If you or your children aren’t sure how to develop a taste for poetry, especially if you haven’t decided whether you ought to feel obligated to do so, I have a short, painless booklist for you. Even if you can’t access a library right now, most of these would be available digitally. They would also make great home library builders! I encourage you to order these books from an independent bookstore that offers curbside pickup, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon. You won’t regret the purchases.
Read these aloud with a beverage and scones (these really are the best ever!) or doughnuts, if you wish (shall we nickname these “quarantine doughnuts?”). DO NOT wait until you make something elaborate to begin enjoying these books, but if you DO make scones or doughnuts, read aloud while fingers are messy and mouths are full. I usually rely on popcorn and iced tea.
Ready? Here you go. What do these five men, two English and three American, have in common?
Their protagonists are poets. Truly clever, humorous poets. Woven into each narrative is a burst of meter and rhyme that feels so natural to the story, it makes poetry seem an ordinary part of every day life.
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Step 1: Read The Essential Calvin and Hobbes and Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson.
Go ahead and read the rest of the series, because there is poetry scattered throughout. Read the poems aloud, for heartiest effect.
Step 2: Read all the picture books about Frances the Badger (Bedtime, Baby Sister, Bread and Jam, Best Friends, Birthday, Bargain), by Russell Hoban.
Her insights are childlike and brilliant. If you possibly can, order a used copy of Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs. It’s out of print, but “Gloria” is often quoted around here. (Note: Best Friends for Frances has been reprinted as I Can Read versions, and it is not identical to the picture book text. As far as I can see, Baby Sister and Bargain are the same. Stick with the original)
Step 3: Read Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.
Part of the charm is that Pooh’s poetry isn’t perfect, and we don’t mind. (Optional: read When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, too. “The Kings Breakfast” has long been one of my favorites, and when Kermit the Frog’s nephew Robin sings “Halfway Down” on the Muppets, the charm is irresistible.)
Step 4: Read Freddy and the Bean Home News by Walter Brooks (a bargain on Kindle).
Freddy is a porcine entrepreneur who takes pleasure in composing poetry throughout his adventures at home and abroad. His Collected Poems are also available on Kindle. There are plenty of books in the series, all of which are recommended.
Step 5: Read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
My eldest confesses that he skips over the poems, but he heard them read aloud when he was too young to remember and was still developing his love of language.
Contemporary authors: The Wilderking Trilogy and The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers
We’ve been enjoying the poems and songs performed by feechies and other characters. (Right now the author is reading The Charlatan’s Boy aloud!)
Poetry as Pleasure
There you go! You are experiencing poetry as a pleasure. Are you ready for more? Our family favorites include these:
- Timothy Tunny Swallowed a Bunny
- I’m Just No Good at Rhyming (see starred review)
- Linguistic Development Through Poetry (Institute for Excellence in Writing). These are more expensive, but there are five audio CDs that we have frequently enjoyed listening to, although we rarely use the print resource. A worthwhile investment.
If you’re ready to branch out to more traditional classics, I especially enjoyed The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems edited by Donald Hall (author of Ox-Cart Man).
Wasn’t that simple? If you aren’t a poetry lover yet, you are at least learning that it can be appealing, effortless, and even irresistible.