skip to Main Content

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
Share this:

World Make Way – Art Inspired Poetry Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

WORLD MAKE WAY:
New Poems Inspired by Art
from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

 

World Make Way cover image of Cat Watching a Spider by Ōide Tōkō

 

A curious, crouching cat on the book’s cover immediately drew me into World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Eighteen thoughtful and evocative poems and the accompanying works of art that prompted their creation kept me turning the pages. This beautiful collection is everything a poetry anthology for children should be: diverse, original and, as the title suggests, inspiring. In the book’s back matter I learned that Lee Bennett Hopkins, the editor of World Make Way, holds the Guinness Book of World Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children, making him more than well-suited to spearhead this satisfying project in conjunction with the Met.

I appreciate the breadth of art that was selected and the variety of poems that were commissioned for World Make Way. There is something that will appeal to every reader who dives in, whether they like short, simple poems or those more complex and layered. There are serious poems and those that have fun with the reader like Marilyn Singer’s poem, Paint Me, the first in the book. In it the teen subject of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, Mäda Primavesi, bids the artist to make haste and finish up the painting because she’s such a busy person, hence the book’s title World Make Way, a line she utters in desperation! She has places to go. People to see. After all, if her family can afford to have Klimt paint her, she’s likely a socialite. Ultimately the book will show children how to look at art with fresh eyes and take from it something unique to them. Art evokes something different in each person who beholds it and the poems included perfectly capture that.

One particular poem that stayed with me was Young Ashoka Sundari by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater inspired by Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series, 1694-95 by Devidasa of Nurpur. Her poem introduces readers to Ashoka who secretly observes her parents: I stand behind this neem tree / to watch my parents play / a game of chaupar / on a tiger rug / beneath bright mango sky. Offering a child’s perspective in her poem, Vanderwater helped me to have a lightbulb moment with the artwork. It’s not always about what we see when observing art, it’s also about what or who the artist left out, or where the scene is set. What a wonderful conversation starter! What does this art say to you? What do you think is happening here now? How does this picture make you feel? What might happen now that the child has witnessed this scene?

In my multiple readings I found myself wondering what I’d write about a certain piece of art such as Henri Rousseau’s The Repast of the Lion, but if I ever see the painting again, I’ll forever associate J. Patrick Lewis’s poem with it. Now that he’s fed and jaguar-full— / Finally his appetite is dull— And of Joan Bransfield Graham’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, a poem about a painting of the same name attributed to Bhawani Das or a follower, 1777-82  I marveled at her internal rhyme and alliteration. As my wings whisk me, swooping through / this black velvet night, who will admire / my elegant attire, the intricacy …  A bat’s point of view, fantastic!

Other featured poets are: Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia S. Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Latham, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Other featured artists are: Rosa Bonheur, Fernando Botero, Mary Cassatt, Liberale Da Verona, Leonardo Da Vinci, Han Gan, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Henderson, Utagawa Hiroshige, Winslow Homer, Kerry James Marshall, José Guadalupe Posada and Ōide Tōkō.

While I can definitely see educators enjoying the book for its varying forms of poetry and the individual interpretations of the poets to accompany the magnificent works of art, I can also easily see a parent sharing the book before any museum visit or simply as a way to spark a child’s imagination. It certainly sparked mine.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another poetry collection here.

 

Share this:

Best Picture Books for National Poetry Month

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.

National Poetry Month Picture Books My ChinatownMy Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
(HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.

National Poetry Month Picture Books A Great Big CuddleA Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other  children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.

National Poetry Month Picture Books In the Land of WordsIn The Land of Words: New and Selected Poems
Written by Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(Amistad; $6.99, Ages 4-8)

Visit “The Land of  Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: