So begins April, National Poetry Month! And what better way to start than with kids’ books! Poetry is written for all kinds of people, and there are tons of great books and authors for kids of all ages and reading levels. Also, most of these books have pictures, which I think can complement a poem quite well. While a lot of poems for children are funnier and wackier than adult poetry, there are pieces here that are just as haunting and complex as adult poetry, just maybe some smaller words. So let’s get this month started, and look at some poems that are usually among the first that children are exposed to. This is also a great chance for new poetry fans to get into the genre, so enough of my talk, and let’s take a walk around the poetic block (see that? See what I did there?)!
Monster Goose by Judy Sierra
Let’s start out with some fun. This weird, wacky series of poems are parodies of old Mother Goose style stories (Old Mother Hubbard, Little Miss Muffet) that take the classic short poems and turn them into gross out poems about monsters, ghouls, and creepy crawly bugs. It’s probably the most “little kid’s book” of the ones I looked at, but man is it fun. How can you not smile at a book where instead of a lamb, Mary had a bat and spiked heel shoes, or has a picture of a bunch of sea monsters wearing mining helmets, or a twist on “Jack and Jill” in which Jill gets eaten by the Loch Ness monster? Why? Because it’s funny, that’s why. Yeah, these mini poems and stories aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they just nail that desire that all kids have, and that I think we all remember: the desire to tell a few good snot jokes to make your Mom annoyed with you.
Before you ask, no, this book has nothing to do with Harry Potter or X Men. I know, I was disappointed too. But this book of poems does have a lot of…birds. Written specifically to be read by two people at the same time. And it’s pretty awesome. Unlike the last book, the poems here are clearly for older children; while easy to understand, some of them are pretty complex. Each poem is about a specific bird, telling its story in lyrical, soaring format. Some are fun, like The Actor (the Mockingbird), but many are introspective, and even sad. My favorites are The Passenger Pigeon, about the thoughts of the very last passenger pigeon, thinking of when there were millions like him in the sky; the melancholy sea-faring tale of The Wandering Albatross; and of course, The Phoenix itself. It’s my favorite poem of the whole bunch, with The Phoenix boasting of its great power, but also leaving you with a feeling that it is also a sad, lonely creature. It’s pretty complex for a poem for kids, and I always appreciate when kid’s books don’t talk down to their young audiences. The poems are interesting and have a wide variety of styles and tones, and the double lyrics make it an interesting read. So whether or not you’re a bird watcher or a poetry fan, I highly recommend this book, which is a great way to get into poetry, no matter what age you are.
Well, we’re talking about kids’ poetry, so of course we have to have Mr. Silverstein. This book has been many readers’ first introduction to poetry (after Dr. Seuss) and it’s a dang good place to start. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a collection of odd little poems about typical kid issues. It has poems about Band-Aids, big noses you can hang coats on, the dirtiest man in the world, and a magical eraser that can make annoying people disappear. Most poems are short, and almost all have accompanying simple, funny pictures, making them a quick read, but there is a lot more to the poet than simplicity. Silverstein’s kids’ books are fun and snappy, but also have a certain profoundness. He takes strange thoughts and dreams that kids have, and puts them into poem form, using them to ask some pretty big questions. I like the poem LOVE a lot, because while it’s funny on the surface, I actually find it to be an interesting statement on loneliness. And the title poem Where the Sidewalk Ends can be interpreted as the literal place between the sidewalk and the grass, the end of childhood, or some other philosophical something or another. I could go on for blogs about Silverstein’s work, but I will leave it with this: these poems are both simple fun, and philosophically complex. If you haven’t read these in a while, give them another look. If nothing else, there is a poem with a guy having a face for a butt. And that’s certainly something.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.