The Best Poetry Books for Children

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Reading poems with children introduces a love of language, wordplay, sensory images, and rhyme. But poetry also entertains and illuminates life. That’s why I want to share my best poetry books for children — for home and the classroom.

Most young children are drawn to humorous poems — which is a great place to start. As a child’s brain develops, so can their interest in more abstract, symbolic poetry.

Poems resonate with emotions we often can’t express in other ways; they speak truth powerfully. That’s why I love poetry myself. What about you?

Former British Children’s Poet Laureate, Michael Rosen advises on introducing poetry: The best poetry resource for children is as simple as this thing that was invented a few hundred years ago. It is called a book.

If you’re looking for a specific book or type of poem, I’ve categorized them below by these categories:

Shape Poetry Books

Short Poems

Rhyming Poetry Books

Free Verse Poetry Books

Poetic Forms

Haiku Poetry Books

Poetry Collections

 

Shape Poems

Shape poems paint a picture on the page — and these do an amazing job. The Hanger poem is shaped like a hanger, Dominoes are shaped just like falling dominoes with fun texts about pushing single file down the row. I love the Corners poem about a hungry mouse looking for cheese that is shaped like a maze. These are inspiring! (This book is on my BEST CHILDREN’S NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2016 list.)

 

Short Poems


Here’s a Little Poem collected by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Start your kids early with these 60 short poems about and for toddlers.


All the Small Poems and Fourteen More 
by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Natalie Babbitt
These poems exemplify how poets use minimal words to SHOW, not tell! Love these.


Poem In Your Pocket For Young Poets
 edited by Bruno Navasky
The poems include selections from both male and female poets, many of them I’m hadn’t read before. Because the poems are rich in sensory images, they’re ripe for illustration which is a fantastic way to get kids to think deeply about the meaning of the poem.

Rhyming Poetry Books (Mostly)


I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus
by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Kids love these hilarious poems!


Where the Sidewalk Ends
 by Shel Silverstein
A must-own classic poetry book of funny, memorable poems.

Noteworthy Fall 2017 Picture Books
I’m No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
If you like to laugh, run to buy this book. It’s wordplay at its silliest in the vein of Shel Silverstein with randomness that kids love (misnumbered pages and rivalry between Harris and Smith). I dare you not to laugh!


The Forest has a Song  
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley
I’ve been a big fan of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog, The Poem Farm, and am thrilled with her first book!! (Download activities here.)

First Flight (click to hear it read by Amy)

Mommy, I’m scared to be this high.
   All owls are scared on their first try.

My tail feathers feel so tingly with fear.
   You can do it. Calm down. Careful now. Steer.

I can’t see a thing through all this black.
   Just go to Spruce and come right back.

FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP — WHOOOSH!
FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP — SWOOOSH !

Look, Mom! I made it! Wow! I can fly!
  I knew you could. You were born for sky. 

 

 
In the Past: From Trilobites to Dinosaurs to Mammoths in More Than 500 Million Years
 by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Aptly-oversized to reflect many of the gigantic creatures within, this book of poems with gorgeous illustrations celebrate prehistoric creatures. Creatures like the weird-looking dunkleosteus or terrifying yutyrannus. Some of these creatures you’ll know but many will be new. The text is very accessible. Each creature includes their scientific name plus the geologic timeline in which they lived. SO cool, right?
Meganeura
No birds yet.
Only you in the sky.
Meganeuropsis permiana:
the giant dragonfly!”

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and other Poems
by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger
I adore illustrator, Carin Berger’s, fantastical wild collages, dioramas, and found objects! Her illustration and page design should win awards – it’s wonderful. They pair perfectly with Prelutsky’s original creatures–magpipes, tattlesnakes, braindeers, and stardines, to name a few. I love Stardines for a bedtime poem . . .

Stardines

STARDINES swim high across the sky,

And brightly shine as they glide by.
In giant schools, their brilliant lights
Illuminate the darkest nights.

When other creatures are in bed,
STARDINES still twinkle overhead.
In silence, these nocturnal fish
Are set to grant the slightest wish.

You’ll find these poems to be unlike Prelutsky’s usual silliness. They’re whimsical yet evocative and haunting.


World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of

by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Anna Raff
You’d be right if you looked at the title and thought these would be witty delights. They are!

March 15 is Worm Day. (In case you didn’t know.)

