Lots of writers, me included, like to read how-to books. Sometimes we might even read them when we should be writing instead (not that I’m speaking from personal experience, of course)! But I think you can learn a lot from how-to books, and even though there aren’t really any books specifically about writing poetry for kids, there are some great books available. I’m going to share (in no particular order) some of my favorites and the ones I’ve written, too. Some of them are really written for kids, and others are written for adults. Either way, I think if you’re a beginning to somewhat experienced poet, you’ll find them entertaining and chock-full of useful info, too.
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms (selected by Paul Janeczko): This picture book features extremely brief definitions of poetic forms from haiku to villanelle with a kid-accessible example of each. Great poems, great poets, great book.
Excerpt: Tercet: If you have a couplet and add a third line with the same end rhyme, you wind up with a tercet.
Kitchen crickets make a din,
sending taunts to chilly kin,
“You’re outside, but we got in.”
–Joan Bransfield Graham, all rights reserved
Poemcrazy: freeing your life with your words (by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge): This book of encouragement and poetry practice ideas is all about poetry as self-expression, poetry as a way to face fears, make connections.
Excerpt: The starry show turned out to be beneath, not above us—from phosphorescent plankton. The ocean was alive and filled with light. Sometimes we think poems need to be about important, dramatic moments. The events of our lives seem mundane. Often the small occasions in the front or back yard are the most magical. We just need to notice and then create a way to experience and enjoy this ordinary magic.
Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry (by Laura Purdie Salas): Despite the title, this book is not focused on poignant poetry. It’s about poetry of all kinds. This book covers all the basic techniques of poetry and lots of uncomplicated forms. It’s also full of poem-starters to get you going.
Excerpt: …A random word forces you to find new relationships between words. Maybe you’ll create a startling image like the “liquid moon” in William Carlos Williams’ “Winter Trees.”
Try it–your results will vary from tragic to magic, and that’s what’s fun about it! It’s a way to play with words?a cornerstone of poetry. This is a great technique for your bag of revision tricks.
Poetry Matters (by Ralph Fletcher): This book for kids (but great for adults, too) is one of my favorites. It’s non-threatening but full of useful, practical advice and great examples.
Excerpt: Think fragments. It’s a funny thing. For years, teachers drill the Rules of Language into your head. Use complete sentences! Begin each sentence with a capital letter! Don’t begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” No fragments. Certain teachers have been known to inflict pain (or at least low grades) on students who forget to follow these rules.
But a poem is an impressionistic piece of writing, a word painting in which the writer tries to capture a moment, an image?
A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature (by Lorraine Ferra): This book is actually meant for teachers who are having students write poetry. It’s full of lovely ideas, plus sample poems and questions to think about for each poem. It’s not about what’s right or wrong, just about exploring nature through poetry.
Excerpt: Notice how skillfully the writer of this poem shows the various qualities of rainfall by thinking about rain in the five suggested ways. When she describes rain as “the petals falling off a daisy,” she reminds us of at least two things: the petal-like shapes of raindrops and the way rain sometimes falls lightly, almost without sound.
Poetry from A to Z (compiled by Paul Janeczko): This book for kids contains 70 poems of every form and mood you can imagine, from acrostics to takeoffs. Every letter has at least one poem to represent it, and many letters have a Try This section.
Excerpt: Try This: Curse Poem. One day I wrote a poem because I was very upset with somebody. I can’t even remember who it was. It could have been the person in the car in front of me who was driving too slowly when I was in a hurry—more than likely, however, a number of things were bothering me, and the poem was my way of dealing with them all?
Write Your Own Poetry (by Laura Purdie Salas): This how-to book is aimed at middle school kids. It’s full of small chunks of information, tons of example poems, and great tips from some of today’s most talented children’s poets.
Excerpt: Tips and Techniques: If you’re having trouble breaking your poem into lines, write two or three versions of the poem—same words, but different line breaks. Now give your versions to a few friends to read out loud. Listen carefully to where they pause. Which words do they emphasize? Do they read the lines slowly or quickly? Paying attention to how readers interpret line breaks will help you decide the best places to end your lines.
Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets (compiled by Paul Janeczko): This is not a how-to book, but I had to include it. It’s a compilation of letters written by fabulous poets to young poets just starting out. Lee Bennett Hopkins, Kristine O’Connell George, J. Patrick Lewis, Janet Wong—you will learn from the masters in this book. There are no exercises here, just words to make you think. Questions to ask yourself. Tips to help you revise. Pages to broaden your poetic horizons and make you eager to get back to the poems you want to write. And each letter is followed by one of that poet’s poems.
Excerpt: from Kristine O’Connell George’s letter: I’ve always liked watching clouds and imagining what each cloud resembles. A panther? An iguana? Then, one day I suddenly noticed the images in the spaces between the clouds. My poem “The Blue Between” [which follows George’s letter] reminds me how I can look at something every day of my life and then, one day—out of the blue—I’ll suddenly notice something I’ve never seen before.
All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing: An explanation of meter and versification (by Timothy Steele): If you’re serious about wanting to write rhymed, metrical verse, this is the tome you need. It’s a scholarly book, not light reading. But it’s clear and accessible, if you have the basics of poetic terminology down.
Excerpt: Mid-line inversions can also produce expressive effects. Such an effect appears in Milton’s Paradise Lost, when Satan, newly arrived in Hell, bitterly resolves to persist in his jealous defiance of truth and virtue:
To do ought good never will be our task.
Here “never,” by constituting an inverted foot, carries special and disruptive emphasis, and highlights the speaker’s destructive and misplaced vigor.
Picture Yourself Writing Poetry (by Laura Purdie Salas): I love using photos for inspiration for poetry, and that’s the sole focus of this book.
Excerpt: …Do you have trouble finding poetry ideas? Well, every photo is an idea factory. Just ask, “What does this picture make me think of?”
This picture might make you think of:
- the Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard of Oz
- striped prison uniforms
- when your sister got dizzy and threw up at her dance recital
- shoe-shopping with your mom
- the Halloween when your neighbor thought you were a dog, not a lion