These six sparkling poetry books speak to young readers of all ages, addressing a symphony of subjects with creativity, humor and style.
In the introduction to Wee Rhymes: Baby’s First Poetry Book, longtime collaborators Jane Yolen and artist Jane Dyer explain how vital poetry is: “Children who are given poetry early will have a fullness inside. Mother Goose rhymes, baby verse—that kind of singsong, sing-along rhythm—is as important as a heartbeat.”
In this charming collection, Yolen includes a few Mother Goose rhymes alongside her own poems for babies (such as “Five Little Fingers” and “Baby Snores”) and toddlers (“My Slide” and “Soap Dragons”). All are filled with warmth and sometimes a dose of well-placed humor, such as these lines from “Sitting in the Quiet Chair”:
When you’re bad
And make a riot
You must go
And be real quiet.
Dyer’s pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are lovingly sweet and a perfect blend of classic nostalgia and modernism.
THE NATURAL WORLD
Older children and even adults will be charmed by the short, thought-provoking poems in Pug: And Other Animal Poems. These short verses were crafted by the late poetic virtuoso Valerie Worth, whose talents are apparent in each selection. Take, for example, the last lines of “Fox”:
Illustrator Steve Jenkins’ bold illustrations are a vibrant match for each poem, filled with color, texture and depth. Never cutesy, Jenkins creates animals whose fur can practically be touched, such as an opossum “Staring with serious/Eyes at nothing.” The eyes of Jenkins’ creatures will grab your attention, including those of a soulful pug, a fierce fish and a singing wood thrush.
Although no one has ever seen the imaginary critters in Stardines Swim High Across the Sky, they are indeed intriguingly beautiful. This creative venture by the king of children’s poetry, Jack Prelutsky, and fine artist Carin Berger is presented as though it were a naturalist’s field guide.
As the cover flap cheerfully explains: “While many creatures (two dozen species in all) were discovered and recorded and their precise qualities examined, we are presenting sixteen here for the first time and for the enjoyment and education of the general public.” Berger’s illustrations continue the ruse, consisting of dioramas, shadow boxes and a variety of other materials, giving this book unique visual appeal.
“Chormorants,” for example, are birds who never stop doing chores, and you can easily guess the characteristics of “slobsters,” “jollyfish” and “sobcats.” Prelutsky brings humor and verbal acrobatics to his poems, as would be expected, while Berger has created perfect pairings of artistic wit and cleverness.
Very much back on terra firma, Forest Has a Song is a lovely compendium of woods-related poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. A girl and her dog wander through the forest in a variety of seasons, inviting readers to share their discoveries.
Poems such as “Bone Pile,” “Colorful Actor” (about a cardinal) and “First Flight” (chronicling an owl) nicely convey the discoveries that an observant hiker might make. Gentle watercolors by Robbin Gourley add just the right suggestion of realism, while bringing the poems together into a narrative whole.
FOR OLDER READERS
The zany poems found in If You Were a Chocolate Mustache remind me of Prelutsky’s beloved antics. Instead, they are written by J. Patrick Lewis, the current children’s poet laureate. He is certainly deserving of the title, judging from the smiles you’ll see if you put this volume into the hands of any elementary student.
Fun is the operative word here, with plenty of poems, some very short, such as “Rules for Tightrope Walking Between Tall Buildings”:
1. Whatever you do, don’t laugh.
2. Avoid looking down at the traf—
Matthew Cordell’s simple line drawings add plenty of whimsy—in this case showing a terrified tightrope walker making his way over honking traffic.
There are riddle poems, too, to keep readers engaged, and slightly snarky humor throughout, such as the short and sweet “A Special Bond”:
Each time a child folds her hands,
She may be saying prayers for you,
Or else she just misunderstands
How to use the Elmer’s glue.
Young readers will also relish the abundant humor in Tamera Will Wissinger’s Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, also illustrated by Cordell. The poems here tell the story of a memorable summer day of lake fishing.
Young Sam is excited to spend the day with his dad, and righteously dismayed when his younger sister decides to tag along. What’s worse, she quickly catches eight bluegills while Sam still has none.
Happily, Sam soon lands a big one, and the trio ends up having an unforgettable day. Using varied poetic forms, Wissinger captures the fun and family dynamics of this fisherman’s tale.