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April is National Poetry Month

When my children were younger, I had the naïve expectation that they would be willing accomplices in my plan to create a “poetry at sunset” moment, a time taken out of the day to celebrate this art form, memorizing or reading something that had meaning for them or was just plain fun to read out loud. My reasoning was that, if they could recite commercial jingles or sing the lyrics of their favorite songs, they could rather painlessly indulge Mom in her hare-brained scheme to make them familiar with a mode of expression and creativity that has been around for ages.

HA! Reality set in after the third or fourth session. Having 3 children, with 8 years between the oldest and youngest, and all the attendant school and extracurricular activities, as well as my having to work evenings after my husband got home, I began to realize that it was a scheme that may have worked in a different era, one with more leisure and time for reflection, but not in my time!. As the years went by and I became a single mother, it was all I could do to keep the our home together, financially and emotionally, much less indulge in activities that seemed so trivial in the face of everyday reality.

Reading has always been my escape, and around this time I began listening to audiobooks, as well. Listening to Martin Jarvis reading P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious stories of Blandings Castle saved me during the darkest times and helped me to keep a positive mindset for my kids. The language of another era, from another place, distanced me from my present, and the absurdity of the characters and their situations helped me to maintain my ability to laugh.

As it so happens, poetry, reading or creating it, does this for so many in need of emotional support. The action of reading or hearing someone say what you can’t find words for, or to find that someone feels the way you do, can be reassuring and provide a deep source of comfort. Also, poems can be celebrations, of nature, of love, of family, of life. The framework of poetry, although made up of numerous styles, allows the poet to weave together images and ideas that must stay concise and to the point. The format is powerful in that its impact is concentrated; one word may conjure up many associations, perhaps a variety of them, depending on the audience. The connection is visceral, personal and highly subjective.

Of course, the beauty and musicality of language is what draws the reader to poetry, as well. Nursery rhymes, read or sung, are usually a child’s first introduction to poetry. Rhyming picture books introduce language being shaped to fit a story. Many studies show the importance of poetry as a tool for teaching literacy to children and new language learners (how many of us sang “Frere Jacques” growing up?).

Poetry for kids is usually fun and instructive. Incidents and accidents of childhood are described with humor (Shel Silverstein) and scary things explained away (Jack Prelutsky). Nature, siblings and school are frequent topics, being of paramount importance to the young reader. There are also poems that teach history or science in small, digestible bits that are nonetheless potent.

Here are a brief sampling of titles for young people you can find at the library:

  • Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh by X.J. Kennedy
  • Steppin' Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times by Lin Oliver
  • Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
  • Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine
  • I Brought my Rat for Show-and-Tell: and Other Funny School Poems by Joan Horton
  • Don't Forget Your Etiquette: the Essential Guide to Misbehavior by David Greenberg
  • The Maine Coon's Haiku: and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen
  • Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems by Kristine O'Connell George
  • Celebrating America: a Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit Laura Whipple
  • A Poem for Peter: the Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney

These titles include a CD of the poems read by the author(s):

  • Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face and other poems by Jack Prelutsky
  • The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash
  • Hip Hop Speaks to Children: a Celebration of Poetry with a Beat edited by Nikki Giovanni
  • Celebrating America: a Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit Laura Whipple

Novels in verse for young readers have become increasingly popular in recent years. Ostensibly, it’s because books in this format come across as deceptively short and easy to read. The authors say so much with fewer words and more white space. Yet once drawn in, the readers are taken on a journey that allows them to access the pertinent parts of the story, sometimes an emotionally difficult one, and fill in with their own perceptions what the author has not overtly written.

Notable titles in this genre include:

  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newbery Medal) - set during the Depression
  • Love That Dog by Sharon Creech – a class assignment on poetry changes a boy’s life
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (National Book Award) – a powerful memoir
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Newbery Honor) – a Vietnamese girl in the USA
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Newbery Medal) – twin boys come into their own

And eventually I was validated in my desire to introduce poetry to my children. One day my eldest son came home from a college English class and recited William Blake’s “The Tyger” to me, saying “Mom, this is for you.” My cup runneth over!

Michele Ferrari

Michele Ferrari

International woman of mystery Michele Ferrari is a voracious reader of just about everything. Striving desperately not to become her neighborhood’s “Crazy Cat Lady” (it may already be too late!), she has been a resident of Islip for over 25 years, with a lot of Buccaneer’s paraphernalia to prove it. She enjoys laughing at absurdities and introducing the right reader to the perfect book. Click here to subscribe to Michele Ferrari's blog posts!

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