Tag Archives: poetry books

Writing Projects: Poetry Collection

I wrote a little while ago about how after we finally finished up all the projects in Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing I decided to keep coming up with more for us. While sometimes it’s nice to have a writing project that dovetails with another subject, a co-op topic, a contest, or a real world need like writing a letter, it’s also nice to have writing projects that are focused on writing and language as their own interesting things. The projects in Partnership Writing were great like that. We played around with secret codes, wrote little reports using the five question words, made up our own island chains and wrote about them, made catalogs to sell weird products, and more.

I posted already about the thumbprint biographies we made. They were fun and short. Before that, we did a poetry collection project for our writing project and it was also fun, so I thought I’d post about that as well.

Step One: Poetry Teas and a pile of books

As one might expect, we started this project with a poetry tea and actually held a couple more than usual during the course of the month. We don’t do poetry tea every week, but this forced us almost to do so, which was nice. In case you don’t know what poetry tea is, it’s when you pull out your pretty china, clean off the mess from the table, make or buy something tasty and sweet, and sit around for an hour reading poetry with the kids. In our house, we take turns reading poems and sometimes discuss the poetry as well.

In preparation for this project, I checked out a slightly larger pile of poetry books, thinking especially about exploring different forms. These included:

The Creature Carnival by Marilyn Singer
This book, in addition to just being fun, has poems with great varied and interesting rhyme schemes. Many of Singer’s others books are similar in how they use different forms. Her Mirror, Mirror is a book of reverso poems that we would have checked out as well if we hadn’t already read it a million times.

Dogku by Andrew Clements
This picture book tells the story of a stray dog taken in by a family with a series of haiku.

The Oxford Book of Story Poems
A nice collection with appealing poems of a variety of lengths and from a variety of time periods.

A Kick in the Head by Paul Janeczko
I don’t love this collection that much, but it’s perfect for this project because it has examples of more than two dozen different poetry forms.

African Acrostics by Avis Harley
Exactly what it sounds like. Acrostic poems about African animals, but very well done.

Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto
A collection of odes to childhood all set in a Latino neighborhood.

There are plenty of other options out there, of course. I never try to overthink book selections too much. I generally rely on the library and try new things often. While I learn about new books from blogs and recommendations, I find even more by just running my fingers over the stacks.

Step Two: Write lots of poems

photo 3 (5)Armed with various poetry books filled with a wide variety of example poems, we began to write our own poems. We tried a couple of different poetry forms for our writing time a week. We didn’t do everything we could have done and if you poke around online you can find dozens more potential poetry writing exercises, these are just the ones we chose.

photo 4 (2)I’ll add that for whatever reason, despite the fact that I have read tons of totally free form modern poetry to my kids, they are very stuck in the poems should rhyme mindset and this didn’t really break them of it. BalletBoy even wanted his haikus to rhyme, despite me only reading unrhymed haikus as examples (because when have you ever read a rhyming haiku anyway?) and entreating him that it was really not intended to rhyme, he still wrote two that had internal rhymes. In the end, I think that’s okay. I once attended a how to teach poetry to kids conference where the speaker bemoaned the kids who wrote cutesy rhymed poems as having gotten bad instruction and several times slammed the famed children’s poet Jack Prelutsky. But kids like mine love Jack Prelutsky. If that’s the kind of poetry that really speaks to them, then of course that’s what they’re going to want to write. And they should.

