When my oldest daughter was in 2nd grade, she had a teacher who did something I had not heard of before. Rather than playing background music while the students were working, this teacher would play Shel Silverstein audiobooks. At first, I was skeptical about this strategy. I thought it would be distracting. How could they concentrate on their work while also listening to poetry?
My skepticism (about this at least) was laid to rest by half way through the year when my daughter would start quoting Shel Silverstein poems for any life circumstance that arose. Most often this involved quoting “For Sale” at the slightest sibling annoyance!
This teacher inspired me. I had visions of listening to poetry in the car, in the house while the kids were playing together, during bedtime, and all other times in between. All with the dual results of the children absorbing poetry while creating a peaceful, quiet, contemplative environment. But, like most of my inspirational ideas, none of this happened.
As it stands now, my children have absorbed exactly zero poems. Well, I take that back, they know Philip Schuyler’s rap in “Take a Break” from the Hamilton soundtrack thoroughly and will quote it at any opportunity. I am of the opinion that every song on that soundtrack is poetry at its finest.
Additionally, I think an argument could be made that most picture books are actually poetry, what with all the rhythm and rhyme. If you took the text of picture books and wrote them on a single page, they would be called poems. So, now that I think of it, the kids are fine, they know more poems than I could have hoped for.
Hamilton and picture books aside, I have failed on the poetry front. This is ironic for me as poetry saved my sanity as a teenager. The reading and writing of poetry gave me an outlet for things I could not otherwise express. My love for both reading and writing was sparked and fueled by the genre. One would think that would be a motivating factor in passing on that love to my children. And yet…
Now, during the waning days of National Poetry Month, I have a renewed sense of the importance of exposing my children to poems. Here are a few of the books and poets that we have enjoyed.
- Kwame Alexander – For the elementary school aged kids, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets is one of my favorite, recent, collected works of poetry. It has the benefit of not only exposing the kids to poetry, but also famous poets. Alexander is most well-known for his young adult novels, The Crossover, Booked, and Solo, which are expertly written in verse. He was awarded the Newberry Medal for The Crossover.
- Marilyn Singer – Singer has mastered the art of the mirror poem. She is a clever and entertaining writer. Beyond mirror poems, A Stick Is an Excellent Thing is a great book of poems to read with kids.
- Bob Raczka – Anyone who can title a book “Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems” automatically deserves to be on a list of poets to know. It is exactly that subtle play with words that make poetry fantastic, and he has done it IN HIS TITLE!
- Jacqueline Woodson – In the genre of novel-in-verse, Woodson is a gift. Brown Girl Dreaming is a remarkable book that every child fifth grade and above should read at least once. She has been awarded almost every award there is, including a National Book Award.
- Bravo! Poems for Amazing Hispanics (Margarita Engle) – My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed these poems. When we moved to the Los Angeles area, I knew that I needed to find a way to give my kids more exposure to Spanish-speaking important figures, many of whom had a significant impact on the area we live in. This book has been an excellent introduction.
- Nikki Grimes – While Grimes has a great deal of poetry to her name, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissancee is my personal favorite. In this book, she takes her own poems and matches them up with famous poems of the Harlem Renaissance.
- Thanhha Lai – Inside Out and Back Again is another stand alone novel written in verse. It is a Newberry Medal Honor and National Book Award winning book that uses the power of poetic verse to convey a rarely heard story.
- Nikki Giovanni – While Giovanni is most well-known for her poetry aimed at adults, she does have several works that are for children. She is one of the great poets of our time and having our children exposed to her poetry is important.
- Patrick Lewis – Lewis has books of poetry about all manner of things ranging from cars to animals to math, math based on Edgar Allen Poe poems no less! He is clearly very good at what he does and children respond accordingly.
- Poetry for Young People and Poetry for Kids series – These two series are aimed at introduce “the classic” poets to young readers. The Poetry for Kids series is geared toward an elementary school age audience, while the Poetry for Young People series is more for the middle school age student. These are good introductory collections for helping students get to know the essential works of important poets.
- BONUS ROUND – I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Chris Harris) is a must have! This book is an absolute delight. My favorite poem in the book is “Alphabet Book (By the Laziest Artist in the World).” You will want this book in your house. It will be read again and again.