Episode 142: Celebrating Poetry Month with Our Children

In this episode we discuss the benefits of reading poetry and discussing it with our children. We can use it across the curriculum to teach topics and practice skills. Plus, writing poetry allows our children to be creative and enjoy breaking some of the rules of grammar just for fun. 

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with our children.

This month of April is poetry month, and I wanted to take some time to share some books with you about poetry and some ideas about using poetry with our children. We can help our kids learn so many different literary devices and to learn to play with words and have fun with words, and the other wonderful thing about poetry is if they want to, they get to break the rules, the grammar rules, the punctuation rules, capitalization rules and all those things that they live by in English class. They can throw out the window if they want to, but the wonderful thing about poetry is we can explore everything from rhyming to rhythm, syllables in words, manipulating words, rhyming words. We can even bring in counting music, songs, and colors, and senses and feelings. We can emphasize creativity using figurative language instead of only concrete ideas. Personification, where we can give human qualities to any inanimate object we want to, and it helps children to have fun, to be more creative than usual, and to just enjoy English class, to enjoy writing and creating, and it also encourages observation. And I love that because when we observe the world around us, react to it, feel what someone else is feeling, helping our children to kind of develop empathy through writing a poem about how someone might be feeling in a certain situation. We can use all of these tools and ideas to help our children write poetry and through reading and writing poetry, let them explore those skills and those abilities, and so I love it. I think it’s fun, and I love to play with words. I love to play with puns and with figurative language and symbolism and all of those fun things that we do in literature, and it doesn’t matter what age our children are, we can still enjoy this with them if they’re really young. Of course, rhyming is going to be the funnest part of it, clapping, the rhythm, and just having fun with words. The more alliteration you have or onomatopoeia, the more fun it is for the little guys.

One of the things I like to do with my students and children, especially with the young ones, is help them learn to manipulate words. So if we’re wanting to talk about rhyming, we can start with cat for instance, and then we can say, well, what if I change the first letter to an H? What do we have? And they have hat. What do we get if we change the first letter to P and they say, pat, cat, hat, pat, and we can talk about how that rhymes and then we can change the ending letter. What if we change the end letter to D? If we have hat, we have had, or if we change it to S, we have has, and then we can change the vowel in the middle, and so instead of hat we have hot or hit, and we can talk about how those don’t rhyme, but they can be alliterative and have the same beginning sound or the same vowel sound, which is assonance. So anyway, we can play with the words, play with letters, and even using Pig Latin helps them to manipulate words and to have a better ownership of them, and that would be the end of where you would be heading if you were doing a lot of these, what I call word manipulations, but it can be a lot of fun for kids when you’re starting to introduce poetry. There is a book I’d like to share with you. This is called Take Away The A: An Alpha Beast of a Book. And it is written by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo. So it says, “Without the A, the beast is the best.” So kids can think about that. What does that mean? Cause we take the A out, the word beast becomes best. Without the B, the bride goes for a ride without the C, the chair has hair. So it goes through the entire alphabet like this, and it’s just a fun book that kids get to enjoy. And again, it’s teaching them to play with words.

When you look in the library or at your bookstore or on Amazon, you’ll start to notice there are a lot of books written for children that contain the poetry of a certain poet. You can find books with Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Robert Frost, even Edgar Allen Poe. I don’t know if you know that Edgar Allen Poe wrote a whole lot of poetry. In fact, he wrote a poem to go with every one of his stories, plus he just wrote a bunch of poems, but you can find all these different well-known poets from literature from the past. They have written some picture books or children’s books that feature each poet, Maya Angelou, and many others, so you can look for those to share with your kids.

Then they have books that are just specifically featuring poetry for children, and some of them are good and some of them are not so good, so I would advise you to read some of the poems before you purchase the book because some of them, the poems are just average, not very interesting and not that much fun, but some of them are hysterical and will make your children laugh and fall in love with poetry.

Now, some picture books that have been written, some are a little bit longer than your typical picture book that I want to share with you today are some of the ones that I enjoy, that I have found about poetry. One of them is called Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. She’s the author and illustrator of this wonderful book, and it’s about this little boy who hears there’s going to be a poetry day in the park. So he’s trying to figure out what is poetry, where is poetry, and he talks to all the animals in the park and he winds up creating a wonderful poem as he goes through the park. This is such a cute story and I think it’s a great one to start with. If you’re going to be talking about poetry or doing a poetry unit in your homeschooling, or if you just want to spend some time with poetry with your kids, this is a good one to start with because it really helps them to see how they can observe the world around them and create poetry from their observations.

Another one that is great to begin with is Kiyoshi’s Walk by Mark Karlins and illustrated by Nicole Wong. This little boy Kiyoshi is with his grandfather who is a poet in Japan, and he mostly writes haiku. He’s like, “Well, how do you write a poem?” And they go for a walk. He talks about all the different ways you can find to write a poem, and as they experience this or see this or hear that, the grandfather creates a haiku for each situation. And Kiyoshi admits, “Oh, so poetry comes from what we see. Poetry comes from what we hear,” and it goes through the whole thing, what we feel. So it’s really great for talking about where kids can find ideas for poetry, and again, it’s talking about their feelings, it’s observing the world around them. So those two books I think are great to start when you’re starting a unit on poetry.

