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Five Children’s Poetry Books for National Poetry Month

 

 

FIVE NEW CHILDREN’S POETRY BOOKS

FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

Poetry Month clip art

 

I love poetry books and more and more excellent and innovative ones are being published annually. The best thing about National Poetry Month is that all the books reviewed here can be read year round so take a look at what I’ve selected because I’m certain there’s one or more that will resonate with your children.

 

Peek-a-boo Haiku cover woodland creaturesPEEK-A-BOO HAIKU
Written by Danna Smith
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Who wouldn’t love a lift-the-flap board book featuring adorable woodland creatures? The bonus: it introduces little ones to the nature-rich poetry form of haiku. Eight haiku span 16 sweetly illustrated pages with haiku that evoke gorgeous imagery. My favorite is the spread for ladybugs hidden beneath a leaf and rose flaps. Here a beautiful wood bridge links two flower-filled fields. Cherry blossoms fall/polka-dotted friend dances/on rosy petals. The book also includes seasonal illustrations making this a year-round read that invites interaction, and manual dexterity, and reinforces animal names.

 

The Dream Train cover colorful steam rises above kid filled trainTHE DREAM TRAIN: Poems for Bedtime
Written by Sean Taylor
Illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 2-5)

Poems are perfect for bedtime provided they are not rollicking, zany read-alouds more suited to daytime. While there are several humorous, light-hearted poems included in this collection, they, along with all the relaxing ones, still do their job well by setting a soothing tone to help a child settle down and drift off to sleep. So well in fact that when writing this and looking back over them, I found it hard to choose a favorite.

Divided into three sections with ten poems in each, this 88-page picture book begins with “Night Arrives,” then moves onto “Shut-Your-Eyes Times,” and ends with “Dream Wheels Turning.” Allepuz’s illustrations created using mixed media, are softly textured and use a pale palette of nighttime colors working in harmony with Taylor’s evocative bedtime verse and rhyme. His poems convey a variety of sleep-related subjects including getting ready for bed, thoughts at bedtime, the quiet of nighttime, being woken up, feeling grateful, and this brief but fun one, “You’ll Find This Advice is Wise.” If you’d like a good night’s rest/you’ll find this advice is wise./When you go to sleep …/don’t forget to close your eyes. Not only does Dream Train include Taylor’s rhymes, but it also includes concrete poems, reverse poems, several ballads, and a bunch of charming poems with animals as the main characters.

Let the steady, rumbling movement of the dream train help your children wind down from a busy day with just the right poem or poems to help them sleep tight. Pure relaxing delight, this picture book makes a lovely addition to your bedtime story shelf. And remember to look under the dust jacket because there’s a sweet sleepy surprise waiting for kids to discover!

 

Push-Pull Morning cover boy hugging dogPUSH-PULL MORNING:
Dog-Powered Poems About Matter and Energy
Written by Lisa Westberg Peters
Illustrated by Serge Bloch
(Wordsong; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Thanks to the cleverness of Peters’ unique poems, kids will have fun learning the basics of physics courtesy of a boy and his precious new pet pup in this new STEM-focused poetry book. They’ll also adore the childlike art of Bloch whose playful, loose-line illustrations are done in pen and ink and digitally colored.

The perfect poem to start the book is about matter. In it, the boy character, after considering differences and similarities, ultimately realizes that both he and his dog are made up of the same stuff! And that stuff is “…   zillions of wiggly molecules and jillions of jiggly atoms.” Motion, sound, force, inertia, gravity, magnetism, energy, electricity, friction, relative motion, reflection of light, and paradox are also covered in original ways that will entertain and educate even the most science-averse children. The titular poem demonstrating force is one many pet-owning kids will relate to since it’s about taking a dog to the vet where the boy and his aunt have to push the dog into the examining room. Another one that may resonate with young readers is the concrete poem “Extra Electrons #1” about how the dog reacts when lightning strikes during a storm and then the thunder scares her. “Extra Electrons #2” explains what causes that ZAP! during a tender nose kiss between dog and owner after said dog has just rolled around on the carpet.

Seven pages of comprehensive back matter entitled “Dog-Powered Notes” round out this delightfully informative read. Peters explains what each of the concepts addressed through her poems means using simple language and examples. I can easily see this picture book appealing to families and teachers alike in its child-friendly approach to science.

 

Animals in Pants cover lion monkey snake in jungleANIMALS IN PANTS
Written by Suzy Levinson
Illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-7)

Yes, you read the title correctly and you’ll love the outfits these creatures ! These 23 laugh-out-loud poems provide the sort of silliness that is such fun to share with children. What’s more, the whimsical art paired with each poem invites multiple readings to admire the deadpan, amused, or perfectly content looks on each animal’s face. Not to mention their outfits!

Can you picture squirrels doing squirrelly stuff in tracksuits?  Or raccoons in pantaloons in a humorous nod to Romeo and Juliet? Would a clothed snake wear pants or simply “pant?” And did you know that a penguin would much prefer the relaxed style that jeans afford as compared to the formality of his tuxedo? In Florida flamingos let loose in pink capris, and on an animal stage somewhere, kangaroos jive in jumpsuits à la Elvis while sporting blue suede shoes! There’s no limit to the type of trousers tackled in this rib-tickling romp.

Levinson doesn’t miss a beat with her rhyme and she’s included a pleasing variety of poetic forms to keep kids coming back for more. If you’re looking for an irresistible read-aloud that will also get kids thinking, I recommend Animals in Pants. Will Animals in Hats be next? I hope so!

 

Trees Haiku From Roots to Leaves cover child sitting on tree branchTREES: Haiku from Roots to Leaves
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Angela Mckay
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 7-9)

Just one reading of this 48-page picture book of poems about trees from top to bottom, inside and out will make young readers look differently at these woody perennial plants. I know I do. All the science I learned decades ago about a tree’s life cycle came back with each new poem.

One of my favorite haiku is called “Peeking Inside” which describes the flow of water from roots to leaves and sap from leaves to roots, nature’s “tree elevators.” The cleverly named “Leaf Laboratories” offers a helpful visual featuring an open treehouse amongst an abundance of leaves. Stomata, or openings in the leaf membrane, take in carbon dioxide needed as part of the photosynthesis process. Kids will read about how trees provide us with oxygen, how trees communicate, and how wild forests serve as an important habitat for sloths, monkeys, and other tree dwellers.

Having lived in New York for many years, I was glad to see Walker included “Urban Forests.” This haiku pays homage to the “hardy sycamores” providing much-needed shade from the “sizzling concrete sidewalks …” that city dwellers, workers, and visitors always appreciate.

Mckay’s gouache illustrations in Trees do a terrific job of complementing the poems, in particular the colorful park scene that follows the photosynthesis spread. Here people enjoy a cool, crisp fall day, ideal for dog walking, strolling, and benefitting from the beauty of fallen leaves—that have lost their chlorophyll—that tempt kids and dogs alike. Eleven pages of back matter offer additional information including an interesting time line that starts at 4.5 billion years ago when Earth formed to the most recent date, 56 million years ago, when birch, beech, and ash trees began to evolve and spread. Readers will also find an author’s note, a glossary, and further reading. I can see teachers using this book to enhance science studies by taking kids outside to compose their own haiku.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Dipping into our archives for a Poetry Books roundup from 2019 here.

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Picture Book Review – In The Woods

IN THE WOODS

Written by David Elliott

Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

In The Woods cover

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn, Kirkus

 

New York Times best-selling author David Elliott’s latest picture book feels like a classic. In the Woods spotlights fourteen woodland animals, capturing their essence in verse. I appreciate the inclusion of favorites such as the bear, fox, and raccoon but even more so the animals we may not know much about. My favorite of these outliers was the fisher cat: “Does not like fish. / Is not a cat. / I don’t know what / to make of that. / But when you are / as fierce as she, / there’s no need for /consistency.” This seeming puzzle is explained in the back matter where relevant and interesting facts elaborate on the poems. For example, it takes five to six sprays to deplete a skunk’s scent, then about ten days to produce a new batch.

 

In The Woods int1
IN THE WOODS. Text copyright © 2020 by David Elliott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Rob Dunlavey. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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The poems are easy to approach for young readers, using simple ideas plus humor. Kids may be surprised a poem can be two words. “The Moose”: “Ungainly, / mainly.” Or that the words in poems can be manipulated, adding to their depth. The millipede poem has a blank space running down the middle; some words are broken to create effect. As kids in this book’s age range are beginning to learn about verse in school and tasked with writing some themselves, Elliott’s poems introduce poetry in a fun, playful manner.

 

In The Woods int2
IN THE WOODS. Text copyright © 2020 by David Elliott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Rob Dunlavey. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Rob Dunlavey’s accompanying art, done in watercolor and mixed media, adds another level to each glimpse. Echoing the woodland theme, the pictures speak of nature yet cleverly placed highlights or splashes of color guide your eye to what’s important: the flight of the scarlet tanager, the inquisitive muzzle of a raccoon, or the dangerous headlights that will just miss the porcupine crossing the road. The illustrations are big, memorable, and beautiful.

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  • Recommended Reads for the Week of 11/2/20

 

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Kids Book Review: Best Poetry Picture Books for National Poetry Month

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
Share a Poem Today!

It may be the last day of April, but I hope that won’t stop anyone from bringing poetry into the lives of children. Here’s a roundup of some recommended reads not just for National Poetry Month, but for every day of the year. Let the joy of a wonderful poem inspire kids. I know many people, myself included, who still can recall poems from their childhood. What a testament to the power of a great poem!

 

Home Run, Touchdown, Basket, Goal! book cover artHOME RUN, TOUCHDOWN, BASKET, GOAL!
Sports Poems for Little Athletes
Written and illustrated by Leo Landry
(Godwin Books/Henry Holt BYR,; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

I chose Home Run, Touchdown, Basket, Goal! because the title was just so good, plus the idea of poetry for young athletes also seemed like a clever concept. The twelve poems, all rhyming, range from baseball to tennis and include others about biking, gymnastics, karate, ice skating, soccer and swimming and feel appropriate for the recommended age group. There are some super, energetic lines that kids will relate to, in this example, about football: Go long! I shout. You get the hint. You’re headed for the end zone—sprint! The sports selected are as diverse as the children participating. Every illustration shows both girls and boys, children of color and I even spotted one bald child although no child with a visible disability was depicted. Landry uses a pale palate of watercolors in simple spreads that each bleed off the page and convey movement and emotion. My favorite illustration is of three girls, mouths wide open, as you’d imagine, arms linked in friendship and for fun, cannonballing into a pool. Score!

book cover art from Clackety Track: Poems About TrainsCLACKETY TRACK:
Poems About Trains

Written by Skila Brown
Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

I remember when my children were into all things ‘train.’ That meant playing with toy trains, reading train stories and traveling on trains too. Clackety Track is an ideal pick
for youngsters already loco for locomotives or eager to learn more about them. A variety of Brown’s poems, rhyming and not, cleverly cover interesting types of this transportation mode. “Steam Engine” for example, pays homage to the powerful granddaddy: Biggest beast you’ve ever seen. Gobbling up a coal cuisine. One hundred tons of steel machine. Belching out a steam smoke screen. Other poems tell of snow plows, zoo trains, underground trains, sleeper trains and more. Handy train facts at the end add to the book’s appeal and I like how they’re presented in the body of train. Christoph’s engaging, retro-style illustrations bring a cool look to the book. I especially liked the Swiss electric train spread because it reminded me of the ones I used to travel on when I lived in Europe. Kids are going to want to study every detail included in the artwork just like my children used to and then compare them to the real deal when they next travel by rail.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog book cover illustrationTHE PROPER WAY TO MEET A HEDGEHOG:
And Other How-To Poems
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

New and old poems by powerhouse poets from Kwame Alexander to Allan Wolf, all selected by the late Paul B. Janeczko, fill this fabulous collection that will inspire young readers. Have your child or student write their own How To poem and see where it takes them. You may laugh, cry and be surprised just like the emotions the poems in this anthology evoke. Kids’ imaginations will be fed by this feast of words and subjects. This 48-page picture book opens with “How to Build a Poem” by Charles Ghinga, Let’s build a poem made of rhyme with words like ladders we can climb, … Then 32 more follow including the humorous “Rules” by Karla Kuskin, “How to Bird-Watch,” a Tanka by Margarita Engle, “On the Fourth of July” by Marilyn Singer and proof how so few words can say so much, the book ends with April Halprin Wayland’s “How to Pay Attention.” Close this book. Look.

