12 Essential Poetry Books for Kids of All Ages
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Every Tuesday when I was young, my mom hauled me and my siblings to the local library where we filled up our family’s massive L.L Bean canvas tote with dozens upon dozens of books.
While my love of reading continued into young adulthood, I was never a big poetry fan. I found it confusing, pretentious, intimidating, boring — or worse, all the above. I wanted stories, not fluffy words strung together in stanzas. I wanted literature to answer my questions, not raise more. So I avoided poems.
But that changed in my twenties when a friend gifted me a book of Mary Oliver poems. That collection became my gateway into what has admittedly become a minor obsession. I even started an Instagram account devoted to sharing my favorite poems.
My 5-year-old son recently asked, “What is poetry?” I offered a clumsy explanation that left him thoroughly confused, but thankfully we had several books on hand that showed him concrete examples. He is beginning to develop what I hope will become a lifelong appreciation for poetry.
The best way I know how to share my love of poetry to my children is by exposing them to quality poems. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are my essential selections that will help your kids foster a deeper appreciation for this beautiful art form.
In Emily’s Garden by Kate Coombs
What better introduction to poetry than through baby, bite-sized words of one of America’s most beloved poets? It’s a good vocabulary builder (“Sunlight: I’ll tell you how the Sun rose—/A Ribbon at a time”), and the illustrations are charming.
Buy the book: In Emily’s Garden
Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim
This sweet, playful sing-songy poem offers a fun, modern twist on the classic This Little Piggy rhyme. Be forewarned: it will inevitably lead to toe tickles and giggles.
Buy the book: Whose Toes Are Those?
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
This clever book is a delight to read aloud and always had my kids laughing by the end. A great introduction to wordplay and rhythm.
Buy the book: Sheep in a Jeep
FREE poetry resource for Pre-K students
StoryNory, a British-based podcast, is perfect for young children and offers periodic readings of classic children’s poems from cultures all over the world, relayed in the most soothing voice.
Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
Unsure of what poetry is, Daniel turns to nature for answers, asking animals around him, “What is poetry?” They respond with lyrical, metaphor-rich answers that inspire a masterful final poem at the end.
Buy the book: Daniel Finds a Poem
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
This robust collection features 75 songs written by the beloved Mr. Rogers. The vibrant pictures and snappy lyrics will keep your kids fully engaged.
Buy the book: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
This award-winning poem is an unfettered celebration of African American history, honoring Black leaders across hundreds of years. Kwame Alexander highlights both unsung heroes and world-renowned figures alike without shying away from tragedy amid the triumph. Kadir Nelson’s accompanying illustrations are stunning.
Buy the book: The Undefeated
FREE poetry resource for elementary-aged students
Children’s author Ken Nesbitt is the brains behind Poetry4Kids, an interactive “poetry playground” featuring a wide array of poetry resources for children; from activities, to videos, to classic children’s poems, to a rhyming dictionary, and more, this site has it all!
Books for Middle Schoolers
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
This coming-of-age novel, written in free verse poetry, follows the story of Lupita, a Mexican-American teenage girl grappling with the news of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. A favorite among my former middle school students.
Buy the book: Under the Mesquite
Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
This collection from Naomi Shihab Nye, the current Young People’s Poet Laureate (serving until August 2021), features some of her beloved classics alongside brand new works. It also includes writing tips.
Buy the book: Everything Comes Next
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman
This hot-off-the-press publication is a must-own for poetry admirers of all ages, but the historic poem shares a hopeful message and call to courage that will resonate deeply with this particular age group.
Buy the book: The Hill We Climb
FREE poetry resource for Middle Schoolers
Don’t miss the poetry section of the popular national publication Teen Ink which features original poems by teens from all over.
Books for High Schoolers
How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times, Edited by Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda
We are indeed living in difficult times and this inspiring collection includes accessible works from a diverse group of celebrated poets, including Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry, Joy Harjo, Li-Young Lee, Denise Levertov, Ada Limón, and more.
Buy the book: How Lovely the Ruins
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This fast-paced novel-in-verse is told from the perspective of Will, a 15-year-old who is deciding whether or not he should murder his brother’s killer. Your teens won’t be able to put down this gripping story.
Buy the book: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, Edited by Diana Whitney
This brand-new release offers poems by favorite female poets such as Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Acevedo, Mary Oliver, and Kate Baer. Featuring 68 poems in a gorgeous layout, this poignant collection tackles relatable topics like loneliness, longing, rage, self-acceptance, joy, shame, and more.
Buy the book: You Don’t Have to Be Everything
FREE poetry resource for High Schoolers
The Poetry Foundation’s POETRY app gives you immediate access to thousands of poems and allows you to search by mood, subject, poet, and more.