31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Seventeen – 2017 Poetry Books for Kids
P-p-p-poetry! Motto: It’s not just for April anymore.
In a given year I tend to run out of poetry books for kids to review. I’ll find five or six spectacular ones, and then a handful of hundrum okay-but-not-great titles to fill in the gaps. 2017 changed the rules on me. Suddenly I found myself with a plethora of pleasing poetry. Too much! I wasn’t able to review half the titles I encountered. Here then are some of the stars of the hour. The poetry books you’d be amiss to miss, if you will.
2017 Children’s Poetry
Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido, featuring photos by Joel Sartore
Hey hey! Who knew you’d be seeing this smiley little guy again quite so soon? Wow ’em with the photography and then keep ’em with the poetry, that’s what I always say. Can’t think of a better book to kick today off with either.
Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, ill. Rafael López
I’m a real fan of biographical books that honor names that may not be known to the average joe on Main Street, U.S.A. in this collection you’ll certainly see some old familiar faces, as well as folks you may not have encountered before. Plus, any year when we get some kind of art from Mr. López is a treat in and of itself.
Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs by Carol Murray, ill. Melissa Sweet
Melissa Sweet burns so bright some years that when she lies relatively low, as she did in 2017, it’s possible to miss her still stunning contributions. Last year she wowed ’em with an E.B. White bio. This year? Bug poems. The two are not at odds with one another, of course. Instead, this is what you hand the bug-loving child that hasn’t thought much about poetry before. Bug ’em with it. It’ll pay off in the end.
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares Para Cada Dia de la Semana by Francisco X. Alarcón, ill. Maya Christina Gonzalez
Did you know that Thor makes an appearance in this poetry book too? This posthumous work from Alarcón probably won’t be the poet’s last contribution on this globe (death has a way of delaying, rather than outright ending the publishing process for many a fine artist). This book would be a particular godsend to any teacher looking for poems for each day of the week, by the way. I can’t think of all that many off the top of my head. You’re welcome.
Feel the Beat: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing by Marilyn Singer, ill. Kristi Valiant
Singer and Valiant. Two great tastes that taste great together. Ms. Singer’s been so prevalent on the children’s poetry stage for years that it’s little surprise that she knows how to make her words pop, hop, jimmy and jive on the page. Ms. Valiant is lesser known but ever since her Penguin Cha-Cha, where she showed the world how flightless waterfowl are capable of smooth moves (and not of the Happy Feet variety either), I’ve been an ardent supporter. When you have a book of dance poems on your hands, you want an illustrator that knows how to convey that. Check and check.
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, ill. Lane Smith
By complete coincidence this book was just reviewed in the New York Times book review section by fellow poet Kwame Alexander. I’ve said my piece on it. In fact, this is funny. So the other day I was interviewing Neil Patrick Harris about his latest children’s book series and I mentioned that it’s really weird how many folks associated with How I Met Your Mother have gone into the children’s book biz. I then proceeded to bring up Harris’s book and said, and I meant it, that the book was funnier than Shel Silverstein. There was an audible gasp among the 450+ attendees in the audience. Doesn’t matter. I stand by that sentence. Funny it is. And it will hold its own for years.
Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies by J. Patrick Lewis, ill. Johanna Wright
Hey! There’s my girl! There’s Johanna Wright, kicking butt and taking names in this surprisingly effective and funny book of poem parodies. Thirteen classic poems are paired with similar parodies, allowing a bit of clever compare and contrast on the part of the kids. But the crazy thing is that it isn’t just goofs. Lewis attempts, and succeeds, at tugging at a few heartstrings with one or two of these poems, and the result is less parody than tone twin and homage.
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout, Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia McKissack, ill. Brian Pinkney
Well YOU tell ME what category I should slot it into! I thought about putting it on the folktale list the other day since there’s a fair smattering of Aesop fables, tall tales, and parables in here, but then I thought better of it. Poetry doesn’t quite work since it’s not entirely made of the songs and rhymes it records so well. So I’m putting it here with the statement that, in all honesty, it should probably be on ALL my lists one way or another. This is one of the most beautiful books of the year. If there were any justice in the this world it would win some kind of an ALA award come February.
My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Fathers by Hope Anita Smith
You know, I still think about Hope Anita Smith’s book Mother Poems periodically as I raise my own daughter. When Ms. Smith produced that book back in 2009 there was something about it that just stuck in my brain. I’ve never been able to remove it. Time has since passed and a good eight years later we finally have a companion book. In a world where most children’s books display dads as bumbling fools akin to the fathers you see on old sitcoms, this book comes as a fresh breath of air.
A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, ill. Mika Song
In what other work of poetry this year can you find mention of the White Stripes drummer Meg White? I don’t suppose many folks would pair this book alongside Laurel Snyder’s middle grade novel Orphan Island, but the idea of telling a story with a group of children, each one year apart from the next, is pretty unique. In this particular case it’s a nice diverse crew, in terms of hopes and dreams and fears as well as ethnicities and abilities. I still count it among my favorites in 2017.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
I don’t think it’s an out-of-hand thing to say that this is kind of the poetry book of the year. Because of some stipulations with the Newbery Award I don’t think it’s eligible to win (it prints out older Harlem Renaissance-era poems in full and then works off of them brilliantly), but it should certainly be on any Best of the Year list cold. It’s hard to pinpoint what I like so much about it, but it may well be the fact that it ties the Harlem Renaissance into the lives of young people in Harlem today.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, ill. Ekua Holmes
This one confused me for a bit of a second. Rather than a collection of poets, this is a collection honoring poets. Twenty of them, to be exact. Each ode is in the style of that particular poet which, naturally, makes it one of the more perfect curricular tie-ins of the year. That said, this may be the most beautiful of the 2017 poetry books with its textured paper collages by Ekua Holmes. This collection’s on fire.
Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, ill. Petr Horácek
Only Candlewick has the guts to keep putting out these large format, gorgeous books for children. Coffee table books for the pre-pubescent set, would be an accurate description, I think. Now as the mother of small children I’m already Team Horácek. Nicola Davies I knew too, though I confess that I wasn’t aware that she did poetry. Shows you what I know. She’s great! Coupled with the gorgeous art, this is a poetry book for the ages.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: Best Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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