I absolutely adored the artwork by Richard Jones, too, and find it hard to pick a favorite because like the myriad poems, there are just too many great illustrations to note. But I’ll try: the expansive shades of orange image with a solo astronaut suited up in white that accompanies Irene Latham’s “Walking on Mars” is one I keep revisiting; the tail end of a dog in the scene of two friends making snow angels complements “How to Make a Snow Angel” by Ralph Fletcher; and Pat Mora’s “How to Say a Little Prayer” features a girl and her cat asleep on her bed that could be in a forest or her bedroom and reflect’s the poet’s lines, Think about a sight you like—yellow flowers, your mom’s face, a favorite tree, a hawk in flight—breathing slowly in and out. Pick your faves to read-aloud before bedtime or devour The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog in its entirety. A Junior Library Guild Selection

Superlative Birds book cover artSUPERLATIVE BIRDS
Written Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Robert Meganck
(Peachtree Publishing; $15.95, Ages 8-12)

Leslie Bulion’s Superlative Birds succeeds by having that re-readability factor because of its poems, its subject matter, its facts and its artwork. While it’s not a grammar book, the superlative refers to the trait or characteristic that a certain bird has demonstrating “the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely ). Headings give a clue. For example the “Most Numerous” would have to be the queleas bird whose adult population is an estimated 1.5 billion! The bird with the widest wingspan is the albatross and the jacana, with its long, long toes can actually walk on a lily pad and not sink! And which bird has the keenest sense of smell? Why it’s the turkey vulture. A charming chickadee leads readers on the journey with informative speech bubbles and science notes for each bird helps us get the inside scoop on what makes the bird tick, or sing or scavenge. The gorgeous illustrations introduce us to the bird and there’s always something extra like an action or a funny expression to note in each image whether that be a mouse in a rowboat, a fleeing lizard or frightened rodent. Kids will LOL at the skunk covering his nose from the repulsive stink of the hoatzin, the smelliest bird. I noticed as I read that Bulion incorporated many different forms of poetry into the book and in the poetry notes in the back matter she describes what form of poem she used. There’s also a glossary, resource info and acknowledgements. And if you’re like me, you’ll check out the end papers because the ones in the beginning of the book are slightly different in one particular way than the ones at the end. If you’re keen on finding a new way to foster a love of birds and poetry coupled with crisp art and tons of detail, this may be the best book out there. Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

book cvr art from The Day The Universe Exploded My HeadTHE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD
Poems to Take You Into Space and Back Again
Written by Allan Wolf
Illustrated by Anna Raff
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

As I read the first poem in The Day The Universe Exploded My Head, a humorous and enlightening picture book, ideal for middle graders, I thought of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sympathy for the Devil” and the line Please allow me to introduce myself because that’s exactly what the character of Sun does in the first poem called “The Sun: A Solar Sunnet, er, Sonnet.” In this 14 line poem Sun introduces itself to readers in a more serious tone than its title and illustration, yet manages to convey the “gravity” of its existence. Wolf’s 29 poems always educate but entertain too so they are sure to grab and hold the attention of even the most reluctant of tween readers. Raff’s whimsical artwork that accompanies each poem gets it right by often anthropomorphizing planets, moons and stars who rock accoutrements and accessories from sunglasses and skirts to bow ties and baseball caps. It also includes cartoon-like images of astronauts, children and even Galileo.

Kids will learn while getting a kick out of poems that range from concrete “Black Hole”; sonnet, “Mars”; and rap, “Going The Distance” and many more that guarantee enthusiastic read-aloud participation. Wolf’s poems cover the universe and space exploration and share facts in such a fun and rewarding way. I think if I had to memorize facts about space, using poetry would be an excellent way. “Jupiter”: I’m Jupiter the giant. The solar system’s mayor: I’m gas and wind and clouds wedged into thick lasagna layers. Other poems pay tribute to “The Children of Astronomy,” those who died throughout the history of spaceflight, the moon, and eclipses. Four pages of back matter round out this explosively enjoyable book that’s truly out of this world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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