Some other fun books that are out there are Eric Carle’s Animals Animals. It’s a pretty thick picture book, and he has another one called Dragons Dragons and it’s about mythological creatures, but what he did was he took the poems from different poets and illustrated them. And so I like the Animals Animals one. It even has a quote from scripture in there, so does the other one as well with the Leviathan, but he has scripture, he has different quotes, he has poems and then he’s illustrated them, but it’s a fun book to just introduce short poems to your children.

And another one with a lot of short poems, adding other activity to it is one called Origami and Poetry by Clover Robin. This is a very unique book, it has little poems on each page, and then they have an origami project. They can learn to go along with the poem, and I just love that. So those are excellent books for exploring shorter poems.

And then there’s one called A Kick in the Head by Paul B. Janeczko. He introduces different types of poems, and I love that because you’re able to share, this is a couplet, this is a haiku, and go through the different types of poetry, and they’re all silly poems or poems about animals or something that children would really find appealing.

Another crazy book that has poems that are really appealing to children, one’s called It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles. This one is by Jack Prelutsky and he has several books out, you might want to just look up what he has because he gets kids and his poetry and his lessons on how to write poetry are all geared toward children, and they’re very interesting. He has Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry, Hard Boiled Bugs for Breakfast, and Other Tasty Poems. He has The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, just lots of books that are about poetry, rhyming and learning to enjoy and write poetry. Check out his books if you’re doing a unit on poetry, there’s a lot to choose from that he has authored, but one of them is called It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, and it is just a bunch of very silly poetry.

Okay, and then there’s one book that is really special, but there’s some of it I don’t care for, I don’t agree with. You can really see the person’s beliefs coming through their poetry, and I don’t agree 100% with their beliefs. So this is one I would definitely consider getting, but I wouldn’t necessarily read every poem to my child. So it’s called No Matter What: Poetry To Foster Connection by Erica Bostick, let me read one of the poems to you. I think it is so beautiful. It’s called “No Matter What,” which is the title of the book as well. It says, “Be lovely, be kind, be silly or surprised. I’ll love you forever, no matter what, no matter what. Be scared. Be brave. Break the rules or behave. I’ll love you forever. No matter what. No matter what. Make a mess everywhere. Clean it up, leave it there. I’ll love you forever. No matter what. No matter what. Be quick. Take your time. Do it wrong. Do it right. I’ll love you forever. No matter what, no matter what, there’s nothing that you could or couldn’t do. I’ll love you forever, no matter what, no matter what.” And I love that poem. And there’s several poems in this book that I find so meaningful and such a blessing to share with your children, and they’re meant to help you connect with your child.

There’s one that’s a biography, and you know, this year I tend to be really focusing a lot on biographies. It’s called Poet, the Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate. This is a wonderful biography of a poet who was a slave, and he still found a way to write his poetry. It talks about him being discouraged, it talks about the things he went through, very interesting, could open up some great conversations, but what I love about it is his perseverance, because even when he kept hitting walls that kept stopping him, he still persevered and still did what God had created him to do, and that was to write poetry. So I love, love, love that about this book, it’s a beautiful story.

There’s a couple stories that deal with nature, and this is one thing too. If you look at poetry books for children, they have a lot of poetry books that just focus on one topic such as nature, the weather, there’s even one about science. This one is called When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano. It has a date for each poem as we see Spring awakening and Summer coming. So it’s a great book for going through the seasons and talking about nature.

Another one is Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld. This one is about nature as well that you can see right out your window, and I love this again because we’re talking about observing the world around us and helping our children to observe is important, and then to help them be able to articulate what they’re seeing, what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling, and that’s the beauty of poetry.

Then we have a three book set, Mr. Rogers’ Poetry Books. So it’s by Fred Rogers. The illustrator is Luke Flowers, and there’s A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, It’s You I Like, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? These are the three books within the series, and they’re Mr. Rogers’ poems. He wrote so many poems and songs in his lifetime, and so these books feature some of those and they’re really very nicely done. So if you were a fan of Mr. Rogers and he influenced your life and you would like to introduce him to your children, here’s a way you can do that with poetry.

And then one more silly book. There’s actually two books in this series, Once, I Laughed My Socks Off – Poems for Kids by Steve Atwell, and it’s just a totally goofy, silly poetry book that the kids can enjoy.

