Marge Pellegrino recommends...

Marge PellegrinoMarge 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:

  • Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is a dare book. I dare you to read it and not write a poem in response. This novel in verse begins with Jack writing an assigned poem: "I don't want to/because boys/don't write poetry." Seven poems from the likes of William Carlos Williams, William Blake and Robert Frost inspire some of Jack's poetry. The result is a heart-tugging narrative with a sampling of a variety of poetry styles.
  • Farm Kid by Sherryl Clark kicks off with a list poem “Farm” and finishes up with a poignant “Moving Day.” In between, Zack introduces us to the place he loves, all the more dear for the drought that will ultimately drive him away; “I can’t look/hard enough/ can’t see all the things I need to remember….” What would you want to remember if you needed to leave the place you loved?
  • A Light in the Attic, poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, is a classic, but viewed through the lens of recent creativity research, the poems feel fresh. Most children I know are most creative when adults don’t reign those “what if” wanderings. Conversations spun from poems like “HOW TO MAKE A SWING/WITH NO ROPE/ OR BOARD OR NAILS” is just the ticket to get anyone of any age thinking in ways that can nurture their own fun word adventures.

Picture books:

  • The Desert Is Theirs by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, shares the harsh beauty of the desert: “This is no place/for anyone/who wants/soft hills/and meadows/ and everything/green/green/green.” Any Byrd Baylor book could be included on this list, but I chose this one because I’ve seen people of all ages who have never written poetry, but who love the desert, be moved by Baylor’s words and in turn be motivated to write memorable, surprising words of their own.
  • This House is Made of Mud (bilingual) by Ken Buchanan describes an adobe house, built by a family: “This house is round/like the Earth,/and the Sun,/and the Moon.” The simple straightforward narrative illustrated with Libba Tracy’s mesmerizing watercolors add up to a quick, quiet read that begs to be talked about, taken apart and understood so that children can use the parts to describe themselves in ways they see the house described. And I love that this family, who lives in Arivaca, wrote the book – then built the house. Yes, words do have power!
  • Honey, I Love: and other love poems by Eloise Greenfield, with pictures by Diane and Leo Dillon, offers so many ways to kick off explorations of what you love. Some lines from my favorite in the collection go like this: “Went to the corner/Walked in the store/Bought me some candy/Ain’t got it no more/Ain’t got it no more…/…Went to the kitchen/Lay down on the floor/Made me a poem/Still got it/Still got it.”
  • I Heard it From Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden by Juanita Havill, with whimsical illustrations by Christine Davenier, holds twenty poems that follow a garden from a seed packet plucked from the garden shed all the way to harvest and then the ground sleeping under a blanket of snow, waiting patiently for next year. “Snap your fingers, jazzy beans, / tap your toes, /click your heels/strut your stuff in tight green jeans…” How much fun to have a prompt that tasty to help you a write a poem about your vegetables before cooking, tasting or planting!
  • Basho and the Fox by Tim Myers, illustrated with lovely Oki S. Han, watercolors is a delightful narrative punctuated with haiku written by the classic 16th Century Japanese poetry Basho. A poetry challenge is all that stands between the foxes and Basho’s ripe cherries. Will Basho discover the fox’s ultimate criteria for the perfect poem so he can create one that will save his cherries? “From that day forward, Basho understood that a poem should be written for its own sake…” The haiku begs for imitation.
  • Imagine a Night (or Imagine a Day) by Sarah L. Thomson, with captivating paintings by Rob Gonsalves, makes us reconsider what the eye sees. “imagine a night…when moonlight spills/across the water/ to make a path/ for the lightest feet.” Wonder at the painting that shows the reflection of the tall evergreens in the river morph into someone with lightest feet who IS walking on the water. Each page begins with “Imagine.” Using paint-blots kids can inspire their own fantastical Imagine poems.


  • Counting little Geckos by Charline Profiri, illustrated by Sherry Rogers, gives the youngest among us a chance to enjoy the antics of ten little geckos, in a familiar way; “…Little gecko number eight/Peeks beneath the garden gate.” What fun to compare this to “One, two, buckle my shoe” then stride out to create an original counting book or write a story or poem that twists other familiar nursery rhymes.


Marge Pellegrino is a word wild, book bonkers, library lunatic, who is also an award-winning author and teaching artist. She's led the Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther project serving refugee families since 1999. Her Pima County Public Library's Word Journeys Program won a White House's Coming Up Taller Award for excellence in afterschool programming.

Marge's essays, articles and poetry have been published in regional and national publications. All her children's books including My Grandma's the Mayor and I Don't Have an Uncle Phil Anymore are available in Korean, and Too Nice is also published in Chinese and Polish. Journey of Dreams won the Judy Goddard Award for young adult literature, and is honored on nine lists including: Smithsonian Notable Books, Kirkus Best Books, Southwest Books of the Year 2009 and Americas Award Commended List, 2010.

Created on: 
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Arizona Board of Regents