31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Poetry Books for Kids
Sometimes you stop and look at the books that do and do not get awards from the American Library Association and you cannot help but scratch your head. We give awards for audiobooks and translations, for easy books and nonfiction. One might think that the logical next step would be an award for poetry, but this is not the case. Poetry is often lumped into one of the other existing awards and, as a result, is an under-published and under-utilized literary form. That’s reflected too in the number of works of poetry that come out for kids every year. There just aren’t a lot of poetry collections out there. Fortunately, from the few that do exist, I’ve seen some really lovely stuff. Here’s a selection of some great books. Take a gander and enjoy.
If you’d like today’s list in the form of a PDF, you may download it here.
Interested in previous years’ poetry? Then check out these beauties:
2023 Poetry Books for Kids
Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson, ill. Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
An irreverently illustrated picture book of simple and silly poems featuring all kinds of animals wearing all kinds of pants. To my infinite delight, I discovered that this book is a hoot from start to finish. It’s also an excellent example of how it takes more than just a fun premise to create a really good collection of poetry for kids. This is apparently Levinson’s first book for children and to my mind she’s hit the ground running! And who the heck are Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell? These folks are great! There’s so much humor and color and just doggone life to this book. Adore!
At the Poles by David Elliott, ill. Ellen Rooney
All hail this truly delightful collection of odes to the animals of the North and South poles. Clever wordplay and delightful phrasings accompanied by eye-popping art make these little poems true standouts. Now THAT is more like it!! None of this mediocre half-hearted poetry stuff. David Elliott is just having so much fun here. From the clever wordplay (who else would make a penguin poem that rhymed “Frozen Nation” with “Ambulation”?), to the visually delightful concrete poems (the poem “Antarctic Shag” is worth the price of admission alone), to the short and sweet (the poem “Narwhal” is simply “A singular creature / with a singular feature”). I was charmed. Plus Ellen Rooney is keeping pace with these delightful gouache, ink, crayon, digital collage. A marvelous publication in a sea of meh.
Galápagos: Islands of Change by Leslie Bulion, ill. Becca Stadtlander
Take a trip to the beautiful islands of the Galápagos. Meet the creatures there, as scintillating poetry and true facts give young readers a look at a world you cannot find anywhere else. From the folks that brought us last year’s Serengeti comes yet another mix of fact and verse. Here we take a trip to the Galápagos and focus primarily on the creatures that live there. There’s some nice history and some nice poetry as well (I was fond of the reference to William Carlos Williams at one point). The little facts in the margins are particularly keen and don’t distract from the poetry itself. If you enjoyed the Bulion/Stadtlander collaboration from last year, you’ll probably like this one as well.
Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, Ill. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford tell the story of their ancestors through verse, art, and painful, but ultimately empowering, research. This is coming to us via the same mother/son team-up that produced 2022’s Call Me Miss Hamilton, which I found particularly good. Now Carole had a bit of an impediment with this book in some ways. She’s presenting her ancestors, their stories and their voices, but has very little information to go on. Fortunately, what facts she is able to locate, she weaves expertly into this book as poems. You could almost label this book as Informational Fiction since she has to fill in so many of the holes in her family’s personal history, but I think “Poetry” is the right list. Accompanying this verse is the scratchboard art of Jeffrey Boston Weatherford, and he complements the text expertly. A powerful use of poetry and history.
My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, ill. Andrea Tsurumi
Step aside, Shel Silverstein! There’s a new funny poetry book in town and it’s going to knock you out. Get ready for elderly cavemen, nail-clipping fairies, and AWOL buffaloes in this laugh-out-loud triumph of a book. Why why why why why does no one do poetry collections as well as Chris Harris? First, getting Andrea Tsurumi to do the art was a genius move on some editor’s part. But Chris has upped his game and though I did read as much of it as I could, I honestly think that the different Index entries may take you an additional hour if you do them properly. The jokes in this land and they land hard, but to my amazement, the man is also capable of some real pathos and emotional tugs of the heart when he’s talking about parenthood. That also lands. All told, strongest funny poetry book of the year, bar none. It’s seriously not even close.
