"He liked the word - its smallness, its density, the way it rose up at the end as if it had wings. Poetry."
-Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
April is National Poetry Month, what a wonderful excuse to share poems with youth! Story poems filled with adventure and glee, short bite-sized poems to fit in your pocket, classic poems to carry them through school, poems that rhyme and will forever be stuck in your head, and so many more! Language is beautiful and poetry is a wonderful way to encourage youth to play with words.
Here are just a few of the many ways that poetry can not only entertain but can reinforce early literacy skills.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
-Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Rhyme: Poems that rhyme are a great way for children to hear similarities between word sounds. There is a reason why The Cat in the Hat and Mother Goose rhymes are staples in developing early literacy skills: all that word play is great exercise for hearing matching sounds and making connections between words.
- Phonemic Awareness: This is a big word for the small sounds within words. For instance, that the word "book" has a "b" sound, a short "oo" sound and a "k" sound. Poems use tactics such as alliteration (using the same beginning letter sounds as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers") which highlights relationships between words or reinforce an image, like the "Big Bad" wolf who "blows" the house down.
- Syllables: Some forms of poetry are all about syllables, just think of the haiku! Breaking words and sounds down into smaller pieces allows children to recognize patterns while reading.
- Figurative language: Poetry is full of metaphor and simile! Poems can fit a lot of meaning into a few short lines and figuring it all out can feel like a treasure hunt for something spectacular.
- Print awareness: Most poetry is made to be read aloud and such sharing is ideal for helping children make connections between what words sound like out loud and what words look like on the page.
Now that I am sure I have convinced you that poetry isn’t just for academic analysis, let’s dive into the world of rhyme, haiku, acrostic, couplet, hymn, limerick, ode and sonnet. And to get us started, here some titles to share with young children as an introduction to the world of poetry!
- The tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash: A dragon tale of friendship and bravery!
- Won-Ton: a cat tale told in haiku by Lee Wardlaw: Sweet animal story and clever haikus to boot!
- The blacker the berry:poems by Joyce Carol Thomas: Stunning illustrations and lovely poems to celebrate African American children.
- Hip hop speaks to children by Nikki Giovanni: Hip hop is poetry! This gem even comes with a CD of spoken word and lyrical performances.
- Mirror mirror: a book of reversable verse by Marilyn Singer: Fairy tale poems told forwards and backwards reveal very different stories.
- Truckery rhymes by Jon Scieszka: For truck loving kiddos!
- Iguanas in the snow and other winter poems by Francisco X. Alarcón: Collection of winter poems in English and Spanish by the late Francisco Alarcón who passed away just a few months ago. Everything by him is amazing, a poet who celebrated language and encouraged youth to do the same.