I grew up memorizing poetry and we’ve done the same with our children over the past few years (I still die over this little video of Ella reciting a few of her favorite poems last year).
But despite memorizing literally thousands of lines of poetry as a child, I’ll admit I didn’t actually love poetry all that much.
I mean, I liked the poems that I memorized, but poetry in general still seemed super intimidating to me, and I always cringed a little at the poetry units in my English classes.
Then, when I was doing my internship as a school librarian, I happened on a copy of A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams and when I knew more about him as a person and some of his most famous poems, suddenly he was my favorite poet (some gorgeous Melissa Sweet illustrations didn’t hurt either). Plus, reading poetry not in a vacuum, but as a regular book, made a huge difference form e.
Despite all our poetry memorizing in my childhood, I don’t remember reading almost any books of poetry just for fun (apologies to my parents if we did indeed read hundreds of poetry picture books and I simply can’t remember any of them).
I’ve made an effort over the past few years to check out more books of poetry, read them aloud to my children, and introduce them to more poets so they’re familiar and comfortable with the most famous English poets and their works.
Anyway, all of that is to say that April, which is National Poetry Month, seemed like a good time to share some of our favorite poetry books. And if you have favorites of your own, I would be THRILLED to have more recommendations.
- Tap Dancing on the Roof by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai. These poems are called sijo – it’s a Korean poem that is kind of like a haiku or limerick where it has a set pattern. A sijo is distinctive because of the surprise twist in the last line. When I taught a poetry unit as a librarian this was one of my favorite books to use, with so many terrific little poems in it, plus hilarious illustrations. I highly recommend this one.
- Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. This book is so clever – each poem tells the story of a famous fairy tale from two views and each viewpoint uses exactly the same words but in the reverse order of the other. I cannot imagine how much brain power it takes to write these, but it’s delightfully fun to read.
- Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This is a great little introduction to poetry because each poem is extremely short. Plus, it just makes me want to savor every season.
- National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! edited by J. Patrick Lewis. My in-laws gave us this poem one year when the Christmas gifts were all animal-themed and it’s been a huge hit. The photos are spectacular and the poems range from very famous to ones I’ve never heard of. The companion poetry book about nature – National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! – is also fantastic.
- A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. This was the first poetry books that my children really embraced as a read-aloud and we read this book hundreds of times last year. And then I loved hearing their little voices around the house reciting their favorite bits.
- Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman. This book won the 1989 Newbery and each poem, all about nature and bugs, is meant for two people to recite together. In homeschool one year, we each got paired with another child in our group to memorize one. I can still recite much of “Being A Bee” twenty years later, and this one is perfect for memorizing with your child and performing together.
- The Random House Book of Poetry for Children edited by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Arnold Lobel. If you’re looking for a big collection of famous and fun poetry, this one is a hit. My girls love when I read them a few poems while they eat their snacks or just during the course of the day.
- A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I already raved about this one, but it’s reminding me to look for more picture books about the lives of famous poets (and artists and authors).
- Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I read this one about a decade ago (full review here) and I still love it so much. It’s a short novel written in verse and imitates many different famous poems, so I think it’d make a great backbone to a poetry unit. Maybe next April, we’ll do that for homeschool.
- Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky. I love this one because not only does it share Prelutsky’s hilarious poems, but it tells about what inspired them and gives ideas for how to write your own poems. I read this aloud, a chapter a night, at dinner a few months ago, and my girls were in stitches. Frankly, there were some parts I could barely get through because I was laughing so much. I read this aloud to my 4th and 5th graders when we did the poetry unit and they were all massive fans too.
Also, if you’re wondering why I didn’t include Where the Sidewalk Ends, it’s not because I don’t like it. I love that book and I memorized many poems from it as a child, including “Pancake?” which I recite basically every time we eat pancakes. It’s just that I feel like pretty much everyone on the planet already know about Shel Silverstein.