Did you know that April is National Poetry Month here in the United States? Admittedly, this is a celebration from which I have shied away in the past, as my childhood love of Shel Silverstein and other fun poetry dwindled once I tried to analyze poetry in middle and high school. I want better for my children, though. I want them to be comfortable, maybe even confident, reading poetry.
And more than just wanting them to be (at a minimum) comfortable reading poetry (but hopefully enjoy reading it, too!), poetry positively affects literacy development in growing readers. So not only do I want my children to be comfortable and confident when it comes to poetry, but I want them to reap these benefits too! Reading poetry with children:
- Helps pre-readers begin to connect the sounds they hear with the symbols they see on the page.
- Strengthens pre-readers knowledge of familiar sounds.
- Impacts phonological awareness by allowing independent readers to familiarize themselves with common phonemic patterns in rhyming words.
- Helps children recognize high-frequency written words.
- Increases reading and speaking fluency, especially when children are encouraged to read aloud through choral or repeated readings.
- Builds problem-solving skills as children begin to predict the rhyming words (especially when children are given the opportunity to finish the lines and predict “What’s next?”).
- Fosters memory recall, especially when poetry is experienced through repeated readings, or accompanied by songs, fingerplays, or other dramatic acts.
- Builds positive relationships between adult and children when reading poetry is a fun shared experience.
Additionally, young children truly enjoy the rhythm and predictability of rhymes such as poetry. After all, there’s a good reason that so many favorite board and picture books, the ones your children reach for over and over, are rhyming books!
So, where to begin? How do you start reading poetry with children, so that they not only develop positive associations with poetry but also reap the amazing literacy benefits? Below, you’ll find our favorite poetry books, books from which I enjoy reading and to which my girls delight in listening. You’ll find the silly, laugh-inducing poetry of Shel Silverstein, but you’ll also find more serious, thought-provoking poems, so this list runs the gamut. Hopefully you can find something inspiring for your family, too!
Terrific Poetry Books for Children
All links for purchase are Amazon Affiliate links, and most age ranges listed are publishers’ recommendations. Always remember that you know your child best, and thank you for considering making a purchase through my links!
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today’s Child selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Arnold Lobel — Though this was published almost 40 years ago (1983!), these selections still resonate with my children of today, making them smile and often even laugh. Broken into sections (from “Nature Is…” to “I’m Hungry!” and “Nonsense! Nonsense!”), your children are bound to find poems they love in here (though, of course, at 248 pages and 572 poems, you might need to help them…). And let’s not overlook the fact that Lobel (of Frog and Toad fame) illustrated this collection! All ages.
Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young selected by Jack Prelutsky, with an introduction by Jim Trelease, illustrated by Marc Brown — With more than 200 short and sweet, mostly rhyming and rhythmic poems about things children see and experience in their everyday lives (bedtime, cats, baths, Halloween, meals, animals, sneezes, and more, this is the perfect poetry book for your youngest listener. Be sure to spend some time with Trelease’s introduction, as Trelease argues more compellingly than just about anyone for the importance of not only reading with our children, but also reading poetry with our children. Ages 3-7.
A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham — Are you trying to get your children comfortable with poetry AND encourage them to spend time outdoors? Then A Stick is an Excellent Thing may be the answer! Some of Singer’s poems are rhythmic and rhyming, some are more free-verse, some are written for two voices, but all resonate with children’s experiences playing around their neighborhoods. And Pham’s illustrations are diverse, warm, and accessible, drawing children into the poetry even more. Ages 4-7.
Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up by Shel Silverstein — Given that I can still remember all of the words to “Sick” and “Clarence” from when I read them over and over (and over) again as a child, I couldn’t possibly make a poetry list without my three favorite Shel Silverstein books. From touching and tender (“Listen to the mustn’ts child…”) to hilarious and/or ridiculous, Silverstein worked magic with words to make word play and poetry fun and accessible to children. If you don’t have one (or all three…) of these in your home or classroom library, make sure you fix that quickly! Ages 4-8.
