Poetry Books for Kids

          Poetry books are well represented on library shelves and eagerly checked out by readers raised on Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Fans of their humor and wordplay will love Adam Rex’s two monstrous poetry collections, “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich” and the brand-new ”Frankenstein Takes the Cake.” Each book features poems about famous monsters – Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, Bigfoot – and their trials and tribulations. 


In the new book, meet the Sphinx – “If you’re not good at riddles,/ then you’re Tender Vittles” – and the Headless Horseman, whose blog is entitled “Off the Top of My Head.” Other poems introduce intergalactic spam emails, haiku written by a Japanese monster, and Poe’s raven who finally stalks away muttering,”Give me a good adventure story, that’s what I like. Not this ‘twas-and-thither garbage.”

Illustrations in styles ranging from cartoons to faux advertisements to photo collages fill each page, while the raven pops up again on the back jacket, saying, “Show’s inside, folks. Nothing back here but the bar code.” Readers ten and up, especially those who like Mad magazine’s brand of humor, will help this to join its predecessor on the best-seller lists.

On a very different note, Joyce Carol Thomas’s “The Blacker the Berry” celebrates all the shades of black in poems written in the voices of children. “I am African-Native-American/ I am raspberry black,” says the little boy reading about his African-American and Seminole forefathers. Another child has Irish ancestors “Who reddened the Africa in my face.” A dark-skinned girl quotes the old saying, “The blacker the berry/ The sweeter the juice.” Other children are the color of biscuits, of mulberries, of black coffee.

Floyd Cooper won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for the book. Using oil paint and glazes, he portrays sun-warmed scenes in all the shades of honey, brown, white and black portrayed in the poems. The final double-page spread of children of all colors is followed by a poem that ends, “We come in all shades/ Night, sun bright/ Color thick/ Color slight/ Color struck.”

Poetry is made to be read out loud, so the audio CD accompanying Nikki Giovanni’s new collection is especially welcome. “Hip Hop Speaks to Children, A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat” includes poems by authors as diverse as Queen Latifah, Langston Hughes, Kanye West and Maya Angelou. What they all have in common is an emphasis on rhythm. 

“Funky Snowman loves to dance./ You’d think he wouldn’t have much chance/ without two legs or even pants,” a poem by Calef Brown begins, and the CD includes a lively reading by the poet. Also included are Gwendolyn Brooks reading her famous poem “We Real Cool,” followed by a recitation of the poem “hambone” style by Nikki Giovanni and two other poets. The voices of Langston Hughes and The Sugarhill Gang are heard as well.

Five different artists illustration this collection. Their colorful styles, patterns and designs are the perfect complement to an anthology that will get kids on their feet and chanting the poems and songs along with artists.


Originally published by the Free Lance-Star newspaper on  April 28, 2009.