Posts Tagged National Poetry Month

Primed for Poetry Month

Landscape that ways "we were all meant for something"

On April 1, National Poetry Month will begin. No foolin’! It’s a time for readers and writers, teachers and learners, and lovers of all things literary to focus on the art of the poem. And for middle grade enthusiasts, there is plenty of poetry to go around.

National Poetry Month was launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996. The aim was to shine a spotlight on the integral role of poets and poems in our national culture. Since that time, Poetry Month has become a worldwide literary celebration. Schoolteachers, librarians, booksellers, and publishers approach April with great enthusiasm, and readers are delighted. So are poets.

Poetic license allows structure, form, content, and tone to meander in their own directions, so there’s something for everyone. Explore this sampling of middle grade poetry in its many variations.

The Funny Stuff

Sometimes, we all need a good laugh. For kids who enjoy humor, there are some ever-popular poets to explore, like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. Or, for something new, you might want to try Brian P. Cleary’s Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks. Cleary turns jokes into limericks, adding humor to a child’s developing sense of rhythm and rhyme. 

Green book cover with kid holding his nose.

The Classics

Do you know kids who enjoy reading works that have stood the test of time? Publishers and editors have carefully curated collections of poems by the likes of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou that are appropriate for and appealing to a middle-grade audience. A quick search will yield quite a selection of well-loved works that are just right for middle-grade readers. As an enticing example, check out the beautifully illustrated, recently released collection called Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes.

Blue cover, row of people, Langston Hughes

The Rhythm Seekers

Poetry is musical, and a lot of music begins as poetry! Practice reading song lyrics and becoming immersed in the flow of language. Kindle some kinesthetic learning with jump ropes, cheers, and dance moves. Inspire kids to set their own verses to music, and encourage them to perform. If you know a reader who will respond to rhythm and you’d like to find “50 inspiring poems with a beat,” check out Hip Hop Speaks to Children, with works selected for kids by poet Nikki Giovani.

Blue cover with two kids holding hands


A Study of Style

Newbery Award-winning author and poet Kwame Alexander has reignited a passion for novels in verse, and he has also worked with others to create new poetry in the style of established poets. Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, pays homage to 20 different poets by imitating the masters to create original works. This collection is called Out of Wonder, and it’s great for studying the elements and devices that define beloved poets. These poems can also serve as a springboard for students’ original works. They can join the fun and create in the style of famous creators.

Orange cover, woman with hands raised


Find Your Inner Poet

Poet Irene Latham explores found poetry in This Poem is a Nest. From a single poem about the seasonal evolution of a bird’s nest, Latham creates 161 smaller “nestlings,” or found poems. In her introduction, Latham provides guidance and instruction in developing found poetry, and at the end, she offers tips that will turn fledgling writers into proud poets. This Poem is a Nest is sure to spark the creativity of readers. 

Dark blue cover with bird nest in a tree


Share Some Poetry Love

Beyond sharing these books with young readers, there’s so much more to explore! If the thought of Poetry Month excites you, you will probably be even more excited to find out there are a lot of ways you can get involved in this month-long poetry party. For example…

  • Sign up for Poem-a-Day during the month of April, and receive daily installments of the work of contemporary poets.
  • Share your own poetry on social media, and use the hashtag #NationalPoetryMonth. (Be sure to tag @poetsorg on Twitter and Instagram!)
  • Organize a poetry reading, poetry slam, or poetry contest in your community.
  • Participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day, and if you do so on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #PocketPoem.

No matter what your poetic preferences may be, April is the month to immerse yourself in the beauty and power of the written word. If you need some ideas for ways to observe National Poetry Month, hop on over to to plan the perfect poetry celebration.


Book List: Just Right Poetry for Middle-Graders

It’s National Poetry Month!  What better way to celebrate than to explore some of the great poetry books available for readers ages 8-12?  As you read poetry this month or anytime, remember that poets tune in to the sounds of feeling and the feelings of sound. Please READ  POEMS ALOUD to fully enjoy them.

Here are some appealing collections by single poets:

Marilyn Singer in Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems, ingeniously turns familiar fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella upside down in poems that you can  read forward and backward for opposite meanings! Her other books in reverso form are Follow Follow (featuring more tales like The Little Mermaid and The Tortoise and the Hare) and Echo Echo, based on Greek myths. All three are illustrated by Josee Masee.

Patrick Lewis’s Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis, Illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli, earns its title. It includes a range of poems written our third Children’s Poet Laureate. Subjects include animals, people, reading, sports (some of the best baseball poems I’ve read–take that, Casey at the Bat!), riddles, and funny epitaphs.

In Animal Poems, Valerie Worth captures the uniqueness of animals ranging from bear to porcupine to mole to jellyfish in brief but rich free-verse word pictures.  Stunning paper-cut animal illustrations by Steve Jenkins accompany the poems.

Joyce Sidman is our premier nature poet for children.  Her extraordinary books explore the natural world with vivid poems in various forms, based on solid science. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors depicts animals that have adapted around the world and are definitely not endangered. See also her other titles , including her Caldecott Honor Winner Song of the Water Boatman and Winter Bees 

A good way to discover new poems and poets you love is to browse through anthologies with a variety of poets and poems. 
In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, Chris Coldly and Mary Wentworth have written poems in homage  to great poets past and present who have inspired them., reflecting their styles and ideas.  The subjects include  Maya Angelou, Basho, e.e.cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walter Dean Myers, Pablo Neruda , Mary Olver, Rumi, and even Chief Dan George.  A joyful book with bold illustrations by Ekua Holmes.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye is also a superb anthologist with a special interest in poems from less familiar voices.  See The Space Between our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, and This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the WorldShe also compiled a collection of poems written by her students in poetry-in-the-schools classes over the years: Salting the Ocean: 100 poems by Young Poets. 

