books · Children · Poetry

Young Poems

She points to our toes

Then to her buckled sandals —

Paint her toenails pink!

Smart, active toddler is speedy, decisive in where she goes and what she wants. At a bridal shower, she plopped down onto the floor, pointing from one set of polished toes to another.

Guesses were laughed over what she was trying to tell us. She knows her toes (genius child)! She is admiring high-heeled sandals (artistic, fashion-aware girl)! Rhymes and laughter were traded for her open-faced wonder and sweet smiles.

My guess is that she wanted bright, shiny polish on her toenails like all the others at the party (sparkles would be terrific). We don’t know one another that well, but colorful toes would have made my toddler self spin exultant circles around the room.

Young children know more, think more, and have their own minds long before we give them credit for having their own heartfelt, well-reasoned, and logical ideas. I’ve seen three year olds vigorously debating merits of a movie shift effortlessly to fighting over who got the bucket next in the sandbox when they spotted parents approaching. Perhaps playing to the crowd is carefully-crafted, strategic management and not merely a reflection of undeveloped consciousness and limited vocabulary.

Entranced by a book recommended by a fellow author, I sidled into the children’s room of our town library. There, I discovered and immediately devoured the rollicking, insightful Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies by J. Patrick Lewis and Johanna Wright.

Thirteen classic poems by poets as renowned and beloved as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost are paired with parodies created by J. Patrick Lewis. Thus, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Frost shares an open spread with “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening” — and the magical wordplay continues throughout. What is most enchanting about the intelligent collection of poems is the profound respect for and appreciation of the inner world of the very young. They may not have the words for it yet (or choose to share it with their grown-ups), but they know love, grief (tissues keep the tears from flowing into your ears), and the wonders of the world around them.

The book that got me back into reading poetry on purpose is This is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Simeon and Olivier Tallec. A little boy asks friends and loved ones what a poem is when his mother suggests that he give his sick fish a poem to help him get better. Determined to solve the mystery despite the wildly different answers that he is given, the little boy doesn’t stop until he has the answer that he needs — and heals his fish.

What is most remarkable is that these two books are poetry, but they are not written by adults for what they believe children will enjoy — instead, they speak to children as our fellow beings, young ones finding their own ways in the world with powerful imagery and lyrical words.

Now I have my own search for more great poetry for children — and the perfect shade of coral-pink nail polish (no sparkles, thank you)…


2 thoughts on “Young Poems

  1. I’m sure you’re right…nail polish and sparkles were her desire! Mary Oliver got me back into poetry for a while….her wide range alerted me to the poem in EVERYTHING and that was inspiring and joyful. XO


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