Do your young teenagers and pre-teens like to affect an air of being a little jaded? Let's face it, middle school is not an easy time for anyone. Parents, students, teachers, everyone is just a little on edge! 6th, 7th and 8th grade can be a rough couple of years. But what better way to express oneself than through poetry? As you know, I'm a big fan of recommending poetry that is not boring and this list of poetry for middle school contains an abundance of poems that kids ages 10 and up will appreciate. So if your 12 year olds slams the door in your face, make sure they have a book of poetry on the bed to read while they stew about how unfair life is!
This list of poems for middle schoolers includes diverse anthologies and poetry books, a few stories in verse, and collections by contemporary and classic poets. As you read through this list, you will find that most of these poems are great for high school aged teens, too. Throughout the article I've highlighted a few individual poems that your teens can memorize plus a few questions to ask while they consider the meaning and interpretation of the poem! And you can find more classic poems to memorize here.
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else edited by Elise Paschen. A collection of classic and contemporary poems that address topics of particular importance to teens: finding their place in the world, identifying what type of person they want to be, issues of race and gender, and more. Best for ages 12 and up and through high school.
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. Bryan takes a historical estate document that details its slaves and their prices and turns it into a powerful book about the dreams of real people. He gives each unnamed slave a name, an age and vivid hopes and dreams. This is an extraordinarily powerful collection of poems and illustrations.
Technically, It's Not My Fault: Concrete Poems by John Grandits. A concrete poem is a poem in which words form a shape that relates to the content of the poem. For example, for a poem about a cup of coffee, the words may lie in an arrangement that takes on the shape of a mug with steam rising from it. Concrete poems are particularly fun for kids. In Grandits's collection, an 11 year old boy narrates the poems which touch on topics like pizza, sisters, school, imaginative roller coasters and all manner of humorous musings. Also check out his poems in the book, Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems, which are narrated from the perspective of a 15 year old high school girl.
"I'm Nobody" (#260) by Emily Dickinson
Be sure to ask how this poem might be interpreted in the age of social media!
Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare. Middle school students can certainly tackle Shakespeare's sonnets and an annotated version helps to make the language more accessible, because let's face it, even adults need help sometimes.
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford. A powerful historical verse novel about the Tuskegee Airman who became some of the most successful WWII pilots, despite the rampant racism they faced.
"Lines Written in Early Spring" by William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)
Ask your child, what do you think Wordsworth means by "what man has done to man?" Why would he put it in a poem about spring and the beauty of nature?
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. This lovely novel uses poetry to tell the story of Maria Merian, a 17th century naturalist, Mary Anning, a 19th century fossil hunter, and Maria Mitchell, a 19th century astronomer. The verse biographies address the circumstance of their daily lives in a world which valued their achievements less than those of men, but also focus on the young women's love of discovery.
This poem is under copyright so I'm not publishing it in full, but you can get the full poem here: "I, Too" by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
Ask your kids, why would Hughes need to emphasize the word "too." How might this poem speak differently to different people?
A Maze Me: Poems for Girls by Naomi Shihab Nye. Although Nye wrote these poems for girls ages 12 and up, I don't think it would be outlandish of me to suggest that boys can read them, too. After all, if we want to raise good men we must make sure they are understanding of the female experience. That said, these poems are a wonderful addition to any girl's library. Nye covers all manner of topics: the relationship with one's mother, body image, crushes, community, and identity. Absolutely lovely.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. Your preteens and teens might not think they'll like a bunch of poems set in the year 1255, but challenge them and when they read these poems they will surely come 'round! Schlitz wrote these poems (and some prose) to be performed, to be sure to listen as your children read them out loud.
Yes! We Are Latinos: Poems and Prose About the Latino Experience by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. A collection free verse narratives about the wide diversity of Latino experiences. The poems share the fictional experiences of thirteen Latinos and Latinas across locations and important historical time periods.
This poem is under copyright so I'm not publishing it in full, but you can see the full poem here: "Ode to My Socks" by Pablo Neruda, (1904-1973) translated by Robert Bly
Ask your middle schooler, why would Neruda write poetry about socks? To what common object would you write and ode?
Poetry for Young People Series. Each of the books in this series is a collection of poems specifically selected to speak to young readers and listeners. These books are of special benefit when longer poems by such classic poets like Walt Whitman can seem overwhelming for middle schoolers. I find them great for reading aloud. Titles include poetry by Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and more.
"Poetry" by Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
Ask your children, what exactly is Moore's opinion of poetry as communicated here?
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