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.

The Gilmore Girls are Back! 5 New Books That Should Be On Rory’s List

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the first episode of Gilmore Girls, and the kickoff of the cult following that developed soon after. As a true Gilmore Girls aficionado, it’s hard not to wonder what Rory Gilmore would be reading today. Based on the massive reading list she accumulated over the course of the show’s seven seasons, here are some 2015 books I bet you’d find on Rory’s bedside table, off in her little corner of the world.

Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Because she mentioned Anna Karenina in her graduation speech, referenced Daisy Miller, and was seen reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950–1962, it’s easy to assume Rory would be one of the early lovers of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s carefully crafted, emotional, and tragic debut novel. Each turn of Anna’s sad, frustrating, sexual, and lost life is one that keeps readers up at night—hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, by Jimmy Carter
On Rory’s last day before she began at Yale, she and Lorelei spent the evening trapped in Emily’s spare room watching ballroom dancing. To make light of a tough spot, the two traded Jimmy Carter jokes. Given this, and Rory’s passion for all things politics, you can be sure she’d read this memoir, along with other books from former President Carter, while in the White House Press Room or on the 2016 campaign trail. Carter’s unflinching and emotional look at his personal life and tireless activism make for an inspiring read during these highly volatile times.

The Art of Memoirby Mary Karr
Since Rory wanted to become a journalist, was an English major in college, and was a fan of craft books by Henry JamesAmy Tan, and Joan Didion, it isn’t a stretch to picture a crisp copy of Mary’s Karr’s latest on her table, propped up against an oversized cup of coffee. Karr, the author of The Liars’ Club, Lit, and Cherry, wraps her writing, teaching, and diverse life experience up into an insightful guide to writing; fans also get some added behind the scenes details into Karr’s life.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan
It’s nice to imagine that later in life Rory became friends with her exes Jess and Logan, and they all happily traded books back and forth. William Finnegan’s surfing memoir is reminiscent of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and Among the Thugs, both books Rory shared with her old boyfriends. In Barbarian Days, Finnegan provides readers with an opportunity to travel the Pacific, ride insane waves, stare down malaria, and become accustomed to hitherto unseen social customs with humor and a 1960s eye.

Notes on the Assemblage, by Juan Felipe Herrera
Not to be left out of current artistic events, Rory would have been an early supporter of Juan Felipe Herrera and his appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate. After all, Lorelei was a fan of Billy Collins, and Rory was known to read Walt WhitmanEmily Dickinson, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Herrera’s newest collection, with its socially conscious and welcoming themes, would be a no questions asked addition to her overflowing bookshelves. As the first Latino Poet Laureate, and one who began life as the son of a migrant family, Herrera writes poetry that’s as wise as it is encouraging—something everyone who hopes to achieve more should enjoy.

 What books do you think belong on Rory Gilmore’s bookshelf?