APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH, and the perfect time to share the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)’s 2015 Notable Poetry List. Here are 16 outstanding poetry collections to offer children and teens—not just this month, but throughout the year and across the curriculum.These well-written and beautifully illustrated selections provide myriad options to engage students and to foster a love of language, both oral and written. It is our hope that this list of recommended titles is just the beginning. Use these books, and create connections with books from previous Notable Lists to create even more poetry joy!
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Poems for All Seasons
ELLIOTT, David. On the Wing. illus. by Becca Stadtlander. Candlewick. Tr $16.99 ISBN 9780763653248.
Gr 2-6 –Elliott introduces young readers to 15 birds in this beautiful collection. The poetry is just as diverse as the winged creaturess themselves as he utilizes a variety of forms both lyrical and humorous. Each poem conveys some essential aspect or feature of the avian world. For instance, the hummingbird travels “Backward!/Forward!/Here/then/there!/Always/in a/tizzy!” Stadtlander’s strikingly gorgeous gouache artwork practically dances with the poems, and then flies off the pages.
FRANK, John. Lend a Hand: Poems about Giving. illus. by London Ladd. Lee & Low. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781600609701.
Gr 2-6 –This collection offers 13 ways to practice giving to individuals and to the community. The poems depict simple actions such as sitting with and sharing a sandwich with the new kid at school or giving up your seat on the bus to an elderly rider as well as more active roles in the community, e.g., cleaning litter from a stream or helping to build a house for a disadvantaged family. Each spread includes a poem with a beautiful color illustration portraying the act of kindness.
GRAHAM, Joan Bransfield. The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices. illus. by Krysten Brooker. Amazon/Two Lions. Tr $17.99 ISBN 9781477847152.
Gr 2-6 –Ryan O’Brian has been seized by rhyme! So begins this mixed-genre narrative about a boy who is so taken with poetry that he writes it everywhere. His poems are interspersed throughout. The colorful illustrations capture Ryan’s action-packed day, along with his poem writing. Endnotes offer “Ryan O’Brian’s Guide to Poetic Forms” and a helpful guide to creating different voices in writing poetry.
HEPPERMANN, Christine. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr 17.99. ISBN 9780062289575.
Gr 8 Up –In this pocket-size book, 50 edgy, short poems, darkly inspired by fairy tales, characterize the issues faced by contemporary adolescent girls. Along with haunting shadowy gray-and-white surrealistic photographs, these selections describe the societal-based challenges of body image, dating, friendship, and the double standards that teen girls often experience. For example, “Sleeping Beauty’s Wedding Day” explores in a list poem the beauty rituals women perform on their faces, hair, and bodies. The accompanying photograph shows shadows of multiple hands behind a backlit wedding-dress skirt.
HOPKINS, Lee Bennett, ed. Manger. illus. by Helen Cann. Eerdmans. Tr $16. ISBN 9780802854193.
K-Gr 3 –Based on the legend that all creatures were granted human speech for one hour to welcome the Christ child to earth, these 15 poems represent many diverse animal voices. A llama, a spider, an owl, and a wren join the traditional barnyard animals to present their messages to the baby king. Cann’s rich, mixed-media and watercolor paintings are the perfect complement to the quiet, graceful poems.
JANECZKO, Paul B., ed. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. illus. by Melissa Sweet. Candlewick. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780763648428.
PreS-Gr 3 –The 36 “very short” poems in this collection are snapshots of small moments that occur throughout a year. Readers or listeners will savor the unique perspectives on the seasons, captured in the words of these classic and contemporary poets and through Sweet’s luminous mixed-media illustrations.
LATHAM, Irene. Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole. illus. by Anna Wadham. Lerner/Millbrook. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1467712323.
PreS-Gr 3 –Latham introduces animals of the African grasslands through 15 finely crafted poems in a variety of voices and presents friendly informational text with each one. Taking on everything from a guarding meerkat to a bathing elephant, the selections inform readers about the importance of the water hole and of the needs and threats in these animals’ lives. Wadham’s warm and whimsical illustrations enrich the lyrical poems, as listeners follow wildebeest’s advice to “Wander with me,/meander with me.”
LEWIS, J. Patrick. Everything Is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis. illus. by Maria Cristina Pritelli. Creative Editions. Tr $24.99 ISBN 9781568462400.
