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.“
Wet Cement A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka
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.
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!
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.
This Poem Is a Nest by Irene Latham, illustrated by Johanna Wright
You’ll be fascinated by the beauty and playfulness of the language, imagery, and meaning in these evocative poems. The poet begins with longer nest poems and then uses the words found in those poems to make smaller, nestling poems, also called “found poems”. Doesn’t this sound amazing? (It is!) “What Hope Is / a cup / of stars” The poems range in topic from nature to emotions to imagination.
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.
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?
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger
Carin Berger illustrated these poems with 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 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:
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
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. 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.“
My Thoughts Are Clouds: Poems on Mindfulness by Georgia Heard, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
Simple poems make the basics of mindfulness understandable to children from breathing to understanding thoughts and feelings, and being in the present moment. I love that these poems could be used as short meditations. “See yourself walking in an open field; / let wind offer you its breath. / Become a green leaf / floating lazily down a stream.” But, I also love that it reminds us too-busy adults to slow down, breathe, and notice the world around us. “Focus your heart like a camera / and the ordinary will shine brand-new.” Georgia Heard is one of my FAVORITE poetry writing mentors and not surprisingly, all of these poems could be used as mentor poems to teach poetry writing — things like line breaks, sensory images, precise word choice.
Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favorite poets and I have sticky notes all over this bookmarking all my favorite poems in this book, which I think is an essential poetry collection for readers and poets. This collection of her poems is about diverse topics including war, fear, identity, kindness, Arabic life, and much more including some familiar favorites like “Valentine for Ernest Mann” and “Famous” as well as several new poems. Add this to your bookshelf, classroom libraries, and libraries!
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.“
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.
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.
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
Stunning artwork and profoundly powerful poems share meaningful musings and lessons about being a girl turning into a woman, being Black, nature, and identity–among other topics. Grimes shares poems from Harlem Renaissance writers then uses them to write her own The Golden Shovel poems, using words from the original poems in her new poems, each line ending with one of the words from the original poem. I’ve read and reread these poems more than once and am always finding new things to love — one of which is just the masterful use of language to convey meaning and spark wonder. For children 10 and up.
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.
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?
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
Rosenberg’s topics celebrate the little moments in 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.
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.
My First Book of Haiku Poems: A Picture, a Poem and a Dream by Japanese Haiku Masters, translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, illustrated by Tracy Gallup
I love everything about this book: the stunning haikus about nature, the luminous illustrations, and the deep-thinking food-for-thought notes. Are you a fan of haiku yet? These are poems from the masters — I’m talking about Basho and Shiki and more. Run out to buy this — it’s an essential addition to your home and classroom libraries. It’s SO impressive!
Just being alive,
the poppy flower
Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea
What a creative twist! The traditional nature haikus become clever riddles for readers to guess the answers.
“from a lily pad
keep eyes spy a careless fly
a sticky tongue — SNAP!
Can you guess who from her haiku?”
I adore Bob Shea’s sweet illustrations of each animal.
Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs bt Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Robert Meganck
Rich imagery and playful language fill this engaging book of spider-themed poems of all kinds accompanied by informational text and illustrations. “Longbodied Cellar Spider / hungry wasp / knob-kneed arachnid / a whirling blur / invisibility cloak– cobweb to be continued….” Different poetic forms and different kinds of spiders fill the pages. Learn about silk, food, senses, and much more. “Wrap bite blergh / SLURRRP. / Bite wrap blergh chew / SLURRP.” Parents, read this to help your children discover a love for poems! Teachers, whatever poetry form or literary devices you’re teaching, you’ll find beautiful examples in this book.
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 edited by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet GORGEOUS illustrations and compelling poems — these poems are beautiful and SHORT.
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 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 (Book & CD) edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah, Illustrated by Judy Love and Paula Zinngrabe Wendland
Poetry Workbooks and Teacher Guides
Kwame Alexander’s Free Write: A Poetry Notebook (Ghostwriter) by Kwame Alexander
This fun-to-read workbook for ages 8 to 12 introduces writers to poetry, literary devices like metaphors, as well as other poetic techniques. Written in Alexander’s signature voice and style, kids will get hooked as they dive into poetry. Alexander provides example poems with fill-in-the-blanks and lots of spaces for free writes. Throughout the book, poets will also find inspirational quotes from other authors. “A poem is a cup of words open to the sky and wind in a bucket.” – Naomi Shihab Nye. Get your pencils ready, this little book will turn your writers into poets.
Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong
Brilliant! I love the structure of this book for inspiring and instructing young poets. Each section begins with a mentor poem, then shares different character’s response poems and related activities for writers to do on their own. The selection of mentor poems is top-notch, deeply relatable, and accessible to children. The first mentor poem is from “Blue Bucket” by Naomi Shihab Nye. The activity asks writers to try writing a poem that repeats a phrase or line such as “what if”. Another mentor poem is “Poem for a Bully” by Eileen Spinelli and the activity is to write a poem that incorporates opposites. The book concludes with a helpful resource guide at the back including performance tips, where to publish, and other resources. Highly recommended.
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