When you're looking for larger, more substantial books to give as presents to the children in your life, books that will be savored and read over and over, don't neglect collections of poetry. Maybe you had to read too many serious anthologies of poetry in high school or college and you cringe at the thought of inflicting this on your kids. Inflict away. Your kids don't know yet that poetry is something that can be over-analyzed, or written about in dissertations, or memorized. Memorized? Wait. Kids love to memorize poetry. It takes them two seconds to learn a new poem. (They have more brain cells than we do.) You love to memorize poetry, too, I bet. How many Beatles songs or (insert your favorite artist here) songs do you know by heart? Kids love the rhyme and the rhythm and the surprising use of words in a poem, starting with the Mother Goose rhymes you recited to them when they were just tadpoles.
Here, then, is a big, brash, and beautiful volume stuffed with almost 200 of Bill Martin Jr's hand-selected favorite poems for the younger set. It's a tribute and celebration of the life and work of Martin (1916-2004), the beloved children's book writer of classic picture books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (which you may have noticed Michelle Obama reading aloud to a class of children on the news one day in Spring, 2009). Though five of his own poems are represented, this is not a collection of his own work. Most of the big names in children's poetry are there, more than 50 in all-old timers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Margaret Wise Brown, and the oldest old-timer of all, Mother Goose. There are also child-accessible poems by classic poets who wrote for adults, including Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost ("Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"), Langston Hughes, and Carl Sandberg ("Fog"). And then there are more recent poetry masters like Kalli Dakos, Nikki Grimes, Mary Ann Hoberman, Dennis Lee, Jack Prelutsky, and Judith Viorst.
Some of the poems may be familiar to you and your children. Perhaps you already know and love John Ciardi's "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast," Judith Viorst's "If I Were in Charge of the World," or Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Swing." I'm partial "I Eat My Peas with Honey" by to Anonymous. What kid wouldn't want to commit this one to memory?
I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on my knife.
There are plenty of surprises here, with each poem getting its own roomy white page or two, accompanied by oversized, colorful, and drop-dead gorgeous illustrations by one of 13 well-known children's book illustrators, including Derek Anderson, Aliki, Ashley Bryan, Henry Cole, Lois Ehlert, David Gordon, Steven Kellogg, Laura Logan, Paul Meisel, Robert Quackenbush, Chris Raschka, Nancy Tafuri, and Dan Yaccarino. The poems are organized into thematic sections: "Animals", "World of Nature", "Around the Year", "People and Places", "Schooltime", "Me and My Feelings", "Family and Home", "Food for Me", "Nonsense, and "Mother Goose." Read a few poems a day or have children take turns reading them aloud and picking their own favorites.
In his foreword, artist Eric Carle relates a most amazing anecdote. Bill Martin told him that all through school, he was unable to read and somehow faked it until his late teens when a teacher taught him to read using rhythm. "'Were you dyslexic?' I asked. 'No, it was fear,' he replied." There's another good reason to read poetry with your kids: to keep the fear at bay, and pull them into reading with a steady and delicious diet of words. The afterword by Steven Kellogg about Bill Martin Jr's effect on educators, authors, and artists is similarly inspiring.
Simon & Schuster Children, 2008
Suggested Ages: 4-8