FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
~ A ROUNDUP ~
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.
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: 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!
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
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
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.
Dipping into our archives for a Poetry Books roundup from 2019 here.