The Next Chapter: From Rhymes to Poems

Eliza Clark
September 21, 2011

Does your little one love rhymes? Is she on close terms with Bo-Peep and her sheep, Mother Hubbard and her bare cupboard, and Little Jack Horner sitting in his corner?

Mother Goose's ancient jingles activate young children's love of language, and so they remain the first must-read for babies far and wide.

Thus primed to love rhymes, word play and absurdist humor, our kids take readily to the to other universally acknowledged master of funny poems for kids: Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends and Light in the Attic are as funny and dark and wacky as we remember, and our 21st century kids are just as fascinated with these verses and drawings as we were.

But where do we go from there? If your kids have Madam Goose and Mr. Silverstein nigh memorized, what might their next poetic love be? There are many directions to go in, so we'll just point you to three of the paths our kids have taken and relished:

If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky

You could easily think that a collection of haikus is well beyond the ken of our adored preschool set. You could also be wrong. Yes, this is a book you should keep around on the shelves for some grade school project when your much-grown former preschooler is writing her own haikus. But yes, this is also a book you will dive into right now, long before your tiny one can count syllables. From the title haiku ("If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content"), you and your very own little mouse will enjoy these little sketches of the natural world. And they just might be concise enough for our parenting-addled minds to remember, so you can rattle off a few when trapped in traffic with a wiggler in the back seat who needs distracting. Mr. Prelutsky was named the first ever Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, and another of his collections, Good Sports, is an especially good choice for engaging a child who might be otherwise daydreaming of getting outside with a ball and an open field. It too is a charming collection.

Beast Feast by Douglas Florian

Not only are these fantastic short poems amusing, but they are almost instantly memorizable. And, trust us, the sound of that little voice you love so much trilling off a little verse will really make you a believer in the power of poetry! What could be more charming than "The kangaroo loves to leap. / Into the air it zooms, / While baby's fast asleep / Inside its kangaroom."?! Neither of you will ever call it a pouch again. And we won't spoil it for you, but we must admit that the corny rhyming of "boa" is right up our alley. Also, Mr. Florian's Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars is a gem of a collection of whimsical poems about space for your future astronomer.

Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children edited by Caroline Kennedy

We all probably have, somewhere upon our shelves, a weighty anthology of poetry that we last opened when studying for a college English exam. Now that we are parents, it has crossed our minds that our rhyme and rhythm-loving children might enjoy hearing some of those poems that we struggled to parse in English 101. But how to choose? Which ones, of the many thousands? We are lucky indeed that Caroline Kennedy has done the work for us, and given us her selection of favorite poems for children, each beautifully illustrated. No chronological plowing through the centuries here - the poems are arranged according to themes preschoolers know and love: animals and adventure, silliness and seasons, and bedtime of course, among others. But these familiar childhood topics usher in the greatest poets of our language, from Shakespeare to Walt Whitman to Langston Hughes to Sylvia Plath. Reading their words aloud to our little ones is pure pleasure. And small word-sponges that they are, won't our kids be pleased with themselves when it is their turn to take an English exam, and they can conjure William Blake from memories of reading on a parent's lap?


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