fundraiser), make it a formal affair. Invite everyone to get those fancy gowns and tuxes out of mothballs, break out a mirrored ball and toast love poetry with sparkling white grape juice. Or recite poems by Anonymous wearing mystery masks. Remember, though, you don't need a theme; for an eclectic program, mix the sad with the funny and the shocking with the sweet, and warn the audience to buckle their seat belts for a ride on and off the track of the rhyming rollercoaster.
And be sure to e-mail me with your success stories. Yes, they can be in free verse.
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