YEAR-END FEATURE: Children’s poetry titles published in 2011

One of PACYA’s primary goals is to track and promote the new poetry titles published each year. Brave volunteers Sylvia Vardell, Diane Mayr, Rebecca Davis, and Lee Bennett Hopkins (with help from Steven Withrow) took on the challenge of creating as comprehensive a list of poetry titles as we could make: all books of poetry published for young people ages 0-18 in English in 2011. We even tried to include books from outside the United States, adding some titles published in Canada and the UK. If we missed any, we welcome further recommendations.

We viewed “poetry” as collections of poems by individual poets, poetry anthologies, Mother Goose, and novels-in-verse, and we used cataloging and publishing data to confirm our category. But we did not include rhyming picture books or books reprinted or republished in 2011. There were also many wonderful works ABOUT poetry (a Pablo Neruda biography, for example) or BY poets (such as Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman) that were wonderful, but not categorized as poetry, per se.

***Please CLICK HERE to access a free PDF of the annotated list.***

Below you will find an engaging introduction by Sylvia Vardell, along with a selection of thoughts about particular titles from PACYA members and volunteers. 

INTRODUCTION: Ten Trends in Poetry for Young People in 2011

By Sylvia Vardell

In examining the nearly one hundred books of poetry published for young people in 2011, I’ve found there’s quite a variety in style, tone, content, and format available. In fact, I noticed ten mini-trends (if two or three books constitute a trend) that are worth exploring: animals, humor, music, culture, novels-in-verse, stories-in-poems, emerging new voices, poetic innovation, ebooks, and book poetry. Some feature tried-and-true “formulas” for creating appealing poetry for young people (using the connecting theme of “animals,” for example), and others venture into brand new territory (such as creating poems using only the letters from a single word, as in Bob Raczka’s Lemonade). Once again, the variety and quality offer an intriguing snapshot of the state of poetry for young people today.


The topic of animals has almost instant appeal to young readers, and several collections utilized this approach, including:

  • Leslie Bulion’s At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems
  • Amy Gibson’s Around the World on Eighty Legs: Animal Poems
  • Katherine Hauth’s What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World

My favorite may be Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s Cousins of Clouds, with an exclusive focus on elephants, in particular. Not only are the poems fresh and inviting in a variety of poetic forms, but she also includes fascinating prose passages with the poetry offering tidbits of fact and information.


Humorous poetry often ranks as children’s favorite type, and luckily this year there are many collections of poetry to share and laugh about. These include:

  • Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking by Alan Katz
  • A Funeral in the Bathroom and Other School Bathroom Poems by Kalli Dakos
  • Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler

Even Shel Silverstein published a posthumous collection, Every Thing On It.


For our youngest readers and listeners, several poem picture books blur the line between poetry and song:

  • Hush, Baby, Hush! Lullabies from Around the World by Kathy Henderson
  • Cantaba la rana/The Frog Was Singing by Rita Rosa Ruesga
  • Neighborhood Sing Along by Nina Crews

In addition, you’ll notice that these titles are grounded in culturally rich contexts with poems and illustrations reflecting diverse languages and peoples.


Speaking of culture, some of the best of this year’s poetry (based on the books that appear on multiple award lists), are rich in cultural specificity. Look for:

  • Arnold Adoff’s Roots and Blues: A Celebration
  • Julia Durango’s Under the Mambo Moon
  • Margarita Engle’s Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
  • Paul B. Janeczko’s Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto
  • Patricia McKissack’s Never Forgotten
  • Walter Dean Myers’s We are America: A Tribute from the Heart


It’s also been a boom year for publishing excellent novels-in-verse with nearly two dozen titles appearing, including many by brand new writers. These established authors gave us:

  • Hidden by Helen Frost
  • The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf
  • Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

New voices

These new authors debuted with impressive verse novels already gaining recognition, including a National Book Award (for Thanhha Lai):

  • Stasia Ward Kehoe (Audition)
  • Thanhha Lai (Inside Out and Back Again)
  • Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Under the Mesquite)
  • Kimberly Marcus (exposed)
  • Cathy Ostlere (Karma)
  • Sherry Shahan (Purple Daze)
  • Holly Thompson (Orchards)

Picture book stories-in-poems

If novels-in-verse tell stories through poems, what do we call a picture book that does the same thing? These stories-in-poems offer individual “standalone” poems that also weave together to create a compelling narrative.

  • Kristine O’Connell George’s Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems
  • Eloise Greenfield’s The Great Migration: Journey to the North
  • Lee Wardlaw’s Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku


It’s always interesting to see how poets (and publishers) play with the look and form of their poetry, as well as the design and layout of books themselves. This year, three innovative titles offered a comics approach, an art-filled biography, and a cartoon riff on one-word poems. Look for:

  • Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists
  • Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka
  • Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse, a collaboration between J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen


Speaking of innovation, this year marked the debut of poetry created specifically for the ebook form. Some fifty poets (most of the biggest names in the field) contributed to three ebook poetry anthologies (PoetryTagTime, P*TAG, and Gift Tag edited by yours truly along with poet Janet Wong) and solo ventures by Janet Wong (Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals) and David L. Harrison (Goose Lake) helped shape the next steps in taking poetry into the digital sphere.

Book poems

Two playful poetry picture books spotlight the topic of books and reading, a perennial favorite of book lovers of all kinds (especially teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents). You can’t go wrong with I am the Book edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and BookSpeak! by Laura Purdie Salas.

Once again, it’s heartening to see the field of poetry for young people offer such a bounty of choices and voices. With titles by poetry “fixtures” like Shel Silverstein, as well as NBA-winning new writers like Thanhha Lai, we can stock our shelves with gems that will hold up for years and look forward to what’s next in poetry for kids and teens.

* * * *

Around the World on Eighty Legs by Amy Gibson; Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Around the World on Eighty Legs is a picture book that combines obscure animals from around the world and poetry.  Amy Gibson has crafted a wonderful book that can be enjoyed by any age and any reading level. This book would be great for use in the classroom and fits in to any science, poetry, or social studies curriculum.

Submitted by Lynne Strobl and Gretchen Mayr, 6th grade teachers, Proctor Elementary School, Topsfield, MA

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George; Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

 Emma Dilemma is a deceptively simple novel-in-verse for the picture book set—character, plot, and pictures (by Nancy Carpenter) all in 48 pages. Kristine O’Connell George explores the complexity of sibling relationships and is a master at portraying emotion. Don’t hesitate to share this with big brothers as well as big sisters!

Submitted by Diane Mayr, PACYA advisory board member

The Green Mother Goose: Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time by Jan Peck and David Davis; Illustrated by Carin Berger

Growing up in the secluded shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, recycling was a necessary way of life.  A common rhythmic aphorism was, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Similarly, in their book The Green Mother Goose: Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time, Jan Peck and David Davis encourage readers to go green through lively and lyrical verses. Using Mother Goose poems as their launching pad, Peck and Davis recycle several childhood rhymes (Old Mother Hubbard, Humpty Dumpty, and Yankee Doodle, to name a few) to include ideas and terms such as “organic,” “fluorescents,” “conservation,” and “free-range hens.”  Even the whimsical collages of Carin Berger, which illustrate the text, are recycled bits of ticket stubs and newspapers. If changing the world begins with changing individuals, The Green Mother Goose is a powerful—though playful—book to share with children and adults alike.

Submitted by Shannon Collins, PACYA advisory board member

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Amidst warnings that poetry is dead, and artificially selected and organized anthologies are going out of print faster than you can say ISBN, comes the verse novel. Written largely in free verse and sustaining the narrative energy of a novel, the verse novel promises to keep poetry alive for future generations. Notable examples include Karen Hesse’s 1998 Newbery Award Winner Out of the Dust, and 2011 National Book Award winner Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Lai’s poems—spare, imagistic, and evocative—tell the story of Ha, a 10-year-old Vietnamese refugee who flees her homeland and the war, and of her search for a home in an unwelcoming American south. Accessible, understated, and sophisticated, Lai’s work promises to satisfy the most discriminating poetry readers and leave those new to it hungry for more.

Submitted by Evelyn Perry, PACYA advisory board member

Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka; Illustrated by Nancy Doniger

Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka is one of my favorites of 2011. The subtitle tells you just what’s up—the book is filled with twenty-two delightful poems “squeezed” from words like moonlight, minivan, bicycles, and bleachers. What can be done with an unassuming word like “spaghetti”? If you’re Raczka, you can make magic (“papa has a pasta appetite, he eats heaps”). The words actually cascade down each page in a way that preserves the letters’ positions in the original word. The minute I closed the book, I gave some words a try—my bet is that kids (and teachers) will want to do the same!

Submitted by Julie Larios, PACYA advisory board member

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen

Everything about this book sings of quality and originality. The poems, the art, the layout, the fonts, the heavy-gauge slick papers, all create such an endearing work of art. Creative Editions lives up to its name. We open the book and find Chagall’s penetrating young eyes staring out at us from the Table of Contents, the background of which offers a taste of detail from the artist’s “Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine, 1917,” and already we are drunk with fancy and delight. Page after page, image after image, we are drawn into a visual world of dreams and imagination. But it is the sweet song of the poetry that stays with us long after we close the last page of this picture book masterpiece. Like the perfect sonnet, the fourteen poems take us on a chronological journey from Yolen’s “Maternity” to Lewis’s “The Fall of Icarus.” Lewis writes in the final poem, “There was a young man who believed he could fly.” By the end of the journey we, too, wear the wings of Chagall. This is a treasure for young and old, for scholars and dreamers, for the artist and poet in us all.

Submitted by Charles Ghigna, PACYA advisory board member

Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko

Requiem creates a prismatic picture of a time and a place that are not as distant as we’d like to imagine. Janeczko brings an immediacy and intimacy—a brutal beauty—to the voices in Requiem, a skill that he honed in books such as Worlds Afire but takes to an even higher stratum here. Although some have argued that this is not a book for young adults outside a structured curriculum on the Holocaust, I feel strongly that a young reader, in or out of a high-school classroom, will be both startled and strengthened by a close encounter with these sometimes fierce, always finely crafted poems.

Submitted by Steven Withrow, PACYA founder

A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen; Translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland; Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

I like poems that are funny and poems that have lots of rhymes. I like this book because it has nice colors and words that sound like talking and singing. I want to read it again at bedtime.

Submitted by Marin Withrow, kindergartner, age 6

10 thoughts on “YEAR-END FEATURE: Children’s poetry titles published in 2011

  1. Sylvia did the lion’s share of the work–collecting book titles all year long and drawing end-of-the-year connections. This will be a list to share with teachers, librarians, parents, and kids.

    I enjoyed working with Sylvia, Rebecca, and Steven in the compilation of the final list. Good job, everyone!

  2. Thank you for this list! I’ve been feeling a little poetry-deprived, and I see it’s only because I’ve not been keeping up with my blog reading! Now I have a wonderful list to start searching from. Many on this list I already love, but there are quite a few I needed to be reminded of or that I haven’t even heard of.

    Requiem is on the backseat of my car right now, fresh from a library trip. Can’t wait to read it and then read my way through the rest of the list, too!

    Thanks, Sylvia, and PACYA!

  3. One book to keep on your radar is a middle grade novel in verse called “May B”, by Caroline Starr Rose (emerging author). Her book is about a girl (May B.) who is abandoned on a Kansas prairie homestead. It is supposed to be released January 10 and is already receiving wonderful reviews.

  4. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Won Ton (Lee Wardlaw) | laurasalas

  5. Dr. Vardell,
    I was looking for a list of 2011 poetry books for our next module and found this nifty blog!
    Thanks for the fantastic list! I want to add some of the title to my collection but I might have to wait until next year’s budget : ( sigh. Are you compiling a 2012 list this year?

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