Rhythm, Rhyme, and Time: Youth Literature for National Poetry Month

Poetry may seem intimidating (cue flashbacks to analyzing meter in English class), but the expressive nature of poetry makes children’s verse books exceptionally emotive and interesting. Every year since 1996, the Academy of American Poets has led a national effort during the month of April to recognize the importance of poetry, an event they claim has grown to become the largest literary celebration in the world! Poetry is hard to define, but characteristics like rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and form are important for composing verse. Poets also tend to push the boundaries of language and meaning through devices like metaphors, imagery, and wordplay. The children’s and young adult books on this list include picture books written as musical poems, poetry anthologies, and middle grade or young adult novels in verse. Use these books as inspiration and consider the question: what are some fun ways you can celebrate language and poetry this month?

Alexander, Kwame
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. 2017 (Picture Book).
This picture book anthology offers a glorious ode to the poets who have sparked a sense of wonder across the world and throughout time. Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award-winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with contributors Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, presents original poems that pay tribute to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Ekua Holmes’ vibrant mixed-media illustrations complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.
Q. S.808.1 Al272ou

Elliott, Zetta
Illustrated by: Loveis Wise
Say Her Name. 2020 (Young Adult Poetry Collection).
Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay homage to victims of police brutality as well as the activists proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. Elliott incorporates poets from the past two centuries into this collection to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and bravery of Black women and girls. This collection features forty-nine powerful poems, four of which are tribute poems inspired by the works of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. Powerful and encouraging, this poetry collection will deeply engage older teen readers.
S.811 El589sa

Engle, Margarita
Your Heart, My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger. 2021 (Young Adult Fiction).
The residents of Cuba are living in “el periodo especial en tiempos de paz,” the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the truth behind these words is starvation. Liana can’t find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retaliation. In the same area, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado similarly refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover scarce sources of food. A chance encounter with a dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon find that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts, but is it enough to withstand “el periodo especial?” This young adult novel in verse from celebrated poet Margarita Engle will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.
S. En35yo

Gorman, Amanda
Illustrated by: Loren Long
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. 2021 (Picture Book).
This lyrical picture book is a rallying-cry, as the opening page shows a Black girl playing a guitar, singing: “I can hear change humming / In its loudest, proudest song. / I don’t fear change coming, / And so I sing along.” In this stirring, much-anticipated picture book by inaugural Youth Poet Laureate and activist Amanda Gorman, anything is possible when we bring our voices together. As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes, big or small, in the world, in their communities, and most importantly, in themselves.
Q. SE. G68ch

Guidroz, Rukhsanna
Illustrated by: Fahmida Azim
Samira Surfs. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
This middle grade novel in verse is about Samira, a twelve-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, who finds peace, empowerment, and sisterhood in a local surf club for girls. Samira thinks of her life as before and after: before the burning and violence in Burma (now Myanmar), when she and her best friend would play outside, and after, when her family was forced to flee. Now, months after rebuilding a life in Bangladesh with her family, there’s before Samira noticed the surfer girls, and after, when she decides she’ll become one. With her brother’s help, Samira overcomes her fear of the water and begins surfing lessons in secret. She befriends the Bengali surfer girls and hears about a kids’ surf contest that could change her life. As more Rohingya seek refuge nearby and the dynamics of her community change, it soon becomes harder for Samira to keep her secret, potentially putting her family at risk.
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Kooser, Ted and Connie Wanek
Illustrated by: Richard Jones
Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play among Figures of Speech. 2022 (Picture Book).
A breezy tour through the worlds of imagery and metaphor, this quietly striking collection of thirty poems, organized by the four elements, is about art and reality, fact and fancy. Look around: what do you see? A clown balancing a pie in a tree, or an empty nest perched on a leafless branch? As Wanek alludes to in her afterword, sometimes the simplest sensory experiences stimulate our imaginations and ask to be represented in the alchemical language of poetry. This compilation turns elements of the everyday, like cow pies, lazy afternoons, and pillowy white marshmallows, into poetic gold. A witty and timeless collaboration that represents both the grandeur of the natural world and the mundane moments of daily life, this beautifully illustrated collection is perfect for poetry fans of all ages.
Q. S.811 K8379ma

