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From Haiku to Spoken Word, Picture Books That Bring Poetry to Kids | Press "Enter" to skip to content

From Haiku to Spoken Word, Picture Books That Bring Poetry to Kids

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Written by Joseph Coelho.
Illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett

“Poems are made to be performed!” Coelho declares early in this rousing book, which guides young readers through the basics of both poetry and performance. Every poem comes with a few lines of stage direction (“Start softly and finish LOUD”) or a nod to the desired effect (“This is a poem to get your audience joining in”), but the real appeal is in the poems themselves, with their vivid images and lively voices complemented by Gray-Barnett’s colorful mixed-media illustrations. “Me tweet. Me hop,” a sparrow chirps in one, in perfect staccato. “Me peck!”

40 pp. Wide Eyed. $17.99. (Ages 6 and up.)

Written by Mem Fox.
Illustrated by Judy Horacek.

Nursery rhymes give many kids their first taste of poetry, a fact that Fox and Horacek (“Where Is the Green Sheep?”) seize on in this rollicking story of a couple of children and their friend Skinny Doug, who spend the day meeting Bo Peep and Jack Horner and the stars of the other rhymes they recite. As the group swells with each character they encounter, Skinny Doug eggs them on in a refrain that gives way to a soothing ending. Horacek’s crisp illustrations, in ink and watercolor, add energy and motion.

32 pp. Beach Lane. $17.99. (Ages 0 to 4.)

Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.
Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke.

With poems about writer’s block (“Did you ever look at all your clothes / uncertain what to wear”) and revision (“a little bit bummer / a little bit Yes!”) and editing (“I check once more to guarantee / all is flawless as can be”), VanDerwater doesn’t hide the hard part of writing. Mostly, though, with the aid of O’Rourke’s gently whimsical artwork — unicorns in flowers, pencils with butterfly wings — she embraces it. One poem, “If I Were an Octopus,” reads in its entirety: “I’d grab eight pencils. / All identical. / I’d fill eight notebooks. / One per tentacle.”

32 pp. Wordsong. $17.99. (Ages 5 to 9.)

WHOO-KU HAIKU: A GREAT HORNED OWL STORY Written by Maria Gianferrari.
Illustrated by Jonathan Voss.

High in a pine tree, a pair of great horned owls claim a nest in hopes of raising their brood. They lose one egg before it hatches, but two survive and the fuzzy owlet chicks grow gradually stronger as their parents fend off various predators. Gianferrari tells this avian story wholly in haiku, introducing children to an easy-to-grasp poetic form, against the appropriately moody naturalistic wash of Voss’s stunning pictures, in sepia ink and watercolor.

32 pp. Putnam. $16.99. (Ages 4 to 8.)

Written by Marilyn Singer.
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.

This sparkling collection of poems is filled with food imagery, offering “recipes” for everything from disaster (“It’s the open bag of flour on the edge of a shelf”) to endurance (“keep stirring the pot”) to magic (“A dish / of strawberry / ice cream taken outside”). Singer mixes rhymes, free verse and various forms, and gives Priceman’s impressionistic illustrations — in gouache, linoleum print and collage — plenty of room to shine: After all, she acknowledges, “We eat first with our eyes.”

48 pp. Dial. $16.99. (Ages 4 to 8.)

Written by Evie Robillard.
Illustrated by Rachel Katstaller

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas aren’t the most obvious subjects for a children’s biography: Despite her own substantial body of work, Stein is remembered mainly as a curator and goad to others’ talents, and Toklas mainly as her muse and helpmeet. But this delightful book presents their charmed life in Paris as a model of creativity, neatly captured by Katstaller’s colored pencil sketches and Robillard’s attention to the playful soundscapes in Stein’s poetry.

48 pp. Kids Can. $17.99. (Ages 6 and up.)

Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Illustrated by Ellen Shi.

Hopkins, a prolific anthologist who died last year, pulls together the story of a construction site through simple poems about its workers: the backhoe operator, the dump truck drivers, the glaziers and electricians. The poems are a mixed lot — one highlight is the final offering, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich — but the real pleasure belongs to the sturdy utilitarian magic of engineering as captured by Shi’s illustrations and Hopkins’s step-by-step selection.

32 pp. Wordsong. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7.)

Written by Mahogany L. Browne, with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood.
Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III.

“Our voice / is our greatest power,” Browne writes in the first poem in this book, which is organized by theme (empathy, gender, immigration, etc.) and summons readers to speak out, in the tradition of activist poetry by Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez and others. The thick lines and stark angles of Taylor’s bold illustrations evoke protest posters depicting the struggle for justice. “The message is simple,” Browne tells us in her introduction: “Don’t sleep.”

56 pp. Roaring Brook. $18.99. (Ages 8 and up.)

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