Tried and True Selections for National Poetry Month

When I was going through school, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.  Books, magazines, comics, you name it.

But poetry?  Not on my radar.  I mean, I knew of the genre, but had zero interest in absorbing it.  I’m sure it came up periodically throughout my public school education, but to be honest, I don’t really remember it being part of the curriculum until I was in high school, disecting epic poems and preparing for the AP exam.

Fast-forward to my first year of teaching.  I was assigned a fifth grade classroom.  Lo and behold, not only was “elements of poetry” part of the curriculum, it was a main component on the almighty standardized test for that year.

Alright.  If I have to teach it, I have to teach it.  But there had to be a way to make the unit fun, and not the dry, analytical approach to poetry I’d been exposed to in the past.  So I set out to gather materials that would appeal to my fifth graders.

And discovered a whole new world.

In the following years, I further developed my poetry unit, and then began including poetry in our reading selections throughout the year.  My students loved it.

Below are some of the the selections I used in my classroom.  They are just a tiny drop in the ocean of poetry books out there.  If you’re interest is piqued, there’s no better time to dive in than National Poetry Month.

Every Day’s a Holiday: Amusing Rhymes for Happy Times by Dean Koontz, Illustrated by Phil Parks (HarperCollins, 2003)

Yup, that Dean Koontz.  But if you’re anticipating thrill and suspense, you’re in for a surprise.  Here, Koontz displays his funny side with a collection of 64 holiday poems.  The subjects range from the familiar (Halloween, Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah), to the more obscure (Diwali, Sakura Matsuki).  If you’re looking for a way to incorporate poetry year-round, this one deserves a place on your shelf. Ages 8-12.

Here’s What You Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe (Ingenious Inventions for Pesky Problems) by Andrea Perry, Illustrated by Alan Snow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003)

This collection of 12 poems offers solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.  From finding a lost shoe, to stopping animal odors, to building homes for bugs, poet Andrea Perry has covered it all.  Whether I read these poems aloud, or gave students copies of the book so that they could enjoy Snow’s amusing illustrations, this book was always a hit.  I used these poems in both my fourth and fifth grade classrooms as examples before students wrote their own “problem-solving” poems.  Ages 8-10.

Awful Ogre’s Awful Day by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow Books, 2001)

It’s just a given that if you’re teaching poetry to young students, Jack Prelutsky is on the list.  Combine this with illustrations by Caldecott award-winning Zelinsky, and you can’t go wrong.  This series of poems follow the poor Awful Ogre from the moment he rises to be attacked by a rattlesnake, buzzard, and tarantula, to the moment he falls back asleep in his bed, only to be haunted by a dream of a beautiful day complete with kittens and butterflies. Ages 6-10.

Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Illustrated by Karen Barbour (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004)

While contemporary poets often provide a hook when introducing students to poetry, it’s important that students also receive some exposure to the classics.  This collection of poems inspires students to write and create, using the words of poetry greats such as Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, and Nikki Grimes.  The bright, bold illustrations are worth perusal, too.  Great selection for incorporation into Writer’s Workshop.  Ages 6-10.

Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters, Illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 1994)

The sheer amount of information my fifth graders were expected to cover in order to prepare for the standardized test in May was overwhelming.  Poetry was a large part of the Reading exam, but students also needed to be familiar with specific elements of a wide variety of genres, including fairytales, folktales, science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction… you get the picture.  Books like Cinder-Elly are a teacher’s best friend–a way to combine 2 genres into one lesson. Many times, students hear the traditional versions of stories since kindergarten.  This modern-day, urban retelling of Cinderella is refreshing, while still maintaining the elements important to the genre. Ages 6-10.

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