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Colorful Poetry: 22 Diverse Poetry Picture Books for Kids

by Charnaie Gordon

When choosing books to read with your kids, how often do you reach for poetry books? If you’re like me, not all that often. Which is why I recently set a goal to incorporate more poetry and nursery rhymes into our storytime routine. I have fond memories of enjoying Shel Silverstein’s classic poetry book Where the Sidewalk Ends during my childhood years. Can you believe that book is now over 40 years old?

I love poetry because it’s so universal, unique, and accessible to kids. The compact, songlike nature of many poems can make learning language feel almost effortless to children. They don’t even realize how much they’re retaining by reciting a simple nursery rhyme or short poem. Reading poems aloud helps children to practice their volume, pitch, and voice inflection, among other things.

Poetry, like other forms of literature, can also be entertaining, beautiful, and meaningful. Kids are usually immediately drawn to the rhythm and rhyme of poetry. Much like diversity, poetry can provide a mirror for us to see ourselves, and a window into others’ experiences, to help us understand the lives and perspectives of different people.

Here are more than 20 diverse poetry picture books to explore with kids during National Poetry Month and beyond. Enjoy!

  • Child of the Universe

    by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colon

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    Captured in rhyming verse and illustrations that will take your breath away, Child of the Universe is one father’s attempt to show his daughter just how special she is by illuminating her extraordinary connections to the universe. Jayawardhana, a renowned astrophysicist, explains the inner workings of the universe, while Colón transports us to spectacular, out-of-this-world landscapes, this book is a new modern classic in the making.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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  • Follow the Recipe

    by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

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    Another imaginative must-read from the author of Feel the Beat — this time, Singer celebrates the inherent poetry of delicious recipes. Poems in both verse and rhyme are surrounded by Priceman’s vibrant artwork, and the playful language begins in the kitchen (a poetic recipe for how to read a recipe) and expands outward (a recipe for peace). This dynamic duo shows us how much joy there is to be found in the everyday.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Ohana Means Family

    by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak

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    Written in the poetic, cumulative style of The House that Jack Built, Ohana Means Family follows an extended Hawaiian family as they prepare for a luau, beginning on “the land that’s never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old,” as together they farm taro to make the poi, a tradition that goes back for generations (and the importance of which gets its due in the author’s note, alongside a glossary of Hawaiian terms). You’ll love reading this one aloud and discussing the traditions that make up your own family.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Overground Railroad

    by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

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    A family’s journey north during the Great Migration is narrated in poems by the daughter, Ruth Ellen, who’s as observant of her surroundings as she is of the similarities between her passage and that of Frederick Douglass, whose story she reads as the train heads for New York, to an unknown yet optimistic future. An emotional and historically significant read from the author-illustrator team behind the award-winning biography in verse, Before She Was Harriet.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • The Earth Under Sky Bear’s Feet

    by Joseph Bruchac

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    Celebrated Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac tells twelve striking stories-in-poems, all from the perspective of Sky Bear (also known as the Big Dipper), as Sky Bear takes in the natural beauty of Earth. The stories come from different Native peoples, including the Mohawk and Missisquoi, Navajo, and Subarctic Inuit, demonstrating the longstanding power of cultural connectedness and storytelling traditions.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Brown Sugar Babe

    by Charlotte Watson Sherman, illustrated by Akem

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    An affirming and heartfelt love letter to brown-skinned children, Brown Sugar Babe is driven by a mother’s empowering and poetic words to her young daughter who’s doubting, for the first time, her own inherent beauty. Visual artist Akem’s illustrations dance off the page in warm, gorgeous hues, while the book’s young heroine learns to love the skin she’s in.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Just Like Me

    by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

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    Author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton adds to the contemporary poetry canon with Just Like Me , a celebration of girls with all their various and unique interests, feelings, family structures, and more. The mixed-media collage artwork bursts with color and life, and the poems range from the whimsical to the galvanizing. Girls of all backgrounds will find much to relate to in these sometimes sassy, and always uplifting poems.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Fresh-Picked Poetry

    by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington

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    This is such a fun, vibrant, and beautiful book! It takes readers on a journey to a lively urban farmers' market. Through a series of short and vivid poems, children will see the process of how food is grown on a farm and how it finally makes its way to our homes. The back matter includes different reasons why people should consider shopping at farmers' markets.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Nine

    by Irene Latham, illustrated by Amy Huntington

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    This anthology of nonets is all sorts of entertaining, and a great lesson in counting syllables for your budding poets. Nonets are nine-line poems that begin with one syllable and add progressively until the final, nine-syllable line — or vice versa! But Latham gets clever in content as well as form: each poem features the number nine, from a cat’s nine lives to the ubiquitous cloud nine, and the Little Rock Nine to the Apollo 9. A diverse group of characters makes room for everyone.
    (Ages 5 – 8)