More and more novels in verse are appearing, most of them for at adult readers.
A wonderful exception is Kwame Alexander’s be-bop and free verse Newbery Award winner The Crossover. Here’s what Publisher’s Weeklyhad to say in its review of the book: “The poems dodge and weave with the speed of a point guard driving for the basket, mixing basketball action with vocabulary-themed poems, newspaper clippings, and Josh’s sincere first-person accounts that swing from moments of swagger-worth triumph to profound pain.” A page turner, even if you’re not especially a sports fan.  See also the other books in his Crossover series: Booked and Rebound.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a spare, quieter free-verse novel published in 2007 that still resonates in the present moment. This touching story of a young Sudanese war refugee trying to find his way in America is told through his own eyes and voice.

Middle Graders love humor.  Here are some books that take pitch-perfect aim at the middle-grade funny bone.

I’m loving Chris Harris’s I’m Just no Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grownups.  Of course he is good at rhyming, but kids will find the title poem hilarious.

Caleb Brown is also a humor treasure, especially his Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about Just about Everything.  See also The Ghostly Carousel: Delightfully Frightful Poems.  He has a new book coming out in June, Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense.

Douglas Florian is  best known for his slightly younger books of clever word-play and paintings.  But he has two big books of humor: Poem Depot, Aisles of Smiles and Laugh-eteria. He has also collaborated with  J. Patrick Lewis in the wildly clever Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.

Younger middle-grade fans of Shel Silverstein are in for a treat with his posthumously published book of spoonerisms  Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

What about middle-graders who would not only like to read poetry but to write their own?  Of course the best way to learn to write is to read and write and write some more.  But the following books may give young writers some encouragement and inspiration:

Kathi Appelt, Poems from Homeroom : A Writer’s Place to Start

Ralph FletcherPoetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You.

Paul B. Janeczko, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.



Readers, the hardest part about compiling this list was choosing from all the possibilities!  Please use the comments to add poetry titles you think or know from experience middle-graders would love.  Then let’s all get to our bookshelves, independent bookstore, or local library and celebrate National Poetry Month!

Pocket Poetry for the Poetry Deficient

I, the World’s Worst Poetry Spokesperson, invite you to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day 2017 on April 27th. If you aren’t familiar with the event, the experts from the Academy of American Poets have an excellent explanation and links to downloadable pocket poems at their website.

Poetry reminds me to keep an open mind about things. It reminds me to give things I may not seem to like an honest chance. It reminds me the best horizons are the ones which expand the experiences. Put a poem in your pocket and a smile on your face for this special day.

In celebration, I like to rehash this personal poetry story for Pocket Poetry Day.

Back in sophomore honors English, my teacher, Mrs. Goheen, gave us the assignment of memorizing and reciting a poem in front of the class. I was not a huge fan of poetry to begin with, even though this IS getting better as I mature, so this was an assignment akin to flossing and brushing the dog’s teeth. When I saw poetry in books, the words got fuzzy and began to dance around in a deadly vortex. I readily admit now there are several poems and poets I really like: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Greg Pincus, Poe, Frost, etc.

Well, anyway, completely true to my young academic form, I forgot all about the memorization assignment until late evening the night before we are to be thrown to the wolves. I searched frantically through our home bookshelf, listening to the “I told you so’s” from my dear mother and the taunting coming from my brothers. All in the Hays House went to bed that night thinking old Mike was toast in the morning when English class rolled around.

I sat in class the next morning waiting to be called to the gallows. When my name was finally called, I could feel Mrs. Goheen anticipating my impending epic failure like a hawk eyeing a lone field mouse in the pasture. Honestly, I was probably the last over the cut line to get into honors English. I was a seat filler, a butt in the seat. The dumbest kid in the smart group. And, let me tell you, being a decent athlete did not help me one bit with the “honors” class teachers.

So, there I am, standing in front of the class trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I cracked my knuckles and cleared my throat for a little slapstick comic relief, took my best Shakespearean stance, and began…

The Duck
by Ogden Nash
Behold the duck.
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It quacks.
It is specially fond
Of a puddle or pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.

I can’t remember what grade I received on the project. The audience seemed entertained and Mrs. Goheen unexpectedly seemed satisfied with the selection.(Note: She saw me as a dumb jock up at this point in our relationship, and I didn’t really do anything to convince her otherwise until my late year cutting-edge, incisive book report on a Bob Dylan biography.). I am sure it was probably a B+. I do recall Mrs. Goheen asking why I picked that particular poem. I lied. I told her it was my favorite poem. But in all reality, the poem fit when written on my tennis shoe. You know, just in case I got stage fright.

It’s probably fitting “The Duck” became my favorite poem and, to date, the only poem I have burned to memory. In its 30-word entirety!

Thank you, Ogden Nash.

Do you have your own personal version “The Duck”? A poem that holds a special place for you.

What poem do you carry around in your pocket and in your heart?

Please share in the comments and/or write a one-line poem to celebrate the day. 

Happy Poem In Your Pocket Day to one and all!

Poetry gives us a different lens through which to view and/or try to explain the world around us.