Poetry books for girls
December 12, 2006 10:48 AM   Subscribe

GiftIdeaFilter (sorry): I'm looking for suggestions for poetry books for an 8-year old girl. She's an excellent reader and likely well above her target reading level. I thought introducing her to poetry might be a nice change of pace... preferably something she won't finish by supper. Thanks!
posted by Witty to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That's third grade?

I got really into T.S. Eliot that year, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, but I still find my eight-year-old self reading Christian treatises on the meaning of death a little odd.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman? Maya Angelou? I remember reading a lot of Langston Hughes around that age, too. I feel, to some extent, that most of the standard American poets could be good, because they tend to use fairly straightforward language that she could grasp, while still be interesting enough to grow with her.
posted by occhiblu at 10:55 AM on December 12, 2006

Dorothy Parker.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2006

I'm guessing you know about Shel Silverstein and his wonderful poems, such as "Where the Sidewalk Ends." I memorized a batch of them as a kid. I also loved Carl Sandburg, though I was a little older than 8. Robert Frost, too.
posted by GaelFC at 10:57 AM on December 12, 2006

I'd suggest T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which is good, fun poetry. It was also the basis for "Cats," which might make it particularly appealing to the girl in question if she's seen it.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2006

Edward Lear might be good as well.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2006

I really enjoyed William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience" around that age. The language isn't that difficult, but the concepts are really interesting. I memorized "The Poison Tree" which seemed not unlike the "see-see oh enemy" hand-slapping song. "The Tyger" is in there, too.

Great idea for a gift. A big poetry collection (not for kids) would probably also be interesting to her. Even if she doesn't enjoy all of it, she'll have it around to leaf through.
posted by tk at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2006

Oh! I also loved E.E. Cummings at that age. I used to get the enormous collection of his work from the library and read it every time I went in there.

I think that year we did haiku in English class, so those might be age-appropriate as well.
posted by occhiblu at 11:02 AM on December 12, 2006

I'll second Shel Silverstein.
posted by nuclear_soup at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2006

Seconding William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and (even though she might find it childish) Shel Silverstein.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2006

Of course Shel Silverstein, I also loved the clever, funny and wicked Jack Prelutsky. That's "kid's poetry." Why not just a nice anthology of American poetry?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:34 AM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: Wow... great responses. Thank you.

Yes, I am familiar with most of these suggestions (by name only for a few). But honestly, I'm just a big dumb dude when it comes to this sort of thing... relating to the 8-year old female mind and what is and is not appropriate. So I appreciate everyone's effort.
posted by Witty at 11:34 AM on December 12, 2006

I'd pick up the anthology The Rattle Bag, a collection of poems that are favorites of Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. It has a lot of great old chestnuts, and it's diverse enough that it'll almost certainly contain some things she'll like.

I seem to have been a late bloomer compared to some other Mefites. What I remember from about that age is reciting "The Highwayman" with immense glee, particularly the bit where "they shot him down on the highway, down like a dog on the highway, and he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat." It was form and insistent rhythm that hooked me on poetry early. (And a little melodrama sure didn't hurt!) My appreciation of other kinds of verse came later.
posted by sculpin at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2006

These might be a little young, but A. A. Milne's poetry books were a favorite of mine when I was very small. Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young are the two poetry books.

I think a lot of the issue of poetry isn't the language so much as the degree of abstraction required. I remember quite well being completely baffled by the abstraction required even to understand the meaning behind a proverb like "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
posted by that girl at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2006

I think a lot of the issue of poetry isn't the language so much as the degree of abstraction required.

Exactly. Which is why I think writers like Dickinson or Whitman are great, because there's so much concrete description, and you can kind of "grow into" the metaphors.
posted by occhiblu at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2006

I remember Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices fondly, but that's not so much a sit-down-and-read book as a book to be read aloud (with a friend).
posted by donajo at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2006

I recently read I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine: Poems For Young Feminists and wished I had read it as a younger girl. Not sure if it's more teen-appropriate but I definitely recommend taking a look.
posted by cadge at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2006

Seconding The Rattle Bag, but I reckon your best choice might be I Like This Poem, edited by Kaye Webb. This is poems chosen by children, with a sentence or two by each child explaining why he or she likes the poem they've chosen. It's organised by age, starting I think at 5 or six and going up to 15/16 (can't put my hands on either of my two falling-apart copies). It's particularly good on poems with splendid sounds - Masefield's Cargoes, for instance.

There's also The Puffin Book of Magic Verse - a children's anthology of mysterious poetry, edited by Charles Causley. Can't find a good review to link to, which is a shame, because it's a wonderful book - leads children off into all sorts of eerie places, and again has a pretty broad age range.

Also, Michael Rosen's poems for children - Wouldn't You Like to Know is the collection I remember, well-suited to an eight year-old I'd think.
posted by paduasoy at 12:38 PM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, just looking back at your question - she might well finish one of Rosen's books by supper, though it depends when she starts of course. The other two, I'd say not.
posted by paduasoy at 12:43 PM on December 12, 2006

There is a tremendous variety of terrific material in A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children (recommended for ages 9-12). Ignore the temptation to push it aside as a Celebrity Book. Robert Pinsky's review says:

"Caroline Kennedy's excellent new anthology (illustrated by Jon J. Muth) is an excellent book. The editor shows great respect for children by choosing real poems and including Edward Lear, A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare -- the first-class poets for children.

