Earth Day + Poetry Month…Inspiring Children to Pick up their Pencils and Create an Original Poem in Celebration of Our Big, Beautiful Planet



What does Earth Day and National Poetry Month have in common? Inspiring a passion for the environment while discovering an expressive form of writing. April brings together two things that kids can be passionate about: the environment and poetry.  While students around the world are encouraging greater protections for the environment, it’s an excellent time for children of all ages to express in prose why they care, what encourages them, and what they’re doing to help protect the environment and the Earth.

This April marks the 25th anniversary of the celebration of National Poetry Month, a commemoration launched by poetry scholars to highlight the legacy and ongoing achievement of poets and to encourage the reading and appreciation of poems. The concept was embraced by teachers who were eager to bring poetry into their classrooms, which led to the growth of regional and national poetry festivals and competitions, including Poetry Out Loud.

Why encourage children to read and write poetry? What is uniquely valuable and rewarding about the art form? From the volumes that have been written about those questions, we offer three ideas:

Even in the 21st Century and with the entire Internet an arm length away, building one’s capacity to memorize remains critically important. Memorization is a foundational skill that still needs to be nurtured. The adage “the more you know the faster you learn” is grounded in neural science which links brain plasticity to memorization. Higher order thinking skills build upon prior knowledge and a certain amount of memorization. Poetry, with its short form, rhythms, and repetition (beginning with nursery rhymes) lends itself to easy memorization and is a pleasurable way to build a skill. Chances are that literary passages you remember from your own childhood are lines of poetry.

Second, for the reluctant reader and writer, poetry can be a welcoming gateway. We have seen that children who simply are not ready or interested in tackling a novel will finish a Shel Silverstein book (or other collection of fun poems) in a couple of sittings. Collections of poetry are great for road trips when children can be encouraged to read aloud from the back seat.  Similarly, a reluctant writer facing a blank writing journal or spiral notepad can feel overwhelmed. But committing four lines of poetry to paper can seem quite doable. With a bit of instruction, some prompts, and a few three by five-inch index cards, children will compose their own rhyming quatrains and be justifiably proud of them.

Finally, writing poetry advances a critically important skill and that is “choosing one’s words carefully.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 19th century definition of poetry as “the best words in the best order” still holds. The very nature of the art form, with its emphasis on sound and imagery, on meter and rhyme, encourages the poet to play with words, then engage in a rigorous editing process, choosing one word over another. Every good poem, whether traditional or free verse, is language that has been carefully shaped and well made – and that is a critical thinking skill worth cultivating!

We really enjoyed creating this month’s poetry book selections, as it reconnected us with some old favorites while selecting from among several newer anthologies.  As always, we attempted to find poetry volumes that would speak to many interests as well as different ages.  With a nod to Earth Day (April 22nd), we intentionally included poetry that celebrated nature, wilderness, and our Earth. Our wish for you and your children is that, in your exploration of poetry this month, you will discover a poem that becomes a friend – a poem you return to many times in the future because you enjoy its good company.

Inspiring Books to Celebrate Poetry Month…with a Nod to Earth Day

Grades Kindergarten to Second

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons written by Julie Fogliano illustrated by Julie Morstad

These 48 quietly conversational poems include moments of lively energy – wind on a hilltop or the jubilant dizziness of a summer meadow. Morstad’s charming gouache-and-pencil-crayon art is well-matched to the delicacy of the poetry. An adorable young girl with straight black hair and brown skin appears alone or with friends throughout; readers may identify her as the voice in many of the poems. The poetry is both child-friendly and introspective, for example, a poem titled, July 28 – “if you ever stopped / to taste a blueberry / you would know / that it’s not really about the blue, at all.”

Forest Has a Song: Poems written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley

Calling all aspiring naturalists! This is a collection of 26 short, lighthearted poems about the forest and its animals, plants, and seasonal changes, beautifully illustrated in watercolor.  VanDerwater has taken seemingly ordinary things like a rotten log, and shown readers just what occurs within, such as being a home to a host of different animals. Readers will discover things within a forest that they have never stopped to notice before now.

Grades 3rd to 4th

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown Ups written by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith

This book will make you giggle and may even teach you a lesson or two. The author molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make us look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. There is a dazzling variety of poetry forms and subjects, which will keep readers engaged and on their toes.

The Weather Girls written and illustrated by Aki

Summer, Fall, Winter, or Spring—the Weather Girls are ready for whatever the seasons might bring! Through the seasons, readers see them enjoying the outdoors: diving and splashing, building snowmen, hiking mountains, picking apples or skipping in a field. Get inspired and get active with this stylish book all about the magic of the seasons, the wonders of the outside world, and the fun you can have with good friends – it’s the perfect picture book for sharing!

 Grades 5th to 8th

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul illustrated by Marlena Myle

This themed collection of poems explore gratitude in traditional forms and in whimsical ways –for example, the sweatshirt that is grateful for a chance to be worn and appreciated. The book contains diverse perspectives and many of the poems express gratitude and thankfulness for little things that someone might not consider such as: nature, the sky, spiders, sleep or helping others. Each poem is accompanied by a bright and inviting illustration, and includes an explanation of the variety of poetry formats featured.

Mother Earth Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet selected by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jennifer Hewitson

This anthology is an eclectic collection of verses concerning the beauty, the destruction, and the conservation of the earth. Divided into three sections – Celebrate the Earth, Sacrifice the Earth, Save the Earth – these poems are perfect for Earth Day, and any other day of the year. Award-winning author Jane Yolen has collected poems of C.S. Lewis, Ogden Nash, Christina Rossetti, Carl Sandburg, and other contemporary poets who have paid tribute to our beautiful earth.  These thirty-five voices cry with joy, grief, and hope for our “Mother Earth” and our “Father the Sky.”

As we celebrate Earth Day + Poetry Month let us remember that children hold the power of poetry and they may just need a little encouragement to start writing their own poems. By helping your child recognize the elements of a poem while exploring different ways of writing one, they will tap into the deeper meaning of words and sentences, sentence structure, rhymes, and vocabulary. Plus, in writing poetry, a child will discover a new, limitless world of expression that’s just as fun to share with others as it is to create.

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