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In honor of National Poetry Month, I invite you to open up the world of poetry to your children by exploring a favorite anthology and listening for features of children’s poetry—those elements that make poetry come to life!
Today we’re going to take a peek at onomatopoeia, repetition of sounds, repetition of words, rhyme, and figurative language.
Discovering Children’s Poetry
I practically cut my teeth on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Our bookshelves at home were well-stocked with volumes of poetry, both classical and modern. I knew Longfellow, Dickinson, and Chaucer, but somehow, except for that dear Stevenson book (and a hefty dose of Dr. Seuss!), I never really discovered the joy of children’s poetry.
A children’s literature class in college changed all that, exposing me to this delightful genre through the works of Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare, Rachel Field, and others.
Years later, I stumbled across The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (now dog-eared and tattered from loving use). Compiled by Jack Prelutsky, this anthology is filled with classic and contemporary poems children love.
Many nights, the girls would snuggle in bed as I introduced them to Myra Livingston Cohn, Eve Merriam, and other poets who wove tiny tapestries from vibrant words and figurative language. They loved the whimsical, fanciful, and often-humorous poems we would read together at bedtime!
Introducing Poetry to Children
Children’s poems excite the senses and imagination with literary devices, vivid vocabulary, and the pure joy of words. A good poem usually features several poetic devices. As you read aloud to your kids, help them listen for these fabulous features.
1. Listen for Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates a sound. Invite your kids to listen for words like buzz, gulp, swish, oink, clink, and bang. “Fishes’ Evening Song” by Dahlov Ipcar is filled with examples of onomatopoeia, making the poem especially fun to read aloud.
Drop by drop,
2. Listen for Repeated Sounds
Alliteration results when words that appear close together share the same beginning sound. Your kids will enjoy listening for examples of alliteration, such as Christmas cake for a clatter of kids or Brighter than a blossom / Thinner than a thread.
A form of alliteration known as consonance focuses on the same consonant sound in the middle or end of a word, as in Jasmine’s bees went crazy / When the mower cut the flower.
“Sing Me a Song” by N. M. Bodecker is not only loaded with examples of alliteration and consonance, it’s just pure fun to recite!
Sing me a song
of teapots and trumpets:
Trumpots and teapets
And tippets and taps,
trippers and trappers
and jelly bean wrappers
and pigs in pajamas
with zippers and snaps…
3. Listen for Repeated Words
Repetition in poetry is pleasant to the ear, making it a common occurrence in children’s poems. Not only can poems contain repeated sounds, they also can contain repeated words. Here’s a fun example:
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot …
Along with alliteration and consonance, Karla Kuskin uses word repetition in her poem “Spring.”
I’m swinging through trees
I’m winging sky-high
With the buzzing black bees.
I’m the sun
I’m the moon
I’m the dew on the rose.
I’m a rabbit
Is twitching his nose…
4. Listen for Rhyme
Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, but many poems do. Train your kids’ ears to listen for lines that end in the same sound.
Couplets feature two rhyming lines in a row, as in “Eletelephony” by Laura E. Richards. This rhyming pattern is called AABB.
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone…
Sometimes, every other line in a poem will rhyme, as in James Stephens’s “The White Window.” This rhyming pattern is called ABAB.
The Moon comes every night to peep
Through the window where I lie:
But I pretend to be asleep;
And watch the Moon go slowly by…
In other poems, only the second and fourth lines might rhyme, as in “The Morns Are Meeker Than They Were” by Emily Dickinson. This rhyming pattern is called ABCB.
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown,
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town…
5. Listen for Figurative Language
Poetry leaves no room for dull, boring words. Through a poet’s use of descriptive language, your children will be able to picture a poem’s colors, sounds, and textures. Similes, metaphors, and personification are examples of figurative language. Figurative language contains images that compare one thing to something else.
Similes compare two things that are basically different but have strong similarities. Similes compare by saying “this is like that.” They use LIKE or AS to make the comparison. May Swenson uses a simile in “The Woods at Night.”
The binocular owl
fastened to a limb
like a lantern…
Metaphors also compare two unlike things, but without the words LIKE or AS. Metaphors simply say “this is that.” In “All Kinds of Time,” Harry Behn writes metaphorically about time.
Seconds are bugs
minutes are children
hours are people
days are postmen…
And in this example of personification, James Stephens’s poem “Check” makes Night seem like a mysterious woman.
The Night was creeping on the ground!
She crept, and did not make a sound
Until she reached the tree: And then
She covered it, and stole again.
Along the grass beside the wall!
—I heard the rustling of her shawl
As she threw blackness everywhere
Along the sky, the ground, the air…
Children’s poetry is a delight to the senses. I hope you jump right in—a wonderful world of words awaits!