National Poetry Month always means a shower of lyrical displays in schools, libraries, and bookstores, but some titles rise above the rest. Here’s a look at the season’s standout poetry books for children, which incorporate clever formatting and design, international voices, and more.
What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?
Judith Viorst, illus. by Lee White
S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy, ages 6–9
Subtitled Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem, this book of verse by Viorst (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) is notable for its tone. Organized by theme and addressing topics including emotions, school, family, and friends, the book, editor Caitlyn Dlouhy says, is “about how sometimes you’re just a kid and you just don’t understand what’s going on, and you hear that perfect poem. [The book says], ‘You’re not alone.’ ” Dlouhy chose White to illustrate, she says, because “Judith’s poems have this spicy little bite to them, but an illustrator that was too sweet would dampen that. We wanted to push it.”
Marilyn Singer, illus. by Josée Masse
Dial, ages 6–9
In her latest collection of “reverso” poems, Singer (Mirror Mirror) tackles Greek myths, telling each story twice, reversed in order and printed side by side. “I really have no idea how I write them,” Singer says. “I have to be in a certain game-playing frame of mind, creating and solving a puzzle at the same time. It’s really helpful to have a narrative that has two sides, when the second one has to say something totally different.” Perseus and Medusa, two characters with diametrically opposed intentions, are a particularly rich example. Masse’s illustrations use symmetry to play the stories against each other.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes
Julie Fogliano, illus. by Julia Morstad
Roaring Brook/Porter, ages 6–10
Free verse poems, grouped into seasons, explore the natural and interior worlds children inhabit. The text is simple and meditative, calling to mind classic children’s verse by Ruth Krauss, such as 1952’s A Hole Is to Dig. In one poem, Morstad illustrates a girl sitting in a chair, reading a large book with a plate of cookies nearby. Fogliano (And Then It’s Spring) writes, “January 30/ it is the best kind of day/ when it is snowing/ and the house/ sounds like slippers/ and sipping/ and there is nowhere to go/ but the kitchen/ for a cookie.”
Roaring Brook, ages 8–12
In this collection of concrete poems—which are written in the shape of the objects they describe, such as icicles or the Big Dipper—Raczka (Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single World) finds inventive ways to “concretize” objects in simple black and white while playing with words and their multiple meanings. Katherine Jacobs, who edited the book, says that the “shape is not just decorative, but makes you read the words and infer the meaning of the poem in a different way.”
Synne Lea, illus. by Stian Hole. Trans. from the Norwegian by John Irons.
Eerdmans, ages 9 and up
It’s rare to see children’s poetry in translation in the U.S., making this volume a welcome addition to the category, from creators who are widely lauded in Europe. Lea’s free verse poems, which address issues such as friendship and experiencing sadness, can be as brief as three lines and rarely run more than three stanzas. Hole’s photo-realistic collage paintings, with elements of magical realism, form a strong partnership with the spare, sophisticated text, which weaves elements of magic and delight in the natural world into the way children experience emotions.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
Random House/Lamb, ages 8–12
This debut novel in verse goes beyond telling a story—it also develops characters through the use of specific poetic forms. Shovan, a poetry teacher for children, says that while drafting the book, she attempted to “match the character and the form.” She adds, “For example, one character has Asperger’s, [and his first poem in the book] is in [haiku] because he likes the structure.” Later, the character’s voice switches to free verse, showing how he expresses “the need to burst out of these bounds,” in a time of upheaval, Shovan says. The author uses a wide array of poetic forms, including sonnets, acrostics, and concrete poems, to tell a cohesive narrative over the course of a school year.