April is poetry month, so in this episode we look at some great poetry for kids and some fun activities for writing poetry.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
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This month is poetry month. So today I wanted to talk about some great books of poetry. One of the books, I’m very excited about, it actually hasn’t come out yet. It’s coming out very soon and I can’t wait to get it. It’s called Poet Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet by Katie Munday Williams. And the illustrator is Tania Rex. This is coming out August 3rd, 2021. It looks like it’s going to be a wonderful book. There are some wonderful treasuries of poetry that are really well done for children. And there are some that are really terrible. And so I tried to find some that I thought would be wonderful for you to enjoy with your children and be a blessing to you and your children.
When we talk about poetry for children, the first thing that often pops into our mind is nursery rhymes and those familiar poems that we learned as children. I’m not going to talk about those today, just because next week’s episode is all about nursery rhymes. So today I want to focus on other poetry for children.
The second thing I think of when I think of children’s poetry is Shel Silverstein. The most common poetry books of his are Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up. These books of poetry are very entertaining for children and children tend to enjoy them quite a lot. I want to read one of the first poems that’s in the Where the Sidewalk Ends book it’s called “Invitation.” It says, “If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher a liar, a hoper, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer. If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax golden tails to spin. Come in, come in.” I love that little poem because it inspires creativity. It encourages creativity, and it brings in all aspects of creativity. Sometimes with creativity, we’re telling tall tales and wild tales that are not true. They’re fiction. They’re made up. They’re lies in that sense. Sometimes we’re telling stories of hope and inspiration or we’re writing poetry. That is actually a prayer. Then you also have the illusion in this little poem to of course Jack and the Beanstalk, the magic bean buyer, the flex golden tales to spin is a reference or an illusion to Rumpelstiltskin in this little bitty poem. We have so much we can talk about with our kids as far as enjoying a poem, but then analyzing it a little bit to teaching some literary devices and having a lot of fun with that.
Sometimes you want to read poetry just to enjoy it, but sometimes you can read it and dig deeper into and make it come to life in a different way and help children to enjoy dissecting and analyzing poetry. But a lot of his poetry, definitely his illustrations are meant to be fun and entertaining for children. I want our children to read inspired and creative and fun and silly and satirical poetry and other kinds of literature, even at an early age so that they can learn to appreciate something that is written well. That has a funny, entertaining message that we can enjoy. Even on an intellectual level.
This one book called The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems edited by Donald Hall. This one has many classical poems written by famous poets that you study in your regular British literature and American literature classes. And so I love that, that they’ve chosen some classical poems to share with children that are appropriate for children. And they include some from Native Americans, Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas. They have Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith, John Godfrey’s, The Blind Men and the Elephant. So it has so many really traditional interesting poems.
There’s another collection of poetry that is newer poems. There’s another one that has a lot of these same poems too, including “The Bee” by Emily Dickinson and The Blind Men and the Elephant and “The Hen” by Lord Alfred Douglas. So there’s several really good classical poems in this volume as well. So I think one or the other of these two would be great to have in your collection or to pick up from the library. I wouldn’t necessarily pick up both of them cause they kind of overlap. But this one is called Read-Aloud Poems: 120 of the World’s Best-Loved Poems for Parents and Child to Share edited by Gloria Hale. This one appears to be newer, more modern than the other one, but they both have mostly classical poetry.
There is also Poetry for Kids by Robert Frost. These are poems that he wrote, especially for young readers. His poetry is very interesting. Jay Parini is the editor. Michael Paraskevas is the illustrator. So these are some of the poetry that would be more classical poetry.
We also have some anthologies of poetry available that are newer to that I really liked. One is called Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Prelutsky. He’s the compiler, and Mark Brown is the illustrator. The illustrations on this are just cute as can be. You will enjoy them. They definitely appeal to the very young child. The poetry is newer. It’s written by several different people. It starts out with a poem called singing time. “I wake in the morning early and always the very first thing. I poke out my head and I sit up in bed and I sing and I sing and I sing.” So it’s very cute. They’re almost like modern day nursery rhymes, and they would be fun to read together and laugh at. And they’re just really silly, show a lot of rhyme and meter and all those qualities that we need in poetry.
