Get your kids fired up about poetry

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Pre-schoolers and teenagers alike can learn to love poetry, says Diane Colson, youth services manager of the Alachua County Library District.

"The sound of poetry when read aloud is very enticing to children," Colson says. "It almost seems magical when the rhythm of the verses and the thrill of the rhymes all come together."

While younger kids love rhyming poetry, Colson recommends free verse for teens and tweens, such as Margaret Wild's "Jinx" and Mel Glenn's "The Taking of Room 114." Another great choice, Colson says, is the free-verse novel "Love That Dog," by Newbery winner Sharon Creech. "Love That Dog" follows a boy who, guided his teacher, goes from scoffing at poetry ("If that is a poem/about the red wheelbarrow/and the white chickens/then any words/can be a poem") to discovering his own voice.

Another popular choice for middle- and high-schoolers, says Colson, is "Jazmin's Notebook" by Nikki Grimes.

"It's about a class of kids who have an open-mic day each week to read their poetry. The story is told from the viewpoints of several kids and includes the poems that each one writes. I know that a number of teachers have read the book to their own students and had a similar kind of open mic reading afterward," Colson says.

No matter the age, reading aloud is part of the enjoyment, Colson says. She suggests starting with illustrated books to make poetry more accessible.

"A thick book of collected poems certainly has less appeal than a short one with lavish illustrations," she says.

Poetry can even find a home in the kitchen with books like Kimberly Colen's "Peas and Honey: Recipes for Kids (With a Pinch of Poetry)." With recipes for kid-pleasing dishes from spaghetti pie to sandwiches, the book offers cooking lessons alongside relevant verses and colorful illustrations.

Kids who think poetry has to be ponderous need look no further than Shel Silverstein, the late, great children's poet who understood exactly how kids think and what makes them laugh, from bad-tempered conjoined twins to cautionary tales about appealingly unlikely dangers. Beyond Silverstein, Colson recommends the humorous poetry of Jack Prelutsky, Jeff Moss and Bill Grossman for elementary-age kids. In grade school, Colson says, "children can begin to appreciate some of the classic poetry that defines our literary heritage." Some of the library's beautifully illustrated classics include "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" by Walt Whitman, and even "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore.

For pre-readers, the emphasis is on colorful books with snappy rhymes, which, beyond the joy of hearing them read aloud, also underscore early reading skills. If you've been through the Dr. Seuss canon and are looking for books in a similar vein, check out Seuss' protégé, P.D. Eastman, whose style is similar.

Colson also recommends poet Jez Alborough ("Where's My Teddy?, "Some Dogs Do"), as well as Harriet Ziefert ("I Swapped my Dog" and dozens more).

"Another fun choice for early readers is the 'You Read to Me, I'll Read to You' series by Mary Ann Hoberman," Colson said. "These books have parts for both the child and adult reader, and they rhyme."

The library also has several collections of African-American poetry, such as "I, Too, Sing America" by Catherine Clinton and "Words with Wings: A Treasury of African American Poetry and Art," which pairs poems with artwork from African-American artists.

If reading poetry gets kids excited about writing it, two Web sites can get them started. offers a how to write tutorial and fill in the blank poems to jump start creativity. At, click on the Kids tab to create magnetic poems on a virtual fridge.

When they're ready to take their poems to an audience, try the family-friendly Poetry Open Mic niÕght on the first Monday of each month at the Headquarters Library from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Kids and their parents can go just to enjoy the poetry, to read an original poem or to recite from the works of their favorite poet. For more information about poetry night, call 334-3931.

E-mail Alisson Clark at

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