The best children’s poetry books that also appeal to adults

Who am I?

Many people are intimidated by poetry. For a big part of my life, I was too. So much of the poetry I had been exposed to was either indecipherable or irrelevant to me. Then I discovered some poems that I loved—accessible poems about subjects I related to. I started collecting poetry books, by both adult and children’s poets. Eventually, I was inspired to write poetry of my own. Today, I’m a poetry advocate, recommending my favorites to anyone who shows interest. The satisfaction I get from poetry boils down to this: When I read a good poem, I think to myself, “Wow, I didn’t know words could do that.”


I wrote...

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

By Bob Raczka,

Book cover of Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

What is my book about?

I don’t remember when I saw my first concrete poetry (also known as shape poetry), but I was hooked from the get-go. I remember reading all the concrete poems I could find, and realized there was room to push the boundaries of this form. So in this book, not only does every poem have a shape, but every title as well. For example, in my poem "Dominoes", the letters of the title are shown on the page falling into each other liked stacked dominoes, while the lines of the poem itself are shown the same way, stacked vertically and falling into each other.

Wet Cement was a long time in the making, so when it received five starred reviews, I was thrilled.

The books I picked & why

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If Not for the Cat

By Jack Prelutsky, Ted Rand (illustrator),

Book cover of If Not for the Cat

Why this book?

After writing 14 children’s books about art appreciation, I decided to try my hand at children’s poetry. When I read this collection of haiku by Jack Prelutsky, it was a revelation. Each poem is a first-person description of an animal, full of rich, unexpected language. By writing in first-person, Prelutsky broke one of haiku’s cardinal rules. But it worked—and inspired me to write my own collection in the first person as well. Here’s one of my favorites poems in his book:

Raucously we caw.
Your straw men do not fool us.
We burgle your corn.


A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems

By Paul B. Janeczko (editor), Chris Raschka (illustrator),

Book cover of A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems

Why this book?

This anthology of concrete poems (also known as shape poems) is a direct influence on my own book. For anyone who loves concrete poetry, or wants to know more about it, A Poke in the Eye is indispensable. Each poem is by a different poet, and each approaches the form in their own way, which got me excited about trying it myself. I do have to say, while I love the mixed collage-style illustrations by Chris Raschka, it made me want to create my own concrete poetry book without supporting illustrations. In my mind, a concrete poem is its own illustration.


Candy Corn: Poems

By James Stevenson,

Book cover of Candy Corn: Poems

Why this book?

When I first became interested in children’s poetry, I found a seven-book series by James Stevenson—all self-illustrated, and all with titles containing the word “corn.” I loved everything about them, including his loose pen-and-ink illustrations washed with watercolor. His style seems effortless, with unique and relatable observations on everyday scenes or objects. A lot of poetry feels like it’s trying too hard. Stevenson taught me the power of not letting the effort show. Here’s a perfect example:

There’s a yellow chair
at the junkyard gate.
Sometimes an old guy sits there
just to make sure
nobody swipes a crane.


Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems

By Jack Prelutsky, Carin Berger (illustrator),

Book cover of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems

Why this book?

As an example of just how inventive poetry can be, this book is hard to top. The subject of each poem is a fictitious animal created by combining two dissimilar words that share common sounds. For example, umbrella + elephant = umbrellaphant. The rhythm in Prelutsky’s poems is always smooth, making them fun to read out loud. This book makes me want to drop everything and play with words, which for me is the essence of poetry. Here’s an excerpt from "The Ballpoint Penguins":

The Ballpoint Penguins do not think,
they simply write with endless ink.
They write of ice, they write of snow,
for that is all they seem to know.


Summersaults

By Douglas Florian,

Book cover of Summersaults

Why this book?

I love wordplay, and Douglas Florian is a master. His poems are short, fun, and well-crafted. He also illustrates his books, in a style that is sketchy, childlike, and textural. When I need a bit of lighthearted inspiration for my own poetry, Florian always delivers. He has written dozens of books, but his book about summer called Summersaults captures the essence of his style. Here’s a delicious sample:

"A Summery"

June: We seeded.
July: We weeded.
August: We eated.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poetry, summer, and legendary creatures?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poetry, summer, and legendary creatures.

Poetry Explore 204 books about poetry
Summer Explore 11 books about summer
Legendary Creatures Explore 34 books about legendary creatures

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like How to Grow Your Own Poem, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, and Collected Poems if you like this list.