Kuo, Jane
In the Beautiful Country. 2022 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Set in the 1980s, this middle grade novel in verse is about a young Taiwanese immigrant to the United States who must face the stark difference between dreams and reality. Ten-year-old Anna can’t wait to move to the “beautiful country,” which is the Chinese term for America. Although she’s only ever known life in Taiwan, she can’t help but brag about the move to her friends. Unfortunately, once she arrives, the beautiful country doesn’t resemble what Anna had pictured. Her family can only afford a tiny apartment, she faces bullies at school, and she struggles to understand the new language. To make matters worse, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like her dreams. How will she be able to make the beautiful country her home?
S. K9645in

Introduction by: Yasmine Shamma
Illustrated by: Yasmeen Ismail
Take Off Your Brave: The World Through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet. 2022 (Picture Book).
Four-year-old author Nadim puts his thoughts on paper and gives us a glimpse of how he sees the world: filled with glitter, magical boxes, and cuddles with Mom. His perspective depicts a realm where school smells like daffodils and honey (and sometimes dirty socks), where Wednesdays are rainbow-colored, where the fish in the sea make a soothing sound, and where everyone has love, even people who are sometimes mean. The poems in this anthology make for joyful reading and are paired with Ismail’s energetic, child-friendly artwork that invites readers to wholeheartedly enter Nadim’s world. Simultaneously funny and tender, gentle and zany, this anthology may just persuade readers young and old to unleash the poet within.
S.821.92 Sh17ta

Paul, Miranda (editor)
Illustrated by: Marlena Myles
Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. 2019 (Picture Book Anthology).
This poetry anthology explores a wide range of ways to be grateful, with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen. Each writer uses a different poetic form and explores many ways of embodying thankfulness, from gratitude for a puppy, to gratitude for family, and gratitude for the sky. Myles’ gorgeous, colorful illustrations showcase a variety of perspectives, including broad landscapes and intimate close-ups. This poetry collection will be meaningful for readers during any season, not just Thanksgiving.
Q. S.808.81 T3294

Salazar, Aida
Compiled by: Alina Chau
Illustrated by: Various artists
In the Spirit of a Dream: Thirteen Stories of American Immigrants of Color. 2021 (Picture Book).
Triumphant and inspiring, this picture book is a tribute to American immigrants of color, written in poems and illustrated by thirteen first- and second-generation immigrant artists. In the spirit of a dream, many immigrants of color traverse continents, oceans, and borders, to move to the United States in pursuit of opportunity. The American immigrants of color featured here range from world-famous to local heroes. The biographies include engineer and astronaut Anousheh Ansari; Paralympic athlete and entrepreneur Alejandro Albor; jazz musician Candido Camero; dancer Conceiçao Damasceno; basketball player Dikembe Mutombo; politician Ilhan Omar; environmental activist Juana Guttierez; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the Undocupoets, a group of undocumented poets.
Q. S.305.8001 Sa316in

Warga, Jasmine
Other Words for Home. 2019 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Twelve-year-old Jude never imagined she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind in Syria. When things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with relatives. At first, everything in America seems overwhelming: too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t prepared her for starting school in the US, including her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. This life also brings unexpected surprises: there are new friends, a whole new extended family, and a school musical that Jude might just audition for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as her true self. This middle grade novel in verse is heartwarming and profound, and garnered the prestigious recognition of a Newbery Honor.
S. W231ot

Resources / References
Academy of American Poets: National Poetry Month
Find more information about the events, activities, and social media campaigns happening during National Poetry Month on this page of the Academy of American Poets’ website.