Magnificent Middle Grade Poetry for National Poetry Month

Rhyme lovers of every age, rejoice, for April is National Poetry Month! We all know that little readers love silly sing song poems, and adults can get lost in the emotions of a good poetry collection, but what about middle graders? Wonderfully, middle grade readers get the best of both poetry worlds, with plenty of funny collections, serious books, and ageless crossovers that can enjoyed all month (and beyond!).

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Illustrated Edition, by T. S. Eliot, with drawings by Edward Gorey

 T.S. Eliot’s tale of stray cats and their nighttime wanderings has been retold for years, most notably as the Broadway show Cats. Made up of 14 poems, that are both very real and completely unbelievable, readers can enjoy the cat phenomenon the way it was before memes took over the internet. Books like this one are a great bridge between the funny sounds of younger books and the more serious fare of adult lit, but still 100% awesome poetry.

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, by Alan Katz, with drawings by Edward Koren

 A silly take on the mischievous, these poems are just plain fun. Katz is also the author of the charming The Day the Mustache Took Over, among many other books, so he definitely gets middle grade humor. Whether read out loud together, or alone while tucked away in a cozy spot, these bits of verse show that there is a lot more to poetry than serious thoughts and beautiful landscapes. Make sure you have some tissues on hand though — you will be laughing until you cry.

Because I Could Not Stop My Bike … and Other Poems, by Karen Jo Shapiro, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

 This super smart collection is a modern twist on classic poems. From William Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson, kids won’t even realize they are reading funny takes on the works of some of the world’s most famous poets. Faulkner’s zany illustrations take this book to a whole other enjoyable level. It won’t be until later, when your kids recognize the rhyme and meter of the poems in their textbooks, that they will catch on that you had them reading classic poetry in junior high. This book is so clever that you will probably find yourself reading it, and falling in love with poetry all over again.

Neighborhood Odes, by Gary Soto, illustrated by David Diaz

 Gary Soto and David Diaz take the small moments of childhood, the beautiful little event that stick, and present them in a way that readers of all ages can love. Parties and pets, family celebrations and long summer afternoons all get the thoughtful treatment that Soto is known for, and the simple black and white illustrations are frame-worthy. This book is a terrific addition to any middle grade reader’s collection, as it will probably turn out to be one of their favorite books — both now and later.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings, by Shel Silverstein

 An ageless classic that can be read in elementary school, laughed over in middle school, and reminisced about as an adult, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a childhood-defining collection of poetry. The rhymes are silly, the illustrations create a fully fleshed out world, and the quiet meanings can bring adults to tears. Shel Silverstein is a master like no other and the beauty of his writing makes him a must read, and not just in April, but all year long. After your kids have devoured this book, grab A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Everything On It for years — really, years — of amazing poetry experiences.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, by Billy Collins

 For a slightly different twist to your National Poetry Month reading, tackle Billy Collins’s collection, Poetry 180. Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001–2003, put together this collection, and its sequel 180 More, to introduce school-aged students to modern poets. His idea is that students should have a love of poetry first; poetry that is written in modern language kids can understand, before jumping into the classics. Given this idea, this book contains 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, from some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry. Before you know it your kids will have a new favorite poet, be it Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch, Philip Levine, or Naomi Shihab Nye.

What poetry does your middle grader love to read?

Originally published at on April 7, 2016.


Cooking and Poetry

Tonight I was struggling to find a source for my Roll the Dice poem, but then I started dinner  and I caught myself laughing at The Thug Kitchen cookbook recipe for Chickpeas and Dumplings. Really though, that recipe was A) delicious and B) an awesome read.

So here is my second recipe based poem in a week. By the way, I’m also on a diet while doing this project so I think you can see my focus.


Indie Photographer

Indie Photographer

My Easter Day poem for the PoMoSco’s was inspired by a group of teenagers and  the Polaroids they were passing around the table.

The description for today’s poetry prompt reads

To earn the “All Ears” badge, take a public journey of your choosing. For instance, you might sit on your local bus or train for an hour, walk around the mall, visit a museum or even just walk down the street in an area with a lot of foot traffic. Keep an open ear to the conversations around you and jot down the phrases and words you overhear.

Craft a poem composed of those fragments and take a picture during your journey to post alongside your poem.

For examples of overheard poetry, visit Laura J. Davies’ “Overheard Poetry” page at

Cite the starting point and end point of your journey at the bottom of your post.

The story that developed in this poem is a little surreal,  which is the experience I hoped to get from this project. Twenty Five more day!

The Silk Road — PoMoSco

My White Out poem, courtesy of my latest issue of the Catalyst, from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

To earn the White Out badge, first get your hands on a bottle of white out, a white-out pen or white paint. Find a text you don’t mind marking up — or make a photocopy of the text if necessary — and progressively cover up lines of text with white out until only the words composing your erasure poem remain visible.  Scan your completed erasure as an image — or take a picture of it — and post it to the site.

Note: You must complete this erasure process by hand — no digital tools allowed (you’ll do that for another badge).

To see a sample white-out poem, view excerpts from Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow on the Poetry Foundation’s website:

Scan or take a picture of your poem and upload it to the site. Credit your source text at the bottom of your post.

The Silk Road — PoMoSco.

via The Silk Road — PoMoSco.

Friday Found Poetry

Here is the prompt I followed today, from the PoMoSco site

To earn the “On Demand” badge, start by coming up with an unlikely word combination. You can make up your own, choose words at random from a source text, or use a generator like the one at JimPix ( to come up with your words. Examples:

  • Foolish Ninja
  • Calamitous Rock
  • Hurry Pork
  • Jugular Magnet

Visit Google ( and do a search on your chosen word combination (no quotes around the terms)..

Google will display a list of pages, as well as short descriptions for each site. Compose a poem using only these page titles and short descriptions — do not click into the sites themselves to grab more text. You can use multiple pages of search results if necessary.

Post your poem to the site and cite your word combination at the bottom of your post.

My unlikely word combination turned out to be “unwitting methodical,” and the poem I wrote is titled “Surrogate.” It’s only the second draft, but I’m pretty happy with how it has developed so far.

First PoMoSco Poem

This month I am participating in Found Poetry Review’s Poetry Scout Program. Every day for 30 days I will be publishing a new poem on their site. To be honest most of the poems are only first or second drafts, but I am really excited to be writing so much new material.

Each of my poems will be based on things that I am currently reading, writing, or have easy access to, the first of which is inspired by Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel Hausfrau. I just finished reading the book and it touched a cord with me emotionally. While the book has many extremes that I can’t relate to- a foreign country and a language barrier to say the least- the isolation and continual self -evaluation spoke to me.

Here is the link to the first poem, Elegy for a Bench, For Anna.