What the Worm Knows

Take my advice:
For your own good,
Stay away from
The Robin ‘hood


Book Speak! Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon
Wow, do I love this book! Salas writes 21 fun, funny, delightful poems about books — from the perspective of a character, or what happens in the bookstore at night, or how the book sees the reader (“the sky is falling”) or the journal inviting the writer to “describe your desires.” Here’s an example:

Book Plate

I don’t need your napkin.
I’m not your soup bowl’s mate.
I don’t want your peas or bread.

I’m not that kind of plate!

Write your name upon me.
I’m a paper love tattoo.
Paste me in your book to show

that I belong to you.

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

 

Free Verse Poems

Best Nonfiction Children's Books, 2016
When Green Becomes Tomatoes Poems for All Seasons
by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Beautifully written and illustrated, these poems capture the beauty of each season in relatable verses that seem like magic just like the poem below describing the first snow.

december 29
and i woke to a morning
that was quiet and white
the first snow
(just like magic) came on tip toes
overnight

 

 
A Round of Robins
by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
I am the biggest fan of Sergio Ruzzier’s illustrations. Once again, his art totally captures the essence of the poetic text, in this case, the life of robins. First, the robin parents build a nest, then guard their eggs, and eventually raise their baby birds to be independent. The rhyming poems are joyful, playful, and fun to read out loud. Teachers, you’ll love using these poems in your writing workshop. Vibrant action verbs capture the lives of this bird family, “Jumble, jostle, rumble, squirm” or “Wiggle, ship / Squiggle, slip“. (Added to: Beautiful Books About Birds)

 


Boom! Bellow! Bleat! Animal Poems for Two or More Voices
by Georgia Heard, illustrated by Aaron DeWitt
This is a MUST-OWN book for teachers and school libraries, homeschoolers and poetry-loving parents. It captures the most interesting sounds of nature. Kids will clamor to read these with parents, teachers, friends, and classmates. Not only will kids understand the beauty of words, oral reading, and imagery but they’ll see the playfulness of words and discover new animal sounds they’ve never known.

The poems are written in several colors. Children will choose the color of text to read (black or red, for example) starting with the poem “Animal Songs.” One reader reads the animal name written in black text. The other reads that animal’s sound written in red text. (“Kangaroos / Chortle“) The book is filled with the noise of fish, geese, frogs, mockingbirds, snakes, bees, and many more animals.

“Songsters of the Sea”
I dive
down deep
in a sapphire sea.
  Suspended.
          I sing.
          an aria.
WOOOOOOOO
WOOOOOOOO
My watery hymn
serenades humpback whales
thousands of miles away.
         Like an echo.
          I hear a whale sing.
         my song back to me.

(This is an excerpt, not the full poem.)

I adore the many sounds of elephants. So will you. Listen– Sort, ruuuuummmble, roar, cry, bark,


Read! Read! Read!
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
The poet celebrates a child’s life filled with reading, the culture of reading, and I love every single poem! “A book gives you a double life. / It builds a treehouse in your head / a haven you can climb to / when you wish to get away.” The poems show kids reading while eating and at school, they show readers transported and affected by stories,  they show readers researching and remembering.  “And as I chew I read. / And as I read I chew.

 

Interesting Nonfiction Books for Kids 2016
Poetry for Kids Emily Dickinson
edited by Susan Snively, PhD, illustrated by Christine Davenier
I’m already a HUGE Emily Dickinson fan so the poems, to me, are wonderful. But, what sets this book apart are the whimsical illustrations. They bring the poems to life! Especially for children.


Superlative Birds
by Leslie Bulion illustrated by Robert Meganck
Look at the illustration then read the lovely poem and science notes about each of the different birds. Birds that walk on water like the jacana marsh bird from Mexico or the peregrine falcon whose “bold spirit embodies the shape of speed.” If you’re studying nature or birds or poetry, this book will be a worthy addition.


Sweet Dreamers
by Isabelle Simler
Each evocative poem captures an animal sleeping and dreaming, giving us imagery that transports us to those sleepy moments.The hedgehog dreams safely in his shelter. Under a pile of leaves,  his spiky coat, he’s rolled up, wrapped up for a long rest.” The illustrations have so much movement — neon, black, white, red, and green with lots of lines. It’s fascinating to see the humpback whale sleeping underwater “the humpback whale dreams vertically with plankton at every level.

