Introduce Young Children to the Magic and Power of Poetry

Cover to Little Poems for Tiny Ears

We are in the midst of National Poetry Month, a great time to put a renewed focus on incorporating poetry into the reading habits of our children. Poetry is special in the way it captures imaginations with so few words, making it perfect to explore with children, who enjoy the short verses, succinct phrasing, rhythm, and rhyme that make poetry unique.  

As Kwame Alexander says in Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, “A poem is a small but powerful thing.” Whether you share your own favorites or explore some new poems in the books below, sharing poetry with a child can be a wonderful experience. If you are looking for other ways to share poetry with children, bring them to any branch of Central Rappahannock Regional Library this month for activities celebrating poetry.Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

It’s never too early to share poetry with children, and babies and toddlers will love the rhyme and rhythm of the poems in Little Poems for Tiny Ears, by Lin Oliver. This sturdy board book is filled with poems written especially for the crawling and stroller set. Short, snappy poems about babies’ favorite things—like playing peekaboo, digging in the kitchen drawer, and taking a bath—make these fun for both the child and reader. Many of the poems lead naturally to interaction while reading: tickle a child’s foot during “Toes,” or have them cuddle a stuffed animal while reading “Dogs” or “Cats.”

Poetry for young children is often a natural progression from the nursery rhymes of their earliest days, as Rebecca Colby demonstrates in Motor Goose,  taking traditional nursery rhymes and changing the words to feature trucks, planes, and other “things that go.” Know a child who loves outer space?  Try “Twinkle, Twinkle, UFO” to the rhythm of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”:

Twinkle, twinkle, UFO
how I wonder where you go.
Zipping past the Milky Way,
is your planet far away?
Twinkle, twinkle, UFO,
how I wonder where you go!

In Keep a Pocket in Your Poem, former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Patrick Lewis takes well-known poems and puts each next to a parody poem he has written that mirrors the style, theme, and format of the classic. For instance, Lewis takes Robert Frost’s "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" as Keep A Poem In Your Pocketinspiration for “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening.” Children are exposed to the classic poems while having their funny bone tickled by the parody—it’s a win-win!

In Voices in the Air, poet Naomi Shihab Nye has written 95 poems about and dedicated to people who have influenced her: some from history and some from the present, some famous, and some not. Following each poem, Nye includes a paragraph of biographical information about the person the poem is about. In her poem “Gratitude Pillow” about Maya Angelou, she writes:

And if anyone told her they were going to Gloomy Street,
she’d say, What? Lift those eyes.  Take a look at the
sea to your right, buildings full of mysteries, schools
crackling with joy, open porches,
watch the world whirl by.

Nye features all kinds of people in her poetry. In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth have created a collection of poems inspired by and dedicated to poets that met two qualifications for them: they “had to be interesting people,” and the trio “had to be passionately in love with their poetry.” By emulating the themes and style of each poet, these poems celebrate 20 poets across the centuries, ranging from Rumi to e.e. Cummings to Nikki Giovanni. Ekua Holmes’ vibrant illustrations accompanying each poem contribute to the celebratory feeling of this collection. At the end of the book, there is a section with biographical information on each poet, which is especially handy for adults who get questions from children about the poets.

This article originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star.