Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Poetry Buzz

I read in Honey for Child's Heart that you should read poetry to children so they can hear how beautiful language can be and get a taste for it. Does Shel Silverstein count? Because we sure read a lot of his poems. Since then, I've tried to make poetry a staple of our literary diet and my kids really enjoy it. We read other stuff but most of it is preposterously silly. Here's what we've sampled and what we're addicted to.

Shel Silverstein is probably our favorite at our house. "Falling Up", and "The Light in the Attic" are the collections we have and read out of regularly. The girls have memorized a few too, though they wouldn't be the ones I'd want them reciting to people. For example:
We gave you a chance
To water the plants.
We didn't mean that way--
Now zip up your pants.

Heh heh, it probably didn't help that I roared with laughter after reading it. Oops. The only other author that I have warped my children with is a collection of poems by Roald Dahl of "James and the Giant Peach" and "The BFG" fame. The book is called "Revolting Rhymes" and its his twist on fairy tales. Here's an excerpt from Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

This famous wicked little tale
Should never have been put on sale.
It is a mystery to me
Why loving parents cannot see
That this is actually a book
About a brazen little crook.
Had I the chance I wouldn't fail
To clap young Goldilocks in jail.

The poem ends with Baby Bear eating Goldilocks. There are some funnier, and some gorier, poems in the book. I got it knowing that my children love Dahl's bizarre sense of humor and it is in full form in the book.

Recently, we discovered Jack Prelutsky, the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate. His poetry is so fun and enticing to my children that once we start reading, nobody wants to stop. "Just one more!" is what they beg every time and I have a hard time saying no. Here's one sample:

The cuckoo in our cuckoo clock
was wedded to an octopus,
she laid a single wooden egg,
and hatched a cuckoocloctopus.

Prelutsky has lots of poetry collections and my second daughter got "The New Kid on the Block" for her birthday. That same day, her older sister stole it and read almost the entire book in her bed. We've gotten other Prelutsky books from the library, including "In Aunt Giraffe's Green Garden" which has poems about major cities in it. We were so excited to see our home in his book and the place where I grew up. They were both so perfectly accurate too. Not all his poems are silly but those that are not are beautiful to read.

A beautiful and not silly poetry book is "Hailstones and Halibut Bones" by Mary O'Neill. It's poems about colors and it is amazing to watch my children listen to the poems. They kind of stare off in the distance and sit very quietly. I'll read one then pause while they absorb it. It's fun to watch their brains wrap themselves around the words.

Lastly, in a fit of trying to be a literary type, I bought Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's collection of poems called "The Children's Own Longfellow." I was congratulating myself, thinking of what a good mother I was to enrich my children with some of the world's greatest literature. The first poem we read was "The Wreck of the Hesperus" which ends with the ship crashing against the rocky shore, killing everybody aboard. My children cried for twenty minutes. I tried again with "Paul Revere's Ride" which was received better, but required me to explain the Revolutionary War--not a easy task with children who have no frame of reference. We've decided to put that book back on the shelf for a little while.

Now my next goal is to find some poetry for me to read and enjoy. I don't want anything that makes me completely depressed or is graphic and gory. Does that exist? I think I'll go do some cruising on the interweb and figure out what is worth reading. Until then, I have Henry, Shel and Jack to keep me entertained.


  1. I see you are reading a book by Shel in your photo... I too am a little warped, and love those type of poetry books. The Revolting Rhymes is my favorite so far. They make me giggle!

  2. My absolute favorite is Robert Lewis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
    It opens up the world of play and pretend and always brings me along with them.
    I got this from my aunt for my Birthday after wishing for it. My first grade teacher used to read it to us.
    Great memories


  3. I love the Child's Garden of Verses too. We tend to get poetry books about seasons and such. Alan doesn't believe in poetry that doesn't rhyme. I love the New Kid on the Block! I am looking forward to trying out some of these though.

  4. i am intrigued and repulsed and jealous of how much you can read AND blog, and i BARELY have time to READ your BLOGS! man...

  5. I'm going to add A Children's Garden of Verses to my library list. Gotta check it out.

    Pixie, you have made my day saying that I repulsed you. I don't know what it is about making people disgusted, but it makes me laugh. One of these days I'll post a blog about how I find time to read and blog. It's pretty funny, but I won't say anything here so I'll have more to say in my blog.

  6. An interesting tidbit I learned from my daughter's 2nd grade teacher. We were at a parent-teacher conference and she was showing me the scores for the children in the class. She pointed out that she had several students that were really struggling: some were still reading at a Pre-K level. She said in all her years of teaching (going on 18) she had noticed something: the children who were familiar with poetry and/or music did much better in all the areas of the curriculum. She said it had something to do with feeling the rhythm or cadence of the poems. She bemoaned that more parents weren't reading poetry to their children, even nursery rhymes are "out of style", she said.
    I have to admit Shel Silverstein is my hero. We read him maybe a bit too much: MEG can nearly quote "Sick" verbatim.