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For this month's Recommended Reading list, Alison Deming--Director of the Creative Writing Program and Creative Writing Professor at the University of Arizona--shares her recommended list of poems for youth. Enjoy!
Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses
Among my favorite poems in this book are “Bed in Summer” and “My Shadow.”
This was my first poetry book as a child. It taught me how musical both language and thoughtfulness can be. Be not afraid of the archaic poeticisms. This book speaks to a child’s inner life.
Everyone suggests Shel Silverstein. My daughter, Zoe, 7, got her third copy for Christmas this year. You can’t go wrong with Where the Sidewalk Ends but everyone already knows that. Then, there are the books the kids love and ask me to read over and over like Goodnight Moon, Curious George and Panda Bear Panda Bear What Do You See? But I assume you have all those books memorized too.
The books I want to showcase are the books that I think play with language the best. I want to read books that make me say how did they do that? That make me wish I had written that. That let words linger on my tongue like butter and lemon. I want to read books to my kids in the same way I want to read books to myself. Because, wow. Words are awesome.
I picked up a copy of Owl Moon at Bookman’s for no reason except I like owls. I didn’t know that this book would make me and my daughter go walking in the night in the forest behind our house saying whoo whoo to the trees. But it did. The author, Jane Yolen, writes a poem that doesn’t seem like a poem because there’s adventure and story and owls but the way she uses linebreaks and repetition remind me every time I read it how poems work:
I’m a big believer in presenting advanced but appropriate work to young people; I find that they respond positively to being treated as equals in potential (if not experience). That being said, only the first three selections and the last one are age specific, while the rest of the books can be used with students at any level. You’ll find some “traditional” or “expected” authors and books alongside writers who will challenge and inspire young readers to work with new ideas.
1. I Looooooove You, Whale! by Derrick Brown (Preschool through 4th grade)
DB is a master of everything he tries, from slam-poetry tours to filmmaking to publishing. Here he applies a poet’s imagination to a charming story about non-traditional friendship (and do check out DB’s other work through his “Write Fuzzy” project).
2. Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss (Preschool through 4th grade)
This is one of the lesser-known Dr. Seuss offerings, but its crisp verse and engaging narrative make it a huge hit with young people. While the climax is one of the more violent (though gently treated) of his works, it provides a wonderful lesson on the very real consequences of not being honest with yourself and others.
You might think that, as a father of two teenagers, I’d have a good handle on the books that have influenced these vibrant young women, and I could simply list those here. They are both voracious readers, after all, and my wife and I read aloud to them nightly for years. But making any kind of assumptions about teenagers can be tricky, alas, and so (with one or two exceptions) the books I list below are instead the ones that most influenced me as a young adult, predominantly in high school and college.
Early on, two books helped define what I call my environmental ethic: the sense of who I am in the context of landscape, and the passionate pursuit of preserving natural places (and, subsequently, building responsibly in places). The first was assigned the summer before I attended college by an honors biology professor, the second in my first college course on wildlife biology:
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, by Edward Abbey
No other single book of prose or poetry has activated my passion for saving wilderness, not to mention my devious inner nature, as desert curmudgeon Edward Abbey’s 1966 memoir about spending a year at Utah’s Arches National Monument. I return to this book regularly, much to my wife’s chagrin, as it makes me want to head off to the Canyonlands, call with the coyotes, share ghost stories with a night circle of lizards.
This is a list of my favorite series for older children and younger adults in the realm of magic, other realities, and the richly imagined. All of these books are fantastic, many are deeply poetic, and I recommend them for all ages — I can re-read them anytime, always with wonder and fascination.
The Sea of Trolls trilogy, Nancy Farmer, 2004-2009. Along with The Land of the Silver Apples and The Islands of the Blessed, this is a brilliant quest adventure of Norsemen and berserkers, slaves, gods and ogres — an exciting, exquisitely detailed world half legend and half fantasy, complete with humor and longing and even philosophy, that should be high up in the canon of children’s and young adult literature. (Note for locals: Farmer is an Arizona native who lives in the Chiricahua Mountains. She’s won plenty of awards, but still deserves to be far, far more widely read.)
The Worlds of Chrestomanci, Diana Wynne Jones, 1977-2006. A seven-book series about a multiverse peopled by a charming cast of relatable, endearing magical characters. Written by one of the world’s all-time finest fantasy writers, the British Wynne Jones, who wrote dozens of wonderful novels and short-story collections — of which I’ve devoured almost all — before she died just a couple of years ago. Wynne Jones’ books sparkle with vigor and wit.
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, 1995-2000. This excellent fantasy trilogy for young adults, beginning with The Golden Compass, is in fact, like most of the books on this list, for all ages. Gorgeous and almost infinitely memorable, it’ll stay with you for the rest of your life, I predict, once you fall in love. There’s also a movie.
When I was young and falling in love with poetry, most of the poems I read were written by dead poets, but even if they lived long ago and far away, I wondered about their lives. Where did they live? What were their childhoods like? Did they have other jobs? Why did they write poetry? And so began my research. Discovering more about the lives of the poets increased my interest in and love of poetry.
Although poets don’t trend high in the celebrities we follow these days, we can find biographical notes in collections of their poetry and the occasional full-book biography. I’m encouraged that more books about poets are being published for childrens and teens, who can read about poets in picture book, middle grade, or YA biographies, and can find fictional works, too, in which the poets appear. Here are a few selected titles that provide insights into the lives and personalities of poets whose works deserve to be read and pondered. (All of the poets are dead except one.) Included, too, are collections of the poet’s work in editions targeting children or teens.
Marge Pellegrino recommends...
Poetry books for children make wonderful springboards to writing. Anyone who's been to a Family Days' event at the Poetry Center has witnessed the excitement that can ensue when the just-right poem inspires original words.
Since I've only got room for ten, I'll include books I've used more than a few times because they work with students and intergenerational groups in school, library and community settings:
For eight to twelve year olds:
Joni Wallace recommends…
1. Alphabet Poem, Nonsense Alphabet, Edward Lear, The complete Verse and Other Nonsense, Penguin Books, 2002.
Lear’s abecedarians slyly introduce symbol, i.e. letter as sound, stage, scaffold, prop and actor in a kind of Jack and Jill tumbler. Kindergarten.
2, 3. Snow Piece and Drinking Piece for Orchestra, Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, Simon and Schuster (2000).
Ono shows – never tells – how to hear with the acutest ear, how to see with that same eye, how to be listener, artist, poet. Each piece is an irresistible invitation to imagine. Get the book. You’ll fall in love. Kindergarten and up.
4. Maggie and Milly and Molly and Mae, e.e. cummings, The Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 1991.
“All that we call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are,” wrote Emerson. Each of four girls finds self-reflection in the sea. Grades 3 – 5, particularly girls.
Joy Acey, the Princess of Poetry, has won many prizes for her poems and has published in several small journals and anthologies including HIGHLIGHT'S High Five magazine. She is a performance artist and conducts writing workshops for children and adults. She's hopped a freight train and rode in a boxcar over the world's second largest wooden trestle bridge. She was on a TV game show and won enough money for a trip to Australia. She has lived in England and Japan. She has walked across a volcano in Hawaii and a glacier in New Zealand. She has gone swimming with iguanas in the Galapagos and was in Ecuador during a revolution. She recently returned from a trip to Peru where she visited the rainforest. Always looking for new adventures to write about, she currently lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and a welsh springer spaniel named Spot. She has a blog www.poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com where she daily posts an orginal poem for children and a writing exercise.
10 books of poetry...