Kennedy also includes Emily Dickinson's " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers," Thomas Hardy's "Snow in the Suburbs," Wordsworth's "Daffodils," Shakespeare's song for Ariel, William Blake's "The Tyger," Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish," Marianne Moore's "A Jelly-Fish," Theodore Roethke's "The Sloth," and William Butler Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," along with good jokes by the likes of Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath and even Wallace Stevens's "The Emperor of Ice-Cream." Also, Antonio Machado's "Has My Heart Gone to Sleep," translated by Alan S. Trueblood . . . . The editor even includes, in an appendix, the text of this and all translated poems in their original languages.

Kennedy intelligently avoids (mostly) the cloying or over-ingratiating contemporary juvenile authors . . . . [You can read more of the review in the Amazon listing linked above.]

This book is a gift for the adults who read it to or with children, as well as for the children. That fact is epitomized by the decision to close with Wallace Stevens's great, quiet poem "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm." "The quiet was part of the meaning," writes Stevens, "part of the mind." The quiet, impish, commanding voice of poetry can be heard in this selection of poems "for" children but -- happily -- not only for children." Copyright 2005, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

If the 8-yr-old is yours, make sure your gift includes reading out loud - each of you to the other.
posted by Dave 9 at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2006

I was going to suggest a lot of these--Lear, Eliot's cat book, prelutsky, shel silverstein--but how about Kenneth Koch's poetry generally or his books about poetry-writing for children, such as Rose Where Did You Get Your Red? There are probably other more contemporary poets that might work, like Richard Brautigan or Russell Edson.
posted by kensanway at 2:28 PM on December 12, 2006

I think there are some Billy Collins poems that might be appropriate for a child this age if she is a little bit of an advanced reader. Sailing Alone Around the Room has some really excellent and accessible poems that can illustrate the most elemental parts of good poetry.

I also really enjoyed Poetry 180, which Collins designed to be used by schools that want to integrate poetry every school day.
posted by santojulieta at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2006

Shel Silverstein and Robert Frost. A good poetry book would be one that she rereads even if she finishes it by dinner.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:52 PM on December 12, 2006

I feel like robert frost was the first 'grown up' poet I read - his poems are so descriptive and natural but also follow a rhythm / rhyme scheme that they are very accessible. ee cummings was another early one for me, because he was so playful, but I think at first I probably liked it more for the 'musical' element than the meaning. I do not remember exactly how old I was, though, and I'm pretty sure I was still loving shel silverstein in 3rd grade...
posted by mdn at 2:54 PM on December 12, 2006

Third the rattle bag as a nice collection. Love of language and love of poetry are often very close kin. The Edward Lear suggestion is therefore a good one. I'd also consider getting a copy of Willard Espy's "An almanac of words at play" as well. Huge fun and good for any age.
posted by Rumple at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2006

I'm seconding Dave 9's recommendation of the Caroline Kennedy book -- those are fine poems for children. The Plath poem in particular is so charming and also otherwise unavailable in print so far as I know.

When I was that age I had "Poems to Enjoy" and read it alot and even memorized certain poems from it. I have to say that not all the poems in there were award winners, but they were fun and they aroused my interest. I memorized at least 3 of them and can still recite them now. This definitely made me more and more interested in poetry when I was in high school and college, and having that background in the rhythms of poetry in my head really helped me in poetry classes then.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2006

That's probably around the age when I started being able to recite passages of The Cremation of Sam McGee in unison with my dad. :)

As for books, I still enjoy paging through The Oxford Book of Children's Verse in America. It has a broad scope and plenty of material to work with. You and she can both laugh at the gender roles espoused by some of the poems, and then root for the no-nonsense Miss Muffet character, among others.
posted by Myself at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2006

i was (and still am) a big fan of canadian poet, DENNIS LEE- check out NICHOLAS KNOCK AND OTHER PEOPLE, an awesome collection of funny poems for kids, ranging in length from a few lines to the seven-chapter story, nicholas knock.

nicholas knock was a venturesome boy
who lived at number eight;
he went for walks in the universe
and he generally came home late.

but nicholas knock was always around
when the ice-cream truck went ching;
he dug up flowers to watch them grow
and he mended them with string.

dennis lee is a master of clever rhyme and exquisite meter, and he has a delightfully offbeat sense of humor. he's a little like shel silverstein, a little like an older, naughtier dr. seuss. even as an adult, everything about his poetry charms me.
posted by twistofrhyme at 7:54 PM on December 12, 2006

I love Espy's Words at Play, and my own copy is battered and much-read, but I'm not sure I'd give that book to an 8-year-old girl. Espy's somewhat dated when it comes to his gender ideas, if I recall correctly, and I wouldn't want to have to explain "The Hard-Boiled Seduction of a Soft-Boiled Egg" to a third-grader. It is a whole lot of fun, though.
posted by sculpin at 8:06 PM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: One can ALWAYS count on Mefites to be thorough and varied in their ideas and suggestions. This is fantastic. I'll be sure to update the thread with whatever I ultimately choose. Thanks again.
posted by Witty at 7:04 AM on December 13, 2006

Naomi Shihab Nye is magical. Much of her poetry deals with childhood, and evokes a sense of delight, wonder, and curiosity.

She has edited several anthologies of poetry for young readers (one in particular called This Same Sky is truly inspiring), and a book entitled A Maze Me: Poems for Girls.
posted by vindyloo at 10:57 AM on December 13, 2006

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