One poet’s favorite poems for children

Title page to 'A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

I’ve been working on a book of children’s poems, adding new ones to verses I originally wrote for my girls years ago. At the same time I noticed a post by poet and translator A. M. Juster on social media. He asked us to share our favorite children’s poem.

For me that was hard because there are so many. I posted a quick response and then realized one of my top favorites is actually a book-long poem, but it’s a poem anyone of any age can enjoy.

So I decided to post links to some of the poems I read to my daughters as they grew up.

The book poem was their favorite, and now it’s my granddaughter’s favorite too. Every time I read to her she wants me to read that book.

For a favorite poem a child can memorize, “Windy Nights” is perfect. That poem and “The Swing” are from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Children love these poems, and they are complex and simple at the same time.

Other top favorites include:

The Rainbow by Christina Rossetti

The Mountain and the Squirrel by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me at All by Maya Angelou

The Parakeets by Alberto Blanco

The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll

Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Fishing with My Grandpa by Dawneisha Washington

Wind on the Hill by A. A. Milne

Photo of book 'Scary, Scary Halloween' by Eve Bunting
Photo of book ‘Scary, Scary Halloween’ by Eve Bunting. (Photo: Indie Art South)

Each of those poems wasn’t just a fun journey into the poet’s world. Poems like this encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and often inspire children to ask questions that lead to critical thinking. Both my children tested well and comprehended well, and I attribute much of that to doing what my mother did for my brother and me. She put books into our hands early, and she read them to us. We didn’t have a lot of money, but to her, a book was a valuable investment.

If I had to pick a top book other than Stevenson’s, it would be the book-long poem titled, Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting. The incredible illustrations are done by Jan Brett. The book was published in 1986, and my younger daughter chose it at one of the book fairs her school held. Those book fairs were expensive because I could always tell my children no if they wanted a toy or expensive clothing. What I couldn’t say no to was a book.

My granddaughter loves the same book her mother picked as a child, and she gets a kick out of seeing her mother’s printed name on the inside cover. The verses in this book work on two levels. The narrative is fairly straightforward, and a child of any age will realize the author is talking about what we see in the streets on our scariest holiday. There’s also a deeper layer, though, and a fun surprise at the very end when you study the illustration carefully.

As any mother did, I made mistakes. One of the things I know I did right though was gifting them a love of reading and books. TV never held much interest for me, and while that has frustrated many of my loved ones, it served me well as a mom.

~~Featured photo is of the title page to A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson; reproduced from Project Gutenberg, and tagged ‘In the Public Domain’.

~~Hat tip to A. M. Juster for inspiring this column; read more about him at his official website.

(Kay B. Day/June 26, 2020)

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