The other volume that I liked is The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. This is also compiled by Jack Prelutsky and as illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I really like this when it’s a treasury of 572 poems for today’s child. And that is a really good description of this book. The poems are written for today’s child. Some of the illustrations are beautiful in this book. These have more of a true poetry quality to them, a deeper meaning to them. I think they’re wonderful poems that your elementary child could analyze and even your middle-schooler could analyze this one is one of the first ones it’s called “Nature” it says, “Nature is the endless sky, the sun of golden light, a cloud that floats serenely by the silver moon of night. Nature is a Sandy dune, a tall and stately tree. The waters of a clear lagoon. The billows on the sea nature is a gentle rain. The winds that howl and blow a thunder storm or hurricane a silent field of snow nature is a tranquil breeze and pebbles on a shore natures each and all of these and infinitely more.”
And then there’s some traditional poems in here, but most of these are modern poems have that kind of quality. And so I really appreciate this volume and of all the ones I looked at, the collections and all, it’s definitely one of my favorites. I think this one’s great. And you would really enjoy going through it with your children.
One of the things I wanted to talk about with this topic of poetry and poetry month is writing poetry. I used to teach workshops in nursing homes and have the elderly write wonderful poems. And they would tell stories of the pioneer days and what it was like coming across the United States in a wagon train. And I did this in six different nursing homes while I was in college. It was so wonderful. And I’m working on an idea for a book right now of poetry prompts for grandparents and grandkids to write together. And so I’m thinking of putting some of those in the show notes, as some prompts for you to try with your children and their grandparents. And then if you can give me some feedback so I can see how it goes. So it would be wonderful. I would appreciate it so much. If you feel so prompted to take these and use them with your children and your parents and let them write poetry together. And just let me know how the experience goes.
If you’re interested in doing something like a poetry workshop with elderly people in your church or in a nursing home locally, or something like that, there are two books out. One was the original one that I had back when I was doing this in college. The next one is one that is updated a little bit from that version, but they’re both called I Never Told Anybody by Kenneth Koch, these are great books. There’s others available now that are around, but these are the ones I’m familiar with and they walk you right through what to do to do a poetry workshop with elderly people. I highly encourage it. It’s a very rewarding experience.
There’s a book called My First Book of Haiku Poems that has each poem that is written by a Japanese master in English, written in Japanese, and then written in phonetic Japanese ways to read, which is quite interesting. The first one is “Quick into the hazy sky. Quickly, quickly. The bird set free.” Haiku poetry is such an interesting art form. This particular book is a collection put together–the writer is Esperanza Ramirez-Christiansen, and the illustrator is Tracy Gallup.
I love haiku. I think it’s a great poetry form to start with children, especially young elementary children who understand how to kind of count the syllables and put it together. I like to start with Japanese forms of poetry with children because they are so formulaic. I love doing the cinquain poem for a couple reasons: because it is a formula you follow, it’s a very easy poem to make creative and have deeper meaning in it to do symbolism and metaphor and simile, but you also have parts of speech throughout the poem. And so for your child that is in second, third grade, who’s learning all the different parts of speech, this is an excellent poem because they’re reviewing all the different parts of speech as they write the poem, putting it together. And it turns out really well.
And then there’s the Diamante, which is a variation of the cinquain. Then you have the Tanka. And so the Japanese poems are awesome for that. Free verse is a little challenging to a young child, but you can always let them try.
I wrote my very first poem in second grade and knew from that point on I wanted to be a writer, and I have filled books and books with poems from that time on, but it sparked a love for creativity and words and writing at that early age. So from the time of second grade on I’ve wanted to be a writer.
There are some books that will help you guide your child through writing poetry. You can use these for homeschool. You can use these for a special fun time during the summer. I love to do creative writing workshops during the summer when children have more time and aren’t in school. There’s one book that’s really good called Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out by Ralph Fletcher. So this is a book that will guide you through writing poetry with children.
There’s a workbook How to Write a Poem, Grades Three through Six by teacher created resources. This particular book has some great prompts teaching, making it accessible to children to write poetry.
Then there’s one, it’s a little more irreverent. And this is the same person who compiled two of the books I’ve mentioned Jack Prelutsky, he’s the Children’s Poet Laureate and he’s written Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem. His writing, I’m sure, appeals to most children because he is kind of sarcastic and kind of irreverent. This book is meant for eight to 12-year-olds. It’s just funny and very well done.
And then there’s this one book called Writers Toolbox: Learn How to Write Letters, Fairytales, Scary Stories, Journals, Poems, and Reports. So this is a whole little toolbox for your child for helping them with all the different writing assignments. This is by Nancy Loewen and it is illustrated by Dawn Beacon. And it’s just really a nice little handbook.
There’s also A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, Revised and Updated by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton. It’s listen while you learn about the magic words that have moved mountains, won battles, and made us laugh and cry–a children’s introduction series. What I like about this one is it divides the poems into different categories from your nursery rhymes up through free verse labels. The different kinds of poems gives you examples of some of the greats, such as Sandberg, William Shakespeare, John Milton, and William Blake and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And this volume comes with a CD that you can play and listen to the different poems. And it has a glossary of terms and gives you little pointers on how to write, or if you were to write this kind of poem, some information about it. So it’s a cute little handbook.
I believe we should encourage children to write poetry. They’re quick, they’re short. They use all of the different literary devices and grammar skills. They’ve been learning from second grade on. We should have children writing their own creative verse to get them writing and being creative from that age, whether they embrace it for the rest of their lives or not is a great learning experience. It’s great practice for them when they get into the upper grades and need to write essays and poetry and sonnets and all kinds of things. So I highly recommend doing that. It just kind of unleashes the creativity in a child and their love for words.
For today’s devotional. I wanted to share one that I wrote. Because we’re talking about poetry, there’s a couple verses I wanted to share. The first one is Ephesians 2:10, New American Standard Bible it says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” And if you read it in the easy to read version, which is my favorite for children, “God has made us what we are in Christ Jesus. God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do.”
If you go to some Bibles versions/translations, (The New Jerusalem Bible, for instance), it says that we are his “poem.” And some of the other translations say we are his “masterpiece.” The New Living says we are his masterpiece. The Greek word that they’re translating there is (and I do not pronounce Greek well, so forgive me for my pronunciation), but it is poiema. It looks like poem. It is the word from which we get our English word poem. The problem is that that is not what the Greek word means. And when we translate it poem or masterpiece, we’re actually going from the English back to the Greek instead of from the Greek into the English. And so we’re not doing good exegesis. We’re not doing good translation. And the reason this is important is because in this verse, it’s still a pretty verse. It’s still lovely to think of us as God’s creation, God’s masterpiece, and he’s created us for a purpose. And that purpose is to do the good works he’s ordained for us to do and to glorify his name in that way. But the real focus of the verse is that God made us new creations. God gave us a purpose, and he has a plan for our lives. And that plan is to do good works that make a difference and bring glory to his name. And the focus is really on God and what he has done and what he has planned and his purposes on the earth. If we do it where we interpret it with masterpiece or poem, we kind of shift the focus to ourselves a little more in just the connotation of that understanding. And the reason this is important is because as we, as parents and grandparents and caregivers, disciple our children, we really have an imperative to make sure that we are understanding the scriptures ourselves and are sharing them with our children accurately.
The Bereans examined the scriptures to make sure that they were being taught correctly. And they’re commended for doing that in Acts 17. We need to do that as well. And we need to help our children learn to examine the word of God, to read the word of God, and to know the word of God. Now, while they’re young, they aren’t able to do that as well. And so we have a responsibility as their caregivers and parents and grandparents, to make sure that we are teaching God’s word accurately.
In 2 Timothy 2:15 in the easy to read version, it says, “Do your best to be the kind of person God will accept and give yourself to him. Be a worker who has no reason to be ashamed of his work. One who applies the true teaching in the right way.” And that’s my prayer for us today, especially as parents–that we will teach our children correctly, that we will lead them in the truth of God’s word and not get caught up in misinterpretations or bad interpretations, but that we will help them to know God’s word and open up the wonderful truth of who God is and what his word says.
God help us to rightly divide your word to rightly understand it. As we read it, let your Holy spirit, please help us and our children. As we try to understand your word and to share it with others, help us to be faithful to you in all that we do. And God, we are your workmanship. You have created us in your image. Each one of us has a purpose and good works that you have preordained for us to do. Help us to be obedient, to walk in that, and help us to be grateful for what you have done in our lives and for how you choose to use the words that you’ve put into our hearts to share with others. And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books and these ideas sparks true creativity with you and your kids. I hope that you have blast with some of these prompts and some of these ideas and that God uses all of our lives and all of our words to bring glory and honor to his name.
Please let me know in the comments or through email how your poetry writing goes. Would you like to see a keepsake book using these types of prompts for your kids and their grandparents to do together?
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 are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
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 “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.