April is a time for celebrating the power of poetry—its expressive potential, anything-goes embrace of subject matter and (yes!) capacity for play. It’s never too early to spark an appreciation of language and verse in young readers. The books below are a great place to start.
ADVENTURE AT THE MARKET
Part of poetry’s appeal is its ability to elevate and celebrate everyday experiences. Michelle Schaub’s Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market (ages 4 to 8) is a prime example of this principle. The 18 works in this spirited book chronicle the adventures of a young boy and girl during a trip to the farmer’s market. Schaub communicates the carnival feel of the occasion in “Market Day Today”: “Farmers chat. / Musicians play. / A neighbor- / stroller- / dog parade.” From “Sally’s Sweet Corn” (“Eat it fast. / Eat it slow. / Crunch in circles. / Nibble rows.”) to “Market Melody” (“Twing, twang, twiddle, / thrum-a-rum— / fiddle pluck / and banjos strum.”), Schaub captures the sounds, sights and smells of the market. Dynamic watercolor pictures by Amy Huntington reflect the pleasure and wonder of the youngsters as they peruse produce, sip lemonade and try to keep their frisky dog in check. This irresistible collection is sure to inspire many market expeditions.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Jane Yolen explores the earth’s hidden mysteries in Thunder Underground (ages 5 to 10). The soil, the sea, the city streets—all conceal bustling, secret worlds, and Yolen shows what goes on there in this engaging group of 21 poems. “Spelunk” is a spellbinding descent into the mouth of a cave, where stalactites form “fairy-tale castles,” while “Subway” tracks the endless activity of a train, “growling as it goes from street to street.” Yolen’s skills as an innovative verse-maker are on full display as she plumbs nature’s depths in poems about hidden rivers, percolating volcanoes and busy insect colonies. Josée Masse’s mixed-media illustrations feature an adventuresome pair of children, along with half-hidden surprises that await excavation, like pottery shards and fossils. Yolen uses language and imagery in ways that are never less than arresting. This is a superb collection that will expand the reader’s understanding of both poetry and science.
POETRY IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The idea of spending the night outside makes Lucy, the heroine of Tamera Will Wissinger’s Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse (ages 6 to 9), quake in her hiking boots. But with her grandpa and her brother, Sam, she braves a stay at the Sugar Pines Campground. Wissinger tells the story of their excursion through a series of cleverly crafted poems, mixing sophisticated forms, including rondel, kyrielle and blank verse, with a kid-friendly idiom and plenty of humor. Lucy is worried while setting up camp: “During the day the tent is bright. / How dark will it get tonight?” But by bedtime, after s’mores and a blessing from grandpa, she has conquered her fear: “My shield is this pillow, my sword—this flashlight. / Spookiness, Shadows, Strange Noises: GOODNIGHT.” Matthew Cordell’s buoyant illustrations are just right for this trip into the woods. With an accessible glossary of literary terms, Wissinger’s tale is the perfect campfire read.
AN AWESOME ANTHOLOGY
Spanning centuries and cultures, Kwame Alexander’s new collection, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (ages 8 to 12), is a delightful survey of verse forms and narrative voices. Alexander shares original poems inspired by 20 of his favorite writers, a diverse group that includes Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, Rumi and Emily Dickinson. With help from poets Chris Coderley and Marjory Wentworth, he delivers a broad range of works. The spare, refined “Contemporary Haiku” is a salute to 17th-century Japanese poet Bashō: “Pens scratching paper / Syllables counted with care / Poets blossoming.” The syncopated “Jazz Jive Jam” pays tribute to Langston Hughes: “ ’Round midnight came a band of neighbors / swinging soul to soul. / The landlord even cut a rug / and let the good times roll.” Ekua Holmes’ stunning mixed-media illustrations have a poetry all their own, making this homage to an international group of literary legends a book to be treasured.