April is National Poetry Month. Since this celebration was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, April’s poetry festivities have spread far beyond US borders. Parents have long enjoyed nursery rhymes and finger plays with our toddlers, but how can we continue to explore rhythm, rhyme, and language with our children as they grow? These ten poetry anthologies and picture books are a great place to start.
Edited by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson
This hefty collection selected by beloved author Bill Martin Jr. contains nearly 200 poems. Kid favorites like Margaret Wise Brown and Jack Prelutsky, appear alongside poets who parents will love to share with their children, like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Langston Hughes. Each piece is expertly selected and organized by theme such as animals, school, and feelings. Prominent illustrators Lois Ehlert, Stephen Kellogg, Chris Raschka, and others provide the accompanying artwork.
by Matthew Burgess, Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
A captivating and quirky biography portraying the life of Edward Estlin — better known as e.e. — Cummings is the stunning picture book debut of author Matthew Burgess. Significant space is devoted to Cummings’ early years, revealing how the child who loved to play with words became a poet defying convention. Cummings’ poetry is woven through the text as well as presented again in the back pages of the book along with further biographical information. Kris Di Giacomo’s jumbled multimedia illustrations engage the reader with their texture and detail.
by Leo Lionni
This classic picture book by Leo Lionni tells of a family of field mice busily gathering food to last them through the harsh winter – except Frederick. While others work ceaselessly, Frederick daydreams. When the mice question him, Frederick explains that his work is to collect sun rays, colors, and words to help them survive the winter. Later, deep into winter when the food has run out, Frederick provides his family with the power of story and imagination, and in the process discovers he’s a poet. Lionni’s whimsical collages complete the charming tale.
by Jon J. Muth
In this peaceful, appealing picture book, Koo, the nephew of wise panda Stillwater from Jon J. Muth’s earlier books, takes us from the falling leaves of autumn to the icicles of winter, the puddles of spring to the fireflies of summer. The book is written entirely in haiku, a three-line poem typically comprised of a five syllable-seven syllable-five syllable pattern. Koo, his human friends, and the seasonal scenes depicted with watercolor and ink, gently guide readers through the changing seasons.
Edited by Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni introduces this brilliant collection of poetry and lyrics as “stories in rhythm.” In this anthology, the words of poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Gary Soto march alongside those of hip hop artists like Lauryn Hill and Mos Def, emphasizing the rhythmic connections between poetry and hip-hop. Giovanni’s selections beg to be read aloud and listened to, and an accompanying audio CD contains 30 of the 51 selections featured in the book, often performed by the artist. Several illustrators contribute artwork in a range of styles to the book, including Kristen Balouch, Michele Noiset, and Damian Ward.
by Eloise Greenfield, Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Honey, I Love is a celebration of a little girl’s love for her family: her cousin’s southern accent, rides in her uncle’s car, kissing her mama’s arm. Children will relate to the young narrator’s appreciation of the people and things around her, as well as the one thing she doesn’t love — bedtime. The repetition and rhyme make this poem a joy to read aloud and Jan Spivey Gilchrist’s illustrations are a tender and beautiful portrayal of a tight-knit family. Honey, I Love was originally published in Eloise Greenfield’s earlier collection, Honey, I Love and Other Poems, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, Illustrated by Chris Raschka
You may have heard of sonnets and limericks but do you know what a tercet is? How about a cinquain or a villanelle? Paul Janeczko takes us on an adventure through various poetic forms illuminating just how fun poetry can be, not in spite of all of the rules, but because of them. 29 different forms are showcased with examples and definitions. Chris Raschka’s illustrations of watercolor, ink, and torn paper are bold and lively. The small blue symbols in the corner of each page offer a clever visual to demystify some of the unfamiliar vocabulary. The duo’s previous collection, A Poke in the I, features solely concrete poetry.
by Nikki Grimes, Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Tiana, full of words and life, takes us on a playful journey through the year, through her Harlem neighborhood, and through the joys of language. Nikki Grimes’ series of poems, many in haiku form, are about the simple things made magical to young children, like watching pigeons, hitting a homerun, and carving jack-o-lanterns. Through her narrator, Tiana, Grimes unpacks everyday words and experiences in a delightfully sensorial way. Javaka Steptoe’s energetic collage illustrations of paper and found objects pop off the page.
by Jean-Pierre Simeon, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec, Translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
Arthur is worried his fish Leon will die of boredom. His mother says, “Hurry, give him a poem!” a certain cure. But what is a poem? After he can’t find one lying around the house, Arthur sets off through his neighborhood searching for poems. He tells each person he meets about his quest, but the responses of his family and neighbors as they describe poetry only puzzle him. Returning worriedly to his listless fish, Arthur tells Leon all that he has learned, unknowingly creating a poem as he shares. Olivier Tallec’s lush and dreamy illustrations complement this imaginative tale.
by Mary Ann Hoberman, Illustrated by Michael Emberley
Many children’s first introduction to poetry is often in the form of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. In this installment of Mary Ann Hoberman’s New York Times bestselling series You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, classic nursery rhymes are given a fresh spin with new lines, plot twists, and unexpected characters rendered by illustrator Michael Emberley. This delightful series is one that you’ll definitely want to read with your child — literally. Placement of the lines and their color coding indicate whose turn it is to read. So cuddle up with your favorite little reader and begin.