I’m in the middle of teaching poetry for my Children’s Literature students. We’ve done several choral readings, did some writing/art extension projects, examined dozens of titles, and read and discussed Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. One student asked me what my favorite children’s poetry books were and it didn’t take me long to come up with this list. I go back to these titles over and over and over. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author:
Adoff, Arnold. All the Colors of the Race. Illustrated by John Steptoe. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1982.
Adoff writes poems about people of “every race and every wonderful combination of races.” Highlights for me include “I Am,” “Trilingual,” “When They Asked,” and the three part “Flavors.” Check them out.
This book helped revive the art of choral reading. I remember two girls reciting the poem “Honeybees” at a middle school talent show. They wowed the audience. I excitedly told my Children’s Lit students about their performance. And my students the following year. And the year after that and the year after that, until one class, one of my students sitting in the front row said, “That was me.” She was one of the girls who years earlier had memorized and performed “Honeybees” and made quite an impression on me obviously.
We follow young Robert through a series of concrete poems – poems made into visual shapes. My favorites include “Skateboard” and the hilarious “The Thank-You Letter” written with footnotes. I have one student read the not-so-gracious thank you letter Robert is forced to write to his clueless Aunt Hildegard. The student reads it a second time and pauses for a second student who reads footnotes that reveal what Robert is thinking.
Unfortunately, this book of poems by Lee, who some call the “Shel Silverstein of Canada,” is out-of-print. Some of the poems have found homes in other poetry collections. My favorites from the original collection include the popular title poem, “Willoughby Wallaby Woo,” and the very long tongue-twisting “The Sitter and the Butter and the Better Batter Fritter,” which took me a month to memorize and I did so simply to watch children’s jaws drop when they watched me recite it.
This amazing work of art captures “the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement” in the form of a heroic crown of sonnets. Nelson says in her forward that she “wrote this poem with my heart in my mouth and tears in my eyes, breathless with anticipation and surprise.” I can’t say enough about this book. I’m looking forward to Marilyn’s visit to my campus this April.
If you can only afford one children’s poetry anthology featuring several poets, buy this one. It’s nearly 30 years old and still the best on the market. I like the fact that it ends with the Beatrice Schenk de Regniers classic “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket.”
Eleven poems showcase the inhabitants found in ponds. Highlights include “Spring Splashdown,” “A Small Green Riddle,” “Travel Time,” and “Into the Mud.” And MY copy, which I proudly show my students, is autographed by both the author AND the illustrator (got them both on two different occasions/two different locations). Sidenote: I’ve taught my college students to go “Ooh…Ahhh!” when I show them one of my autographed children’s books.
What’s left to say about this touchstone poetry book? At one point in my life, I was able to recite from memory “Invitation,” “Hug O’ War,” “True Story,” “Boa Constrictor,” “Invention,” “Sick,” “Jumping Rope,” “Hat,” “Lazy Jane,” “Love,” “Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich,” “What a Day,” AND “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.” You think I spent too much time with this book?
This is my sleeper-entry. It’s not as well known as other titles on this list. Fernie and the narrator are two boys who travel around the world. Each poem is about a different country or region. At the end of the book, we realize they’ve been in class the whole time. Unfortunately, this book is out-of-print. Get a copy from a local library and read “Tattoos,” one of my all-time favorite children’s poems.
If I had to pick one children’s poetry book as my favorite, it would be this one. In addition to the title poem, highlights include “Learning,” “And Then the Prince Knelt Down and Tried to Put the Glass Slipper on Cinderella’s Foot,” and “Thoughts on Getting Out of a Nice Warm Bed in an Ice-Cold House to Go to the Bathroom at Three O’Clock in the Morning,” the twenty-four word title followed by the actual poem itself: “Maybe life was better/When I used to be a wetter.”
OK. Your turn. What are your favorite children’s poetry books?