April is National Poetry Month, and every year I immediately think of my favorite poet, Langston Hughes. Many of his poems have been made into picture books with beautiful illustrations, but what about the man himself? Of course there are traditional biographies to learn about his life, but there is another way to learn about him and relate it to your own life. Author Lesa Cline-Ransome wrote a fictionalized account of Hughes as a young boy. Finding Langston, which was awarded the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, chronicles 11-year-old Langstons's move to Chicago and how it opened up a whole new world to him. I recommend reading this book, then read some of his beautiful and powerful poetry.
Many children, and people who were once children, know the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Silverstein published many collected works of off-beat, often funny poetry. However, I'm going to recommend another poet who is perhaps even funnier: Jack Prelutsky. Prelutsky is a prolific poet, having published over 50 books of children's poetry! He was also the first U.S. Children's Poet Laureate from 2006-08, proving poetry can be funny and silly! One of his collections of poems is titled It's Raining Pigs and Noodles. Want to try your hand at writing funny poetry but not sure how to get started? Prelutsky wrote a book about writing poetry called Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry, in which he offers up fun exercises to get you started!
Not into "traditional" poetry? Another great way to celebrate National Poetry Month in April is by reading novels-in-verse! Imagine how hard it can be to write just one poem, and these books are filled with only poems that tell one long story! One of my favorite authors of novels in verse is Kwame Alexander. He is so good at writing novels in verse that he won the Newbery Medal for his novel The Crossover. This book is about family, friendship, and basketball. I will warn, I cried. This book definitely deserved the medal, but my favorite book by Alexander is Booked. Why did I like this book so much? It's because it's not only written in verse, but one of the main characters is a school librarian who has an unofficial book club with the main character! Within this book, they talk about novels-in-verse, including All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg.
I knew we had books by Burg on the shelf at my library, but I hadn't read any, until Kwame Alexander brought them to my attention. I immediately grabbed All the Broken Pieces off the shelf and read it right away (I cried, of course). Then, I wanted to discover more of Burg's books, so I went on to read Unbound about a young girl who runs away from a slave plantation (you will not be shocked to learn that I cried reading this as well.) This all lead me to try and read all the novels in verse we had on the shelf, a feat I believe I've accomplished, for now.
Now that I've hopefully introduced you to new authors and books, who is your favorite poet? Do you have a favorite poem? I do! It's Impasse by Langston Hughes.
Also, remember to write out your favorite poem on a piece of paper and stick it in your pocket on April 30 for Poem in Your Pocket Day!