Poetry comes naturally to kids, who revel in rhyme and rhythm, but too many adults are wary of poetry, worried about not catching all the nuances. That’s too bad because verse can add literary zest to family reading time. To help parents feel more comfortable with poetry, here’s a look at some great collections for various age groups:

Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers

Mother Goose is the bedrock for this age group. To adults, the rhymes may seem nonsensical, old-fashioned or even violent — think what happens in “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” But nursery rhymes provide an important way for the youngest readers to develop pre-reading skills, especially phonological awareness, as they learn to play with the sounds of words.

Iona Opie is a leading international expert on nursery rhymes, so parents will want to check out My Very First Mother Goose (Candlewick, $22.99). Featuring colorful, humorous illustrations by Rosemary Wells,it’s the perfect size for sharing, and it showcases more than 60 nursery rhymes collected by Opie over decades of work with her late husband, Peter Opie. The book, which presents the rhymes in four chapters, includes favorites like “Hey Diddle, Diddle” and “Humpty Dumpty,” along with such unfamiliar verses as “If I had a Donkey.” An index of first lines helps adults quickly locate their favorites. Opie and Wells have also collaborated on a second collection, Here Comes Mother Goose (Candlewick, $22.99).

For a different spin on the traditional rhymes, try The Neighborhood Mother Goose (Greenwillow, $17.99). Photographer Nina Crews uses children and scenes from her Brooklyn neighborhood to create an urban update on several dozen favorite nursery rhymes. And in May look for a companion volume, The Neighborhood Sing-Along (Greenwillow, $17.99), in which Crews matches her photographs to the lyrics of beloved songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and “London Bridge.”

Two final suggestions for this age group: First, the classic Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (Knopf, $19.95), a collection of more than 200 poems chosen by Jack Prelutsky, with illustrations by “Arthur” creator Marc Brown. And, second, a newer volume, Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry (Candlewick, $21.99), which contains more than 60 poems collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. The text is nicely complemented by Polly Dunbar’s sprightly illustrations.


As they grow older, kids enjoy exploring poetry in more depth, and A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms (Candlewick; paperback $9.99) provides a perfect launching pad. Edited by Paul B. Janeczko and featuring illustrations by Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka, this slender volume explores and explains all kinds of poetry, from limericks to haiku to riddle poems. The duo also published an entertaining earliervolume titled A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems (Candlewick; paperback, $7.99).

Joyce Sidman expertly melds poetry and science in her prize-winning books, such as Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99). This volume, with illustrations by Rick Allen, won a 2011 Newbery Honor. In her work, Sidman pairs pithy poems about creatures and natural wonders with clearly written informational sidebars. Her books also feature beautiful artwork; artist Beckie Prange won a Caldecott Honor for her illustrations in Sidman’s Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems (Houghton Mifflin, $16).

For kids edging toward their teenage years, try Hip Hop Speaks to Children (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $19.99), which highlights poetry written by a wide variety of people, from Langston Hughes to Queen Latifah. Edited by poet Nikki Giovanni, this book (with CD) celebrates what Giovanni succinctly describes as “poetry with a beat.”


For most teens, poetry is personal. Instead of reading poetry, they prefer to write it, and poems by other teens, like the ones collected in Falling Hard (Candlewick; paperback, $6.99), can serve as inspiration. Edited by poet Betsy Franco, this book consists of 100 poems about love, all written by teens. In “Punch-drunk Love,” for example, Ellie Moore writes: “With you I’m always speeding,/ zig-zagging ’cross double yellow lines,/ eyes closed in ecstasy.” For teen readers, the emotions reflected in these poems will be instantly — and intensely — recognizable.

Karen MacPherson , who writes a weekly children’s book review column for Scripps Howard News Service, is the children’s & teen librarian at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.