National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world; it marks poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives. The Academy of American Poets founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to:
- highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
- encourage the reading of poems,
- assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
- increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,
- encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and
- encourage support for poets and poetry.
International Haiku Poetry Day
April 17 is the day the whole world honors haiku. Registered by Sari Grandstaff in 2007 and initiated as a project of The Haiku Foundation in 2012, International Haiku Poetry Day occurs during the United States’ celebration of National Poetry Month. The Haiku Foundation encourages public events, including readings, exhibitions and competitions. It also sponsors events in three areas:
- HaikuLife Haiku Film Festival
- EarthRise Rolling Haiku Collaboration
- Haiku Gatherings
Poem in Your Pocket Day
Poem in Your Pocket Day 2018 is on April 26 and is part of National Poetry Month. This is a day to select a poem, carry it with you and share it with others. Use the hashtag #pocketpoem if you share your poem on social media. Poem in Your Pocket Day was initiated in April 2002 by the Office of the Mayor in New York City, in partnership with the city’s Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education. Join the celebration by printing a poem from the downloadable Poem in Your Pocket Day PDF, which includes a free guide for celebrating in your school, community, or business.
Poetry books for children (and adults)
A poem is a snapshot of a moment in time captured in words and rhythm. Read poems to your children. Write poems with them. Here are some books you can look through for poems to share on Poem in Your Pocket Day or for the simple enjoyment of poetry.
H is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z
by Sydell Rosenberg
Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi
Ages 5 to 11
This brand new book offers an A-Z compendium of haiku that brings out the fun and poetry in everyday moments and is the culmination of a lifelong dream of the author’s. Poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, founders of Penny Candy Books helped Rosenberg to realize her dream by publishing this unique book. Rosenberg was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and was well-anthologized over the years. She not only wrote haiku in the traditional way, but also developed a sparer style. Haiku are brief (they make perfect “pocket poetry”) but they impel readers to slow down and linger over something they may ordinarily overlook. From the introduction: “Haiku help make so-called “small moments” big. Children and adults alike will relate to these evocative ‘word-pictures.'”
A Gift From Greensboro
By Quraysh ali Lansana
Illustrated by Eric Hill
Ages 4 to 8
A Gift from Greensboro is at once an elegy, a celebration of the magic of childhood friendship, and a meditation on growing up in the wake of the sit-ins that ushered in the Civil Rights Movement. Paired with intricate, layered illustrations, this poem recognizes that true friendship knows no boundaries and that love drives positive change. Quraysh ali Lansana is the author of eight poetry books, three textbooks, three children’s books, editor of eight anthologies, and coauthor of a book of pedagogy. He is a faculty member of the Creative Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a former faculty member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy
by Tony Medina
Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe and others
Ages 6 to 11
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina offers a fresh perspective of young men of color by depicting thirteen views of everyday life: young boys dressed in their Sunday best, running to catch a bus, and growing up to be teachers, and much more. Each of Tony Medina’s tanka is matched with a different artist―including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients. A tanka is a Japanese poem consisting of five lines. The first and third lines each have five syllables and the other lines each have seven syllables, making 31 syllables in all. A tanka intends to give a complete picture of an event or mood. Tony Medina is a two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), is the author/editor of nineteen books for adults and young readers. A Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University, Medina has received the Langston Hughes Society Award, the first African Voices Literary Award, and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for his poems.
Are you an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
By Misuku Kaneko
Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri and others
Ages 7 to 10
In early-1900s Japan, Misuzu Kaneko (1903–1930) grew from precocious bookworm to instantly-beloved children’s poet. But her life ended prematurely and tragically, and Misuzu’s work was forgotten. Decades later her poems were rediscovered—just in time to touch a new generation devastated by the tsunami of 2011. This award winning picture book is accompanied by colorful, soft illustrations. The first half of the book recounts Kaneko’s life and includes a selection of the poems that thematically complement the text. The second half of the book is a larger, and also illustrated, collection of her poems in English and Japanese. Even in translation, her work has an elegant simplicity and clarity. This book is also the story of Setsuo Yazaki, who worked tirelessly to track down the more than 500 poems that Kaneko wrote during her lifetime and preserve them after they fell into obscurity.
