Subscribe to The Horn Book

Haiku: A Small Poem with Great Potential

snow melting
the village brimming over…
with children!

–Issa (1763-1828)
(translated by David Lanoue)

Yes, I was taught that a haiku, a short poem that originated in Japan centuries ago, was supposed to consist of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. And yes, because of the way haiku have been taught historically, they serve as wonderful vehicles to teach syllabification in early elementary school. And yes, because of their brevity, their frequent focus on nature, and their celebration of wonder (and sometimes humor) in the world, haiku may be more accessible to children than some other forms of poetry. But haiku can provide so much more than that!

First of all, haiku do not have to be seventeen syllables long. Traditionally, haiku were written using a strict structure of seventeen Japanese sound units. But these sound units are generally smaller than English language syllables. Early translators of Japanese haiku into English stuck with seventeen syllables, but over the last several decades, most English-language haiku writers believe the gist of a haiku requires fewer syllables. When I teach haiku to my students, I give them the option of sticking with the traditional syllabic structure or trying something different.

Teaching haiku can incorporate teaching several other vital thinking and learning skills. For instance, haiku poets use their senses to notice and record what’s happening in the present moment. This process complements recent educational initiatives about mindfulness. Also, haiku are frequently about nature, and often include “kigo,” season words like “frost” or “tadpole” that help set the scene. Because of this, haiku can integrate wonderfully into science units and environmental education. In addition, haiku can juxtapose two sensory images or experiences, thus helping kids grow their understanding of what metaphor is all about. Lastly, concision is of utmost importance in a haiku. Every word counts — a lesson I’m guessing all writing teachers applaud.

I encourage you to try out new ways to teach haiku. I’ve posted some lessons for third and fourth graders on this “Education Resources” page at The Haiku Foundation. (There are also other haiku lessons for other ages.)

Several of the lessons I’ve taught were inspired by Patricia Donegan’s book Haiku: Asian Arts & Crafts for Creative Kids (Tuttle, 2003).

Three individual children’s haiku books I recommend:

Spring Rain Winter Snow by Edward J. Rielly, illus. by Angelina Buonaiuto (Shanti Arts Publishing, 2014)

Shadow Play: Night Haiku by Penny Harter, illus. by Jeffrey Greene (Simon & Schuster, 1994)

Black Swan White Crow by J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by Chris Manson (Atheneum, 1995)

More haiku books for kids are reviewed in my article “Children’s Haiku Books: An Annotated Bibliography” in the journal Modern Haiku.

For more from The Horn Book click the poetry tag.

Brad Bennett About Brad Bennett

Brad Bennett teaches third and fourth graders and an after-school poetry club at Fayerweather Street School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His first full-length, award-winning book of haiku, a drop of pond, was published in 2016 by Red Moon Press.

Share

Comments

  1. Just seeing this now. What a lovely column, Brad and Lolly. A few days earlier this past April — for National Poetry Month — Penny Candy Books, established by two poets, released my mother Sydell Rosenberg’s H IS FOR HAIKU: A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z, with gorgeous illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi. Syd was a NY teacher and a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968. I hope this book will be considered an enjoyable addition in the world of kids’ poetry. I loved Spring Rain Winter Snow by Edward J. Rielly, and I’m honored to be acquainted with Penny Harter (Syd’s work is included in the classic text, The Haiku Handbook, edited by Penny and her husband, William J. Higginson), and J. Patrick Lewis.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*