Reading short poems for kids, but where to start? We’ll start with a poem we just made up: Roses are red, violets are blue. /Your kids need some children’s poems, but you have no clue! Dr. Suess is canceled, so you’re kinda screwed! But luckily this list can rescue you!
Okay, we’re kidding. A little bit. But, the truth is, so many of us had traumatic experiences with poetry growing up, perhaps being force-fed the classics a little too soon, stuffing Beowulf’s kennings down our throats, or robbing us of the fun puning in Shakespeare with pop quizzes on iambic pentameter instead. But once upon a time, before formal schooling stole your god-given love of language, you probably reveled in poetry too.
Here’s an eclectic list of easy poems sure to tickle your kiddo’s funny bone, inspire some important conversations, or transform your little one into a lifetime-lover of alliteration (or maybe even the next Youth Poet Laureate). To remind you too, that it’s never too late to fall in love with some verse.
Shel Silverstein’s “Put Something In”
OG Kids’ Poet, Shel Silverstein, has got a trove of great poems to choose from. One stand-out is “Put Something In,” a poem composed of a string of imperatives, encouraging your kid to be creative, unique, and a little kooky. Whether it’s concocting a crazy picture, nutty poem, mumble-gumble song or loony-goony dance, Silverstein is lighting a fire under your budding (starving) artist’s ass. He only has one prerequisite for said artistic contribution: make sure that it ”ain’t been there before.” Good advice for all future (broke) poets, indeed.
Jack Prelutsky’s “The Bogeyman”
While many children’s poets are known for being super-hysterical, Prelutsky, the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate, has the guts to also scare the shit out of your children. Enter Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep, a collection chock full of witchy and werewolf and vampire verse. I highly recommend, “The Bogeyman,” a poem that takes on the classic dream-stealing and darkness-wielding figure hiding under your kid’s trundle bed. So okay, maybe it’s not necessarily nice (or psychological sound) to tell your kids that the bogeyman is “waiting…just waiting…to get you”––but hey, your kids robbed you of your sleep, now it’s payback (with bonus literacy benefits).
Amanda Gorman’s “Talking Gets Us There”
You can’t really mention poetry these days without giving props to the young woman who stole the show at the 2021 Inauguration with her piece, “The Hill We Climb.” And while that incredible poem is recommended for tiny ears, Gorman’s “Talking Gets Us There” is definitely worth checking out. This kid-friendly poem will help parents spark timely dialogue, talk to your kids about racism, and encourage young ones to celebrate what makes us different. With a touching nod to John Lewis, Gorman inspires the littlest readers to speak out with their hearts, reminding us all that “heroes get into good trouble.”
“Talking Getus Us There” will be in the book The Hill We Climb, and Other Poems, out in September 2021. Above, is a video of Gorman reading the poem.
Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”
Perhaps a deceased rapper isn’t the first person you think of when it comes to kids’ poems, but “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” is often used in progressive classrooms that honor the intersection of art and Pop Culture. Shakur’s poem uses the rose a metaphor for his journey as a man who made something remarkable of himself and grew from dire circumstances, despite the odds against him. The inclusion of this poem is also a general argument that Hip Hop is poetry (Welcome to My Ted Talk), and it definitely uses the same sophisticated literary devices and places the same premium on originality of language/lyrics as more traditional poems. If you’re still not convinced of Shakur’s literary merits, at the very least, you’ll get some Cool Points from your kids once they grow up and realize you introduced them to one of the greatest rappers of all time.
This poem is found in the book of the same title, The Rose That Grew From Concrete.
Lisa Simpson’s “Meditations on Turning Eight”
An unfinished masterpiece recited by one of TV’s most iconic children, Lisa Simpson’s “Meditations on Turning Eight,” hilariously unpacks how parents lie about the pretenses of the deaths of their children’s pets, ie. her hamster, Snuffy. Of course, Homer has no patience to listen to the whole poem and cuts off his precocious daughter mid-recitation. So yeah, maybe this isn’t actually a poem you want to share with your kids. Instead, it’s a PSA that as parents the loveliest consequence of reading poems to our kids is that we can hopefully, someday, listen to their own words and growing voices too. So get your free take-out pizza refrigerator magnet out of the junk drawer, and get ready to showcase (some sometimes subpar) poetry written by your most favorite, a related bard who also happens to live down your hall.