Lyrical Picture Books That Encourage a Love of Poetry
by Jennifer Garry
“Blech. Poetry is boring.” This isn’t an unusual response when you so much as utter the word “poetry” to a child. And honestly, can you blame them? Poetry is so often presented to kids as dry words on a colorless page. But it’s so much more than that!
Poetry can be hilarious (see Lunch Money or Revolting Rhymes), and it can be emotional (see Love or The Wonderful Things You Will Be). It can be super silly, and it can certainly make you feel less alone. A great way to introduce little readers to the genre is through beautiful picture books with lyrical language that shows the world as a place full of wonder. These poetic picture books are the perfect place to start.
When the Storm Comes
“What do you do when the clouds roll in,
When the wind chimes clang and the weather vanes spin?”
Linda Ashman’s lyrical picture book takes readers through a storm and its aftermath. When storms roll in, people gather supplies, and animals seek shelter. After the danger passes, both people and animals emerge, happy to see the sunshine and each other. This beautifully illustrated book shows readers that clear skies inevitably follow every storm.
Someone Builds the Dream
Take a journey through cities, towns, farms, and amusement parks and discover the work it takes to build them. Young readers will love learning about the people who design and build bridges, houses, and many other structures we often take for granted. The lyrical text is both engaging and educational.
Greenlee Is Growing
Written for DeStefano's goddaughter, the real Greenlee, this darling little story is filled with deep meaning. Three-year-old Greenlee is in the spring of her life, alive with the energy of youth. Follow along as she walks through the seasons of life, ending as an elderly woman in the cold days of winter. With beautiful rhymes and lush illustrations, this poetic picture book about life and renewal is sure to captivate readers of all ages.
Sylvia celebrates the end of winter by writing a poem about spring from a field of blooming buttercups. Afterward, she reads her poem to a squirrel and ties the message to a birch tree. On the way to school the next day, Sylvia discovers that the tree wrote her a poem back — and so begins a poem-filled pen-pal correspondence between Sylvia and the birch tree. The enchanting text and watercolor illustrations combine to create a celebration of nature and poetry.
My Nana’s Garden
Get ready to fall in love with this beautiful book. A little girl goes to visit her Nana, and they work together in the garden. But when Nana passes away, the girl finds comfort and connection through the garden. Written in rhyme, this simple yet heartfelt story is a lovely introduction to life, grief, and healing.
This picture book uses lyrical text and stunning collage illustrations to celebrate the joys of nature. Go on a “wonder walk” with two children as they explore the world around them and relish in its beauty. This story will remind you of how wonderful the world is.
Dan Brown made his foray into the world of picture books with this charming celebration of music and poetry. Kids will adore looking for the hidden surprises in this upbeat story about a group of animals jamming on their instruments. Download the free interactive smartphone app to play the song on each page.
The Shortest Day
Not only is this book a bestseller and seasonal favorite, but it’s also a beautifully written story that will boost your appreciation for poetry. Experience the shortest day of the year as early people did — with community, music, and light. With themes of rebirth and gratitude, this book will become a storytime favorite.
The Little Island
The author that brought us the beloved classic Goodnight Moon also wrote this award-winning book. The lyrical text tells the story of a small island and the animals that live there. Children will learn that everything, no matter how small, plays an essential role in the world.
“My heart is a window, my heart is a slide. My heart can be closed or opened up wide.” So begins the stunning picture book My Heart from the author-illustrator of The Book of Mistakes. This book is essentially a single poem that’s gradually unfurled across multiple pages, paired with gorgeous illustrations in mostly black, white, and yellow. With messages of kindness, empathy, and self-acceptance relayed through an engaging rhythm, it’s the perfect introduction to poetry.
The Day You Begin
Jacqueline Woodson’s stunning, lyrical text explores what it’s like to feel different — whether it’s because of where you’re from or how you look or what you eat. With empowering language, Woodson explores how we might find the courage to connect even when we’re scared. Paired with Rafael López’s vibrant, engaging art, your little readers and poets-in the-making will ask to revisit this story again and again.
Last Stop on Market Street
Lively illustrations and sparkling prose combine in this award-winning book, which follows CJ and his grandmother as they ride the bus across town after church. The striking language de la Peña weaves brings new life and beauty to things that might otherwise be overlooked, like when he describes CJ watching “water pool on flower petals” and how the bus “sighed and sagged.” A must-have addition to your budding poetry collection.
The Nonsense Show
This silly, colorful book is a fun introduction to the genre for your littlest readers. With rhyming text reminiscent of nursery rhymes, Eric Carle surprises children with absolutely ridiculous scenarios, like ducks growing out of bananas and a mouse catching a cat. Kids are sure to laugh at the combination of playful language and preposterous illustrations, full of that familiar Carle flare we all know and love.
Winner of the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, this book tells the story of Yuyi Morales, who left her home in Mexico to immigrate to the U.S. with her infant son. Speaking no English and finding themselves in a strange new land, the mother and son discovered a library, which changed everything. “Books became our language. Books became our home. Books became our lives. We learned to read, to speak, to write, and to make our voices heard.” Emotionally charged, the exquisite mixed-media illustrations add to the book’s vibrancy.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2021.