One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You off to Sleep
By Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrated by Christoph Niemann
Ages 4 to 8
It’s time for tuck-in, and your little one wants just one more moment with you–so fill it with something that will feed the imagination, fuel a love of reading, and send them off to sleep in a snap. Reach for a one-minute poem! Former Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt presents a blockbuster collection of all-new poetry penned by some of the most beloved and celebrated poets of our time, including Jack Prelutsky, Jon Scieszka, Mary Ann Hoberman, Nikki Grimes, Lemony Snicket, and Jane Yolen. Illuminated with dreamlike wit and whimsy by New York Times illustrator and award-winning artist Christoph Niemann, here is a new bedtime classic. This charming compendium holds a wide variety of poetic forms and emotions, from bits of “concrete” to slices of doggerel, from bursts of giggles to slathers of joy. Poems where moon mice “know the moon is made of cheese,” seagulls throw parties “but never cook, ever,” and sleepy weeds “lean against each other” are sure to enchant adults and children alike.
Feel the Beat: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing
By Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Kristi Valliant
Ages 5 to 8
Poetry master, Marilyn Singer, has crafted a unique picture book poetry collection. This vibrant collection of poems celebrates all forms of social dance from samba and salsa, tango and hip-hop, and bhangra to square dance. The poems are all narrated by different characters, mostly children, participating in or observing a dance style. The language and rhythm are precise, and each selection is written to the beat of that dance style without a single misstep. The text simply begs to be read aloud. The poems are told from the perspectives of those nervous to dance, those amazed by a dancer’s agility and grace, and those downright disgusted with a gym class requirement: “I’m flunking out of square dance!” Valiant’s visuals are superb. Most pages contain full, vividly colored spreads with overlaid text. The characters’ expressions are full of life, and there is diversity of race and age reflected on every page. The book closes with short and understandable explanations of each dance and its rhythm. Included with the book is an audio CD of the author reading each poem accompanied by original music from composer Jonathon Roberts.
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market
By Michelle Schaub
Illustrated by Amy Huntington
Ages 4 to 8
This collection of poems takes young readers to a day at an urban farmers’ market. A multiethnic crowd of people saunter through a farmers’ market, investigating produce, accompanied by cheerful poetry. Does the “smell of a melon give clues you can use”? Are free-range eggs truly “eggs-traordinary,” and is honey really “liquid-gold alchemy”? Along with this delectable sampling of sweet corn and the search for gooseberries are a list of reasons to shop at such a market, from “Tempting Your Taste Buds” to “Befriending a Farmer.” Huntington’s light watercolor brushstrokes provide a pleasing window into the world of the farmers’ market, from the early morning unloading of the truck to packing up in the late afternoon.
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
Ages 4 to 8
My Chinatown is a critically acclaimed, spectacularly illustrated picture book homage to family, culture, and a childhood spent in one of the most striking places in any city—Chinatown. Author and illustrator, Kam Mak, grew up in a place of two cultures, one existing within the other. Using extraordinarily beautiful paintings and moving poems, he shares a year of growing up in this small city within a city. My Chinatown explores a boy’s first year in the United States—after emigrating from China—as he grows to love his new home in Chinatown through food, games, and the people surrounding him. Through Kam Mak’s spare verse and richly detailed artwork, the streets of Chinatown come vividly alive.
One Leaf Rides the Wind
by Celeste Mannis
Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hurtung
Ages 5 to 8
Filled with lush illustrations, this counting book reveals both the pleasure and the tranquility of the Japanese garden, while introducing haiku poetry, with eleven poems that are simple and easy to follow. A Japanese girl in a rust-colored kimono tours a temple garden and counts its fixtures one to 10. The girl reaches for a drifting maple leaf in the first spread (“One leaf rides the wind./ Quick as I am, it’s quicker!/ Just beyond my grasp”) and Hartung (Dear Juno) places her squarely at the garden’s entrance. As she admires bonsai (“a miniature forest”), views a pagoda (with its “five roofs [that] stretch to heaven”) and drinks tea in a teahouse, the artist fills in details that trace her pathway before the girl lies down beside a lotus-covered pond: “What do flowers dream?/ Adrift on eight pond pillows,/ pink-cheeked blossoms rest.” Mannis’s haiku act as both a guide to some of the elements of traditional Japanese culture and a useful introduction to the haiku form. Hartung’s watercolors combine areas of finer draftsmanship with simple washes; in the artist’s hands, the landscape becomes a series of meditative images.
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
By Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Arnold Lobel
Ages 7 and up
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children was recognized upon its publication in 1983 as an invaluable collection–a modern classic–and it has not since been surpassed. Featuring 572 unforgettable poems, and over 400 one-of-a-kind illustrations from the Caldecott-winning illustrator of the Frog and Toad series, Arnold Lobel, this collection is, quite simply, the perfect way to introduce children to the world of poetry. The poems, selected by poet and anthologist Jack Prelutsky, are divided into broad subject areas such as nature, seasons, living things, children, and home. The poems of Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Gwendolyn Brooks populate the book’s pages, while Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, and Shel Silverstein ensure that the collection delights even the most reluctant readers of rhyme. Playground chants, anonymous rhymes, scary poems, silly verse, and even some sad strains are carefully indexed by title, author, first line, and subject.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
By Langston Hughes
Illustrated by EB Lewis
Ages 4 to 8
Langston Hughes has long been acknowledged as the voice, and his poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the song, of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was only seventeen when he composed it, Hughes already had the insight to capture in words the strength and courage of black people in America. Like the steady and determined flow of a river, this poem carries readers along as Hughes draws a metaphorical connection between the waterways of the world and African-American culture. Moving from ancient times (“I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young” or “I looked upon the Nile and raised pyramids above”) to the Mississippi River and its connection to slavery, the poem offers both a time line of the African-American experience and a comment on the perseverance of the African-American soul. The exquisite illustrations make the eloquent verses all the more accessible.
Old Blossom’s Book of Practical Cats
By TS Eliot
Illustrated by Edward Gorey
8 and up
Eliot’s famous collection of nonsense verse about cats was the inspiration for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. This edition features pen-and-ink drolleries by Edward Gorey throughout. Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri, and became a British subject in 1927. The acclaimed poet of The Waste Land, and Four Quartets, among numerous other poems, prose, and works of drama, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Edward Gorey illustrated Bram Stoker’s Dracula and HG Wells’ The War of the World. He won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design for the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula and became well known for his animated introduction to the PBS series, Mystery!
A Book of Nonsense
Written and illustrated by Edward Lear
Ages 7 to 9
The Book of Nonsense, first published in 1846, stands alone as the ultimate and most loved expression in English of freewheeling, benign, and unconstricted merriment. This rollicking poetic romp begins with “A Book of Nonsense” (1846), a slew of more-odd-than-bawdy limericks about the Young Lady of Wales, the Old Man of Vienna, and many, many more, all accompanied by the spare, whimsical ink drawings done by Lear himself. Part two urges readers to leap into “Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets” (1871), including the classic “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” and “The Jumblies” (who “went to sea in a Sieve”), along with equally rib-tickling but lesser known selections such as “The Nutcrackers and the Sugar-Tongs.” In this section, you’ll also discover instructions for how to make Crumbobblious Cutlets, a “Nonsense Botany” guide featuring the Bottlephorkia spoonifolia and the Manypeeplia upsidownia, and “Nonsense Alphabets,” strange little poems about quills, rattlesnakes, screws, and other words beginning with letters.
A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play
By Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Ages 4 to 7
A paean to play from an award-winning poet and a New York Times best-selling illustrator. The trappings of childhood change from generation to generation, but there are some timeless activities that every kid loves. Marilyn Singer and LeUyen Pham celebrate these universal types of play, from organized games such as hide-and-seek and hopscotch to imaginative play such as making mud soup or turning a stick into a magic wand. Lyrical poems and bold illustrations capture the energy of a group of children in one neighborhood as they amuse themselves over the course of a summer day. “Everything’s a blast / When you do it really fast.” From playing jacks or hopscotch on the city sidewalk to jumping rope (“It’s the slap / slap / slap / of two jump ropes when they touch”), the sounds of the rhyming words are part of the fun in this picture-book poetry collection, and the broad, colorful, digitally colored spreads show kids in uproarious motion together, barreling down a hill and hanging upside down on the swings, and also absorbed in imaginative play, from hide-and-seek in the jungle to making the title’s discovery that a stick has multiple possibilities for games.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.