Tag Archives: children’s poetry books

From The Huffington Post: The EIGHT essential kinds of books that every kid should have

The Huffington Post has just published this wonderful feature on the EIGHT essential  kinds of books children should own. I love this list and i especially love it because it has poetry in there. If you click on the link here, you can see the full list. Add a comment to my post, if you think of anything you would add to this list.

‘I’ve never been a big fan of lists like “50 Books Your Kid HAS to Read” or “The 100 Best Children’s Books OF ALL TIME.” Typically, they make my blood pressure spike, tossing me between joy (“Ooh, good pick!”) and rage (“No Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? Those Philistines!”), and I spend more time debating their selection criteria and omissions than enjoying their recommendations. That said, I do think there are certain TYPES of books that every kid should be exposed to — the kinds of books that truly introduce them to the best of what the written word has to offer.

Here are my (very subjective) picks for the EIGHT essential kinds of books that every kid should have in his or her home library:

5. Poetry.

I know a lot of adults who don’t enjoy reading poetry personally, but I can’t stress enough how powerful poetry can be for young readers. If normal prose is a Volvo, poetry is a Lamborghini — it takes language, floors the accelerator, and really shows you what words can do. Poets like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein teach kids that, when assembled correctly — even in ways that don’t seem to make sense — words can make a person feel a ridiculously deep range of emotions, and kids LOVE THAT.’

You know I am a fan of Shel Silverstein!

Once Upon a Poem on Poetry Box


I wanted to share a book with you that tells a story in the shape of a poem (there are so many good ones) when I remembered a British book I got ages ago. I loved the title: Once Upon a Poem: Favourite Poems that tell Stories. You might be able to find this book in your library or get them to order it from another one.


What I love about this book is that some of my favourite children’s authors picked one of their favourite poems that tell a story (not by them but by someone else!). I did feel a bit sad that nearly all the poems in the book are written by men. They should have had some Margaret Mahy in there: Down the Back of the Chair or Bubble Trouble for a start!

I am going to share the beginnings of some of my favourites in the book and then you will have to hunt it out to read the middles and the endings.

JK Rowling picked ‘Jim Who Ran Away From His Nurse and was Eaten By a Lion’ by Hilaire Belloc (I love Hilaire’s poems BTW!). The title of this poem gives a lot away (it is a sad tale!), but here is the beginning.

There was a boy whose name was Jim;

His friends were very good to him.

They gave him tea, and cakes, and jam,

And slices of delicious ham

Philip Pullman picked Lewis Carroll’s magnificent word feast, ‘Jabberwocky’ (we’ve even had a children’s bookshop in Auckland named after this poem!). As you will see from the poem’s beginning Lewis was very cunning at making up words, but you still get to follow the wild ride of the poem.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gmble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Philip Ardagh picked Tony Mitton’s ‘Brave Boy Rap.’ This is based on the story of a Greek hero and the monstrous Minotaur, but Tony has made it modern. I can only post a snippet so excuse the abrupt ending!

Prince Theseus

was a brave young lad.

Big bullies made him

boiling mad.

So when he heard

about a beast

whose horrid habit

was to feast

Cornelia Funke (a great author for you older readers) picked the magical mayhem of ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

Jacqueline Wilson picked Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and The Pussy-cat. I used to love saying this when I was little so the words sang in the air.

The owl and the pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat


Once Upon a Poem: Favourite Poems That Tell Stories Foreword by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Illustrated by Peter Bailey, Sian Bailey, Carol Lawson, Chris McEwan. Published by Chicken House 2004 in Great Britain.

My cat plus the Principal plus Cinderella plus the All Blacks on Poetry Box

Here are some poems of mine where there is a story creeping through them.

You can borrow whatever you like from my poems and mix it up with your life and make it into something new. If you come up with your version send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, year, age, name of school. I will post some.

1. My short poem that is true. Our big fluffy cat Charlie went into Michael’s studio fell into the blue paint and we had to take him to the vet to get shaved and he looked like a skinny rat. I could have put more of that in the poem! Too late now, as this poem is in Macaroni Moon (Random House, 2009).

Our Cat

Not a lot

of blue left

after our cat





into the paint pot!

© Paula Green


2. My short poem that is not true! I had fun writing this. This poem is also in Macaroni Moon.

Another Funny Thing happened on the Way to School

I was walking down the road dragging my school bag and a toad

when I saw the Principal the size of a plum stuck to the gate with chewing gum.

