April is National Poetry Month, so let’s do a roundup of our favorite poetry books for kids. While a lot of children’s books use rhyming text to tell a story, these books are specifically created to showcase poems – whether originally written for a children’s audience or not. I love poetry books for kids that believe children can handle interesting writing and imagery. The variety of language and structure is great for their growing brains and imaginations… and also refreshing for the grownups who read with them! (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
My picture book posts were originally published and then occasionally expanded between 2012-2015, with reviews based on reading with my kiddo between preschool age and about eight years old. As of 2023-24, I’m freshening up my lists and adding more recs.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, curated by Paul B. Janeczko and beautifully illustrated by Melissa Sweet who works in mixed media including painting, drawing, and collage.
The nice folks at Candlewick Press sent us a review copy of this one, and it’s a delight. It’s a collection of tiny poems that capture everything I love about reading poetry with kids – especially the fresh use of language different from prose stories, and the imagination of the authors who often created their poems based on noticing something in the world and seeing it in an unusual way. I read this with Boy Detective one lazy weekend afternoon and we stopped so many times to discuss our reactions to the poems, and how we each understood them. He was also tickled as he found various little details in the illustrations.
Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian.
Sly humor, puns, and other plays on words combined with the planets, and gorgeous artwork. Even if the young reader in your world isn’t an astronomy fanatic, this is a fun book.
Eric Carle’s Dragons, Dragons, which is Eric Carle paintings illustrating excerpts from poetry by various authors.
It’s sometimes hard to recall, when faced by the avalanche of Eric Carle merchandise, that it all started because he is a good artist. Pair his paintings of dragons and various other mythological monsters with poems about them, and Boy Detective was mesmerized. We had to buy the book, since it wasn’t feasible to fly to his cousins’ house in Colorado to re-read it often.
Little Dog Poems by Kristine O’Connell George, with art by June Otani.
This ode to the relationship between one little girl and her very little dog is so satisfying for anyone who’s spent time around dogs. I love the spare language of the poems and their accessibility. This would be a great pick for convincing kids to try writing their own poems. And heads up since you can’t tell from the cover, the girl is drawn as Asian-American. Otani, who passed away in 2012, was Japanese-American. (Her family was held in an internment camp during WWII.)
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, with art by Josée Masse.
As soon as I read the first page, I knew my language-loving, puzzle-loving seven year old son was going to adore it. And I was right. :) His eyes lit up as we read the first pair of poems and he got what was happening. Each set of two “reverso” poems, on the same same page, is the same lines, the second reversed from the first. Only changes of punctuation and capitalization are allowed. And here they tell two different sides of the same fairy tale: Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, Cinderella and her stepsisters, Beauty and the Beast. I’m blown away by the thought required to craft these forwards-backwards stories.
Some of the poem sets are more successful than others, but overall the collection is very strong. The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince is one of my favorites because of how perfectly it shows the “grass is always greener” effect. Mirror Mirror, the Snow White set of poems, is chilling. Masse’s split-screen painting for each set of poems is such a perfect match for the poems.
Follow Follow, the next one Singer published, is just as good, if not better. (How often does that happen?) Again, not every poem quite clicks, but the ones that do are stunning. I’m in awe of how this technique and Singer’s insight can give great emotional depth to stories we’re already overly familiar with – in such short poems!
Tyrannosaurus Was A Beast by Jack Prelutsky, art by Arnold Lobel.
I firmly believe that Prelutsky composed this whole book just to laugh to himself as grownups everywhere stumble over pronouncing “Quetzalcoatl” multiple times. There is a pronunciation guide, though, and it’s worth the pain because the poetry in this book is really quite funny. (Be aware, though, that it’s very matter-of-fact about the dinosaurs’ dietary preferences and may be too gory for some kiddos.)
Dogku by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Tim Bowers.
I brought this book home with an agenda. I want to get my seven year old interested in writing haiku. He already loves books of poetry about dogs (despite not liking dogs that much), so I figured he’d be a sucker for this one. It’s only been a couple of days and I haven’t caught him writing any haiku yet, but he was absolutely spellbound while I was reading the book. It’s the classic “stray dog finds a home” tale, with a cute mutt drawn so well by Bowers, you almost want to pet him. Clements has a short, encouraging author’s note in the back explaining haiku for kids who want to try it out.
And that’s the list of our favorite poetry books for kids!