A Turn for the Verse

There’s a section of the library you may have overlooked. If you’re a parent, you probably have calluses on your knees from crawling along low racks of picture books. But there’s another place to stop before you pile your on the counter. The section: 811. The reason: poetry.

Small children get a good dose of poetry in picture books. But Section 811 gives readers a celebration of rhyme. There are poems on everything: cats to cacti, dogs to dinosaurs. Some are quiet and sensitive; others are bold, brassy and funny. I’m naturally drawn to the latter, so I frequently find books for my 5-year-old daughter that make us both laugh. Never Take a Pig to Lunch, by Nadine Bernard Westcott, is a good example. Humorous verse about food – a sure hit with kids.

Why is poetry important for children? It’s language at play. It’s tuneless music. It teaches rhythm and word usage at the same time. Poet David McCord calls poetry “the fall of syllables that run as easily as water flowing over a dam.” (Poetically put!) A poem sneaks up and whispers to a child that the English language is, as McCord puts it, “a most marvelous and availing instrument”.

Let me recommend a few of my favorites. On the lighter side, two poets stand out: Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. Both write short poems with that delightful unexpected twist at the end that’s the hallmark of humor. Silverstein wrote a handful of popular books; prolific Prelutsky has penned dozens. Though the vocabulary in both poets’ works can be demanding for small children, a parent reading aloud can usually find something that will delight a young listener. For other, more serious poetry, I’m partial to Eileen Spinelli’s books. She is a wonderful and careful crafter of words.

A longer piece of fiction can give a child a good ride toward the resolution of a plot. If it’s well-written, the journey is as much fun as the final destination. With poetry, the beauty is in the moment. Poems for children are snacks, snippets and snapshots – brief but satisfying.

Section 811. Maybe on your next library trip, you can put verse things first.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter