March 26, 2012

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Arnold Lobel
No Illustrator Site
Preschool Primary Random House 247 pp.
978-0394850108 Hardcover $22.99

First published in 1983, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children has become a modern classic - possibly the most beloved anthology of poetry for children since Robert Lewis Stevenson's collection, A Child's Garden of Verse first appeared in 1885. Expertly selected by the children's poet and author, Jack Prelutsky, and illustrated by the Caldecott winning artist, Arnold Lobel, The Random House Book of Poetry offers up an absolute buffet of poetic possibilities from the silly, absurd and humorous (Lewis Carroll and Shel Silverstein, et al), to classics by Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Robert Burns among many others.

Prelutsky's organizational principal is both organic and intuitive as poems are grouped logically according to unifying themes. The book begins with a section entitled, "Nature Is..." (all sections begin with an introductory poem by Prelutsky). From "Nature Is...", we move smoothly to poems on "The Four Seasons", "Dogs, Cats, Bears and Bats", "The Way of Living Things" and "City, Oh City!". From there, the reader is treated to sections on other children, "Me, I Am!" and home before moving on to nonsense, concepts such as the alphabet and numbers and scary poems, ending finally with a catch-all section called "The Land of Potpourri".  Each section leads seamlessly to the next through subtle thematic overlaps, which move the anthology forward without jarring. The structure of the collection also makes it very easy to just jump to a page or section at random or seek out a specific type of poem by theme or topic. Separate indexes for title, poet and first line also contribute to the anthology's search-ability.

This search-ability is important because, regardless of the anthology's excellence, one caveat applies to parents of younger children and preschoolers. In his introduction, Prelutsky states that he specifically focused the collection on elementary-school aged children, and while there are plenty of poems in the anthology that will appeal to preschoolers (and even pre-verbal infants for their rhyme and rhythm), parents of younger children should make sure to use discretion as to which sections they read to their child. As Prelutsky states, "a poem that might be deliciously scary to an eight-year-old might be terrifying to a four-year-old".

That said, there is such a wonderful wealth of age-appropriate material in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, it would be a shame to forbid it to older toddlers and preschoolers. Given that poetry is perfect shared reading for a child and her loved-one, parental oversight is easy to apply with entire sections on nature, family and feelings appropriate for even the littlest enthusiasts. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children truly is a standard by which other anthologies can be measured - an outstanding resource and a pleasure to read.

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