Do you read poetry with your kids? Although I read a wide variety of children’s books, I don’t read as much poetry as I should. April is National Poetry Month and I’m giving myself a challenge: read one poem with the kids every night at bedtime.* Will you join me?
Just as I make an effort to ensure I read books with diverse characters with my kids, I’m doing the same with poetry. The culturally diverse poetry on this list span a wide range of topics. Some are simply about play, others are about ethnic identity, and some are just fun poems accompanied by illustrations that reflect the multicultural world our children inhabit. I encourage you to check some of these books out of your library, share them with your kids and use them as springboards for conversations about their own sense of identity. (Note: titles and covers are affiliate links.)
Culturally Diverse Poetry for Kids
A Full Moon Is Rising is the most truly multicultural selection on this list. Marilyn Singer’s poems celebrate the magic of a full moon as it is experienced around the globe. There are poems set it the city, the country and across the world from Africa to China to Colombia. Different religious and ethnic traditions are represented, including Sukkot, moon watching in Canada and the Chinese Moon Festival. This is truly a multicultural collection! The end papers even include notes and a map of all the locations that appear throughout the book.
A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play is another collection by award-winning poet Marilyn Singer. Poems celebrate kids playing in the great outdoors, from the monkey bars at the playground to urban sidewalks to backyard sprinklers. Every single page features a diverse group of faces and almost every child will see someone who looks like them in this book. I only wish the collaborators had thought to illustrate a child with a physical disability in the book (they like to play, too!); then it would be perfect.
Confetti: Poems for Children is a joyful collection of short poems sprinkled with Spanish words. Pat Mora has done a wonderful job composing poems that will appeal to very young children on a range of subjects like colors, nature, counting and everyday moments. One of my favorites is “Leaf Soup.”
Once Around the Sun. This recommendation came to me via Ink and Pen’s list of 5 poetry collections featuring diversity. Each month gets its own poem capturing the type of childhood moments we might look back on with nostalgia. In the background, a diverse group of children romp and play through the seasons and around their city.
A Poke in the I is a collection of “concrete poems.” Concrete poems are poems in which the visual arrangement of the words on the page are as essential to the meaning as the text itself. For example, the text of the poem “Giraffe” is printed out in the shape of a giraffe. “Tennis Anyone” will have your eyes bouncing back and forth across the page. Kids love concrete poems for their playful nature, and creating their own concrete poems is a wonderfully fun writing exercise. Raschka’s stylized illustrations feature characters in every color.
One Leaf Rides the Wind is a collection of counting poems in the haiku style. The poems follow a young girl as she explores a traditional Japanese garden. This is a great introduction to haiku and also includes information about gardens, haikus, and their place in Japanese culture.
Each poem in The Blacker the Berry is named after a color, like “Golden Goodness,” “Cranberry Red,” or “Coffee Will Make You Black” to celebrate a wide range of skin tones. I love the acknowledgement that “black” is not a single shade and illustrator Floyd Cooper’s cheerful faces that peer up at the reader from the pages of the book. I would hate, though, for parents to think that a book such as this one is not relevant to them if they are not African-American. It’s such a great conversation starter and children of all ethnicities will do well to appreciate the joy that is to be found in one’s heritage. (ALA Notable Book; Coretta Scott King Award)
Iguanas in the Snow: And Other Winter Poems / Iguanas en la Nieve: Y Otros Poemas de Invierno is a bilingual collection of poems that is part of a four book series spanning the seasonal year. Each short poem in free verse is in both Spanish and English, presenting snapshots of a diverse group of children enjoying wintery life to the fullest.
In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall is a collection of poems honoring fathers, specifically African-American fathers, but of course children of all races and cultures will be able to relate to the feelings and attitudes expressed in the poems. Some of the poetic imagery and language is sophisticated, for ages 7 and up, but there is something for everyone here. (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award )
Meet Danitra Brown is a collection of exuberant poems narrated by a young girl, Zuri Jackson, about her best friend, Danitra. I’ve never read a poetry book like this; it’s a joyful ode to a friend and I love the idea. It would be a great writing project for kids, too — to have them write poems about their friends. (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award)
I love Javaka Steptoe’s collages that illustrate Nikki Grimes’ haiku in A Pocketful of Poems. Tiana has pocketful of words and each word inspires a delightful short poem. I’m especially fond of haiku as “poetry for beginners” and its short form makes it easy to share with even the youngest kids.
So, will you join my poem a day challenge? Will you read some diverse poetry with your kids? Do you have any other multicultural poems to recommend?
*UPDATE: We now LOVE reading poetry. It all started with our 5 week poetry reading challenge, and led to me sharing 8 ways poetry calms kids and brings joy to families!
If this list inspires you, be sure to peruse these additional poetry lists: