by Jackie McMillan

Spring into Poetry

From nonsense to epic and lines that rhyme: reacquaint yourself with classic poems from your childhood.

Then spring into something new; discover more amazing poetry written for young people, including poetic forms like novels in verse.

Children's Poetry and Novels in Verse

Continued Sense of Wonder is a quarterly discussion group, which takes place at the City Library, for adults who enjoy children's books. The September 2018 meeting looked at Children's Poetry and Novels in Verse. For many of us attending that evening, poetry books written for children were among the first books we owned. Some of us learned classic children's poems by heart (and as adults misremembered them); my personal favourite is Halfway Down by A. A. Milne from When We Were Very Young. Some of us admitted we did not read much poetry as adults, and many adults say they don't have time for poetry. I'd like to suggest that reading poetry written for children, or revisiting poetry you read as a child, will give you a new appreciation of poetry and all of its many forms.

Some of the poetry books at the City Library — Image by: Jackie McMillan

Today there is an amazing array of poetry books available for children, many highly illustrated, and which can be enjoyed by all ages. There are classics, which include nonsense poems like those by Edward Lear, humorous verse such as Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales and various editions of perennial favourites, such as Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. There are specific books covering different poetic forms: ballads, limericks, haiku, concrete poems that are shaped strangely, and spoonerisms where the words are tangled; and newer forms such as novels in verse and slam poetry.

Poetry is primarily an oral form of literature, and most of us were introduced to it as infants, in the forms of nursery rhymes we heard our parents, or grandparents, repeating. We could all probably recall half a dozen of these rhymes with no effort at all. You will find books of simple and traditional rhymes, such as Mother Goose and My Village: Rhymes From Around the World, on the shelves at 398.8.

Read to Your Baby Every Day - cover, publisher — Image by: Quarto UK

In the poetry section, at 821, you will find well-known classic collections by A. A. Milne and T. S. Eliot, and anthologies, like A Child's Introduction to Poetry, next to illustrated picture books of single poems. You will also find poetry books on specific themes, such as: animals, art, earth, emotions, growing-up, seasons, technology, poets, and even about books and libraries.

Funny poems appeal to everyone: I loved Pam Ayres'  humorous poetry when I was at primary school and many years later saw her perform her poems at Dunedin's Regent Theatre. The talented Michael Rosen also causes tears of laughter in young and old with his live performances. To see him perform his poems and stories, check out his YouTube channel here. Centrally Heated Knickers and Jelly Boots, Smelly Boots are two of his recent collections.

Michael Rosen and a British fan, Barnes Children's Literature Festival, 2017. — Image by: Jackie McMillan

The booklists below represent some of the highlights from our collections: Poetry Anthologies and Collections, Classic Children's Poetry, New Zealand Children's Poetry, Novels in Verse, Rhyming Picture Books (including some New Zealand favourites), some books about poetry and poets from the Children's Literature Research Collection, and finally some helpful guides to writing poetry.

Poetry Anthologies and Collections

101 Poems for Children: A Laureate's Choice Edited by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Emily Gravett

Better Out Than In Adam Wallace, illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka 

A Hurricane in My Head Matt Abbott

I Don't Like Poetry Joshua Seigal

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith

I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book Edited by Iona and Peter Opie, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Michael Rosen's A to Z: The Best Children's Poetry from Agard to Zephaniah Michael Rosen

No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood Calvin Trillin, illustrated by Roz Chast

One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep Selected by Kenn Nesbitt, illustrated by Christoph Niemann

Out and About: A First Book of Poems Shirley Hughes

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Also check out Kwame Alexander's 2020 Caldecott Award winning The Undefeated illustrated by Kadir Nelson 

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children Introduction by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Talking Turkeys Benjamin Zephaniah

What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lee White

Also check out Sylvia Vardell's poetry blog: Poetry for Children

Classic Children's Poetry

A Children's Treasury of Milligan: Classic Stories and Poems Spike Milligan 

I Carry Your Heart With Me e. e. cummings, illustrated by Mati Rose McDonough

Jabberwocky Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Joel Stewart

There are many editions of this poem, even a graphic novel version.

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Johanna Wright

My Very First Mother Goose Edited by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Now We Are Six A. A. Milne

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats T. S. Eliot, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

There are other editions illustrated by Edward Gorey and individual poems in picture book form.  These poems inspired the musical Cats.

The Owl and the Pussycat Edward Lear

Many illustrators have taken on this classic nonsense poem.

