Poems are essential for children. They can help teach children the rhythm and cadence of language, and they’re also fun for parents to read and for children to listen to. Why do children love listening to chants and songs? Because they’re poems. We collect 12 of our favorite poetry books for babies and toddlers below. If you’re looking for poetry books for older children, I wrote a much bigger piece for Book Riot.
Little Poet Emily Dickinson: In Emily’s Garden by Kate Coombs, Illustrated by Carme Lemniscates
Margaret’s review: Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets, and my favorite as a child of 8 or so. This board book from the BabyLit series pairs sections of Emily Dickinson’s poems with scenes from Emily Dickinson’s garden. It’s the perfect way to introduce the youngest readers to Emily Dickinson’s poetry. It’s also a perfect springtime book, so you can show your toddler the flowers from the book. The illustrations are fun and colorful, and look like paper cutouts.
Little Poet William Shakespeare: I Love You by Kate Coombs, Illustrated by Carme Lemniscates
Margaret’s review: From the same publisher and writer/illustrator pair, in Little Poet William Shakespeare you can tell your little one how much you love them using Europe’s most famous poet’s words. Another great introductory book to a famous poet.
I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by David Catrow
Margaret’s review: In this exuberant and silly poem, the protagonist lists all the ways she likes herself:
“I like myself! / I’m glad I’m me. / There’s no one else / I’d rather be. / I like my eyes, my ears, my nose. / I like my fingers and my toes.”
The illustrations by well-known illustrator David Catrow are equally exuberant and silly. In one illustration the girl wakes up with hair as tall as she is and a foot lamp on the end table, and in another she has a snout and tusks for a nose, a spiked back, and purple polka dotted lips. This book is both empowering and funny.
Homemade Love by bell hooks, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Margaret’s review: While bell hooks is best known for her feminist books–like Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics–she also writes poetry. I love her adult collection of poems, Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. I’ve reviewed Homemade Love on the website before, but I had to include it here as well. In this children’s poem, a little girl lists all the nicknames her mother gives her, and how loved she feels by her mother. It’s such a sweet book.
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, Illustrated by Julie Flett
Margaret’s review: If you’re looking for a baby shower book, this one is perfect. In this poem, a family sings of how happy they are with their little one:
“We sang you from a wish / We sang you from a prayer / We sang you home / And you sang back.”
I’m a big fan of everything the illustrator Julie Flett does, and her simple, earth-toned illustrations are the perfect match for Van Camp’s poem.
Haiku Baby by Betsy E. Snyder
Margaret’s review: This is a great way to introduce toddlers to haiku. Each page takes a word, and presents a haiku and illustration of that word:
“flower. in tickly-toe grass, / a buttercup offers up / yellow nose kisses.”
Maybe you can even make some haiku of your own with an older toddler.
Wee Rhymes: Baby’s First Poetry Book by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Jane Dyer
Margaret’s review: Jane Yolen writes the best children’s poems. If you’re already familiar with children’s literature, you’ve probably heard of her. I believe she has over 100 books to her name, and has won many awards. Wee Rhymes is a modern Mother Goose (with some actual Mother Goose thrown in). Cute, interactive poems paired with simple, realistic illustrations. It’s an essential.
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, Illustrated by Richard Jones
Margaret’s review: As the first snowflake of winter falls, a fox wonders what it should do. So it asks each animal in turn, but each of their responses doesn’t ring quite true for the fox. This is a lovely, wintry poem, a bit on the long side, so not ideal if your toddler is feeling antsy. But it’s a perfect book for Winter. The art is gorgeous–earth-toned watercolors and pastels.
“A single snowflake / floats through the air / spins, / leaps, / settles / on the nose of a fine red fox.”
If There Never Was a You by Amanda Rowe, Illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova
Margaret’s review: A sweet, lyrical poem about a mom who can’t imagine life without her little one. It’s a book to read while you cuddle your baby or toddler. The art is vibrant and imaginative, with big-eyed bunnies and even a carrot flying into outerspace. It would make an excellent addition to an Easter basket. We had the author Amanda Rowe discuss her favorite board books on the website when the book released.
My Art Book of Love by Shana Gozansky
Jen’s review: This book pairs ‘real’ artwork with lyrical prose about love. It is a beautiful book and one that is soothing and wonderful to read aloud. This isn’t a poetry in the strictest sense, but it opens with ‘Love is… soft snuggles… and hard kisses. Slow dances… and tender nuzzles. A comfort… A secret… Even an adventure!’ which I think is sufficiently poetic enough to include in this list. A follow-up book, My Art Book of Sleep, is coming out on 8 May 2019, and I’m really looking forward to adding that to our collection.
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Jen’s review: A gorgeous goodnight book that highlights the beauty in the order of the universe. Simple black and white illustrations are punctuated with splashes of yellow, and the text leads you gently through the winding down of the day, ending with being in bed in a home full of light. Again, not poetry in the strictest sense, but if just a plain old board book could be considered poetry, this would be it.
Side by Side by Chris Raschka
Jen’s review: Another one that isn’t technically poetry but is poetic (you might have noticed by now that I don’t actually have any poetry books for babies and toddlers; that is much more Margaret’s domain than mine). This book is a lovely celebration of dads and their relationships with their children. There are bright watercolour illustrations of dads and their kids playing various roles, like horse and rider, court and jester, and mountain and climber. Always, they are side by side. The text is simple and minimal, and the book is sweet without being sentimental or sappy. Which is the best kind of sweet, in my opinion.
Do you have any favorite poetry books for babies or toddlers? Share in the comments!