In the smorgasbord of literature, poetry is the lemon sorbet; the salted caramel truffle; the Thai curry.
All the meh discarded; just juicy words and ideas remaining.
If you have never sampled children’s poetry, now is the time to try something new. April is National Poetry Month. Here are five volumes to whet your appetite:
Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems, by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordell published in 2012 by Harper
Riffing off of William Carlos Williams’ This Is Just To Say — his classic “uh…sorry-about-those-plums” piece — Gail Carlson Levine has composed a stack of humorous, unremorseful apology notes to tickle your funny bone.
Many of them feature storybook icons such as the princess and the pea, the itsy bitsy spider, and Rapunzel. Levine eyes them with a slightly warped lens and comes up with wry, unsugary vantage points for her miscreant notewriters:
This Is Just to Say
It was I
off the wall
you had precariously
all the king’s horses
and all the king’s men
Lots of sarcasm, mischief, and detention-worthy behavior going on here, illustrated in sassy, comical drawings by Matthew Cordell.
Funny poetry is one way to scoot past the defenses of kids who imagine it tastes like cold brussels sprouts. These entertain and beg to be mimicked by ages 8 and up.
The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems, by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows published in 2009 by Candlewick Press
Here in Minnesota, the gradual lengthening of daylight is bringing with it a welcome, growing chorus of birdsong. Such a twittering. And out of the corner of my eye, I often catch a flit of a bird, dipping and perching momentarily on still-bare twigs.
Author Michael Rosen says in his jacket blurb that “Haiku and birdwatching are kindred arts: the subject of both is often a fleeting impression — a snatched glimpse.“
That’s the feel of this lovely collection — wondrous glimpses of these feathered ones, arranged by season.
The Spring section includes bluebirds, Canadian Geese, goldfinches, cardinals, crows, Mourning Doves, and this exquisite Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.
Each bird gets its own full spread, with a haiku and a whisper of a field-guide type notation, set upon a gorgeous watercolor painting.
Author’s Notes include nature notes about each bird, and some of Rosen’s thought processes in composing his poems. It’s a beautiful collection for ages 5 and up.
Sunflakes: Poems for Children, selected by Lilian Moore, illustrated by Jan Ormerod published in 1992 by Clarion Books
I love finding poetry compendiums jammed with treasures for young children, and this one is as jammy as a raspberry tart!
Here are short poems, just right for children ages 18 months and up, written by cream-of-the-crop children’s poets — Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher, Mary Ann Hoberman, Jack Prelutsky, Eve Merriam, Shel Silverstein and on and on.
Here’s one by dear Aileen Fisher:
I Like It When It’s Mizzly
I like it when it’s mizzly and just a little drizzly so everything looks far away and make-believe and frizzly.
I like it when it’s foggy and sounding very froggy. I even like it when it rains on streets and weepy windowpanes and catkins in the poplar tree and me.
Marvelous wordplay abounds here in poems skipping around in a child’s world. There’s a somewhat old-fashioned feel to it, with lots of outdoor play and imagination.
Jan Ormerod’s soft, beautifully full-of-life drawings and paintings capture the innocence of childhood. Lovely.
Hush!: A Thai Lullaby, by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade published in 1996 by Orchard Books
The text in this book is just one-poem-long.
Trying to coax a baby to sleep is a global affair, and this Thai mama is urgently trying to bring down the cone of silence around her baby so he can sleep.
Hush! she says to croaking frogs, whining mosquitoes, grunting pigs. Each time she’s quieted one animal down, she hears another. Who can that be?
Child-friendly repetition lures listeners to join her shushing, the Thai animal sounds are great fun to make, and the curious questions about who’s making the new noises draw us ever onward. Beyond that, we can spy on that baby — who is not exactlydozing in his hammock as Mama imagines. Can you spot his little meandering self on every page?
Holly Meade won a Caldecott for her warm, handsome cut paper collages in a hushed jungle palette of moss, cayenne, dry bamboo. Beautiful compositions that draw us into this world of raised, thatched homes and palms. For little ones under-One and older.
Doggy Slippers:Poems by Jorge Luján with the contributions of Latin American children, translated by Elisa Amado, pictures by Isol first published in the U.S. in 2010 by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
And finally — this charming collection of tiny, free verse thoughts about pets.
Apparently, this was a collaborative process. Input was requested from Latin American children on the theme of pets, and about one hundred children replied with their funny, warm, touching viewpoints.
Eleven children, ages 5-13, from Mexico and Argentina, are credited in the book, as author Jorge Luján took their thoughts and crafted them into these delightful small pieces, such as:
My bunny understands me. When I’m sad she can tell right away. And though she walks on four feet and she likes to bite, she’s nicer than the nicest people.
Isol, an Argentinian author/illustrator created the childlike artwork which helps tumble us into a child’s worldview like Alice’s rabbit hole. Contemporary and tender. Share this book with children ages 2 and up.