No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Climate Change by Lindsay H Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, ill. Jeanette Bradley
All around the world these kid activists are making a difference. Join twelve different poets as they each celebrate a chosen child climate warrior, celebrating their work and the world in which we live. I do believe I’ve considered other books in this series before (like No Voice too Small). Something about this particular book stood out to me, though. The array of poets the authors highlight is expertly curated, and it’s kind of fun seeing familiar activist faces that have been cropping up in other nonfiction books in the last few years. As for the poems themselves, I thought this was an excellent merging of poetry and activism. Inspiring in a whole different kind of way.
Read To Your Baby Every Night: 30 Classic Lullabies and Rhymes to Read Aloud, edited by Lucy Brownridge, embroidered by Chloe Giordano
Nursery rhymes don’t get any respect. Not really. Fairy tales hog all the glamor, leaving poor nursery rhymes passed over and ignored. Earlier this year I wanted to research a very specific nursery rhyme and I have a fairly nice children’s literature library in my home. Yet as I scanned my shelves (and later, the shelves of my public library) I was amazed to find that while you can’t look in one direction or another without finding yet another thesis on the true meaning of fairy tales, nursery rhymes are almost impossible to put into context. Why is this? I can tell you that when my kids were just itty bitties I grew increasingly reliant on any and all collections I could find. I was particularly interested to discover that no two books of nursery rhymes ever contain the same rhymes, and that I almost always will find one I don’t know. Now this book only contains 30 or so rhymes and lullabies but I did find at least one that was a complete newbie (anyone know “Oranges and Lemons”?). What’s so nice about this book is that it’s illustrated entirely with embroidery. Hard core embroidery. I’m talking, Chloe Giordano can embroider a friggin’ horse if she wants to. I can’t even draw one of those! The combo works perfectly since her thread has as much personality in it as any cartoon. Sometimes the characters will appear more than once in the book, but I think we can allow that considering how many sheer hours it must have taken to do all of this. Not a great title (“Read To Your Baby Every Night” sounds like a parenting manual) but a fantastic book.
Robot, Unicorn, Queen: Poems for You and Me by Shannon Bramer, ill. Irene Luxbacher
A funny, touching, exciting array of poems fill this collection. From “I did what the toad toad me to do” to “Please Don’t Scream at the Piano” this book is filled with some of the best poetry for kids you’ve ever read. So pretty early in, while I was reading this book, I started flipping all around to figure out who the heck “Shannon Bramer” was, because these poems are WAY too good. This cover didn’t give me any warning that the poetry inside was going to be as incredible as it is. It was when I saw that her previous book was Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children that it all fell into place. Of COURSE I know who she is now! Do you remember that book? It’s the poetry collection that brought us illustrator Cindy Derby. As I recall, Ms. Bramer is a lunch lady and she gets a lot of her ideas from kids. And, indeed, at the back of this book you’ll hear how she came up with some of the poetry inside. It just reads incredibly well. I think my favorite poem has got to be “The Problem with This Sandwich” because everyone has been that kid at some point. Fantastic.
Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves by Sally M. Walker, ill. Angela McKay
Nature red in tooth and claw is celebrated fully in a series of beautiful haikus. Accompanied by gouache and watercolor art, it makes for a marvelous celebration of science and poetry. The first time I read this book I was not here for it. Something about the use of haiku rubbed me wrong. Then I picked it up a second time and read it through more carefully. By doing that, I was able to see how the haiku really is tapping into that traditional love and appreciation of nature that you want to find in that particular form of poetry. More to the point, these are really good poems! Example: “covered with gray fur / pussywillow catkins cling: / kittens on slim twigs.” The art is lovely and I was very impressed with the backmatter (yay, further reading!). Gotta say, I’m a fan.
Welcome to Wonder House by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, ill. Deborah Freedman
What if wonder were a house? What would you find inside? Twenty-nine poems dive into all the things you might find, from wishes and nature to time and imagination. While the concept initially struck me as a little twee, there are certainly more than a few nice poems in here. Of course one true lure is Deborah Freedman’s art. Take the cover off and look at the book under the jacket if you get a chance. She has to attempt the near impossible task of illustrating poetry, which is a difficult prospect right from the start. I hate overusing certain words but “luminous” is an unavoidable one when discussing this book. Beautiful in text and in image.
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture 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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