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis — I have to admit I bought this one based on the cover (we’ve got a giraffe lover in our house) and the fact that the poems are accompanied by National Geographic photographs… But I am delighted that I invested in it! Though the book is 184 pages, Lewis has grouped them roughly by theme (“the big ones,” “the strange ones,” “the quiet ones,” and more) for readabity and navigating ease. He’s also got four indexes (title, poet, first line, and subject) to make finding just the poem you’re looking for easy. My favorite, though, is the spread about writing poems about animals, where Lewis teaches about poetic forms and encourages children to try writing their own animal poetry. Ages 4-8.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet — Thirty-six poems, clustered into groups according to season, and delightfully illustrated by Melissa Sweet… This one’s a year-round delight! Making this collection even better is the fact that, as the title says, these poems are indeed very short, perfect for introducing children to poetry and its wordplay without requiring them to endure something long and potentially hard to follow. Ages 4-8.
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, multiple illustrators — Our almost-seven-year-old will pick this one up off of the shelf on her own to read, so you know it’s a winner! Shaking Things Up has poetry, artwork by multiple award-winning illustrators, and information about women who changed the world all in one. Hood included many women I knew already (Frida Jahlo, Ruby Bridges, and Malala Yousafzai, among others), but also introduced me to many women I wasn’t already familiar with (such as Molly Williams, the first known female firefighter in the United States!). Ages 4-8, but terrific older as well.
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera — Though this book usually lives with our Thanksgiving/thankfulness/gratitude box, I excitedly pulled it out now because it contains some of my favorite poems to read with the girls. I love how she has used her poetry to inspire gratitude for all things in life, even those that seem small (lunchbox notes from mom, the fact that dad makes time to play basketball after work, and more). Ages 4-8.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers, illustrated by Luke Flowers — My girls were fortunate to have Luke Flowers visit their school last fall, so we are lucky to have a signed copy of this book. And, it’s as wonderful as you could imagine. Full of Mister Rogers’s original songs, you’re bound to find just the right poem to help your child with whatever is troubling his mind or heart. Or, maybe just browse this one at your leisure, if you have fond memories of Mister Rogers’s wisdom. Ages 6-8, but terrific younger, too (especially for children familiar with Mister Rogers or Daniel Tiger).
The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones — Containing some poems that are slightly more abstract, but all written on topics that many children hold near and dear to their hearts, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog makes for terrific inspiration for children to write freely about topics important to them. Though most of the poems are more contemporary, Janeczko also includes some classic poets such as Robert Louis Stevenson (actually, his “The Swing” is likely my girls’ favorite poem in this anthology). Ages 6-9, but terrific older as well.
Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Chris Raschka — Okay, I love Prelutsky’s poetry and how it resonates with children, but I absolutely adore it when it’s accompanied by Raschka’s illustrations! With poems about baseball and soccer to frisbee and karate, and any sport in between, Prelutsky’s got a poem for your little sports enthusiast. These poems strike a terrific balance of real sports experiences that children have and humor! Ages 6-9.
A Pizza the Size of the Sun by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by James Stevenson — You really can’t go wrong with any of Prelutzky’s collections of poetry, but this one has long been my favorite. Widely varied, terrifically engaging, usually incredibly funny, all you’ll need to do is open this book to a random page and start to read. I promise your listeners will be engaged! Ages 6-10.
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka — A colleague gave this book to me when we moved across the country, and I will forever be grateful for his thoughtful and lasting gift. For the slightly older reader (or the adult who wants to brush up on poetic forms… or learn them in the first place, as I’d certainly never heard of a villanelle or a pantoum…), pick up this anthology (once again curated by Janeczko)! Though each page has a brief explanation of the poetic form of the given poem, Janeczko also includes a more detailed “Notes on the Forms” section at the back of the book. Ages 8-12.
For more information on the benefits of reading poetry with young children, including the benefits mentioned above, visit:
- Gable, S. (1999). Promote Children’s Literacy with Poetry. Young Children, 54(5), 12-15. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/42727682
- “Literacy Teaching Toolkit: Phonological Awareness” by the Victoria State Government Department of Education and Training