21 January 2007

Introducing kids to poetry

In the Fall, I was lucky enough to get a visit from a cousin I rarely see but dearly love. She's a photographer and free spirit with grown children, always sharing her amazing insights and observations. She brought along a wonderful gift for my kids: an introductory book of poetry. I'm a great appreciator of literature, but I've never taken to poetry, I think because I've never taken the time to learn about it. Well, my kids love the book, and I enjoy reading it to them and learning more in the process.

Not long after the publisher of another poetry book geared toward kids got in touch, so I was inclined to investigate. Parenthacker Kara was kind enough to write the review:

Parent Hacks received a review copy of Poetry Speaks to Children, which turned out to be a pretty cool little book.  It’s an excellent collection of children’s poetry with lively illustrations.  The Parent Hacker interest here, though, is in the accompanying CD.  I can see where it would have a lot of applications: reading to your children when you aren’t able to; support for beginning readers; a CD of adult voices to keep them company in their rooms at night.  If you’re a fan of audio books, this is definitely something you’ll want to check out.

The reviews at Amazon are glowing, by the way.

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Another fun "poetry" based project is the magnetic poetry kit, of which there is a kid version (bigger pieces, easier words). Because we have stainless steel fridge (no magnetic qualities!), I put the words on a cookie sheet. It's a very easy clean up too. They stick to the sheet and into the arts and crafts closet they go. It's fun to sit together and make silly poems come to life. Great for my six year old.

Calef Brown writes wonderful books of "stories" that are actually poems. Beautiful wordplay.

If I may suggest one book of poetry for kids:

I Heard it from Alice Zucchini: Poems About The Garden by Jaunita Havill.

It is beautiful as it follows the seasonal arc of the life in the garden.

Very sweet, funny and lovely.

My kids love this book and have memorized several of the poems in it.

my kids have enjoyed many of Jack Prelutsky's books of poems. Fun stuff!

True stories from my kitchen table:

Katherine: House...Mouse. House Mouse, Daddy! That rhymes!

Me: That's right, sweetie. Good rhyme.

Katherine: Blues Clues! That's another one!

Me: That rhymes too!

Katherine: Too...who! Too who, Daddy!

Me: Actually it's "to whom", sweetie.

Katherine: ???

(I believe she was around 3 and a half or so when that exchange occurred.)

Another poet with fun stuff my kids like (esp. "Don't Go Out in Your Underwear!") is Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz, web site: www.ilikeme.com She's gotten my kids into writing like no other individual author except Dr. Seuss.

Hmmm...notes from this poet. :)

I had a great book when I was a kid, called The Golden Book of Poetry. It's sadly out of print now, but you can find copies on Abe and so forth. Great versions of Custard the Dragon, The Owl and the Pussycat, some Lewis Carroll stuff, a few spooky ghost stories. There is obviously lots of fun verse for kids, from Mother Goose (there's a recent Chronicle edition that has really beautiful illustrations) to Dr. Seuss. Sendak's Nutshell Library is great, and I'd submit that Where the Wild Things Are is essentially an illustrated poem. ("Sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day"--very well turned.)

A book I very much credit with my own development into a poet is "When the Sky Is Like Lace" by Eleanor Horwitz--Asha, your daughter is about 4, no? She would LOVE this. "the trees eucalyptus back and forth, forth and back, swishing and swaying, swaying and swishing, in the fern-deep grove at the midnight end of the garden". That phrase stuck with me for close to 30 years until I was able to re-find the book using it. It's just recently back in print.

Kenneth Koch wrote some wonderful books about teaching poetry writing to school age kids. "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?" and "Wishes, Lies, and Dreams" are two of them I think.

Verse for kids is easy to find, and you can do a lot just by attending to the language and rhythms in the books you read them. Learning about metaphor is harder--I think the best thing is to introduce your kid to "grown-up" poetry that's relatively simple in its moods. Eliot's Practical Cats is really quite cool (even if it's the genesis of that infamous musical); there are lovely bits of Auden and Yeats and Dickinson...and Roethke and Bishop and Bly. If there's a poet you like, chances are they wrote something that would sound cool to a child. Read them that and see what they make of it. :)

I'm so glad someone mentioned "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?" It's a great book for introducing children to the kind of poetry they'll learn in high school and college.

It's a brilliant book for any parent who wants their child to love words and imagination.

I credit the writings of Kenneth Koch and poet Katleen Norris for a few years I spent volunteering in elementary school classrooms.

Here's my favorite poem to share with the younger set. It's written by Mark Strand. Try it out on your elementary school kids!

"What to Think of"

Think of the jungle,
The green steam rising.

It is yours.
You are the prince of Paraguay.

Your minions kneel
Deep in the shade of giant leaves

While you drive by
Benevolent as gold.

They kiss the air
That moments before

Swept over your skin,
And rise only after you've passed.

Think of yourself, almost a god,
Your hair on fire,

The bellows of your heart pumping.
Think of the bats

Rushing out of their caves
Like a dark wind to greet you;

Of the vast nocturnal cities
Of lightning bugs

Floating down
From Minas Gerais;

Of the coral snakes;
Of the crimson birds

With emerald beaks;
Of the tons and tons of morpho butterflies

Filling the air
Like the cold confetti of paradise.

You have great taste as always! When we received a review copy of this, my daughter loved it so much so mangled it to bits - I had to beg the (very very kind) publisher for another copy for a giveaway on our site.

This book is just fantastic.

I have seen the book & CD mentioned in the original post in several catalogs. And every time I see it, I make a mental note to buy it.
I have never been very "into" poetry, but am finding that it's a great medium for young kids to hear - especially read aloud. I have an old cassette (yes - cassette) of AA Milne's "When We Were Very Young" that my 3-yr old loves.
Another poetry book that I have to recommend because I just got a copy and love it is The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems. You can see it here at my website: http://jamiewallace.mybarefootbooks.com/ Not only is the book an amazing collection of truly classic poems, but it features some of the most gorgeous watercolor illustrations by artist Jackie Morris. My daughter particularly enjoyed "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" - she made me read it twice!

i just wanted to share in this, too. my four year old daughter LOVES the book Slinki Malinki about a cat who turns into a thief at night and steals half the block's odds & ends. it's got GREAT tempo and the rhyming isn't lame. in fact, *I* enjoyed this book, as did her father- and we're both literary people. i'd highly urge you to pick it up as a good way to talk about poetry with kids. [good book for ALL AGES!]

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