I know I joked about poetry in my last post, but it can be so much fun, really. Especially if you aren’t opposed to a little April fooling.
This absolutely silly and hilarious book by Chris Harris and Lane Smith is the Where the Sidewalk Ends for a new generation of readers. And if you’re really, really mean, you can do what I did when I read this page:
Without missing a beat, I said, “If you’re a good child, then you’ll read it just fine—/But if you’re a bad one, you won’t.” When my little darlings protested, “NO, it doesn’t say that! There’s no fourth line!” I laughed and refused to be tricked by them. I said I knew they could see the fourth line, because they are the best kids in the world, and I wouldn’t be fooled. They looked at each other wide-eyed, while I walked away to hide my laughter in a sink full of dishes. I heard them whispering, plotting. Then they scrambled to try all their ideas. They tried holding it up to a mirror, they took it into the dark to check for glow-in-the-dark ink, they tried their invisible ink pen light, they looked through a magnifying lens. When they had exhausted all their experiments, they came back to me begging for relief, an admission of trickery. I laughed at what I called their elaborate ruse and again refused to be had by my own children.
I did eventually spill the beans, of course. They thought it was hilarious. Or maybe they were just so relieved they couldn’t stop laughing. Either way, it was a lot of fun.
Now if you’re looking for more serious books of poetry, here are a few collections my kids have absolutely loved:
I love Mary Oliver for myself, but especially for children. Her books are a wonderful starting point for future poetry-lovers, because her writing is both beautiful and accessible. Because she writes about the natural world, and children are expert observers of nature, her writing clicks for them in a way that other works that require more background knowledge just can’t. Also, every time I pulled out this book I would give her a silly last name like Pickles or Olive Juice, just to prompt the kids to say, “No! Mary Oliver!” I really pull out all the stops when it comes to poetry. The stakes are too high to play sloppy.
Speaking of a good starting point, this HBO special is lovely:
I know. A show? Come on, Meg. This is supposed to be a book blog. But while technically a screen, in The Poetry Show the actors are reading classic poetry to your children. Reading. This is the screen time you can feel good about. And guess what? They made one more: A Child’s Garden of Poetry. When my daughter was a newborn, my son watched these over and over, and I didn’t feel one bit guilty. They are lovely, truly. Buy copies for every new big sibling you know.
If you’re looking for a collection from a variety of poets, a way to dip-your-toe, find out what your children like, we loved A Child’s Anthology of Poetry:
There aren’t pictures in that one, though. If you need pictures, try Poems to Learn by Heart:
Once you’ve discovered which poets your children like, you can find all sorts of short picture books, or longer books of poetry featuring their favorite. For example, maybe they like ee cummings, so you discover Enormous Smallness and I Carry Your Heart with Me and Little Tree. Or maybe they love haiku, so you have some fun with Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku or Guyku or Hi, Koo! The possibilities!!
I started to list more of our favorite picture book versions of classic poems or biographies of poets, but the post would be almost as long as my dinosaur post and most wouldn’t realistically make it to the end. I can’t help but include A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, though, because it has double-bling on the cover, and you really need to pull out all the stops when your child’s love of poetry is on the line.
Happy reading and good luck! Please share your own recommendations in the comments!