Poetic Forms

Echo & Echo review Awesome Nonfiction Books for Kids 2016
Echo & Echo
by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Massee
Marilyn Singer skillfully writes the most amazing, want-to-read-again, reverso poems about Greek myths. Reverso poems are poems that are flipped upside down, more or less, and still make sense! I especially love the “Pandora and the Box” and “King Midas and His Daughter” poems. All the poems are beautifully illustrated, too. This is a must own poetry book for classrooms and homes.

 


Follow Follow A Book of Reverso Poems

by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse
Here are more fairy tale reversos, or poems meant to be read from top to bottom as well as from bottom to top. (Why they’re called “reversos”.) They’re fun, make you think, and surely will inspire many writers to try their own reversos.

Birthday Suit

Behold his glorious majesty:
me.
Who dares say he drained the treasury
on
nothing?
Ha!
This emperor has
sublime taste in finery!
Only a fool could fail to see.

 


One Last Word
by Nikki Grimes
Teachers, use this book in your classroom to teach the “Golden Shovel” poetic form. It’s SO creative. And, the poems in this small book are stunning, filled with wisdom and relatable life stories. Grimes takes a line from a Harlem Renaissance poem then uses the words to create a new poem.

 


A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms 
compiled by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka
This playful poetry book introduces 29 poetic forms including song, story, statement, question, and haiku.

Haiku Poetry Books

Hi, Koo!
Hi, Koo! by Jon Muth
Stillwater’s nephew explores the seasons captured in snapshot haikus. Muth explains, “. . . haiku is like an instant captured in words — using sensory images.” If you read closely you’ll see that the 26 poems follow the alphabet. Beautiful. Does this make you want to go outside?

Reading aloud
a favorite book
an audience of sparrows

Animal Ark Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander New Spring Books for Kids About Nature and Animals
Animal Ark Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures
by Kwame Alexander, photos by Joel Sartore
I immediately thought of so many classroom applications for this gorgeous photographic poetry book about animals. Alexander writes about each animal or animal grouping in evocative haikus with jaw-dropping photographs taken by Joel Sartore. For a dramatically angled fruit bat on a black background, Alexnder writes “wings like a cape / ready for flight / into the sweet, dark night” then later “a hundred feet / walking without a sound / one direction” is the text describing a gigantic 2-page photograph of an Asian millipede. Teachers, can you imagine using the photos as writing prompts for students’ own haikus? And how this could spark discussion and research on the animals shown?!


H is for Haiku
by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi
I love the presentation of these alphabetical haiku poems — from the bold typeface to the exuberant illustrations. Rosenberg’s topics celebrate the little moments in life, particularly life in New York City. Moments like wrinkled leaves in a puddle, children carrying umbrellas, or squirrels munching on acorns. These haiku poems show that poems can be about anything. Use these to celebrate life’s small events.
“Plunging downhill
Petals falling in her hair —
Girl on a bike”

 

 
Earth Verse Haiku from the Ground Up
by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by William Grill
Science teachers looking to integrate literacy into their curriculum, use this book as a model to write haiku poems about the Earth!! “hold fast, stalactite, / everlasting icicle, / stone bed for a bat” I think it’s interesting to see what words and descriptions the poet used for each topic. Because haiku is limited, the choices must be deliberate and well thought out.

 

Poetry Collections

Poetry Daily for Kids
Poetry Speaks to Children with a CD of poems read by the poets, edited by Elise Paschen, illustrated by Judy Love, Wendy Rasmussen, and Paula Zinngrabe Wendland

Firefly July Poems for Kids
Firefly July 
edited by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
GORGEOUS illustrations and compelling poems — these poems are beautiful and SHORT.

Poetry Daily for Kids
Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, edited by Nikki Giovanni with a CD!!

Here's a Little Poem A Very First Book of Poetry
Here’s a Little Poem A Very First Book of Poetry 
edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
These 60+ poems are top-notch making this a must-own book for young children.


Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn By Heart

by Mary Ann Hoberman (former Children’s Poet Laureate,) illustrated by Michael Emberley

Poetry Speaks to Children
Poetry Speaks to Children (Book & CD) 
edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah, Illustrated by Judy Love and Paula Zinngrabe Wendland
What a fantastic selection of poems for kids. The cd makes it even better!

30 best poetry books for kids

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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