For the uninitiated, including many children, poetry can be confusing or boring, but the right book can change that, and there are many to choose from. Aside from a growing body of verse novels, there are also some fabulous picture books to read and enjoy, and they are the focus here. There’s an important rule for these books though, they really must be read aloud for the best effect.
One of my personal favourites is Mulga Bill’s Bicycle. The rollicking poem was written more than 100 years ago by Banjo Paterson. In the 1970s sisters Kilmeny and Deborah Niland visually captured Mulga Bill’s hilarious, wild ride perfectly. It’s a wonderful way to introduce children to Australian poetry, and just as entertaining today as it was fifty or a hundred years ago.
Other classic poems given a new lease of life with beautiful illustrations include include Edward Lear’s collection of nonsense rhymes, The Owl and the Pussycat, and the traditional shearing song, Click Go the Shears, both illustrated by Robert Ingpen.
Fast forward to the 1980s for examples of late 20th century poetry. Revolting Rhymes is Roald Dahl’s take on six fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. He certainly makes you look at the stories you think you know in a different way, and children who love Revolting Rhymes will also enjoy other comic poems in Dahl’s Dirty Beasts. Australian Craig MacLeod created his own comic poetry in Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns, illustrated by Craig Smith. It’s a side-splitting collection of poems about the antics of a quirky group of women who do everything from gardening and collecting magazines to visiting the zoo and riding motorcycles.
A more recent book is Edgar Allen Poe’s Pie: Maths Puzzlers in Classic Poems. It’s brilliantly written by the United States’ poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis and parodies classic poems as a way of teaching children maths. Bright, modern artwork complements the poetry, with humour plus maths plus poetry adding up to an enjoyable and multi-layered learning experience.
So if you haven’t explored picture books as way to introduce poetry, look these titles up at the library and see what else you find. You can also read our Kids’ Book Review posts with a poetry connection.
Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books.