© Paula Green

3. Here is my longer poem that is not true. It is the Cinderella story gone wrong (also in Macaroni Moon).


When Cinderella lost her shoe down the stairs

the prince’s search fell on deaf ears

because the spell went haywire

when the ballroom caught fire

and the dear shoeless lass

turned in to a big fat


© Paula Green

4. Finally here is my longer poem that starts out true and then is definitely made up. I was watching the All Blacks play the Wallabies on TV and I suddenly wondered how fun it would be if you could crawl into the TV and see the game live. We had all been to watch a World Cup game at Eden Park (not the All Blacks as it was too expensive) but it was so atmospheric. That’s where I got the detail for this poem from. One day I might go and see the All Blacks play there.


Imagine if you

and your Dad or Mum

could climb into the t.v.

and see the All Blacks

play the Wallabies at Eden Park

and spy rucks and mauls and scrums

spectacularly close tries

forward passes and winning runs.

You could eat hot chips

and puff out hot air

and leap up for the Mexican wave

to the sound of Pacific drums.

At the end of the match

you would climb back

with a signed rugby ball

and a souvenir scarf

to show your rugby chums.

© Paula Green

Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Box about building huts

I don’t think Bill Manhire has ever written a book of poems for children, but he is one of my favourite New Zealand poets. Some poets who only ever really write for adults manage to write poems that readers love no matter how old they are.

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Bill has a knack of writing poems that make music. I love music so when I read a poem that has that musical touch it fills me with a good feeling. Bill’s rhymes are magnificent. Sometimes they are easy (my cat/ fancy that) and sometimes they are tricky (scooter/ euchre or xylophone/knucklebones) and sometimes his rhymes slip and slide all over the lines. However he is not afraid to rhyme at the end of the line either (this can make a poem great, but it can make a poem bad in the wrong hands).

Bill also poured his dreams, hard work and generosity into starting a programme for writers at Victoria University. With the help of a wealthy patron from America his dream turned into The International Institute of Modern Letters where many of our most celebrated writers have studied creative writing. Bill retired at the end of last year so will have lots of time for writing now.

One of the many good things that have come out of this programme is the annual poetry competition and workshops for secondary school students (it has had various names over the years).

Last year Victoria University Press published Bill’s Selected Poems. It contains lots of my favourite poems.

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Bill kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Box:

1. What did you like to write when you were young?

I wrote my first poem when I was 7, and I still know it by heart. I don’t think I’ll quote it, though!  I didn’t write another poem till I was at high school.

At primary school I mostly used to write copies of the books that I really enjoyed reading.  So when I was 10 and 11 I wrote copies of the Tarzan story, and of Biggles. I also wrote a science fiction serial, which involved robbers who travelled through time. The other day I found a home-made book called Tony and the Magic Wishing Glove, which I must have made when I was 5 or 6.  Well, I found the cover ­– all the pages are missing.

2. What else did you like to do in your spare time?

I used to like building huts, but I realise now I would have been a terrible carpenter.  But in some ways putting a poem together is a bit like building a hut. You have to make sure all the bits of timber fit together, and that the hut’s big enough to get into and maybe stay in overnight.

3. Do you have a children’s poetry book you can recommend? Or a favourite children’s poem?

I’m a big fan of the poems of Charles Causley. One of my favourites is “I Saw a Jolly Hunter“, which has a serious point but is full of fun – including fun with words.  And I’ve always loved his “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience“, which like all the best children’s poems is also for grown-ups. In fact it’s about the fact that we all have to grow up.  It’s written in ballad form. There’s a musical version of it by Natalie Merchant:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=depk09Jqsaw

Charles Causley also put together some great poetry anthologies – one of my favourites is The Puffin Book of Magic Verse.

4. Do you have three top tips for young writers (5 to 12 year olds)?

Well, maybe instead of tips, three writing ideas. You could try them as prose if they don’t work out as poems.

1. Try imagining what it’s like to be something else, and write as if you are that something else. Maybe you could be an elephant that’s sick of being in the circus. Or an iceberg that’s melting. Or an asteroid that’s about to hit the earth. Or maybe you could write a conversation (or a love poem!) between a stalagmite and a stalactite.

2. Write a brand new nursery rhyme, and put your best friend in it.

3. Write a poem where every line begins with the words “I remember”, but every memory is made-up.

5. You are really good at list poems. I love your 1950s poem and love reading it aloud. ‘Hotel Emergencies’ is one of my favourite poems of all time (particularly when I hear you read it). What do you like about writing poems like this?

I think what I especially like about list poems is that you can mix up serious things and silly things, loud things and quiet things, sadness and happiness. You can change tone and direction, but keep coming back to a strong structure which holds everything together.  The “I remember” idea I’ve suggested might be good for producing a wild mixture of things.

Thanks Bill!

Here is the first verse of Bill’s terrific list poem ‘1950s’:

My cricket bat. My football boots.

My fishing rod. My hula hoop.

My cowby chaps. My scooter.

Draughts. Happy families. Euchre.