  1. Haikus
    A haiku is 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. We read several traditional haiku, as well as the book Dogku. I emphasized how a haiku is really a quick thought, a simple reflection. Haikus are often about how something looks or feels. They’re often about nature or everyday life. We practiced chin wags to measure syllables, just a reminder. Then we each, me included, wrote about half a dozen or so and shared them as we finished. They’re so quick and easy to try, even if not every effort is a stunning success.
  2. Couplets
    A couplet is two lines with the same number of syllables and an end rhyme. We looked for pairs of rhymed lines in Marilyn Singer’s poetry books. We made up couplets aloud for awhile then turned to writing them. I had not intended for this to be the case, but both boys immediately wanted to write longer poems comprised of couplets so I let them do so.
  3. Found Poems
    A found poem can be made a couple of ways. One way is to photocopy a page from a book and mark out words in black marker, creating a poem out of the words that you leave unmarked out. We used the second way, which is to make a poem from words found and torn out of magazines. We all did this assignment. I had a lot of fun making a poem about hide and seek after I saw that phrase repeated in an old ad campaign in a magazine. BalletBoy found words about food and Mushroom clipped words about animals and put them together to make a poem. This was a relatively long activity, but once the poem was finished, there was no revision needed, and it certainly looked cool made of all those cut out words.
  4. Odes
    An ode is written to praise someone or something. To get kids writing odes, I think it’s fun to encourage them to write an ode to something they really love but is unexpected, like their favorite shoes or a chocolate bar or a computer game (imagine how many “Ode to Minecraft”s we could get). Mushroom immediately started in on an ode to the inventors of the computer. The only real rule I gave them was to write lines of praise, but Mushroom set his into couplets.
  5. Acrostic
    Acrostics are those poems where the first letter of each line spells another word, typically the theme of the poem. We started this one by reading acrostic poems. It’s typical for kids to write acrostics about themselves, but I let them choose anything they wanted. Both the boys wrote a few, all of them with short 4 and 5-letter words.
  6. Free Verse
    I introduced this by trying to get the boys to choose a color to write about. Other suggestions I’ve seen for starting a poem from scratch include writing about the seasons, or about a specific memory, or about a meal. They tried, however, in the end, this exercise was mostly a flop for us. They were so attached to rhymes and forms that this one didn’t fly.
  7. Limerick
    People associate limericks with bad rhymes, but since my kids were so excited by really specific forms, I thought they would enjoy this one since it was still short enough and light enough for them to try out, unlike something like a sonnet. In fact, they enjoyed writing them very much, even though the results were very silly.
  8. Other ideas…
    We also read some story poems and talked about epic poetry and tried our hands at writing a story poem. BalletBoy loved it and included his in his collection. However, partway into the exercise it felt like it was probably too big a thing for me to have asked and it was just a fluke that it took off so well with one kid. So maybe only a good one to try with real poetry lovers. That’s all we did, but there are plenty of other poetry exercises and forms out there. For younger kids, a diamante is a really good form to play with (we have previously written those a few times). Cinquains are similar to diamantes and also have a very set form where kids can fill in words, so they can also be a good choice. Concrete poems, the ones that form a shape, can also be excellent and there are lots of good books of concrete poetry to share with kids. And, of course, there are many other forms of poetry and starting points. For us, the whole idea was just to try different things and play around with poetry forms.

Step Three: Choose and Revise

photo 2 (14)After doing two or three days of poetry writing exercises a week for about three weeks, we were left with a nice pile of rough draft poems. I told the kids to choose three or four poems they wanted to revise and polish for their collections. Some of the poems, we decided were fine with very little change. BalletBoy chose a haiku that was lovely just the way it was. Mushroom chose his limerick and we agreed that changing it beyond fixing the spelling and capitalization would ruin the rhyme scheme and the form.

For other choices, we agreed that revision was important. BalletBoy’s acrostic about birds was good, but we agreed to look through the thesaurus for stronger word choices. Mushroom’s set of couplets about a carnival were cool, but we agreed they needed a couple more in order to feel like a full poem and make it clear that it was about the whole carnival. He added a couplet about another ride and one about the carnival food: “Have a hot dog and funnel cake / Or try a burger and cheap steak.” We spent a couple of days working on revising all of the poems, then fixing spelling as the kids and I typed them up.

Step Four: Publish and Share

photo 1 (14)

Once they were typed up, I let them put each poem on a separate page and choose its font and formatting and add images. BalletBoy made his whole collection this way, except for his found poem, which was already made up of clipped magazine words and phrases. Mushroom left room to draw illustrations on one of his pages. They each made a cover and we stapled the poems together. Of course, you could make a little book or put them in a nice folder. We’ve done things like that for many other writing projects, but this time, after all the work on the writing, we kept it pretty simple.

Finally, the boys both proudly read their poems to the Husband, who thought they were pretty cool. Overall, this project came out much better than I could have wished. I don’t think either of my boys are “natural” poets, whatever that means. However, this was a fun way to play with words and think about language and strong words and phrases, as well as creative rhymes.

First Poetry Tea of the Year

Since we took our break in September, we have only just started school and are finding our way into the groove.  It turned out that BalletBoy had forgotten a frightening amount of math, which reminded me why we often don’t take that full month of break all at once.  Still, a week later, he seems to have relearned most of it, so no harm no foul.

I’m pleased to say we’re back with Brave Writer style poetry teas.  In the spirit of fall, the first one featured pumpkin chocolate chip scones.  I wasn’t that impressed with the recipe, but the kids gobbled them up, though I think that may be more about the fact that a pile of pumpkin, sugar and butter topped with a bit of chocolate is a no brainer for kids to like.  In the spirit of continued summer weather, we also had lemonade.


We had two new collections from the library that I really liked at this poetry tea, both of them edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  He has been by far my favorite children’s poet discovery since we started poetry teas.  I especially like his selections for children’s collections, but we loved his poetry in City I Love, which amidst all the children’s nature poems felt like a great find for us city folk.  For this poetry tea, we enjoyed his selected Carl Sandburg book, Rainbows are Made, and a collection of poems about inventions called Incredible Inventions.  In the past, we’ve really liked My America, Wonderful Words, Behind the Museum Door, and Oh No! Where Are My Pants?  At this point, I think I’d trust any collection he created as just right for poetry teas reading.

 Review of the Day: City I Love by Lee Bennett HopkinsRainbows Are Made: Poems by Carl SandburgIncredible InventionsMy America: A Poetry Atlas of the United StatesBehind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of MuseumsWonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking and ListeningOh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poemss stuck Review of The Presidents Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents

The Husband joined us as well and, political junkie he is, was drawn to The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub by Susan Katz, a collection of poems about the presidents.  It ended up being the only thing he read from.  He was clearly delighted by the silliness of it.


Sometimes I do feel frustrated that we rarely get to poems with a deeper meaning or classic poems and poets.  However, seeing the kids really enjoy and look forward to poetry and think poetry is a good thing is a goal in and of itself.  Baked goods certainly don’t hurt and nor does letting everyone practice their reading aloud skills.  And occasionally I get a good one in.  I read “Arithmetic” by Carl Sandburg and I think they related to it, especially BalletBoy to the line about when you get it wrong, you have to start all over again.

“Arithmetic” by Carl Sandburg

Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head.

Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how many you had before you lost or won.

Arithmetic is seven eleven all good children go to heaven – or five six bundle of sticks.

Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer.

Arithmetic is where the answer is right and everything is nice and you can look out of the window and see the blue sky — or the answer is wrong and you have to start all over and try again and see how it comes out this time.

If you take a number and double it and double it again and then double it a few more times, the number gets bigger and bigger and goes higher and higher and only arithmetic can tell you what the number is when you decide to quit doubling.

Arithmetic is where you have to multiply — and you carry the multiplication table in your head and hope you won’t lose it.

If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you eat one and a striped zebra with streaks all over him eats the other, how many animal crackers will you have if somebody offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say Nay nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?

If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is better in arithmetic, you or your mother? 

More Poetry Books for Tea Time

We have been very irregular with poetry teas, but they are still happening here, at least every couple of weeks.  One of the nice things about them is that the kids are often the impetus behind them.  They pick out many of the library books we use.  They often urge me that it’s time for another one.  And at our most recent poetry tea, Mushroom made the cookies and BalletBoy set the table.

poetry tea

Of course, we keep returning to the poetry books I’ve mentioned previously here and here.  But we also discover new ones like the ones I’m listing below.

The Monsterologist Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles

The Monsterologist by Bobbi Katz
This may be a case where the design, by Adam McCauley, surpasses the poetry.  However, the poems are fun for kids and the design is really stunning.  Each poem is about a different monster, from the Loch Ness Monster to the mysterious one that eats your socks in the washer.

Spot the Plot by J. Patrick Lewis
This cute group of riddle poems about classic children’s books was so fun to read that we read them all at the first poetry tea where we had them.  There’s something so perfect about riddle poems that get kids to really listen up.

Poetry by Heart edited by Liz Attenborough
This was one of the best collected books of classic poetry for kids that I’ve seen.  I loved that it ranged from classics to fun, silly poems.  The intention behind it is also excellent as it’s one that is meant to be a base for memorization.  It’s out of print, but you may know there’s a new memorization collection that just came out from Caroline Kennedy.  I haven’t seen that one yet though!

Casey at the Bat by William Thayer
I picked this one out for the start of baseball season (Go Nats!).  There are so many versions, but I chose the old-fashioned illustration style of Christopher Bing’s version, which is filled with newspaper clips and allusions to nineteenth century baseball.

Come to the Great World edited by Wendy Cooling
This collection was another gem.  The poems are from all over the world and chosen to appeal to children as well as to highlight themes of play and peace.  I usually swap out all the library poetry books every time, but I held on to this one through three poetry teas.

Come to the Great World: Poems from Around the Globe

More Poetry Tea Books and some Apple Cake

I got lovely suggestions last time I posted about our poetry tea books and have taken more books out so I’m doing another post of them.  In case you’re curious, here’s the first post of books we were using and here’s the first pictures of one of our first poetry teas, where we almost always drink lemonade, by the way.