Gr 1-6 –The master of wordplay and former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, Lewis shares more than 60 of his best poems covering such topics as animals, people, reading, sports, riddles and epitaphs, nature, and places. Readers will find that the poems vary in form as much as topic, but they all work to unlock imaginations and remind us that poetry is everywhere: “A firefly’s a poem,/A flashy verse sublime/That is Read by other fireflies/One sparkle at a time.”
LEWIS, J. Patrick. Harlem Hellfighters. illus. by Gary Kelley. Creative Editions. Tr $18.99 ISBN 9781568462462.
Gr 4-9 –With free-verse poetry, Lewis shines a light on the Harlem Hellfighters, a group of black American soldiers in World War I known not only for their bravery on the battlefield but also their unique music, a mix of primitive jazz, blues, and upbeat ragtime. The poems span a time period from their recruitment in Harlem in 1916 to their training in South Carolina and transport to Europe, their service and musical achievements during the war, and their eventual homecoming in 1919. Kelley’s hauntingly beautiful illustrations depict both the soldiers’ bravery and the racism that black Americans encountered—at home and at war.
LEWIS, J. Patrick, & George Ella Lyon. Voices from the March on Washington. Highlights/Wordsong. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781620917855.
Gr 5 Up –This book bridges nonfiction and poetry as readers learn about the 1963 March on Washington through poems in “imagined voices.” The book contains an in-depth introduction and table of contents as well as back matter including a guide to the voices, bibliography, websites, and two indexes (one by voice and one by title). The book has a satisfying arc read as a whole, and the variety of poems and the informational content make it appropriate for a wide range of readers.
MUTH, Jon J. Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. illus. by author. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545166683.
K-Gr 4 –These 26 short seasonal poems are complemented by Muth’s signature watercolor illustrations and organized alphabetically. The art and the words work together to celebrate moments from each season (“King!/my crown a gift/from a snowy branch”). The poems are the heart of this collection, and some readers will recognize Koo from previous books (he is Stillwater’s nephew). Muth’s author’s note provides readers with more information about haiku and his choices as both an artist and poet.
NELSON, Marilyn. How I Discovered Poetry. illus. by Hadley Hooper. Dial. Tr $ 17.99. ISBN 9780803733046.
Gr 6 Up –In 50 unrhymed sonnets set in the 1950s, Nelson’s fictionalized memoir in verse travels beautifully and honestly through 10 years and cities, chronicling the thoughtful coming-of-age of an African American child in a military family. The poems depict everything from her daily pleasures of playing with dogs and horses to the harsh realities of racism, illustrating how Nelson was able to “flee into the arms of poetry.” Spare illustrations by Hooper offer an oasis for readers to pause and consider one child’s life.
OLIVER, Lin. Little Poems for Tiny Ears. illus. by Tomie dePaola. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978039916605.
PreS –These 23 short, lively, rhyming poems give literary voice to the universal experiences of learning to walk; exploring toes, noses, and belly buttons; speculating on a possible first word (uppie or binko-gaga-whoopsie-goo); and experiencing the affections of pets and parents. At his artistic best, dePaola delights with happy, cherubic children of many ethnicities, cheerful pastel borders on each page, and multiple items for toddlers to point at and exclaim over. Preschoolers and their favorite adults will enjoy this book again and again.
RACZKA, Bob. Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole. illus. by Chuck Groenink. Carolrhoda. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781467718059.
K-Gr 3 –What if Santa took the time one December to write a single haiku each day from the first of the month all the way through Christmas Day? What would he notice and write about? Raczka gives readers a delightful peek into Santa’s and Mrs. Claus’s preparations for the holiday and their love of nature.
SIDMAN, Joyce. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. illus. by Rick Allen. Houghton Harcourt. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547906508.
Gr 1-4 –Do honeybees hibernate? How do chickadees survive the bone-chilling northern winters? Readers will discover the answers to these questions and many more survival wonders by reading Sidman’s 12 imagery-filled poems, inserted nonfiction prose, and glossary of scientific and poetry-related words. Allen’s complex, hand-colored, linoleum block prints envelope each poem, creating on each spread a crisp glimpse into the snowy season.
WILSON , Karma. Outside the Box. illus. by Diane Goode. S. & S./Margaret McElderry Bks. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781416980056.
