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“Because poetry and hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you”*

*from The House at Pooh Corner

Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston HughesPoetry can be used to examine and celebrate the world we live in and the worlds we invent. A great way to observe National Poetry Month is to share the following exemplary poetry books for young children featuring the calming rhythms of lullaby, the humorous juxtaposition of portmanteaux, the silliness of made-up holidays, and elegant observations on animal behavior.

Leave Your SleepTwo recent books feature soothing poems that double as lullabies. Lullaby (For a Black Mother), first published by Langston Hughes in 1932, has just the right smooth cadence for a picture book text. Sean Qualls’s superb accompanying collages, showing a mother and child at bedtime, display a dreamlike quality that suggests a transition from wakefulness to sleep. (2–5 years, Harcourt) Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry selected by singer Natalie Merchant showcases nineteen of the twenty-six poems that provided lyrics for her 2010 album of the same name. The book works just as well on its own, with Barbara McClintock’s comfortably old-fashioned-looking illustrations offering added humor and details. (2–5 years, Farrar/ Foster)

World Rat DayIn J. Patrick Lewis’s World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of, obscure but entertaining holidays get their own poems, each one funny and playful. Anna Raff’s illustrations feature animals with lots of personality, like the worms who appear worried while a couple of realistically enormous robins dig their bills into the ground overhead. The poems vary in length and style. Children may find themselves inspired to discover (or invent) their own quirky holidays and poems, too. (4–7 years, Candlewick)

Stardines Swim Across the SkyIngenious book design pairs with inventive poetry in Jack Prelutsky’s Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems to create this museum-in-a-book of animal verse, featuring an array of unusual critters. The concept itself is simple: combine a real animal with a quality that fits into the name (Bobcat + Sob = Sobcat, “sad / As a feline can be).” Carin Berger’s illustrations incorporate found objects and aged paper to tag and label the various beasts. The total effect is both whimsical and fascinating. (4–7 years, Greenwillow)

Put and other Animal PoemsValerie Worth is fondly remembered for her small books of “small poems” — delicate epiphanies springing from thoughts on ordinary things with elegant illustrations by Natalie Babbitt. Pug and Other Animal Poems has a radically different design from those earlier quiet books. Steve Jenkins’s collages of precisely observed creatures in bold tones on contrasting grounds effectively dramatize these eighteen welcome additions to Worth’s oeuvre. Her poems remain a marvel and a joy. (4–7 years, Farrar/Ferguson)

From the April 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shara Hardeson About Shara Hardeson

Shara Hardeson is a former editorial assistant at The Horn Book Guide.

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