The Barefoot Book of Poetry
What a great collection!  A couple of people suggested it to me and I’m very glad I found it at the library.  It may be the one we actually buy.  The poems are all serious, classic poems carefully chosen for kids and with lovely art to go with them.  The book just feels lush and fun.

The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry
We kept resisting this collection and I’m not even sure why anymore.  It is a little young looking, but it has a nice mix of “adult” and “kid” poetry and nice illustrations by a variety of famous illustrators.

Soup for Breakfast by Calef Brown
Calef Brown’s illustrations are goofy and detailed and his poetry plays with silly words and amusing rhymes in a way that will appeal to kids to like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but is definitely its own thing.  We also really enjoyed his Halloween and mythology volumes of poetry.

Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom
What a lovely collection this is!  We took it out from the library, but I might have to buy it.  The Meilo So illustrations are lovely and the poems range from amusing to serious in all different styles.  This is just the sort of collection I love because we all enjoy reading from it.  Animals are also obviously a good subject for kids and poetry.

Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
We’ve had a few of these volumes out from the library now and I really like them.  The children are less enthused, but I’m hoping we’ll find more and I’ll keep at them.  Each one has some commentary about the poems, which we don’t need at this stage, as well as a small selection of poems by famous poets chosen for younger readers with illustrations.

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
These are all reverso poems (the poem is read forwards and backwards) about fairy tales, with bright, appealing illustrations.  It was a big picture book hit a few years ago and I had not looked at it since then, but was happy to rediscover it for poetry teas.  The kids were fascinated by the reverso forms.

City I Love by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Forget nature poems!  Sometimes it’s just nice to let my city kids appreciate the idea of urban.  I love the way this book celebrates a variety of cities in a variety of ways.

We have had so many quiet benefits from doing poetry teas regularly.  The table gets cleared off properly.  The Husband joins us for school and food.  I get to hear the kids, especially Mushroom, read aloud and see how they’re reading is going more.

Most importantly, I am forced to bake at least once a week, usually with the kids.  As we picked about forty pounds of apples (yes, that’s right, forty), I’m on my third apple cake, though this week’s was the first one for poetry tea time.  Recipe?  Here you go.

1 1/2 c. sugar
6 oz cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 c. sugar combined with 2 tsp. cinnamon

* Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease or spray a round bundt style springform pan.  This cake is so moist that you need the kind that comes apart.

* Cream the sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla together.

* Add the eggs.

* Add the flour, powder and salt.

* In a separate bowl, coat the chopped apples with about half of the cinnamon sugar mix then add it to the batter.

* Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle the remainder of the cinnamon sugar mix on top.

* Bake for about one hour.

Poetry Books for Tea Time

Since we’ve been doing poetry teas…  or poetry lemonades…  Bravewriter style, we’ve had a lot more poetry books out from the library than ever before.  I thought I’d share the ones that have resonated.  Anything we get has to be accessible because the kids pick up the poetry books and just read whatever.  It has to be something they can read aloud with confidence.

  Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems fo Children an... Cover Art Nonsense Poems (Dover Children's Thrift Classics) (Paperback) ~ ... Cover Art

Obviously, they tend toward the funny poems, but that’s fine as sometimes funny poems are good too.  Some of the funny books we’ve enjoyed best have been Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and the book of his work that was published posthumously last year, Every Thing on It.  Jack Prelutsky’s big compendiums New Kid on the Block and A Pizza the Size of the Sun have also been mainstays.  Finally, if you don’t know Judith Viorst’s poetry, then you absolutely should.  We’ve had Sad Underwear and Other Complications as well as If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries out from the library repeatedly.  Finally, we have some Edward Lear, which has made nice story poems, though so far only the adults have braved reading them.  I think the children are intimidated by the length, but they’ve enjoyed listening.


For more serious fare, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes worked well.  The poems are short but good for ruminating and appreciating language.  Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise, which won a Newbery Award many years ago, is another that’s good.  The poems are meant to be read by two people, which makes them great for a poetry social.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses seems to be an inevitable poetry book in a household.  Finally, we had a lovely old copy of a book called Hist Wist by e.e. cummings that includes several of his poems chosen for children.  It’s apparently very out of print, but it’s a nice one.  I’d like to find more books like this of poems of individual great adult poets chosen for children.


Finally, the collections are important.  We have some little kid ones that the kids keep rereading, which is cute.  Also, I have some from my childhood.  And we keep taking some out of the library, like Sing a Song of Popcorn  and The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, which are both fine.  I haven’t found one we just adore quite yet though.

If you’re also doing poetry teas, what books do you have strewn on your table?