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Poetry Is Actually Kinda Cool:
Great Poetry Books for Reluctant Poetry Readers

by Tom Burns

True confession: I paid an obscene amount of money for a bachelor’s degree in English and yet I never truly appreciated poetry until I had a kid.

Maybe it was caused by tedious weeks spent analyzing T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in high school Lit classes, or by awkward nights in coffee houses watching college students use free verse as a cringe-worthy alternative to therapy, but in my youth, poetry always felt impenetrable to me. And that can be a pretty common reaction to poetry for parents and children alike.

But once you actually start reading poetry with your kids, you quickly discover how poetry can be an amazing tool for getting your children excited about reading. Poets like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein teach kids that, when assembled correctly, even in ways that don’t seem to make sense, words can make a person feel a ridiculously deep range of emotions, and kids LOVE THAT.

If your kid isn’t sure poetry is for them, here are some collections that do a fantastic job of making poetry stop looking academic and start looking very, very cool.

  • Awful Ogre's Awful Day

    by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

    Kids will scream with delight at the poems in this day-in-the-life look at the most awfulest ogre of all time. Awful Ogre is rude, crude, violent, and boastful, and his awfulness is brought to life in vivid detail by Jack Prelutsky, the first ever Children's Poet Laureate.

  • The Bat-Poet

    by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

    This fascinating volume tells the story of a little brown bat who, unlike his friends, can’t sleep during the day. He tries to teach his fellow bats about the marvels of the daytime hours by writing poems about everything he sees while they're asleep. Children will identify with the lonely bat’s desire to express himself and the way the other forest animals react to his poetry.

  • Revolting Rhymes

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

    What if every fairy tale you knew — "Cinderella," "Snow White," the works — were way more bloody and bizarre than you’d ever imagined? That’s the sales pitch that should get any kid excited to read Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, his hilariously dark take on the cruel realities behind our favorite fables.

  • If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries: Poems for Children and Their Parents

    by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lynne Cherry

    Viorst — author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day — once again proves that she understands the angst and anxieties of children with this supremely relatable poetry collection. The poems cover topics ranging from crushes to best friends, addressing emotions that any child anywhere can identify with.

  • Where the Sidewalk Ends

    by Shel Silverstein

    This is an easy one — Where the Sidewalk Ends might be the most famous children’s poetry book of all time — but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Silverstein is a mad prankster genius when it comes to putting words together, and poems like “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” or “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” ignite kids’ imaginations in ways that most authors only dream of.

  • Oh, The Places You'll Go!

    by Dr. Seuss

    I know this is a popular graduation gift, but Seuss’s whimsical, heartfelt verses offer such an optimistic and aspirational look into the future that I think kids should be introduced to Oh, The Places You'll Go! as early as possible.

Comments
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  • dadofdivas

    Where the Sidewalk Ends was always a favorite of mine, but I would also add in Jack Prelusky too!

  • Christine McNamara

    and let’s not forget Frederick, Mouse Poet! http://bit.ly/1Frvnu8 (sweet video here: https://youtu.be/SFCLWytjcUY)

    • Tom B.

      OMG, I can’t believe I forgot about Frederick. I have never, ever encountered a book (kid, adult, or otherwise) that does a better job of explaining the value of artists in society. Leo Lionni is amazing.

  • Phebe

    I feel compelled to add the classic “Polkabats and Octopus Slacks”, or any of the works of Calef Brown, (full disclosure: he’s my brother) which are full of addictive, catchy, silly poems. He (and his poems and illustrations) are thoughtful and intricate and quirky and beautiful. http://www.calefbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/polka-cvr1.jpg is a classic, and his most recent title “Hypnotize a Tiger” is for middle grades.