Friday, April 20, 2007

A Shower of Poetry

April is Poetry Month!

Children are naturals for poetry. Don’t forget that songs and rhymes abound in nurseries and schoolyards and yes, even on MTV. Poetry is all around them, and so children are born and raised for years to love poetry without even knowing it, until that natural affinity is taught out of them and they learn instead that poetry is Serious Business. Before this has a chance to happen, I say, let us do our best to show them the wonders of it, to let it become so much a part of them that it might resist the supplanting. Let us shower it gently over their ears until the lilting and bouncing rhythms and rhymes hold such appeal that they never are without a song and a rhyme in their hearts. (With an added bonus: rhymes help a child’s ear learn to pick out the sounds of language, a key pre-reading skill!) Here’s a few places to begin…

Shel Silverstein A Light in the Attic Where the Sidewalk Ends

Silverstein is one of those children in adult form that became giants and champions of children’s literature in the 70’s, in its infancy (along with Dennis Lee, below). His ridiculous and sometimes nonsensical poems are paired to fabulous effect with his own simple line drawings. While his poetry collections are favourites of mine that still make me laugh aloud, though, I am not such a fan of his short books-with-morals.

Dennis Lee Alligator Pie Garbage Delight

Dennis Lee is Canada’s own Goofy Poet laureate, and I would guess that most of us were raised on his rhymes ourselves. His Alligator Pie is a classic, found on shelves everywhere, and some of his poems have even found their way into board book form, perfect for gifts and for sharing with the wee-est ones in the family. Indeed, Lee’s poetry has enough nonsense and wonderful use of the sounds of language that it makes perfect reading from babyhood to whenever.

Jack Prelutsky

A prolific poet, Prelutsky has books and books of funny – but not nonsensical and outrightly goofy – poems for all seasons and occasions. His books of Valentine’s Day poems is a standard read-aloud for me, and his winter poems are equally fun for sharing. Try these on a child slightly older – grades 1 to 3 are probably your best audience here.

For silly rhymes for older kids with a sly and slightly twisted sense of humour, you might also try Roald Dahl (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame) or Ogden Nash, whose comic gifts also extend to poetry meant for adults.

And if you are not looking for goofy? Try one of these ideas:

Poetry Speaks to Children

Mary P. introduced me to this treasure, a compendium of poetry that runs the gamut from goofy to classic. Not only is each poem placed cleanly on its own page amid well-scaled illustrations, but in some cases, small notes are added about the poem that give it extra resonance for kids, as when a poet had written the poem for his own child. To gild the lily completely, the well-priced set also includes a 60-track CD with a large number of the poems read aloud. Of these, a surprising number are read by their authors, including such luminaries as Tolkien, Frost, Roald Dahl, and Sandburg. All I can say about this, really, is WOW.

Jane Yolen

This prolific author, who also writes fiction and picture books for children, has a goodly number of poetry books in her body of work. I am a particular fan of her seasonal poetry, especially the simple poems in Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children, illustrated with stunning photography by Jason Stemple.

Doodle Dandies

J. Patrick Lewis, ill. Lisa Desimini Lewis is one of a small crop of great new poets for kids, and in this volume, illustrations and poems merge, as he presents his fun take on concrete poetry. I also enjoy his much wordier “potluck of poems,” The Bookworm’s Feast, which throws a bit of nonsense into the mix.

Teachers often use haiku with younger grades, too, as it is short, simple, and does not require the ability to form a rhyme. Haiku also lends itself traditionally to natural subjects, so it is perfect for seasonal studies or looking at the world around them.

Cricket Never Does Myra Cohn Livingston

Livingston is the author of several wonderful books of poetry for children, and here she presents a slim volume of haiku and a few tanka, arranged thematically by season. They are simple and lovely, and a few are more urban, to appeal to the city kid.

I also like to use thematic poetry books to add a poetry element to any other storytime, at the library or at home. These are a great way to tie into something your child loves – look for books of poetry on school, food, dinosaurs, animals, sports, seasons, and more. Here are a few titles I really enjoy:

Animals, Animals sel. and ill. By Eric Carle

A great selection of short animal poems illustrated in Carle’s recognizable collage art.

Cats Are Cats sel. Nancy Larrick, ill. Ed Young

Gorgeously illustrated on brown paper by Ed Young, this volume is wide in scope and the selections are lovely but very accessible for kids.

You and Me: Poems of Friendship sel. and ill. Salley Mavor

I’m a sucker for poems and stories about friends, but Mavor’s wonderful soft sculpture art adds an entirely new dimension of fun to this collection.

Winter Poems sel. Barbara Rogansky, ill. Trina Schart Hyman

I love books about winter (though I wouldn’t mind skipping it in real life), and this book collects some gorgeous poems from a variety of poets as “serious” as Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beautiful.

Sports! Sports! Sports!: A Poetry Collection sel. Lee Bennet Hopkins, ill. Brian Floca

This collection is aimed at early readers, and contains a host of short, simple poems about different sports. A great way to hook a reluctant reader or someone who has already come to believe that poetry must be Serious. For a fantastic narrative poem about a basketball game, see also Bill Martin Jr.’s Swish!, illustrated to great kinetic effect by Michael Chesworth.

If you are looking to introduce your child to the classics, but aren’t sure what is child-appropriate or accessible for youngsters, consider a few authors who have written for children as well as adults. Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings, and Carl Sandburg are a good start here. Poems about the natural world or simple settings have also often been used with kids to great success. Consider Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (there is a lovely edition illustrated for children by Susan Jeffers) or I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by Wordsworth as a fine pair of examples. And, of course, a good story can reel in any child, as demonstrated by Ernest L. Thayer’s Casey At The Bat.

For a fantastic selection of poetry, visit your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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