Many poems have stuck with me from my youth. They still supply me with delight (“I went away last August to summer camp in Maine, And there I met a camper called Eat-It-All Elaine.”), help me ponder deep, important questions (“What happens to a dream deferred?”) and inspire me to live with passion (“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.”) and conviction (“Tell me not, in mournful numbers, life is but an empty dream!”) Do you have your own list of favorite poems? Below is a list of new standout poetry titles for the classroom. The books include a wide array of poems that have all the potential to stick with a person for a lifetime.

Forest Has a Song

(Grades 1-4)

A girl and her dog are invited into the forest by, “wildly waving rows of friendly trees,” and from here it only gets better. Readers can experience a year in the forest in this lovelyForest Has a Song - Booksource poetry anthology. Author Amy Ludwig VanDerwater takes common forest-dweller experiences and makes magic. One imaginative poem voices the concerns of a young owl about taking his first flight. Another depicts the snow-blanketed forest floor as the “Forest News,”—a newspaper of tracks that you have to read before they disappear. Many of the poems are just plain fun to read aloud. Fantastic rhythms, rhymes, language and a wonderfully unique take on forest life accompany each poem.

Classroom Connection:
In Forest Has a Song, “Lady’s Slipper” makes a literary connection to (you guessed it) Cinderella! Research some of the local wildflowers in your area. Can you find a flower name that you can connect to a story? Use “Lady’s Slipper” as an example for your students. You can create an unforgettable activity around a local flower, a story and newly written poem.

Button Up!: Wrinkled Rhymes

(Grades P-2)

What if one of your articles of clothing had a voice and could write poetry? This illustrated collection of poetry imagines just that! The clothes belong to an adorable troupe of Button Up! Wrinked Rhymes by Alice Schertle - Booksourceanimals who sometimes love and sometime ignore their garments. Each rhyming ode expresses a unique viewpoint. From Bertie the otter’s shoelaces to Emily the mouse’s undies (gasp!), students will be sure to find a favorite among one of the 15 poems in this collection.

Classroom Connection:
Print out design-your-own templates for hats, t-shirts and pants (check out sites like Teachers Pay Teachers for free downloadable sheets like this one). Your students can have fun recreating their favorite piece of clothing. Next, add words in a speech bubble! Help each student imagine what their clothing would say. If your students are up for it, progress to a full poem. Revisit the poems for inspiration and talk about the attitude and point of view of each article of clothing.

Poems to Learn by Heart

(Grades 1-8)

This exceptional anthology is built around the idea of memorizing poems. Before you groan, listen to this quote from the intro: “Poets distill life’s lessons into the fewest possible Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy - Booksourcewords…If we learn poems by heart, we will always have their wisdom to draw on, and we gain understanding that no one can take away.” Kennedy explains that a certain empowerment comes with memorization. Organized into ten groupings of similarly themed poems (e.g., poems about nature, wartime poetry, poems about the self), each section has a thoughtful opening about the common themes. Well-known poets like Hughes, Shakespeare and Shelley show up along with several new voices too.

Classroom Connection:
Now’s your chance to show your students what you’ve got! To kick off a poetry unit, climb atop your desk and recite the words of your most beloved poem. Explain the poem and how its words, in particular, mean so much to you. Now, challenge your students to find a poem that speaks to them.


(Grade 7-12)

Set in 1981 during the Guatemalan Civil War, this novel in verse tells the story of Carlos, a village boy who is thrust into the middle of a war that is not his or his people’s. Told fromCaminar by Skila Brown - Booksource Carlos’s point of view, the poems range from calm and fluid to racing and intense, simulating Carlos’s experiences and creating an extremely emotional read. Mastery of poetic devices (rhythm, repetitions, arrangement) and vivid language make this reading experience a standout. This one will make you and your students think about the realities and complexities of war.

Classroom Connection:
Try using this fast read in conjunction with Social Studies lessons about war. Pair this book with an article that further elaborates on the situation in Guatemala at this time. Most students will not have a clue about the genocide that took place or the Guatemalan Civil War, so it’s important to provide background information.

How I Discovered Poetry

(Grades 7-12)

This collection of 50 unrhymed sonnets reveals the life of author Marilyn Nelson, a young African American girl growing up in the 1950s. The poems trace her development fromHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson - Booksource the age of four to fourteen, her growing self-awareness, and her experience of a world in tension. The Cold War, the “Red Scare,” the civil rights movement and women’s liberation all provide context for her poems. Nelson explains that, “each of the poems is built around a ‘hole’ or ‘gap’ in the Speaker’s understanding.” Readers will notice the development of the author’s passions and convictions as the novel progresses. Other themes include military family life and the complexities and beauty of language.

Classroom Connection: Introduce your young folks to the inspiring voice of poet Marilyn Nelson. Do an author study with your students using some of her other titles—Carver: A Life in Poems, A Wreath for Emmett Till, Sweethearts of Rhythm, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. These books lend themselves well to writing and cross-curricular lessons.


Carver A Life In Poems - Booksource A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson - Booksource Sweethearts of Rhythm by Marilyn Nelson - Booksource Fortunes Bones by MArilyn Nelson - Booksource