Poetry for Children: Picture Book Picks

Poetry for Children: Picture Book Picks

Since I’m on the subject of poetry lately, I thought I’d mention a couple of books the kids got for Christmas. Or to be more specific, that Sophie got for Christmas.

Hist Whist by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray.

I wrote about Hist Whist before. We liked it so much that I felt we really needed to own a copy of it. And although both girls like the poem and have memorized it, there’s something about the way it makes Sophie smile….

Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant illustrated by Barbara McClintock.

I adore Barbara McClintock. We have several books illustrated by her. My favorite is Dahlia; but I also love Goldilocks And The Three Bears, The Gingerbread Man, and The Tale Of Tricky Fox. Recently we also checked out When Mindy Saved Hanukkah and it was beautiful too.

Anyway, I saw this book and thought that it might be worth owning just because of her beautiful illustrations. I’m always looking for more poetry and I was intrigued that it included a cd of Natalie Merchant singing the poems. And yes, the book and cd have both been a hit with Sophie, Ben, Bella, and Anthony.

In his essay Can Poetry Matter? Dana Gioia makes some suggestions about how to revive poetry as a part of American culture*. Of his list this was the one that most caught my attention:

5. Poetry teachers especially at the high school and undergraduate levels, should spend less time on analysis and more on performance. Poetry needs to be liberated from literary criticism. Poems should be memorized, recited, and performed. The sheer joy of the art must be emphasized. The pleasure of performance is what first attracts children to poetry, the sensual excitement of speaking and hearing the words of the poem. Performance was also the teaching technique that kept poetry vital for centuries. Maybe it also holds the key to poetry’s future.

I think of Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder reciting poems and how thrilling it was for both of them. I see this in my own children. Bella and Sophie have loved reciting Hist Whist since we checked it out from the library in October.

They all recite nursery rhymes, scraps of songs and carols and hymns, lines from the Liturgy of the Hours. Right now a great favorite is Ebenezer Bleazer’s Ice Cream, the favorite poem in Sophie’s new Leave Your Sleep book. I also heard snatches of “Going on a Bear Hunt” from a couple of different children. I think Gioia is right, children love to recite and memorize and do it as easily and naturally as breathing. They will memorize and recite jingles from ads. They will memorize lines from their favorite television shows, movies, and books. The only real trick is to give them a diet of good poetry to recite. Right now I’m not really al that interested in trying to assign memorization. I’d rather try to find poems that so capture their fancy that they almost can’t help memorizing them. Beautiful picture books help in that regard. I think I need to find more of them.

*One thing Gioia doesn’t mention is the role of social media, because at the time this essay was written the internet didn’t really exist. I like to think that bloggers and users of Facebook can be instrumental in reviving poetry as a commonplace of our public life as lived on the internet. The more we share the less alien it seems and the more normal it will seem. Thus my goal to publish more poetry here.

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