Paul Revere's Ride Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Monica Vachula

Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes Walter De La Mare, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Revolting Rhymes Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Rudyard Kipling Edited by Eileen Gillooly, illustrated by Jim Sharpe

That is my Dream! Langston Hughes, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

New Zealand Children's Poetry

Classic Rhymes for Kiwi Kids Peter Millett, illustrated by Scott Tulloch

Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp

The Letterbox Cat and Other Poems Paula Green, illustrated by Myles Lawford

Nonstop Nonsense Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Packing a Bag for Mars: Selected Poems with Notes for Teachers and Encouragement for Beginning Writers James Norcliffe, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children Edited by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Poet Paula Green also manages Poetry Box: A New Zealand Poetry Page For Children

The Word Witch: The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy Edited by Tessa Duder, illustrated by David Elliot

Image by: Kay Mercer

Novels in Verse

Booked Kwame Alexander

A poetic tale about twelve-year-old Nick who loves soccer and hates books.

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse Tamera Will Wissinger, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Dad and Sam are joined on their fishing trip by Sam's pesky sister. Book comes with a list of poetic forms.

Moo Sharon Creech

Short chapters that blend poems and prose to trace the story of a displaced city girl as she adjusts to life in the country.

Out of the Dust Karen Hesse

Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.

Pearl Verses the World Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter

About grief and finding your place in the world.

The Poet X: A Novel Elizabeth Acevedo

A 2019 Carnegie award-winning YA novel in verse where a slam poetry club helps the central character Xiomara, known as X, to speak up.

Unbound Ann E. Burg

Nine-year-old Grace and her enslaved family must flee into the Dismal Swamp to escape being separated after Grace says her thoughts out loud.

Rhyming Picture Books

Rhyming picture books are very popular with children and parents alike. Who can forget Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy or Slinki Malinki by New Zealand's Lynley Dodd? Britain's Julia Donaldson also excels in creating delightful rhyming picture books including The Rhyming Rabbit. And no list of rhyming picture books would be complete without stories by Margaret Mahy, including A Summery Saturday Morning. Here are some other rhyming picture books, including some about poetry.

Around the World

Daniel Finds a Poem Micha Archer

Duck in a Truck Jez Alborough

Hickory Dickory Dash Tony Wilson, illustrated by Laura Wood

The Hole Kerry Brown, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

How to be a Lion Ed Vere

A Poem in Your Pocket Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

New Zealand Rhyming Picture Books

Ambulance, Ambulance! Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Nicketty-nacketty Noo-noo-noo Joy Cowley, illustrated by Tracey Moroney

Rhyming Picture Books from Dunedin

Bruce Finds a Home Kathryn Van Beek

Louise Stuck Up To Her Knees Steve Crosland

St Clair Splash Rachel McCoubrey

Children's Literature Research 

This collection has helpful resources on poetry, with introductions to children's poetry and anthologies of ideal poems for reading aloud.

Children's Literature, Briefly (4th Edition) Michael O. Tunnell and James S. Jacobs

Has a section of children's poetry.

A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano

Includes a very helpful section on poetry.

Flights of Fancy: Stories, Pictures and Inspiration from Ten Children's Laureates

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme Chris Roberts

Delves into the meanings of forty nursery rhymes.

A Little, Aloud, for Children: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry for Reading Aloud Edited by Angela Macmillan

The simple act of reading aloud brings health and happiness to young and old. Look to this book for a great selection of read-aloud choices. 

Poetry and Stories for Primary and Lower Secondary Schools Michael Rosen

A short guide for teachers on how to teach poetry: reading, responding and writing. Check out Rosen's other guides: How to Make Children Laugh; Why Write? Why Read?; Writing for Pleasure.

So They Call You Pisher: A Memoir Michael Rosen

Autobiography of Rosen's first twenty-three years.

Three Cheers for Pooh: A Celebration of the Best Bear in All the World Brian Sibley

A complete guide to Winnie-the-Pooh the bear who first appeared in When We Were Very Young.

Writing Poetry

Explosion at the Poem Factory Kyle Lukoff

A picture book which is a fun introduction to writing poetry.

How to Write Poems Joseph Coelho

Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem Jack Prelutsky

Read, Recite and Write series JoAnn Early Macken

What is Poetry?: The Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems Michael Rosen, illustrated by Jill Calder

You will find these guides to writing poetry (written for children and teachers) at 808.1 in Children's Non-Fiction.

National Poetry day is in late August each year, when spring is just around the corner. Spring is a good time for poetry; by reading poetry written for young people, you will see the world afresh, and you will spring back into poetry, and feel renewed. It is often said: "A poem a day keeps the doctor away."