Celebrating Children’s Poetry
April is always a beautiful month at Tweetspeak Poetry. We celebrate poetry. We celebrate the earth. Occasionally we celebrate chickens. For this National Poetry Month, I wanted to celebrate my favorite section of the library: children’s poetry. We’re reading Joyce Sidman’s What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings.
The collection opens with an epigraph by Mary Oliver:
If you say it right, it helps the heart to bear it.”
For some situations, our own words are inadequate. For those, we need a poem.
If a relationship is broken, I may not be able to express what I want to say. But I can read (aloud) “Chant to Repair a Friendship,” a poem that repeats and rhymes better than I can when my thoughts and feelings are all tangled up.
“Illness: A Conversation,” in the Laments & Remembrances section, would work for a child in bed for a week with the flu. It also meant a lot to a grownup friend of mine with a terminal illness.
What the Heart Knows accepts sadness, anger, and fear as parts of human existence, and it also celebrates fun with its “Silly Love Song” and its blessings on the “Curl of Cat” and the “Smell of Dog.” Sidman’s poems feature stars, bicycles, sandcastles, and an invisibility spell. Her words invite our lost things to “Come out, come out.” She whispers to us “How to Find a Poem.” She offers the perfect charm for a malady that affects grownups even more than children.
This bed is the perfect bed.
Sink into its healing
cheek against cool pillow-white.
Forget anything you ever wanted,
hoped, or feared.
One by one, those cares will drop
from you like stones
into deep water.
Slip from your dayskin
and swim, shimmering,
into the dream beyond the dream.
The world will wait for you
through all its dark and absent hours,
and the creatures of the night
will sing your name.
— Joyce Sidman
Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski have collaborated before, on Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors (a Caldecott Honor-winner, which I have read) and This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness (which I haven’t). Sidman also won a Newbery Honor for Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Her website includes poetry prompts for all ages. Zagarenski has a line of greeting cards and is also an author, herself.
No matter how lovely or how funny the poems in a children’s poetry collection are, the book usually stands or falls on its illustrations. Zagarenski’s people wear crowns, and so does one of her crows. She gives color to emotion, amplifies the action of the poem, and makes us chuckle.
My weekly library visits include a stop at the poetry section for children. Those shelves contain many classic poems that have been collected into books for children and illustrated. These have depth, but they are not too obscure to withstand a set of paints. Beside a collection by Carl Sandburg you might find this book by Sidman.
Children’s poetry speaks to the child within us. Now, suddenly, we are 6 years old, wondering where the sidewalk ends. Or we are on a camping trip, toasting marshmallows. Or stuck in middle school, among the most imperfect places on the planet.
For anyone who still finds poetry intimidating, children’s poetry is a non-threatening place to start. The only allusions are to your own memories. The rhyme and meter are straightforward. What the Heart Knows did for me what any great poetry collection does: It makes me pick up my pencil and write.
The Way to Bless a Day
awaken under stars
grateful to be up
before the sun
Write your own poem! Choose from one of Sidman’s categories:
• Chants & Charms. To bolster courage and guard against evil
• Spells & Invocations. To cause something to happen
• Laments & Remembrances. To remember, regret, or grieve
• Praise Songs & Blessings. To celebrate, thank, or express love
Next Month’s Selection
There is a pig who is Some Pig, who is Terrific, Radiant, and Humble, and his name is not Wilbur. It’s Babe, by Dick King-Smith. Join us Friday, May 13, for our Children’s Book Club.
Browse more Children’s Book Club
“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist