August 28, 2014

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JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary Readers

Once a year, poetry gets the spotlight during National Poetry Month. Each April we brush off our favorite poetry collections by Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. We celebrate with a “Poem in our Pocket” Day or a poetry slam. Perhaps a local poet will visit the school. Poetry can speak to the artist in each of us. The subject matter can be as unromantic as fishing with your family or as inspiring as a woman upstairs, madly banging out words on her typewriter. The verses can rhyme―or not. Whether it’s a class assignment or a novel in verse, poetry expresses our deepest desires and fondest memories. The following new titles will motivate students to voice their own poetic thoughts.

Poet Upstairs JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary ReadersCOFER, Judith Ortiz. The Poet Upstairs. illus. by Oscar Ortiz. Arte Público Pr./Piñata Bks. 2012. ISBN 9781558857049. JLG Level: CE: City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

On Juliana’s first day of school, she is too sick to go. Upstairs, a typewriter click-clacks, and the poet stops her pacing to record the flow of words. While the soft sounds lull Juliana to sleep, she dreams of an island. On waking, the little girl decides to draw her vision and slides her picture under the neighbor’s door. The next day Juliana finds a drawing from the poet under her own door, which seems to be in invitation for a visit. A bond between writer and child/illustrator forms as the pair works as a team. As the poem develops, the city disappears, transporting them to a tropical river. But even dreams must end, and as the poet pulls the paper from the typewriter, she says “You can take her [your mother] and anyone else you choose back to the great river, and that river will always take you somewhere new.”

Ortiz’s gorgeous illustrations convey magical images, leading readers to truly “believe that words can change the world.”

Candy Smash JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary ReadersDAVIES, Jacqueline. The Candy Smash. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780544022089. JLG Level: A+ : Intermediate Readers (Grades 3–5).

Evan would never admit it, but hearing the Poem of the Day in his fourth grade circle time is his second favorite part of the day. The “poems that Mrs. Overton read were different. They were like music, and they made something deep inside of him go zing.” His sister Jessie is the complete opposite; she’d rather work on her classroom newspaper. As Valentine’s Day approaches, Evan finds himself in a quandary―does he have a crush on Megan? What love poem should he turn in for his assignment? Jessie’s problem is the lack of a lead story for her paper. When she decides to survey her class about their love interests, the two dilemmas collide, creating more conflicts than anyone could have predicted.

Fans of the “Lemonade Wars” series will be glad to see the return of beloved characters, though the title stands well alone. Teachers may also want to use the novel as a read aloud in conjunction with a poetry unit.

Follow Follow JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary ReadersSINGER, Marilyn. Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems. illus. by Josée Masse. Dial. 2013. ISBN 9780803737693. JLG Level: I+ : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).

In a collection of reverso poems, Follow Follow , a companion book to Mirror Mirror (Dutton, 2010), offers opposing viewpoints of classic fairy tales. Readers have an opportunity to hear two sides to every story. Aladdin wants “wealth without measure/it is true freedom,” but the genie says, “This is what I demand: true freedom? It is wealth beyond measure.” With the act of reversing the lines and a few changes in punctuation and capitalization, the real meaning of wealth is revealed for the two characters. Not an easy form to create, Masse’s acrylic illustrations mirror the two halves of each poem, providing readers with visual clues to unlock character perspectives.

An author’s note describes the writing process. A summary of the tales upon which the poems are based is also included in the back matter, providing background to readers who are unfamiliar with the original stories.

Gone Fishing JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary ReadersWISSINGER, Tamera Will. Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. illus. by Matthew Cordell. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547820118. JLG Level: A+ : Intermediate Readers (Grades 3–5).

“For fishing tomorrow it’s just us two. Not Mom, not Grandpa, not Lucy.” On the night before a father and son fishing trip, Sam readies his supplies and dreams of the fish they will catch. Sister Lucy, however, has big ideas to join them. Sam wants no part of that―“but Dad. It was just you and me.” Lucy will be loud; she’ll scare the fish. When she promises “I won’t dance. I won’t squirm. I’ll be quiet as a worm,” Dad agrees to the threesome. The excited youngster is not quiet or still, yet she catches fish after fish. Will Sam catch even one fish before Lucy uses all the bait? Maybe fishing is just not his sport. Wait―is that a bite?

The story of a family fishing trip and sibling rivalry is told in verse, using many poetic devices―ballads to quatrains and dramatic poems for two (or three). Like a tackle box, she also provides a box of tools for budding writers in the extensive back matter. Wissinger’s debut novel, humorously illustrated by Cordell, is a gem of a poetry collection.

Pug JLG’s On the Radar: Poetry Picks for Elementary ReadersWORTH, Valerie. Pug: And Other Animal Poems. illus. by Steve Jenkins. Farrar. 2013. ISBN 9780374350246. JLG Level: I : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).

Jenkins illustrates another amazing posthumous collection (Animal Poems, Farrar, 2007), of Worth’s animal poems with his trademark collages. “The Bengal tiger/Batters his cage:/His rage is thunder.” A snarling tiger growls at an unseen enemy. In Toads, a toad rests comfortably amongst the fallen leaves, marbles, and a lost tennis ball. For Mouse, the mouse that’s the “gift on the step” lies stiff with his feet in the air―a prize brought by the cat. Jenkins’ artwork will delight animal-loving readers of all ages.

For strategies about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.



  1. Isn’t it a shame it is suggested, “Each April we brush off our favorite poetry collections…”?
    Poetry shoud be shared every month, every week, every day.
    How sad to think Poetry should be an April-only event.

    Lee Bennett Hopkins