February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Introducing Students to NCTE’s Notable Poetry Titles

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The first step in inviting children into the world of poetry is simply reading poems aloud, and these volumes offer many possibilities for read-alouds as well as choral reading or poetry performance formats, including—from simple to more complex—reading in unison, joining in on a repeated line or refrain, call and response with two groups, multiple groups/multiple stanzas, and solo lines or one line per child. In addition, poems for two voices as found in Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! present yet another poetry performance opportunity.

For social studies classrooms, there is a multicultural focus in Ada’s and Campoy’s Yes! We Are Latinos and Flood’s Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo, both mixed genre books that offer poetry with informational text that can encourage an examination of the characteristics of different genres. The spotlight turns to important historical figures in two other collections, Lewis’s When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders and Singer’s Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Presidents, demonstrating that biographical information can be presented in creative formats such as poetry. Readers can compare the poems with the biographical informational text about each individual in the endnotes and consider which format conveys the most information, the most emotional connection, etc. Using these collections as models, students may be inspired to write their own biography poems. Finally, World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of introduces some little-known holidays and other “special” days. Small groups can research different months and list unusual celebrations they discover. Then, they can collaborate on a poem with illustrations to introduce the holiday to the class. These illustrated poems can be compiled into a slide show.

Moving beyond social studies, the Notable Poetry List also includes books that connect to science. For instance, Lewis’s Face Bug and Gerber’s Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More!: Poems for Two Voices highlight science vocabulary and facts through poetry and informational endnotes. Pairs of students can read the poems and collect terms such as “chrysalis,” “seed pods,” “caterpillar,” and “germinate” to add to the class word wall. On the other hand, Pug and Other Animal Poems provides rich poetic descriptions of 18 different animals. Students can use each poem as the starting point, research additional information, and write accompanying endnotes. As a last connection to science, The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verse provides an amusing model of scientific inquiry via observing and recording data related to each pet choice. Youngsters might brainstorm other “projects” they could conduct using inquiry methods.

Some poetry can serve as a model that students use as they write their own poems. Yolen and Dotlich condense fairy-tale action and character information into brief verses, similar to biography poems, in Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist. Also, Singer’s Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems uses fairy tales as the basis for parallel poems emphasizing different perspectives. Prior to writing a fairy-tale poem, students can compare several traditional picture-book versions of tales with the related poems in these two books. Another format, a recipe poem, is presented in Argueta’s Tamalitos. Using this book as a model, children can create their own recipe poems, which can be compiled into a digital book for the class library. Finally, many collections of poetry feature list poetry, or poems with a repeated stem. List poetry is often a good starting point for students, as it furnishes a pattern to follow. Examples of poems with repeated stems include “I Find Peace” in Sidman’s What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings and “Read to Me: A Child to Mommy” in Yolen’s Wee Rhymes: Baby’s First Poetry Book. The class can read and discuss an example list poem and then brainstorm additional endings to the stem. Students can work in pairs or individually to craft their own list poem.

These are just a few ideas to celebrate poetry in April and throughout the year using titles included on the 2014 NCTE Notable Poetry List. There are many general ideas to focus attention on poetry and poets such as celebrating a poet of the month, collecting favorite poems for each student into a class scrapbook, or recording favorite poems for a listening center. Our hope is that you make poetry a part of each day. As these ideas demonstrate, it is easy to integrate poetry into any lesson across the curriculum.

the 2014 NCTE Notable Poetry List

ADA, Alma Flor & F. Isabel Campoy. Yes! We Are Latinos. illus. by David Diaz. Charlesbridge. RTE $18.95. ISBN 9781580893831.

Gr 4-8 –Eighteen narrative poems celebrate the rich diversity of Latinos across the United States, including young people who descended from the Spanish who settled areas in Florida and New Mexico as well as more recent immigrants and individuals with mixed origins—African and Latino as well as Asian and Latino. The poems are interspersed with informational text that provides interesting background and resources for further study.

ARGUETA, Jorge. Tamalitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem. tr. from Spanish by Elisa Amado. illus. by Domi. Groundwood/Tigrillo. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554983001.