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  • Daniel Finds a Poem

    by Micha Archer

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    With the help of small, friendly creatures in his local park — spiders, chipmunks, squirrels, and more — Daniel learns not only that poetry is all around us, but that it looks and sounds different depending on your perspective. Rich collage art accompanies introductions to elements of poetry, including onomatopoeia and alliteration. Daniel’s explorations continue in Archer’s follow-up, Daniel’s Good Day.
    (Ages 5 – 8)

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  • Feel the Beat: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing

    by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Kristi Valiant

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    This book is beautiful, bright, and cheery, and filled with vibrant depictions of dance across many different cultures. When read aloud, the poems reveal a special surprise — the rhythm of each dance is reflected in the meter of the poem. Some of the dances featured include: hip hop, cha-cha, foxtrot, square dance, salsa, two-step, waltz, bhangra (Indian/Pakistan), and more! If your children love music, dance, or poetry I'd highly recommend adding this one to your collection! Included with the book is an audio CD that features the author reading each poem set to music.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Jazz

    by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

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    This book takes readers on a jazz journey — from its beginnings in New Orleans to modern day jazz. Each lyrical poem tells a short story of something that contributes to jazz music, culture, or history. There is an introduction in the beginning and the back matter includes a glossary of jazz terms and a jazz timeline.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for Los Niños

    by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

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    I think re-imagined nursery rhymes and fairy tales like this one are so fun! This book takes several classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes and gives them a wonderful Latino flair. Combining both English and Spanish words, the rhymes are so fun to read aloud and the illustrations really make this book pop. Each is warm, whimsical, and inclusive. The book also includes a glossary.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • One Leaf Rides the Wind

    by Celeste Mannis, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung

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    This counting book follows a young Japanese girl as she explores a Japanese garden. Each of the eleven poems begins with a number and introduces children to the numbers 1-10. Older children may enjoy using this book as a tool to help learn the haiku format used in poetry. At the bottom of each page there is additional information about the object displayed on the page and its role within Japanese culture.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • A World Full of Poems

    by DK

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    A stunning anthology featuring work from contemporary and historical poets, A World Full of Poems is wonderfully comprehensive. Poems range in topic from sports and science to more emotional landscapes, and they’re complemented with engaging information on the featured subjects, plus utterly absorbing illustrations. As with poetry itself, there truly is something for everyone in this compilation.
    (Ages 5 – 9)

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  • Thunder Underground

    by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Josée Masse

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    In this book, a young girl and boy go an adventure to explore a variety of things commonly found underground: fossils, subway stations, and buried treasures. Each of the twenty-one poems challenges children to use their imagination and sense of wonder. Readers will find additional notes on each poem in the back of the book.
    (Ages 5 - 10)

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  • Keep a Pocket in Your Poem

    by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Johanna Wright

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    Little readers and aspiring poets will enjoy reading revisions to thirteen classic poems in this highly imaginative book. There are revisions of poems from beloved poets such as Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Jack Prelutsky. The book features a diverse cast of characters throughout.
    (Ages 5 - 10)

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  • Soccerverse

    by Elizabeth Steinglass, illustrated by Edson Ike

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    Poetry and soccer? Yes, please! Steinglass dedicates her book of verse to “everyone whose lives are touched by the beautiful game,” and that spirit of admiration permeates each page. Beyond serving as an ode to the beloved sport — played here by a diverse cast of boys and girls — Steinglass also uses thirteen different poetic forms, described in a note at the end, so readers can become just as knowledgeable about poetry as they are of the game.
    (Ages 6 – 9)

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  • Jump Back Paul

    by Sally Derby, illustrated by Sean Qualls

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    “You don’t just sit quiet with a book of them in your hand,” Sally Derby writes of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems. “You call out his poems in your very best voice, the way he did back when.” So begins a fitting tribute to one of the first influential Black poets in American literature, who the world lost too soon, and whose work continues to resonate today. Jump Back Paul combines Dunbar’s life story with more than two dozen of his poems — an essential introduction to one of the greats.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

    by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

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    Jazz Day is a wonderful collection of poems based on the famous Esquire magazine photo from 1958. Esquire magazine put the word out to fifty-seven jazz musicians to gather for a photo shoot in Harlem. The entire, rather impressive, event was coordinated by word of mouth. The back matter includes biographies of several of the fifty-seven musicians photographed, an author’s note, a list of additional resources, a bibliography, and a foldout page of Art Kane’s famous photograph.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

    by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

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    Stunning! That’s the best way I can describe this book. It features twenty poems that celebrate the influence of different poets from Emily Dickinson to Langston Hughes. The exquisitely crafted collage-style illustrations are breathtaking and connect nicely to each poem. This book is a beautiful tribute to both poetry and diversity, and would make a great addition to any home or school library.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Yes! We Are Latinos

    by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by David Diaz

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    Narrated through thirteen free-verse, fictional perspectives of Latinx children in the US — thus highlighting the overlooked diversity of ethnic, religious, language, and racial backgrounds among the Latinx community — Yes! We Are Latinos is an essential addition to home and school libraries. Each poem is followed by relevant historical context, such as the Spanish Civil War and immigration, and the authors also introduce readers to some of the real-life people who inspired their portraits.
    (Ages 10+)

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