I am often asked about my favourite books of poetry. I love rhyming picture books. Sharing poetry aloud with young children is a powerful, important tool to help them develop their sense of language with repetition, rhyme and alliteration. But perhaps my favourite genre is free verse poetry: novels written in poetic format without using rhyme. Here are some of my all time favourites because of their use of language ánd because of their content.
Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart with plasticine art by Barbara Reid, is one of my very favourite picture books to share, especially at international schools. As grandma travels the world, she sends home gifts from different countries to her granddaughter. Beautiful poetic text celebrates special sights, sounds, foods and landmarks. Through the art, we see grandma growing older and when the granddaughter is an adult she, too, is traveling the world and sending home gifts to inspire the next generation. ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5, Scholastic
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz won a Newbery Award. It’s an unusual book. Most of the voices in the book are written in beautiful, skilful rhyme. The book gives a plethora of information about the Middle Ages, including the Crusades, the life style, social standards, clothing, food, work and much more. But this book was also written to be performed as a stage play. Students can each ‘be’ a voice and share the history lessons they learned by performing this incredible play. Using this book will allow you to combine literacy with social studies, history, performing arts, and art to create backgrounds and costumes. ISBN 978-0-7636-1578-9, Candlewick Press
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is the beautiful told story of Kek, who has never seen snow or America. But he arrives as a refugee from Africa and has to learn everything. The sparseness of free verse poetry lets this book use just the right words, giving the story amazing power. If you are talking about migration and refugees in class, be sure to include this title. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6, Square Fish
Burying the Moon by Andrée Poulin, with gorgeous art by Sonali Zohra, is the touching tale of Latika in India. Having access to clean running water and a toilet is common for many but unfortunately not for all people. Latika is angry that her sister can no longer go to school because she turned twelve. She’s angry because her little cousin died from drinking dirty water, and she’s angry at the moon for exposing her when she has to deposit her waste in a field because there is no toilet building in her village. Latika overcomes her shyness to speak up after a kind engineer comes to her village. Through her courage the village will eventually build a toilet building. This simple but powerful free verse novel shed light on global issues and is an eye opener to living conditions in India. At the back of the book, websites are listed for organizations that help address the issues and to help kids take action. ISBN 978-1-77306-604-2, Groundwood Books
One of the most touching free verse books I know is Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, with lovely illustrations by Heather Potter. Do poems have to rhyme to be poetry? Pearl’s teacher wants the class to write rhyming poetry. But Pearl does not have it in her. Her heart and mind are at home where her beloved grandmother is sick in bed and dying. Grandma always read her books and talked with her. Now, no one does. Pearl feels alone and refuses to write. This is a story about a child coping in the world, learning about sorrow and loss, about the importance of friendships and following your heart. A story that always brings tears to my eyes and that can serve as a powerful tool for kids in a similar situation. ISBN 978-1-921150-93-7, Walker Books
Margriet Ruurs writes books for children. Her favourite workshop at international schools is creating nonfiction poems with students. www.margrietruurs.com