Poetry for young readers appears in many forms: lullabies, silly verses, thoughtful story-poems and jingles to tantalize and memorize. Following are recent poetry collections including long-lost treasures, expressive poems to accompany music, the beauties of nature, and a story told in free verse.
“GOODNIGHT SONGS,” by Margaret Wise Brown, Sterling, $17.95 (ages 3-6)
Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952), one of the world’s most loved authors of children’s books, is best remembered for “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny.” At the time of her death, she left a trunk full of unpublished manuscripts that, according to the executor of her estate, were "gathered with rusted paper clips.”
“Goodnight Songs” is part of a larger collection of the author’s poems with original songs for which she had been writing music.
Each of the 12 poems in this new anthology, which is about dreams, night skies and solemn slumber, is illustrated by an award-winning artist. A brief biography of each artist appears in the glossary. A CD is included with new music for this volume of poetry.
“Goodnight Songs” is an ambitious and remarkable addition to the legacy of Brown and will be a treasure for a family bookshelf.
"SUMMONING THE PHOENIX: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments,” by Emily Jiang, illustrated by April Chu, Shen's Books, $18.95 (ages 5-11)
“Summoning the Phoenix” introduces 12 Chinese musical instruments with expressive poems about children learning to combine their talents into a grand Chinese orchestra. Sidebars on double-page spreads provide a guide to pronunciation and the history of each instrument. Short verses provide the thoughts of the musicians. One girl with a yangqin whispers, “I must play softly / Says the conductor.” Two boys have a competition with a suona: “We play as fast as we can / until the music turns to mush.”
The exquisite paintings, the fascinating instruments and the feelings of the young musicians told in verse make “Summoning the Phoenix” a total artistic experience for readers of all ages.
"HI, KOO! A YEAR OF SEASONS," by Jon J. Muth, Scholastic, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
Koo, Panda nephew of Stillwater (“Zen Shorts”), frolics through 26 scenes of nature with haiku-like poetry representing seasons of the year. “Icicles / reach down with dripping fingers / Will they touch the ground?” is illustrated with a soft winter afternoon as Koo and twins (author Jon Muth admits they are his own children) measure the hanging ice.
At the very end, Koo sits with a cardinal friend “becoming so quiet / Zero sound / only breath” as a fitting conclusion to a joyous season.
Muth’s luminous watercolor paintings that focus on Koo and his friends make “Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons” a masterful picture book for the whole family to enjoy.
“WORDS WITH WINGS,” by Nikki Grimes, Word Song/Boyds Mills, $15.95 (ages 8-12)
Gabby is a daydreamer. In school, “my new teacher complains / about how much I daydream.”
When her parents fight, ”The word ‘fly’ / had set me free.”
As Gabby is having trouble in school with only her daydreams for comfort, her teacher devises a plan to use the daydreams as a means to focus and attend instead of “carrying my thoughts away.”
Gabby learns that “words have wings / that wake my daydreams.”
In the author notes, Nikki Grimes says “Words With Wings” is her own personal story and pays respect to the teacher who taught her the value of “daydream time” as she became a writer.
"POEM DEPOT: Aisles of Smiles,” by Douglas Florian, Penguin, $16.99 (ages 8-11)
Haunted homes, Swiss Navy Knife, Pet Dragon and 170 other “willy-nilly sillies” are featured in the virtual department store of rhyming verses accented with bold black-and-white scribbled drawings. Young readers will giggle at “Old Mother Hubbard / went to the cupboard / to fetch her poor dog a bone. / But when she got there / the cupboard was bare. / She ordered Chinese on the phone,” and waiting in line so long, “I can’t remember / what the line is for.”
Florian’s best verses are the pithy four- or six-liners and “tons of puns” that children will end up memorizing and chanting to each other.
“COUNT ME A RHYME: Animal Poems by the Number,” Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple, Word Song, $6.95 (ages 6-8)
Jason Stemple’s beautiful nature photographs are the backdrop for his mother’s dainty poems that use the numbers 1 through 10 and mathematical terms related to each number. For example, “six spiders throwing / out a glistening strand ...” accompanies the number 6, "sixth" and a hexagon.
The reissue of “Count Me a Rhyme” is a welcome addition to any poetry collection.
"BRIGHT STAR, NIGHT STAR: An Astronomy Story," by Karl Beckstrand, illustrated by Luis Sanz, Premio Books, $19.95 (ages 4-8)
With rhyming couplets and lists of terms, Karl Beckstrand shares the world of stars and astronomy.
The illustrations show constellations as well as a few of the terms used as a girl looks up at the night sky. This book can be a starting point for further discussion about the starry night.
Contributing: Christine Rappleye