So this is Poetry Month, yesterday was World Haiku Day, and if you saw on social media, I posted that it was World Haiku Day, but I love haiku and I love helping children to learn to write it. Now, when we write haiku’s, all haikus are three line poems, and typically in English we do syllables, five syllables, seven syllable, five syllable lines. In the true art of haiku in Japan where it began, they don’t worry about syllables the same as we do, and you can look up some really famous Japanese haikus and find some of the ways that they write them, but it’s expressing a single thought in three lines, and usually it is about nature. It’s a lot of fun to have children write haiku about nature, especially this time of year, about Spring blooming and the flowers and everything, and then to illustrate it. And I love to do that with kids, and especially if you’re doing a small group or if you’re doing something with your homeschool group where you could create a slide presentation of each of the children’s haiku’s with the nature pictures and the poems. It would be kind of nice to share with all the families, but there’s lots of books about haiku, and the one about Kiyoshi’s Walk deals with a lot of haiku. But there’s one counting book called One Leaf Rides the Wind by Celeste Davidson Mannis, and the pictures are by Susan Kathleen Hartung. Now this book does deal a lot with Buddhism because the main character in the story is Buddhist and she’s in Japan, and so it shows her at the Temple a lot. And at the bottom of each page it does talk about Buddhism, not necessarily their theology, but some of the practices about the monks and different things like that. So it does teach a lot about Japanese traditional culture, but it is a counting book and each page has a haiku on it. So I really love this book, but I also love teaching children about different cultures, and I don’t really worry about the religion part of it because I like helping my children understand what other people believe and why. You know, why I don’t believe what they believe, why we believe what the Bible says, and to help them solidify those things in their hearts. You can of course determine what is best for your kids and if you think that’s appropriate or not with the age of your children, but anyway, this one is called One Leaf Rides the Wind, and it’s so beautiful. The pictures are so beautiful and it really honors the Japanese traditional culture and it’s a fun one, especially for Haiku Day. So I did have that on the social media for Haiku Day for everyone to look at and to consider reading.

So these are some of the different books that I enjoy, and of course my all time favorite book of poetry is about color poetry and it deals with the five senses and colors, and that is Hailstones and Halibut Bones. And many of the poems are available online cause the book has been out for so long. You can find the poems online, but I highly recommend you get the book and I’m sure you can find a copy in the library, but it’s the illustrations just make the poetry. So Hailstones and Halibut Bones is written by Mary O’Neill and illustrated by John Wallner. The illustrations are so beautiful, and I just love this book. It’s one of my daughter’s favorites, it’s one of my favorites, we just love it. They do such a beautiful job in talking about the five senses and making colors have a personality, and I just really love it. So it’s been around, like I said, for quite some time. It was written in 1990, so it’s been around a while, but it’s just a lovely book and so I highly recommend that one.

I want to encourage you too, I think as we’re talking about poetry with our kids, it is so wonderful to have them memorize some poetry and to really learn how to use inflection and expression when they’re sharing poetry. I hesitate to talk about poetry slams because some of them have become so awful, but within a school or a homeschool group, you could do a poetry slam. I have helped sponsor those and we just made rules because a lot of poetry slams out in the world are very rebellious in nature, very cynical and terrible, and they share a lot of inappropriate things, but if you have a Christian group or a homeschooling group or a charter school or a private school to set some ground rules, and then we even would have a contest each year and have a winner from our poems, and I mean, we had, the kids shared some beautiful poems and with a poetry slam, what’s so wonderful with that is you act out the poem, you have emotion, you make the poem come to life in a dramatic way, and so this adds another dimension to talking about poetry and experiencing poetry when you’re performing the poem for an audience. So I love that whether they’re memorizing a poem or they’re writing their own poems, poetry slam can be a lot of fun. It’s spoken word poetry and can be beautiful. We had one young woman share about when her father passed away, and it was one of the most moving beautiful poems. She honored him with the poem and also expressed her grief in what she went through going through the grief, but she expressed it in such a beautiful and effective, poignant way that every single person in the room was affected by it. It was just amazing, and she was in ninth grade. It was just amazing. But anyway, that’s something to consider as well. If you’ve never heard of Spoken word or Poetry Slam, you can certainly go to YouTube and see some, and there are some wonderful poets out there that I really enjoy listening to, and then there’s others that I just don’t care for because they are just so negative, but some of them have some really great ways of bringing truth to light, and I’m probably going to put some of those links in the show notes of some of the ones I really enjoy listening to. So you can see some examples of that, and there are some books to kind of guide you in how to do a poetry slam, but mostly you just want to have a group of people. Refreshments are usually encouraged, tea or something to drink. People are usually sitting around tables and you have someone just like you would if you were going to do karaoke or something. You have a stage where the person can come up and share their poem. It doesn’t always have to be a solo performance. It can be a group performance or two people, and it can be just really entertaining and a great blessing to watch kids create and then perform their creations or memorize someone else’s poem and perform it well. So have fun, enjoy this month with poetry and see how you can use it across the curriculum with your kids. Like I was saying, there are books about science, poetry, math, poetry, all kinds of things that you can find that you can use across the curriculum with your kids and help them to fall in love with the written word and with poetry.

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we’re here, we would really appreciate it. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment on TerrieHellardBrown.com. We love to hear from you and we respond to every comment and question. We pray that you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Links to Spoken Word Poetry Examples:

Videos of Spoken Word Poetry – Most of these are Christians, but some are not.

https://www.spokengospel.com/

https://www.youtube.com/@sulibreaks

https://skitguys.com/authors/david-bowden

https://www.youtube.com/@ShaneKoyczan/videos

Other Episodes about Poetry:

Episode 44: Fun with Nursery Rhymes for Our Older and Younger Kids
Episode 43: Teaching Our Kids to Enjoy Reading and Writing Poetry

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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