If you want your students to get into poetry, it’s good to have at least a few good anthologies available in the classroom that will draw them in. They’ll find out which poets they like best, and then you can get whole books by those poets. So anthologies come first in the list that follows, then suggestions for books that will give you ideas for working with poetry. Some include ideas for using poetry across the curriculum. Finally, here are just a few of the Web sites available—Google “children’s poetry” and you’ll find many more.
Anthologies—From the First to about the Sixth Grade
|A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg, 2005. For ages six to ninety-six. This book I discovered only after I wrote about the others, and it has become my favorite modern anthology. Brilliant illustrations, and a wider range of poems than any other recent anthology I know, all clearly chosen by someone who loves and understands poetry. Kennedy even includes a profound poem by Antonio Machado, the great Spanish poet from the first half of the twentieth century. How beautiful that a celebrity has chosen to use her fame so well. Amazon.com gives a review by Robert Pinsky, recently Poet Laureate of the United States, and he is as impressed as I am.|
|Piping Down the Valleys Wild: Poetry for the Young of All Ages, edited by Nancy Larrick. First published in 1968, second edition 1985, with a new introduction and many new poems. What’s new in the 1999 edition available on Amazon.com I don’t know, but I trust Larrick. Out in paper for six bucks. Larrick understands how to help children enjoy poetry through performance, and she tells us in her (excellent) introduction that all these poems “have been read to or read by nursery-school and elementary-school children, who have preferred these poems over hundreds of others.” Some are for the youngest, some for sixth-graders, and many appeal to a wider range.|
Sing a Song of Popcorn, edited by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and others. Ages six to twelve. Great illustrations; all poems guaranteed to be “poems children will sit still for.” The experts say that if you could have only one collection, this would be the one to buy. Myself, I would opt for Kennedy’s –this selection is a bit more limited—but the variety of illustrators has its own appeal.
|The Poetry Troupe: An Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, compiled by Isabel Wilner (herself a good children’s poet) in 1977. Wilner was a librarian at a laboratory elementary school on a college campus, and kids who enjoyed poetry in the library with her formed a “poetry troupe” to perform for college classes. Most of the poems are for younger kids, though twelve-year-olds were part of the troupe and helped to choose the poems; all would be fun to perform. And such a great idea! Out of print, but used copies are available through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com for pennies.|
|’Til All the Stars Have Fallen: A Collection of Poems for Children, edited by David Booth, 1989, for ages eight to twelve. All Canadian poems, chosen by a Canadian. A wide range of tones and styles. A great way to get the flavor of our northern neighbor, so close to us, but still distinctive. Delightful illustrations.|
|Poems That Sing to You, selected by Michael R. Strickland, 1993, ages eight and up. An African American who teaches writing in a college in New Jersey has put together this collection of poems in some way closely related to music and dance. Here are a few excerpts from a couple of reviews given on Amazon.com:
→ From School Library Journal
Grade 3 Up- Postulating that poems about music speak immediately to children, Strickland has gathered 55 short selections and arranged them in groups: “Poems That Dance,” “Poems That Make Melodies,” “Poems That Sing the Happies and the Blues,” etc., with each section leading neatly into the next one. Entries range from rock-and pop-music lyrics and Native American chants to classic verse by poets as diverse as Ogden Nash, Carl Sandburg, Karla Kuskin, and Stevie Wonder. Black writers are well represented, and there is a sprinkling of new and lesser-known voices as well.
—Judy Constantinides, East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, LA
→ From Kirkus Reviews
“Dancing in the Street” and “I Hear American Singing” are almost neighbors in a sassy collection of poems about pianos, CDs, cassettes, dancing, symphonies, and other topics musical. Eloise Greenfield (“Nathaniel’s Rap”) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“On a Bad Singer”) sit side-by-side, while Wallace Stevens (an excerpt from “The Man with the Blue Guitar”) and Robert Graves (“The Penny Fiddle”) are back-to-back. Brod Bagert comments on the synthesization of sound and miniaturization of technology; Felice Holman listens to instruments tuning up. (10+)
|Classic Poems to Read Aloud, selected by James Berry, a poet originally from Jamaica, now living in England. 1995. The experts say fourth to eighth grade. He has brought together poetry he loves from African tradition, the Bible, Shakespeare, Yeats, unfamiliar poets from the West Indies, and many many more, all full of music.|
|Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States, an anthology edited by Lori Carlson, published in 1994. If you want to know how it feels to grow up Latino/a here, you’ll get inside a lot of different experiences in these poems. Most of the poems are given in both English and Spanish, though some were written first in English, some first in Spanish.|
|This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, published in 1992. Modern poems from 68 countries, some very easy to read, some more challenging. As Nye says in her introduction, these poems let “us feel or imagine faraway worlds from the inside.” And sometimes not so far away—some of the most moving poems to me were by people from other countries working here, often longing for families they’ve left behind. These poems help kids see through the “foreign” outsides and strange accents of gardeners and taxi drivers from Mexico and Pakistan to the human beings inside.|
|Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle . . . and other modern verse, an anthology put together by Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith in 1967. They say they wanted “a collection of good poems for young readers—readers who had had their fill of verse about galoshes, bunny rabbits, and ‘what I want to be when I grow up,’” and since they couldn’t find one, they made one. Many of the poems were chosen by their students from the collection they put together. It may be from the sixties, but the poems still feel contemporary.|
|The Music of What Happens: Poems that tell stories, an anthology selected by Paul Janeczko and published in 1988. All of the poems are modern; some are shocking, some are funny, some are painful; all of them tell powerful stories.|
Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States, an anthology edited by Lori Carlson, published in 1994. See above.
