Friday, December 26, 2008

Best Poetry of 2008

For my final entry this year, I'd like to offer my short list of favorite poetry books published for young audiences in 2008. This year, I tried to track ALL the poetry produced for young people and tallied about 75 titles! Impressive, I think, considering 50 titles per year has been closer to the norm, IMO. And there is an interesting variety, with picture book collections dominating, and new trends in poetry morphed with biography growing strong. I'm also seeing more experimentation with poetic form/topic and book layout which is fun for those of us who like to provide diverse models for aspiring writers and artists.

We also have new poet distinctions to celebrate this year with the announcement of the second Children's Poet Laureate (Mary Ann Hoberman) and the 15th recipient of the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award (Lee Bennett Hopkins). So, all in all, I call it a good year for poetry and hope you will join me in building on this momentum by pushing poetry even further in 2009. Seek out these wonderful titles and more, buy multiple copies, and donate them to your local public and/or school library. Then read your favorites aloud to the kids you know (or don't know!).

Although I didn't get my hands on every single one of the books published this year, I did my best, and chose these two dozen to highlight, in particular. I also thought it would be fun to showcase a variety of categories, including poetry written by kids, novels in verse, and even nonfiction works about poets and poetry. My list is personal and idiosyncratic, I grant you, but I offer it for your consideration. And note: I did a bit of research and found that you could purchase hard cover copies of this whole list for only $382-- and have a wonderful mini-library of 2008 poetry for young people that runs the gamut from the hilarious (Frankenstein monster parodies) to the transcendent (Billie Holiday's literally lyrical life). What a bargain! Here's my list with the briefest of annotations. Best wishes to all for a health, happy, poetry-filled 2009!


Alarcón, Francisco X. 2008. Animals Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
*Animal spirits, Spanish/English, vivid, energetic art

Ashman, Linda. 2008. Stella, Unleashed. New York: Sterling.
*Fun and frolicking, frisky rescue dog, dog point of view

Beck, Carolyn. Buttercup’s Lovely Day. Custer, WA: Orca Books.
*Dawn to dusk day in the life of a contented cow, with lyrical illustrations

Giovanni, Nikki. Ed. 2008. Hip Hop Speaks to Children. Sourcebooks.
*Amazing range, African American voices, fabulous audio CD

Greenberg, Jan. 2008. Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World. New York: Abrams.
*Poetry inspired by art from all around the world, multilingual

Holbrook, Sara and Wolf, Allan. 2008. More Than Friends; Poems from Him and Her. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
*Teen boy and girl perspectives, fun sidebars on poetic form and experimentation

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
*Poets on war, historical perspective, mural-like art, poignant and powerful

Lawson, Jonarno. 2008. Black Stars in a White Night Sky. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
*From silly to serious, playful to absurd, poignant to wry

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2008. The World’s Greatest: Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle.
*Fun facts and factoids become focus of clever poems in varied formats

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2008. Honeybee. New York: Greenwillow.
*Poem gems, vignettes and observations are political, personal, and powerful

Rex, Adam. 2008. Frankenstein Takes the Cake. New York: Harcourt.
*Hysterically funny riffs on monsters in poems, parodies, and amazing art

Soto, Gary. 2008. Partly Cloudy; Poems of Love and Longing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
*Half and half, he said, she said, young love poems, with crossover character connections


Franco, Betsy. 2008. Comp. Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

*More teen love from teen perspectives, VERY varied and compelling

Michael, Pamela, Ed. 2008. River of Words. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed.

*Eco-themed poems by kids, international writing contest, inspiring and challenging


Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Holt.

*Cuban history, true story, heroic woman, multiple viewpoints

Frost, Helen. 2008. Diamond Willow. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

*Alaskan setting, girl growing up, mystical ancestors, great dogs, new form

Herrick, Steven. 2008. Naked Bunyip Dancing. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.

*Classroom characters, inspiring teacher, hilarious talent show

Nelson, Marilyn. 2008. The Freedom Business. Asheville, NC: Front Street.

*True story, primary source, slave narrative, evocative art

Smith, Hope Anita. 2008. Keeping the Night Watch. New York: Henry Holt.

*Absent father returns, son rebels, family dynamics shift

Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2008. Becoming Billie Holiday. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

*Poems channel music and music history, biography through poetry, spunky girl

Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2008. 42 Miles. New York: Clarion.

*Divorce and division, dual identities, girl growing up, quirky art


Bryant, Jen. 2008. A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. New York: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

*Biographical picture book, doctor + poet, poetic illustrations

Lawson, JonArno. 2008. Inside Out: Children's Poets Discuss Their Work. London: Walker.

*Poems plus creation commentary from two dozen international poets

Prelutsky, Jack. 2008. Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry; How to Write a Poem. New York: Greenwillow.

*How to, helpful tips, behind the scenes glimpses, hilarious and outrageous

Find more Poetry Friday fun at the Miss Rumphius Effect.
Picture credit:


Unknown said...

Wonderful list. Thank you for sharing.
I am going to print this out and take it to the bookstore and library.

Misrule said...

Hi Sylvia,
So glad you liked Naked Bunyip Dancing—and even gladder (call me Pollyanna!) that the title wasn't changed for the US market!
All the best to you and your lovely family for a poetry- and history-filled 2009. And hats. Ten gallon hats! (Remembering our day in Forth Worth!)

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you, Jill and Judith.
And happy new year to you, down under! I am also glad that "Bunyip" stayed in Herrick's book-- I loved learning about that. Please keep me posted on any other poetry gems from the Oz-NZ region in the year ahead! And best to you in your work and study--

Unknown said...

There is a great children’s book out called Other People’s Shoes. It does an excellent job of teaching the value of kindness inside of a really great story. You should check it out! Here is a link:

Notes from a Virtual Easel said...

An outstanding article! A terrific resource for teachers, librarians, and others who work with children : )