K-Gr 3 –This bilingual offering teaches readers how to make tamalitos, or little tamales. First, a grandmother shares background information about the historical importance of corn for people in Central America. Then, a brother and sister move through the steps of the recipe. Domi’s colorful illustrations complement the sequential process of making tamalitos and capture the excitement of sharing them when they are ready.

FLOOD, Nancy Bo. Cowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo. photos by Jan Sonnenmair. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9781590788936.

Gr 3-7 –“Cowboy up” is a phrase that refers to the determination, optimism, and excitement needed to compete in these events (and in life!). The modern rodeo action is charmingly captured in the colorful photographs of young Navajo competitors as well as in the free-verse poems, authentic announcer’s voice, and factual narrative.

GERBER, Carole. Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices. illus. by Eugene Yelchin. Holt. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805092110.

K-Gr 3 –In this collection of 18 rhyming poems, Gerber captures conversations between plants and insects found in the natural world. Seedlings discuss germination and caterpillars share their feelings about being cozy inside their chrysalides. These poems, written for two voices, are accompanied by cheerful gouache illustrations that correspond to the colorful text.

HUGHES, Langston. Lullaby (for a Black Mother). illus. by Sean Qualls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780547362656.

PreS-Gr 3 –Originally published as part of a 1932 collection, this picture-book version of the poem is illustrated using collage and shades of soft blue, purple, and white acrylics. Stars and the moon not only fill the poem, but also the illustrations. A rare 1902 photograph of Hughes and his mother is included in the endnotes.


KENNEDY, Caroline, ed. Poems to Learn by Heart. illus. by Jon J. Muth. Hyperion/Disney. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781423108054.

Gr 5 Up –This anthology presents more than 100 poems that are ideal for committing to memory and reciting. They vary in length and theme and include a wide variety of poets and styles. Kennedy’s love of poetry comes through in her introductions to each section, and her choices capture the beauty and wisdom embedded in the best poetry. Muth’s watercolor illustrations accompany the selections, offering yet another celebration of each piece.

LEWIS, J. Patrick. Face Bug. illus. by Kelly Murphy. photos by Frederic B. Siskind. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9781590789254.

Gr 2-5 –Enter the “Face Bug Museum,” where 14 bugs are poetically presented and accompanied by colorful close-up facial photographs and comical black-ink illustrations. Be sure to spend time in the endnotes, in which the featured creatures talk about themselves, where they live, what they eat, and what eats them.

LEWIS, J. Patrick. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. illus. by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, et al. Chronicle. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452101194.

Gr 7 Up –This collection is devoted to the lives and work of 17 activists. Readers meet some familiar faces, but will also be introduced to lesser-known leaders such as Harvey Milk, Sylvia Mendez, and Muhammad Yunus. This collection stands out for the quality of Lewis’s poems, and for the accompanying portraits by such terrific artists as Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So.

LEWIS, J. Patrick. World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of. illus. by Anna Raff. Candlewick. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763654023.

PreS-Gr 3 –Lewis celebrates obscure holidays, such as Dragon Appreciation Day, Chocolate-Covered Anything Day, Mule Day, and National Sloth Day. Students will find these kid-friendly poems with Lewis’s trademark wordplay clever and funny. Raff’s hilarious, colorful illustrations will convince kids that these zany observances need to be added to the calendar.

PRELUTSKY, Jack. Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems. illus. by Carin Berger. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062014641; lib. ed. $18.89. ISBN 9780062014658.

PreS-Gr 3 –As if viewing the collection of an entomologist, 16 imaginative creatures are meticulously tagged and displayed, often as shadowbox collages. Lyrical poems introduce and describe each specimen, such as the “Panteaters,” who are not fabric-particular when it comes to the trousers they eat, and the “Jollyfish,” who “possess the gift of fundamental glee.”

SIDMAN, Joyce. What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings. illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544106161.

