By Lela Nargi
April is National Poetry Month! This is the perfect opportunity to introduce even very small tykes to verse. Why is that important? Because believe it or not, reading rhyming poems especially helps little children develop language, physical, cognitive, and social/emotional skills—all by playfully introducing them to new words, structures, and ideas that help them to learn through memorization and recognizing patterns. Says “Father Goose” Charles Ghigna, the author of dozens of poetry books for kids, "Their lilting rhythms and rhymes, their short, simple sentences, and their clever repetition of key words and phrases start children's eyes, minds, and hearts dancing along the rhythmical lines of poetry and into a lifelong love of lyrical language. It is the joyous power of poetry that turns listeners into readers and readers into writers." All things to aspire to, indeed!
Here are our picks of 11 new poetry books for readers and writers of all ages: simple rhymes for the preschool set; both rhyming and non-rhyming observations of the natural world for young children; and long-format novels in (non-rhyming) verse for tweens and teens. Reading these, your kids may well be inspired to write some poetry of their own.
Springtime Weather Wonders series by Charles Ghigna & Laura Watson
The weather in springtime can be variously wet, windy, icy, and sunny and this sweet quartet of board books—Hail to Spring, A Windy Day in Spring, Raindrops Fall All Around, and Sunshine Brightens Springtime—teaches toddlers all about what they’re seeing and feeling out there in the post-wintery world. Cheerful rhyming text accompanied by rich illustrations of happy critters enjoying the damp and the dry alike will make this little set an instant family classic (ages 2-4, $8 each).
Flowers Are Calling by Rita Gray &
Flowers aren’t just beautiful to look at; they’re part of vast and fascinating ecosystems that include all kinds of pollinators: bees, moths, bats, wasps. These gentle poems—interspersed with easy facts about a variety of blooms and enlivened with sweet and vibrant watercolors throughout—is sure to delight the smallest naturalist in your household (ages 4-8, $17).
The Maine Coon’s Haiku by Michael Rosen & Lee White
Cats, as any lover of felines knows, are sometimes naughty, sometimes sweet, and always worthy of closer study. The haikus in this book explore and pay homage to 20 delightfully furry (and slightly less-than-furry) species and introduce children to the power of 17 brief but well-chosen syllables (ages 6-9, $18).
Hypnotize a Tiger by Calef Brown
This new release from author and artist Calef Brown is a middle-grade compendium of the completely ridiculous (and what middle schooler won't appreciate that?). It's a slim but engrossing volume that features vultures who are weary of eating road kill; a silent gnome who resides in Hoboken, NJ; termites whose meal of choice is imported toothpicks; and a skyscraper turned into a rocket. Illustrated with equally absurd drawings, this is guffaw-worthy fare for the pickiest of tween readers, who will be shocked and delighted to learn just how much fun poetry can be (ages 8-12, $18).
Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen,
illustrated by Amy June Bates
A half-Chinese girl named Kara, abandoned
as an infant by her mother, searches for an understanding of her place in the world. This lyrical middle grade novel set in the city of Tianjin will strike a chord with any adolescent, of any ethnicity and background, who’s ever grappled with her own sense of self and
self-worth. Which means, as any parent of
an adolescent will attest—all of them (ages
Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt
A novel in verse that follows the agonies of a 7th grade boy named Kevin as he is transformed, ungently, from bully to bullied. The action is mostly told straight, but it’s peppered with Kevin’s own ingenious attempts at poetry, in the form of words selected from book pages he’s plundered from the library. Both funny and touching, Rhyme Schemer puts an insightful and optimistic spin on the sad commonality of middle school oppressions (ages 10+, $16).
Audacity by Melanie Crowder
This is an historical YA novel inspired by the true life story of Clara Lemlich, leader of the 1909 strike of shirtwaist workers in New York’s garment district. An incredible testament to the determination of one young woman to fight for equal rights, this is sure to inspire teens who want to make their own mark for the better on the world (ages 12+, $18).
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
Set in 16th century Virginia, this historical novel follows an unlikely but poignant friendship between two girls. Alis has just arrived with her parents in the New World after a harrowing voyage from London. And Kimi is the Roanoke girl she meets soon upon landing, whose own parents have been killed by English settlers. Defying the odds, and their elders, they forge a deep and lingering bond that is stronger by far than any heritage (ages 10+, $17).