Well, April is apparently National Poetry Month, so instead of the Jon Scieszka feature I was planning (which will just come later!), you get poetry books! One year when I was a fifth grade teacher, we did a Poetry Café once a quarter. Each child either wrote or selected a published poem to perform for their classmates and parents, and we had refreshments afterward in the classroom. It was great fun! Here are a few books of poetry and poems that I had in my classroom back in the day that are still great to share with kids!
Where the Sidewalk Ends: 30th Anniversary Special Edition, by Shel Silverstein (2004): While my favorite Shel Silverstein poem is “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” (which is in this volume), “Almost Perfect” from A Light in the Attic is a close second. Illustrated in the author’s signature style, some of the poems almost require the image for the poem to be clear, but many of the silly rhymes are meant to tickle the funny bones of children of all ages and are great for read-alouds as well. Not every poem is strictly proper or particularly school-appropriate, but the books as a whole are great reading material for children who need some encouragement to enjoy poetry.
It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, by Jack Prelutsky, drawings by James Stevenson (2005): Intended for all elementary ages, these silly poems play with language and are great for young readers just getting into poetry (although some of the vocabulary is pretty advanced). This duo also composed A Pizza the Size of the Sun and The New Kid on the Block. While I personally prefer Silverstein, these relatively slim volumes drew the attention of many readers in my classrooms over the years!
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Eric Beddows (2004): Originally published in time to receive the 1989 Newbery Medal, this book of poetry is meant to be read aloud! Some of my students chose a choral reading from this book to perform with a friend, and they require extensive practice for young readers. I would often perform the “Whirligig Beetles” poem (they’re all about bugs!) aloud with a willing volunteer as an example, and it really is harder than it seems like it ought to be! Great for shared reading for increased fluency, this is just one of several similar books by the author, including I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices and Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices.
Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech (2001): In this novel, Jack, a boy in Miss Stretchberry’s class, uses his class journal to express his distaste for reading and writing poetry…ironically, in free verse. Through assigned poetry readings and writings, Jack discovers that poetry might not just be for girls, particularly when he reads Walter Dean Myers’ “Love that Boy,” which inspires him to open up his feelings in a tribute poem entitled “Love that Dog” about his family dog that was killed by a car. Perfect for middle to upper elementary readers, this is a novel way to introduce a reluctant student to poetry (or just to use in a classroom as an example of reading responses, free verse, and inspiration from other texts). (I used this in a small reading group with fifth graders when I was teaching. After sharing this book with my group, I ordered a couple additional Creech titles for my classroom, Heartbeat and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, that were also good reads for different reasons.)
Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson (2005): Eleven-year-old Lonnie Collins Motion (aka, Locomotion) has been in foster care since he and his sister lost their parents in a fire when he was just seven. While he is taking part in a poetry unit in class, he begins to find his voice and a way to express all his tough emotions though poetry. I happened upon this book after reading Love that Dog, and there are clear similarities, but this book deals with even more serious topics and is therefore even more heartbreaking and meaningful. Due to the depth of the topics and the need for extensive reading between the lines, I suggest this book for upper elementary and middle school readers. (Although a newer edition of this book is available, I prefer the 2005 paperback cover!)
Okay, it’s clear I prefer funny, rhyming poetry, so does anyone out there have suggestions for elementary readers who prefer beautiful, lyrical poetry or simple haiku or even limericks? I’d love to hear about some of your favorite childhood poetry collections!