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Introduction

Poetry is an exciting and easy way to help kids become stronger readers. Research shows that poetry helps build literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, memory, and fluency, especially if you read poems aloud! Poetry also helps develop spelling and vocabulary. Reading and writing poetry can spark creativity while building up critical thinking skills.

In the United States, April is National Poetry Month. Below are 10 poems that kids, from first grade to middle school, can read to celebrate!

Poetry for Elementary School

“maggie and milly and molly and may” by E.E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

E. E. Cummings is a poet known for his experimentation with punctuation and spelling. His short poems are sure to entertain. They will also familiarize kids with different sentence structures and writing styles.

“Sick” by Shel Silverstein

I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more—that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

Shel Silverstein is famous for his hilarious children’s poetry. His poems read like stories, so you can use them to practice analyzing story elements. They make for great recitation practice or read aloud exercises.

“Reading” by Jacqueline Woodson

I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
until
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow
the teacher says.
Read faster.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don’t want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly
from where it’s settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the second,
third, tenth,
hundredth time.

Jacqueline Woodson won the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the highest international recognition given to a children’s author. She is the author of many books and poetry collections for people of all ages. She writes emotional poetry, and her work can help kids practice interpreting themes.

“Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face” by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.
Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.
Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.
Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.
Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

Jack Prelutsky is a children’s poet who writes funny and inventive poems. He has written more than 70 books! He writes many poems about school. His use of rhyme makes for challenging memorization practice and fun recitation exercises.

“Dreams” by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes is a renowned writer known for his portrayal of black life in America in the 1920s. His work helped shape the Harlem Renaissance. He writes emotional poetry that can teach kids about history and social justice.

”Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost writes introspective, conversational poems often inspired by nature. He depicts New England life through familiar situations. Frost’s work is a wonderful way to study imagery and practice visualization.

“Eletelephony” by Laura Elizabeth Richards

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

Laura Elizabeth Richards’s poem is such a fun way to practice rhyming. Poetry doesn’t always have to be serious!

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Emily Dickinson is one of the most important figures in American poetry. Though many of her poems are short, they are great resources when exploring an observant first-person voice.

Poetry for Middle School

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Angelou’s poem describes the everday experience of two birds, each of whom lives a very different life. One bird can fly freely in nature, while the other remains caged. The emotional piece will encourage close reading and dissection of language to interpret the overall message.

“Victory” by Sherman Alexie

When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.
When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught
Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt
The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after
I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little
Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.

Sherman Alexie is one of America’s best known Native American poets. He writes about his experience as an Indigenous American with ancestry from several tribes. Though many of his poems illuminate poverty and despair, Alexie writes in a conversational tone that keeps his work approachable.

“Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
two
cases
knitted
with threads of
twilight
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by
these
heavenly
socks.
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks.
Nevertheless
I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
as learned men
collect
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
cage
and each day give them
birdseed
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
socks
and then my shoes.
The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

Pablo Neruda was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. He wrote surrealist poetry, historical epics, and political works. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

“Drum Dream Girl” by Margarita Engle

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed

of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongó drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.

But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums

so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.

At outdoor cafés that looked like gardens
she heard drums played by men
but when she closed her eyes
she could also hear
her own imaginary
music.

When she walked under
wind-wavy palm trees
in a flower-bright park
she heard the whir of parrot wings
the clack of woodpecker beaks
the dancing tap
of her own footsteps
and the comforting pat
of her own
heartbeat.

At carnivals, she listened
to the rattling beat
of towering
dancers
on stilts

and the dragon clang
of costumed drummers
wearing huge masks.

At home, her fingertips
rolled out their own
dreamy drum rhythm
on tables and chairs…

and even though everyone
kept reminding her that girls
on the island of music
have never played drums

the brave drum dream girl
dared to play
tall conga drums
small bongó drums
and big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.

Her hands seemed to fly
as they rippled
rapped
and pounded
all the rhythms
of her drum dreams.

Her big sisters were so excited
that they invited her to join
their new all-girl dance band

but their father said only boys
should play drums.

So the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
and drumming
alone

until finally
her father offered
to find a music teacher
who could decide if her drums
deserved
to be heard.

The drum dream girl’s
teacher was amazed.
The girl knew so much
but he taught her more
and more
and more

and she practiced
and she practiced
and she practiced

until the teacher agreed
that she was ready
to play her small bongó drums
outdoors at a starlit café
that looked like a garden

where everyone who heard
her dream-bright music
sang
and danced
and decided
that girls should always
be allowed to play
drums

and both girls and boys
should feel free
to dream.

Margarita Engle took inspiration for her poem from a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who became a female drummer in Cuba when girls had a harder time doing so. Engle is a Cuban-American author who has written many books that reflect her Cuban heritage and her appreciation of nature.

More Resources

Poems are an efficient and amusing way to squeeze reading practice into small moments of the day. If you would like to continue your poetry kick, both  

  and  
  have databases of poetry specifically for kids. To further develop your kid’s ELA skills, check out ArgoPrep’s Common Core ELA series for practice in reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and more!

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