Gr 2-5 –Children will giggle and adults will smile while enjoying Wilson’s humorous poems about being sick on a Saturday, actually liking Mary Ellen Burkenshire’s playground kiss, and the downside of having your dad discover your video game. This collection of 88 poems, accompanied by Goode’s simple black-ink drawings, is dedicated to Shel Silverstein and is reminiscent of his many collections. Wilson includes poems representing many forms, including narrative, lyrical, and concrete.
National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Committee: Nancy L. Hadaway, Arlington, TX (chair); Darcy Bradley, Medical Lake, WA; Kathryn Button, Lubbock, TX; Lesley Colabucci, Millersville, PA; Mary Lee Hahn, Columbus, OH; Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Holland, NY; Terrell A. Young, Provo, UT
Poems for All Seasons
This year’s list highlights poetry collections that are compiled (Manger) as well as individually authored (Everything Is a Poem) and those that are thematically organized (On the Wing), as well as general collections (Outside the Box). While compendiums that combine informational text with poetry are increasingly popular, The Poem That Will Not End offers a different twist, mixing a prose narrative about a young boy who sees poetry in everything around him with poems by the boy himself.
There are so many ways to spark student interest in poetry and to share these specific anthologies. Reading poetry aloud is always an excellent starting point, and Outside the Box is ideally suited for this purpose. Once students are exposed to a sampling of these poems, they can choose a favorite and practice it for a recitation. Students might select a poem from Little Poems for Tiny Ears, which is targeted to preschoolers, and create an individual or group poetry performance to present to a younger child or group of children or to simply take home to share with a younger family member.
In terms of curricular connections, the thematically related collections On the Wing, Dear Wandering Wildebeest, and Winter Bees are easily linked to science with a study of different birds, animals found in the grasslands of Africa, and animal adaptations to the cold of winter, respectively. The last two are mixed-genre books that add informational texts that extend readers’ understanding about the animals and natural environments introduced in each poem. Each of these collections could be extended by an examination of other animals. For instance, using On the Wing as a beginning view of different types of birds, readers could locate a list of the state birds and create poems about some not featured in the book. Poetry books about the changing seasons, such as from Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons and Firefly July, can also be woven into science lessons. Individual selections can be used to introduce a lesson or topic, or students might scan poems for the characteristics and activities of different seasons. They can also debate whether they would place any of the poems in a different season, including their rationale for this change, or they can find additional seasonal poems to create their own collection.
Social studies and poetry make an excellent combination because poetry can furnish the emotion and passion that textbooks and reference materials often lack. Harlem Hellfighters, How I Discovered Poetry, and Voices from the March on Washington share some similar themes and provide a view of racism extending from World War I to the 1950s to the March on Washington in 1963. As an extension, students might compare the World War II Tuskegee Airmen with the World War I Harlem Hellfighters, and they can locate nonfiction books about the civil rights era for additional information about the ideas mentioned in How I Discovered Poetry and Voices from the March on Washington. Another comparison option is to examine Lewis’s When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (Chronicle, 2012) from the 2014 Notable Poetry List with this year’s Voices from the March on Washington, noting the differences and similarities in format and themes. Poisoned Apples offers thought-provoking poetry that explores fairy-tale expectations and contemporary social issues surrounding the beauty myth and double standard for women. This collection begs to be paired with advertisements and media campaigns, leading to critical discussions about the direct and indirect messages sent to young women today. Finally, Lend a Hand shares a variety of ways to reach out to individuals and give back to the community. Students might research outreach efforts in their own area or invite a guest speaker from organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or the Sierra Club who can share their work. The poem “Home Run” can connect the theme of kindness to the issue of teasing and bullying, and students might brainstorm a school antibullying campaign. And, of course, students can write their own poems about times when they were able to lend a hand.
Lastly, writing in general and writing poetry in particular can be addressed through several collections, including The Poem That Will Not End, the “autobiographical memoir” of How I Discovered Poetry, and three books with haiku (Firefly July, Hi, Koo!, and Santa Clauses). Readers can use the endnotes in Graham’s narrative/poetry collection and experiment with creating various poem forms and poetry with different voices. They can also analyze and use Nelson’s fictionalized memoir and the many examples of haikus by different authors as mentor texts before trying these types of writing on their own.