Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry and Folklore for the Kindergarten Set

I had the pleasure of talking with 50 or so local kindergarten teachers a week and a half ago. The focus of my talk was poetry and folklore. Why single out these genres? Because of the dominance of the story-oriented picture books in kid culture today. Now, you'll find no bigger fan of the picture book than me, but many picture books (and tv shows and movies) tend to privilege certain kinds of storytelling over others. Key among these are tales of adventure or conflict resolution. But if the adventure story, the quest motif, or even the simple age-related problem/resolution story becomes not just the dominant form of narrative that children are exposed to but the only one, then a child's ability to imagine art, the self and the broader world beyond that genre becomes limited.

The Nursery Rhyme tradition, poetry and folklore are three forms of literature for young children that can help break the stranglehold of genre. They are older forms of telling that have evolved from oral traditions. Nursery rhymes and poerty help children peg down the natural cadence and rhythm of a child's mother tongue. Folklore, at its best, offers astute insights into human nature without being trite or didactic. There is also a wealth of international folklore available for young children.

The following is a list of the books I lugged along to the workshop. This isn't a definitive list, just a glimpse at some of the material that may be available at your public library.

Nursery Rhyme Collections
The Little Dog Laughed and Other Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Lucy Cousins, 1989
Mother Goose Remembers, illustrated by Clare Beaton, 2000
My Very First Mother Goose (1996) and Here Comes Mother Goose (1999), edited by Iona Opie; illustrated by Rosemary Wells
A Day of Rhymes selected and illustrated by Sarah Pooley, 1987
The Glorious Mother Goose, selected by Cooper Edens with illustrations by the best artisits from the past, 1988
Gregory Griggs and Other Nursery Rhyme People, selected and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 1978.
Lavender's Blue, compiled by Kathleen Lines; illustrated by Harold Jones, 1954 (reissued in facsimile edition, 2004, facsimile paperback, 2007)

Here's a Little Poem, selected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters; illustrated by Polly Dunbar, 2007
The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Meilo So, 1999
Poetry by Heart: A Child's Book of Poems to Remember, compiled by Liz Attenborough, 2001
Poems by A. Nonny Mouse, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Henrik Drescher, 1989
The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser, 1998
Alligator Pie (1974), Garbage Delight (1977), Jelly Belly (1983) by Dennis Lee
Sleeping Dragons All Around by Sheree Fitch, 1989/2009 (an example of excellent, stand-alone poetry held together in a quest-centred picture book)
Toes in My Nose (1987) , I am Small (1994) by Sheree Fitch
For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funny Bone selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, 1992
Beast Feast: Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian, 1994

Sylvia Vardell maintains an excellent children's poetry blog called Poetry for Children. Along with excellent reviews and discussion, she provides numerous author links.

Folklore and Fables
The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book, 1985
Anansi the spider : a tale from the Ashanti adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott
Tomie de Paola has numerous folktale adaptations for young children. The two titles I brought to the workshop were Strega Nona, 1975 and Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato, 1992.
The Three Little Pigs adapted and illustrated by Marie Louise Gay, 1994
The Travelling Musicians of Bremen retold by P. K. Page, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, 1991
Cinderella (1989) and Red Riding Hood (1987), retold and illustrated by James Marshall
Belling the Cat and other Aesop's Fables, retold in verse by Tom Paxton; Illustrated by Robert Rayevsky, 1990
Fables, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 1980
How the guinea fowl got her spots : a Swahili tale of friendship, adapted by Barbara Knutson, 1990
Something From Nothing adapted by Phoebe Gilman, 1992
The House that Jack Built, pictures by Jenny Snow, 1992
This is the House that Jack Built, adapted and illustrated by Simms Taback, 2002
The Seven Blind Mice adapted and illustrated by Ed Young, 1991


  1. Jack Prelutsky is some sort of poetry genius. His Fabulous Flying Hot Dogs poem is a big family favorite.

    My kids love Bone Button Borscht a lot - another amazing retelling of a folktale.

  2. i'm with beck--Jack Prelutsky is amazing. i also just love marie louise gay. thanks for the great list--i'll be checking some of these out at our local library soon.

  3. Beck,
    That is a great folk tale. There's other versions of it too some using the title Stone Soup.

  4. Did you exclude Shel Silverstein because his stuff is too advanced for the K set?

  5. Slouchy: I didn't exclude anyone intentionally. Those just happen to the be the books I grabbed to lug along with me. I could've easily grabbed 40 or so other books.

    Having said that, some of Silvertein's stuff is indeed too advanced for K. The format of Where the Sidewalk Ends also does not lend itself to read alouds.

  6. Let's hear it for the Gruffalo.

  7. My mother used to read Aesop's Fables to me. I loved it.

    I also had A Child's Garden of Verses (I think that's what it was called), which had Robert Louis Stevenson's poems for children. I still love them. When Buddy was a baby and had trouble falling asleep along I used to read my way through this book until he fell asleep. I think the cadence of the words helped him settle.


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