Ludo. Snap. My Davy Crockett hat.

My bicycle. My bow and arrow.

My puncture kit. My cat.

The straight and narow. Fancy that.

© Bill Manhire from ‘1950s’ in The Victims of Lightning Victoria University Press 2010

Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch and a mini challenge

Margaret Mahy (1936 – 2012) is one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors. She wrote over two hundred titles from dazzling picture books for the very young to award-winning novels for teenagers. She wrote poems, novels, non-fiction, picture books and countless school readers. Margaret was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Medal which is an enormous, international honour.

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I met Margaret several times and I loved many things about her. I loved her generosity with words — not just on the paper where they wove spectacular (and quiet) magic but with other people. She always wanted to listen to others, to read the books of others, to delight in the lives of others — and she devoted much attention to children. To me she was an exceptional role model for authors.

Once she asked me to recite one of my poems. I was surprised and shocked she would ask me but my poem Blind as a Beetroot came into my head and I recited that. I was quaking in my jandals but she roared with laughter and slapped her knees when I finished. That was such kindness on her part.

Today I am going to tell you what I love about her poetry collection The Word Witch and talk about a poem of hers that HarperCollins has so kindly given me permission to post. Tessa Duder went on a fabulous hunting expedition to gather the poems togther for the book. Before I talk about the book though, I am going to give you a mini challenge. Write and tell me which Margaret Mahy poem you love and why.

You have until 5pm Saturday 23rd March. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com with your name, age, class year, name of school, teacher’s name and email and I will post the winner on Monday 25th March.

Word Witch (With CD)   Word Witch (With CD)

Margaret’s poems never sit still. It is as though she sat on a rocky beach hunting for marvellous words with patience and daring and a knowing eye and ear. Each word is like a little rock or shell or pebble and Margaret could see what made that pebble word special. She knew how to make a pebble chain (of words) that gleamed and glistened and sparked.

Some of her poems are long and are terrific read aloud — I love ‘Down the Back of the Chair,’  ‘A Summery Saturday Morning’ and ‘Bubble Trouble.’ These poems have infectious rhythms that get your body moving, but they also have dazzling alliteration (‘calculated catchwork’) and rhymes that duck and weave and chime. Margaret is our Rhyme Queen.

Three salutes because Margaret was never afraid of big words (nefarious, cacophony, gallant). Perhaps like me the dictionary was one of her favourite books as a child. It is a bit harder now with spell check and computer dictionaries to snuggle up and hunt for words.

I love the made-up words that find their way into Margaret’s poems: flingamango, sandified, fandandical.

I love too those poems that tell a story; the rhyme and the rhythm and Margaret’s spectacular imagination sweep you along the curves of the story (‘Bubble Trouble’ is a great example).

I am posting ‘Baby is falling Asleep‘ thanks to HarperCollins (see credit at the end of the poem).

This poem has it all. It starts with a very ordinary, everyday thing. The baby manages to fall asleep amidst the clutter and racket in a household full of cats, dogs, mother, father, sisters, brother and bagpipes! Margaret makes that racket boom and burst on the page and in your ear. Say her words out loud and listen to her sounds: ‘grousing and grumbling’ and ‘pinging and popping and piping and clattering.’ Marvellous. Her rhyme is slipping and sliding and making music magic. She is not afraid to put in ‘cacophony.’ Say that word out loud and hear how good it is.

I like the way she plays with the last lines so that they are nearly the same but not quite. Try it!

Altogether this is a poem that reading once is just not good enough. You need to read it again and again. Perhaps you will be like me and the poem will make you want to get writing too.

I have felt a bit sad writing this post knowing that Margaret is no longer with us and we no longer have the joy of her presence, but I am full of such gladness that we have the richness and joy of her words.


Baby is Falling Asleep


The happy home rumbles with racket and rumpus

and Mother and Father both jiggle and jump as

the fracas flows in from each point of the compass . . .

yet baby is falling asleep.


Kate’s in the kitchen. She’s grousing and grumbling

at Sam on his skates. He is sliding and stumbling

upsetting the saucepans. Ka-BOOM! They go tumbling!

But baby is falling asleep.


Florrie and Fern are commencing a flounce-about!

Two of the cats start a passionate pounce-about,

dogs begin barking, embroiled in a bounce-about.

Baby is drifting to sleep.


Mervyn makes music no ceiling can soften. He

blows on his bagpipes. Amazing how often he

hits a wrong note, and produces cacophony!

Baby has fallen asleep.


Sleep, little darling, through family clattering,

blaring and banging and booming and battering,

pinging and popping and piping and pattering!

Sink into whispering sleep!


© The Word Witch

By Margaret Mahy, edited by Tessa Duder, illustrations by David Elliot

Published by HarperCollins New Zealand