February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Haiku for Young Readers | Great Books for Poetry Month

Elegantly succinct, surprisingly accessible, and satisfyingly thought-provoking, haiku holds particular appeal for kids. Concrete details and simple images are deftly woven into three short lines–five syllables in the first, seven in the second, and five in the third–to create a word picture that explodes with immediacy and ripples with insight and wonder. These books incorporate and playfully explore this distinctive form of poetry, which originated in Japan centuries ago and continues to inspire wordsmiths across the globe. Share these offerings with readers to Celebrate National Poetry Month, spark creative writing, and kindle a passion for poetry.                              

Basho and the River Stones. By Tim Myers. illus. by Oki S. Han. Marshall Cavendish. 2004. Trade $16.95. ISBN 978-0761451655.

Gr 1-4–Fooled by a wily fox into relinquishing his share of a cherry tree’s fruit, Japan’s most revered poet pens a haiku about the experience, an eloquent and affecting verse that prompts the now-ashamed trickster to set things right. Starring 17th-century writer Matsuo Basho, this original story about the power of poetry reads like a folktale and is illustrated with detail-rich watercolors in shimmering hues.

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. By Bob Raczka. illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. Houghton Mifflin. 2010. Trade $14.99. ISBN 978-0-547-24003-9; ebook $14.99. ISBN 978-0-547-76945-5.

K-Gr 3–Whether kite-flying, stone-skipping, leaf-piling, or snowball-lobbing, a group of exuberant youngsters convey the outdoor pastimes, changing moods, and kid-loving essence of each season. Raczka’s amusing poems, wrought from accessible language and everyday images, pair perfectly with Reynolds’s lithe adventure-filled illustrations to create an enchanting volume that will captivate boys–as well as girls.

The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems. By Michael J. Rosen. illus. by Stan Fellows. Candlewick. 2009. Trade $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3049-2.

Gr 3 Up–In this nature lover’s delight, vivid verses and color-splashed artwork spotlight 24 common North American birds. There’s a flock of trumpeting splash-landing Canada geese, a pair of windowsill-nesting mourning doves, and a tree-trapezing kingfisher in search of prey. The imagination-stirring haiku are presented against stunning seasonal vistas that show the birds in their environments and expand upon the poems’ imagery, while close-ups and field notes provide additional detail.

The Hound Dog’s Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers. By Michael J. Rosen. illus. by Mary Azarian. Candlewick. 2011. Trade $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4499-4.

Gr 2-6–Filled with tail-wagging panache, these eye-and-ear-pleasing portraits showcase the physical characteristics, personalities, and perennial pastimes of 20 canine breeds. Whether describing a Parson Russell terrier “elbow-deep in dirt,” a dozing Pembroke Welsh corgi soaring across “cloud pillows,” or a “staccato sniffing” bloodhound, the dynamic verses and textured woodcuts root out essential canine elements–applicable to purebred and mutt alike–and entrance readers with clever wordplay and inventive imagery.

I Haiku You. By Betsy Snyder. illus. by author. Random House. 2012. Trade $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86750-7; Library Edition $12.99. ISBN 978-0-375-96750-4;ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98126-5.

K-Gr 3–Sweet-as-pie poems and cheerful sherbet-hued artwork celebrate ordinary moments, depicting instances of affection between family members and friends, favorite pastimes exuberantly shared, and enthusiasm for everything from snow angels to “sunshine” lemonade. Accessible and heartfelt, this small volume makes a fine starting point for reading and writing haiku.

If Not for the Cat. By Jack Prelutsky. illus. by Ted Rand. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2004. Trade $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-059677-4.

Gr 1-4–Spare words and vibrant illustrations harmonize to introduce 17 different animals, both wild and domestic. Each beguiling selection touches upon its subject’s core while also posing a riddle about its identity: “If not for the cat,/And the scarcity of cheese,/I could be content.” The creatures–a mouse huddled in its hidey hole, a parrot posing playfully on a perch, or a rattler ready to pounce–are portrayed on glorious color-drenched spreads that echo each poem’s tone, from whimsical to majestic.

One Leaf Rides the Wind: Counting in a Japanese Garden. By Celeste Davidson Mannis. illus. by Susan Kathleen Hartung. Puffin. 2005. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780142401958.

PreS-Gr 2–From one swirling leaf to ten carved stone lanterns, a winsome kimono-wearing youngster explores the marvels of a traditional Japanese garden. Each item is introduced with an accessible poem, depicted in the jewel-toned artwork, and placed in context by a brief descriptive paragraph. Infused with an air of tranquility and quiet discovery, this book makes a fitting first look at haiku and Japanese culture.

Wabi Sabi. By Mark Reibstein. illus. by Ed Young. Little, Brown. 2008. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-11825-5.

Gr 2-5–A Kyoto cat goes on a quest across Japan to discover the meaning of her “hard to explain” name, questioning other animals and learning much about herself and the mysteries of nature along the way, and finally begins to understand the wonder of Wabi Sabi: “Simple things are beautiful.” A lyrical narrative, evocative haiku poems, and exquisite collage artwork make this complex concept of Japanese culture accessible to young readers.

Won Ton: A Cat Tale told in Haiku. By Lee Wardlaw. illus. by Eugene Yelchin. Holt. 2011. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8995-0.

Gr 2-5–In terse first-person verse, a tough-talking charcoal-gray stray describes how he is plucked from the shelter, adjusts to the surprises and comforts of a new home, and finally reveals his true name to his cherished new boy (it’s Haiku, of course). Wardlaw’s series of senryu (similar in form to the traditionally nature-themed haiku, but focusing on the “foibles of human nature”–or, here–cat nature) unfold with flawless rhythm and heartfelt emotion and Yelchin’s endearing paintings are packed with personality.

The Year Comes Round: Haiku through the Seasons. By Sid Farrar. illus. by Ilse Plume. Albert Whitman. 2012. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-8129-2.

K-Gr 3–Expressive verses and delicately detailed artwork provide striking snapshots of the ever-changing mysteries of nature. Month by month, the commonplace becomes breathtakingly magical as frost artfully decorates a windowpane, “…rain bursts/dandelions from the earth like/countless little suns,” and “Like tiny fallen/stars, fireflies quietly blink/their secrets at dusk.” Readers will pause over each and every spread of this handsome volume, which is both understated and awe-inspiring.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. Another gem is DON’T STEP ON THE SKY: A HANDFUL OF HAIKU by Miriam Chaikin, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (Holt)