Gr 7 Up –A magical collection of nearly 50 exquisitely illustrated poems invites readers to peek into hearts, including their own, celebrating, questioning, longing, and chanting through life’s joys, fears, and wonders. A variety of poetic structures and masterful use of language deepen readers’ appreciation for everyday enchantments, lifting them to be their best, most hopeful, and thoughtful selves.

SINGER, Marilyn. Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems. illus. by Josée Masse. Dial. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803737693; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101627280.

Gr 2-5 –Singer’s clever reverso poems retell classic fairy tales and fables. Read from top to bottom, they reveal one perspective or point of view; when read from bottom to top with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, the same verse tells a very different story. Masse’s stunning acrylic illustrations also ingeniously portray two sides to each poem.

SINGER, Marilyn. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. illus. by John Hendrix. Hyperion/Disney. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9781423171003.

Gr 4-8 –A sophisticated yet zany look at the last 43 presidents of the United States through zippy rhyme and political cartoon-style pen-and-ink drawings/collage. The poems, presidential quotes, and drawings are ideal for bringing history alive through reader’s theater or as a model for presenting factual information in a poetic and humorous way. At the end, short biographical sketches provide more details about each president.

VARDELL, Sylvia & Janet Wong, eds. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School: Poems for the School Year with Connections to the Common Core. Pomelo. pap. $29.99. ISBN 9781937057787.

Gr 6-8 –This book offers an original poem per week for each of the middle school grades. The authors provide a Take 5! approach, which offers suggestions for sharing the poem with students, involving the students in performing the poem, helping students connect to the poem, connecting it with other poems, and teaching skills related to the Common Core State Standards.

WHEELER, Lisa. The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses. illus. by Zachariah Ohora. S. & S./Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416975953.

Gr 1-4 –Her “science-minded” parents have told the narrator of this collection that she can’t have a pet until she has completed a thorough exploration of all aspects of pet ownership. Beginning with poems that describe her query and continuing with field observations of animals from farm, zoo, woodland, and domestic habitats, the narrator comes to a surprising conclusion about her qualifications for pet ownership.

WORTH, Valerie. Pug and Other Animal Poems. illus. by Steve Jenkins. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780374350246.

Gr 2-5 –This collection of 18 poems offers vivid and sometimes humorous descriptions of diverse animals, from the fox with his “fiery tail” and the Bengal tiger with his “sharp stripes” to the dachshund with “nothing propping up the middle.” Jenkins’s bold collage art complements each poem and brings each animal to life.

YOLEN, Jane, & Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist. illus. by Matt Mahurin. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9781590788677.

Gr 3-6 –Paired verses explore 15 fairy tales from different perspectives and in different poetic forms. Endnotes briefly describe the tales, and the authors invite readers to write their own fairy-tale poems from the point of view of a character or object in a favorite story.

YOLEN, Jane. Wee Rhymes: Baby’s First Poetry Book. illus. by Jane Dyer. S. & S./Paula Wiseman. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781416948988.

PreS-Gr 2 –More than 50 poems, including a few Mother Goose favorites, gently romp through the rituals of a little one’s day, from bath to play to nap. Simple rhythms—a joy to read aloud—highlight loving family relationships and delight in small moments. The combination of Yolen’s tender poems with Dyer’s soft watercolors gives this collection a classic feel, honoring the timeless celebrations of childhood.

National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Committee:

Nancy L. Hadaway, Arlington, TX (chair); Darcy Bradley, Cheney, WA; Kathryn Button, Lubbock, TX; Lesley Colabucci, Millersville, PA; Mary Lee Hahn, Columbus, OH; Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Holland, NY; Terrell A. Young, Provo, UT

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Janet Wong says:

    So happy to have The Poetry Friday Anthology series included here! And thank you, NCTE Poetry Committee, for recommending such an incredible variety of books. Children’s poetry is one genre where we can be super proud of ethnic/cultural and subject matter diversity!

  2. I am delighted that my book, SEEDS, BEES, BUTTERFLIES, AND MORE! POEMS FOR TWO VOICES, is featured on your list. My 9th grade science – who thought I was hopeless – would be astonished!

  3. Is there a 2013 list available, prior years? I love this 2014 list!