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Sharing the Power of Poetry with Your Child

by J. Patrick Lewis


J. Patrick Lewis

J. Patrick Lewis is the current U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate (2011-2013). Read more »

Sorry, J. Patrick Lewis is no longer taking questions.

April is Poetry Month? Poetry should be celebrated every day! If children make poetry a daily habit—reading it, writing it—they’ll do it for the rest of their lives.

I am a walking-talking example of “It’s Never Too Late.” I stumbled into poetry late—I was almost 40. After nearly four years of reading poetry, I dared to think that I knew something about the craft to take pen in hand and start writing myself. My first poems were... terrible! I sounded like a child first learning to play the piano. Noise was all that came out. But I kept at it, and somehow, it has worked.

If I am asked about my favorite poets, I always give the same answer; leaving out adult poets (among whom my favorites abound), I’ll stick to the two best children’s poets of the 19th century: Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. No one has written better poetry since, in my opinion.

So, you might ask, “What’s the big deal? Why is poetry so important?” Poetry is essential for children because it is “the best words in the best order.” The rhythm and rhymes can help children develop a love a language—and a love of reading. Once kids begin flexing their writing muscles, poetry can spark their creativity and let their imaginations soar!

You can read newspapers and magazines all you want, but nowhere else are you going to find words taken to such beautiful and sometimes absurd extremes as in poetry.

Children will not gravitate to poetry, poetry must be brought to them. Surround your home with as many books—and kinds—of poetry as you are able. Let a hundred flowers bloom. Then let your child decide whether free verse or rhyme, Silverstein or Shakespeare, most excites him or her.

Having plenty of books available gets you only half way, though. Poetry is aural (through the ears)! Parents and teachers who give oral readings are imprinting on children, who will then carry poetry with them into adulthood.

Another idea is to make the reading of a poem not a requirement, but an activity at dinnertime. Or, you might write or print out your favorite couplets or short poems and hide them in your children’s clothes, drawers or lunch bags. You’ll be surprised; kids will actively search for them. And if there’s no poem, they’ll be disappointed.

Everyone knows what 911 means. Everyone should know what 811 means—that’s the poetry section of the library. Visit as often as you can. Also, you might suggest that your child’s school organizes a Poetry Cafe, where parents and kids are invited to give poetry readings after school.

I hope I can say without fear of being contradicted that my children (3) and grandchildren (5) love books, and not just my books. Fortunately, my grandchildren have parents who love books, too. And that made all the difference. Parents who get the reading habit early are bound to pass it onto their children. Reading to your child is the best suggestion I could ever make to a parent. I still remember the days I spent in my mother’s lap with my very first books.

Here are three books that would be a great start to a child's poetry library at home or at school:

- Iona and Peter Opies’ The Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes
- Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense
- X.J. and Dorothy Kennedys’ Talking Like the Rain.

The rest is up to you. Magic is as close as your nearest poetry book. What's your child's favorite? What's yours?

Sorry, J. Patrick Lewis is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.

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Lewis' new book of adult poems, Gulls Hold Up the Sky Buy it now from Amazon.

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