Waxing Poetic: a pop quiz and some homework from the teacher

Red Sings from Treetops Cover

It’s National Poetry Month!

Who cares, right? Well, YOU should care. Not because it’s “National Poetry Month,” per se, but because poetry is worth enjoying and learning more about. Why? Well, for one, Scripture is full of poetry–and not merely in the Psalms, either. Poetry is often an expression of deep, intimate emotion or experience both in Scripture and in popular literature. The better we understand poetry and the more we appreciate it–the better equipped we are both to understand the poetic passages in Scripture and to express ourselves in prayer and praise to the Lord. (We’re also better able to appreciate the hymns we sing, the prayers and praises of God’s people throughout history, and the sheer beauty of God’s gift of words and language–even the silly parts!)

Enjoyment before Explication


I confess that I didn’t truly enjoy poetry until I taught it (for middle and high school). But we can enjoy poetry without explicating it–especially when it comes to enjoying it with our children. Furthermore, poetry, like drama, is meant to be recited and heard. Young children intuitively love repeating nonsense rhymes, Mother Goose, silly Shel Silverstein poems, and a host of others without any adult prompting. So, in the spirit of National Poetry Month this month, let me encourage you to crack open a book of poetry and read it aloud with your children!

Poetry Pop Quiz

First, though, here’s a Poetry Pop Quiz! See how much you know about children’s poetry.

I’ll wait. Reading ahead is tantamount to cheating since I will be referring to some of the answers…. I’ll just drink a cup of tea in the meantime.

OK, how’d you do? If you got number 6 right–about our current Children’s Poet Laureate–congratulations! What about number 8? That’s right–poetry books can be found in the Dewey shelves in the 811 section.

Some of my Favorite Children’s Poetry Books

For the worldview ratings, I went with 4.5 for a few–only because they don’t mention a Creator outright.  Nonetheless, they enhance our understanding of and appreciation for Creation!!

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So (Chronicle, 2012).

coombs_water sings blue

One of my favorite books of 2012, Water Sings Blue matches ocean-themed poems with lovely watercolor illustrations–you feel like you’re at the beach when you read this one. I love that the poems range in style and tone. The vocabulary is outstanding (words like “stipple” to rhyme with “ripple” and all sorts of lovely names of shells and sea creatures that are just fun to say). Watercolors are the perfect complement. In fact, if you’re planning a beach vacation this summer, take a copy along for those quiet moments when everyone is tired from playing in the water. Recommended for elementary, although all will enjoy. Worldview value: 4.5. Literary value: 5.

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin, 2009; 2010 Caldecott Honor).

Using color as an organizational schema in which to poetically explore the seasons, Sidman and Zagarenski create a true work of art in Red Sings from Treetops. You really have to “see it to believe it” in this case. Zagarenski’s use of red, in particular, and Sidman’s insight into the unseen colors in each season are marvelous. They move us beyond seeing white in winter to seeing pink in winter or thinking of a color associated with a smell. Recommended for all ages. Another excellent poetry book about color is the older Hailstones and Halibut Bones. Worldview value: 4.5. Literary value: 5. 

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Eric Beddows (HarperCollins, 1992; orig. 1988; Newbery Medal).

joyful noise 1

This makes every poetry list of mine. It is an absolute gem in audio format because the poems in this short book are antiphonal–they must be read by at least 2 people. If you don’t have a strong reader around, check for the audio version. Every poem is about bugs, and Fleischman’s word choice, his style, his content–all work together for a truly enjoyable poetic experience. Highly recommended. Suitable for all ages. See also I am Phoenix for a similar collection about birds. Worldview value: 4.5. Literary value: 5.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger (Greenwillow, 2006).

Oh, that Jack Prelutsky is so silly! And kids eat. it. up. In this cheerful volume, he muses poetically over what you might get if you crossed, say, an umbrella with an elephant or other outlandish combinations. Full of puns, quirky rhymes, and lots of rhythm, this is a great book to “hook” kids who think they don’t like poetry. You just can’t take it too seriously in this book. It’s also a great starter for a creative writing assignment (especially if, for instance, your child wants to enter our poetry contest and has writer’s block). Elementary aged children will enjoy this one. Worldview value: 3. Literary value 4.

Layout 1

Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone (Harcourt Childrens, 2005).

Of course a librarian-in-training would enjoy a book of poetry about the library, but I’m confident that this will appeal to all book lovers out there. Lewis shares his love of reading, of books, of the library, and of all things bookish in a variety of poetic formats. Illustrations are a nice accompaniment. Perfect for book lovers of all ages, but elementary children will especially enjoy this one. Worldview value: 4. Literary value: 4.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be back with more poetry-related reviews; I’ll be looking at middle-grade and YA fare in the form of novels-in-verse. Later this week, Megan will share some favorite poetry anthologies.

In the meantime, what poetry suggestions do YOU have for us?

I’d also encourage you to check out our Poetry Contest if you missed that post as well as some other Redeemed Reader Poetry-related reviews and recommendations: Twisting Mother Goose, Cowboys and Other Guy Stuff (Poems by David Harrison–see a Harrison Interview here!), and Step Gently Out. You might also check out the 100 Scope Notes blog’s Book Spine Poetry gallery for more fun!
All cover images from goodreads

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Gina on April 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Our librarian says, “Quick! I need a good poem! Dial 8-1-1!”

  2. Julia Anderson on April 16, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle is the book I read in junior high that had me hooked on poetry. My son majored in poetry at UVA and got started with Robert Lewis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

    • Betsy Farquhar on April 17, 2020 at 7:29 am

      I’ve never heard of the Watermelon Pickle book–I’ll have to look that one up! A Child’s Garden Verses is wonderful.

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