|A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, by Naomi Shihab Nye, published in 2005. Actually not an anthology, but so good I’m including it anyway. Like a lot of Nye’s work, this book won a prize. Nye’s father was Palestinian, her mother Anglo American, and she was raised partly in Jerusalem. She has spent a lot of time as a poet in the schools, and where she hasn’t found the kind of poems she wanted to use, she has done something about it—like this book. Her introduction proves how well she remembers what it was like to be twelve, and so do the poems. Here’s what one critic said about her work: “Naomi Shihab Nye breathes poetry like the rest of us breathe air. When she exhales, the world becomes different. Better.”|
This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, published in 1992. See above.
|I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems and His Poems Collected in Pairs, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul B. Janeczko. This book was meant for young people, but all these poems were clearly written by adults for adults—they would be fascinating for teenagers who are thinking about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man. Both editors have written introductions, and at the back you’ll find comments by the contributors, mostly on their own experiences growing up, as well as funny excerpts from the emails Paul and Naomi exchanged as they struggled to put the book together.|
And for a selection that includes older poetry that modern teenagers will still enjoy, Classic Poems to Read Aloud, selected by James Berry. See above.
Books on How to Get Kids into Poetry
Nancy Larrick’s Let’s Do a Poem: Introducing Poetry to Children (1991) is the one to buy if you can only buy one—at least, if you’re sold on getting kids performing. Full of delightful ideas and stories about how she has used the ideas. Fun to read. It even starts with getting kids singing, and with a list of songbooks. Like the next two books, it has good lists of books about poetry and books of poetry.
Georgia Heard is a poet herself, and she is great on teaching reading and writing poetry together. Her first book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun: Teaching Poetry (1989), is beautiful on how children’s natural enjoyment of poetry can get killed in school—and how to keep it alive. Her second book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School (1998), has more specific ideas for the classroom. Both books are well written and fun to read.
|Maureen Armour is heavily influenced by Heard in her Poetry, The Magic Language: Children Learn to Read and Write It (1994, K-6), but this book has more specific encouragement for teachers who aren’t already into poetry, and it is targeted to younger children. She also has suggestions for using poetry across the curriculum—and in general more complete practical suggestions. Not quite as well written, but still good.|
The next two books are really textbooks, but better than most textbooks.
|Charlotte Huck and others, Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, eighth edition (2003). The classic. THE textbook. And the main author is in love with her subject, so that it is even fun to read, though a bit overwhelming. Just one chapter on poetry, with an incredible amount packed in. It’s not surprising that Charlotte Huck is the woman who has inspired many of the best teachers, such as Georgia Heard and Marilyn Armour.|
|Barbara Chatton, Using Poetry across the Curriculum (1993). I’ll let the material on Amazon.com tell you about it:
Watch what happens when you integrate poetry into math, science, language arts, and social studies. Student interest levels heighten. You bring new insights to these subjects, and you help students develop an appreciation of the uniqueness of poetry. Each chapter in this how-to guide identifies poems and describes how they can be used to enhance specific classes or thematic units and suggests activities that relate to the class or theme.“This well-organized and informative resource book for teachers and teacher-librarians outlines a formula for integrating poetry into all areas of the elementary school curriculum….The emphasis is always on making connections across curriculum areas and with linking the physical, rhythmic nature of the world with our senses, along with the uses of language for play and to express feelings. The author provides many excellent and valuable lists of thematically related poems. A particularly useful feature is individual titles of poems found in anthologies, which can be difficult to find, particularly with teachers’ busy schedules.”
“The author, an associate professor and reviewer, has made every effort to cite works that are still in print and has included a chapter on sharing poetry (pantomime, choral reading, dialogues). Teachers and librarians will want to refer to this often, integrating poetic literacy in all aspects of the whole language classroom.”
—What’s New In Books
→ A Great Place to Start, especially for ten and up: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/entertainment/poetry/index.html
Go to this address if you want to see a video of a soldier who spent a year in Iraq reading his poetry, or profiles of cowboy and cowgirl poets and audios of their reading, or sign up to get emails that alert you when Jim Lehrer’s NewsHouris going to have a poetry segment. Follow students who are going to participate in Poetry Out Loud, the national poetry recitation competition. There are also links to the other resources of the Poetry Foundation, which is funding this project, and other fun links, including to a place where you can submit something for the Favorite Poem Project.
→ Baseball poems: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poems.shtml
The earliest poem is from the eighteenth century, the most recent was published last year. A wide range in every way—with a whole section devoted to poems related to “Casey at the Bat”—including one where Casey makes a comeback!
→ Suggestions for getting kids in the second, third, and fourth grade saying poetry: http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1991/4/91.04.06.x.html
The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute presents “Poetry for the Elementary Classroom,” by Francis J. Degnan. Based on experience in an inner-city classroom. I like the first paragraph:
Imagine an excited class: hands waving and voices pleading, “Please let me go next!” What are these children responding to? They want to participate in oral recitation. This is not being forced upon them, they want to respond. Everyone is on the edge of their chair demanding a chance to recite poetry! This can happen! This has happened! This unit presents approaches that have successfully nurtured enthusiasm and interest in poetry.
The teaching approach relies a little too heavily on questions for my taste, but there’s a lot of useful material, including a good list of poetry books with comments.
For more about the national poetry recitation competition, go to http://www.poetryoutloud.org/
It’s for high school students, but it may inspire some. The competition is the brainchild of the Poetry Foundation, which started when Poetry, a revered poetry magazine, got over a million dollars from the Ruth Lilly Foundation to promote the cause of poetry in this country. One key way is to get students memorizing, reciting, and entering this competition—another is to make all sorts of resources available free. The home page is http://poetryfoundation.org/, and the page especially for children and those who teach them is http://poetryfoundation.org/features/children.html, where you will find out, for example, all about the Children’s Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky, and much other useful and amusing poetry stuff.