Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top 5 picks from the American Children's Poets Laureate

List by Danielle

'Read and write! Write and read! Think about words, play with them, taste them in your mouth, turn them into games...'
~ Mary Ann Hoberman

In May, the Poetry Foundation named their third Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis. Like the previous Laureates, Mary Ann Hoberman and Jack Prelutsky, Lewis will serve a two year term as a champion of children's poetry in the States.

I've been taking a wander through Prelutsky, Hoberman and Lewis' works, trying them out on my two pre-schoolers, who love a good, bouncy rhyme. Mary Ann Hoberman has a lovely wise warmth to her stories-in-verse, touched with a neat sense of whimsy, and Jack Prelutsky is just so much plain, silly fun that it takes a while to realise how sneaky-clever he is with words!
J. Patrick Lewis does seem to pitch many of his poems for a slightly older audience than my kids; they're full of in-jokes, riddles and references and the sort of language play that really suits older children.

All three poets have been teamed up with a variety of wonderful illustrators that make their books a real visual pleasure for any age group. Here are a selection of some of the titles that have been especially popular with my kids.

The marvelous mouse man / Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Laura Forman
When the townsfolk hire a mysterious man to purge the village of mice, he gets rid of too many other things as well.

Familiar story? Think again. Mary Ann Hoberman plays around with the Pied Piper tale and manages not only to bring back the children, but to give the Piper a home, too. There's nothing saccharine about this re-make, though; the barefoot, bespectacled Piper is pleasantly sinister and solitary, at least until he mends his ways and makes a home for himself. The illustrations are softly subdued but rich in colour, with a real period feel.

Kindergarten cat / J. Patrick Lewis; illustrated by Ailie Busby
A stray cat finds a happy home in a kindergarten classroom.

One of J. Patrick Lewis' stories for younger readers, this is a sweet story about a little tabby cat's journey from homelessness to belonging. The illustrations are a riot of colour, a mixture of collage and cute, kiddy-style cartoon figures.

It's raining pigs and noodles / Jack Prelutsky
A collection of humorous poems by Jack Prelutsky.

Check this one out on audiobook! Jack Prelutsky sings his poems to an accompaniment of fun, folksy music with catchy rhythms, perfect for entertaining your kids on a car trip. He even does silly voices. We really enjoyed singing along to our favourites and learnt some parts off by heart.

A house is a house for me / Mary Ann Hoberman
A rollicking rhyme about houses, this longtime favorite--a National Book Award winner--is filled with pictures that parents and children will want to look at again and again.

Rollicking is right. The rhythm of this one makes it as fun to read aloud as Prelutsky's verse, though this book has a more thoughtful feel, tripping lightly over both concrete, recognisable ideas of home (cows in a barn, cookies in a cookie jar) and more abstract and whimsical ideas ('A mirror's a house for reflections... / A throat is a house for a hum'). It's a good starting point for a talk about the concept of home, and how it relates to the wider world. My son loved the animals scattered through the pictures, and I really appreciated the underlying message about caring for the world we live in : 'Each creature that's known has a house of its own / And the earth is a house for us all.'

Be glad your nose is on your face, and other poems / Jack Prelutsky
This treasury contains more than one hundred of Jack Prelutsky's verses, along with fifteen new poems. The CD features performances by the poet himself.

This treasury is indeed a treasure! Jack Prelutsky dips into various of collections of his poetry, from the fabulous radish-shark cross (the 'radishark') to meals of worms, dinosaur rides, stinky fridges and more. These poems are just a delight to read aloud, and there's so much for little kids to enjoy even when the words are totally new to them. The illustrations are a treat, too. Before I even got this book home from the library the kids spent the trip home poring over the disgusting, fearsome and boldly colourful pictures, getting louder and louder in their excitement and anticipation - when my daughter got home, her fingers were desperately trying to mark a dozen pages that she wanted us to read first.


Madhamster said...

Hi Danielle
I *heart* Prelutsky, and I love the sound of Hoberman's A house is a house for me. I believe it might be going on my request list.

Danielle said...

Oh, I hope you enjoy it! It's possibly sliiiightly too long to sustain pre-schoolers' attention all the way through, but I love reading it aloud. And it has this wonderful sense to it. Also: Prelutsky? He rocks.