Book list: Children’s poetry

At Gecko Press, we’re big fans of poetry and nonsense rhymes. We’re excited about the upcoming launch of The Gobbledegook Book: A Joy Cowley Anthology, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson. So we wanted to share the joy of children’s poetry with you.

Paula Green is a poet, author, reviewer, anthologist, and curator of Poetry Box: A New Zealand Poetry Page for Children and NZ Poetry Shelf for adults. In between releasing three (!) books in 2019, Paula found time to recommend some children’s poetry for us.


A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, ed. Paula Green, illus. Jenny Cooper
Random House, 2014

It was such a treat to edit this anthology. I spent a whole year scouring New Zealand books and the School Journals for poems for children. At a time when local children’s poetry books feel like an endangered species (hardly any are in print!), this feels like a necessary treasure box of Aotearoa poems, of new and familiar voices. I wanted to show that poems can make you laugh, ponder, puzzle, sway to the beat, cry, connect with the world, and get hungry for more. Jenny Cooper provided the illustrations, both heart-warming and inventive.



The Word Witch: The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy, ed. Tessa Duder, illus. David Elliot
Harper Collins, 2009

Margaret Mahy is the children’s poet I carry with me as I write. Her sumptuous anthology shows she will always be our Poetry Queen. Her words dare to do anything; her poems sing, tell stories, are acrobatic on the line, follow rules, disobey rules, make you laugh, make you sing. She shows us the real world and she lets her imagination go flying in the wind. Glorious!



One, Sarah Crossan
Bloomsbury, 2015

I have a go-to shelf of verse novels (YA and children’s) and this is a favourite. Grace and Tippi are physically joined at the hip and share one set of legs which makes life challenging – especially when they don’t agree about everything.

Telling a story in the form of poetry means there is lots of room to breathe and dawdle as you read. One’s characters and their experiences move you so much, it is a book that matters at a deep human level. Plus the poetic craft is exquisite.



We Go Together!: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse, Calef Brown
Houghton Mifflin, 2013

I am a big fan of American poet Calef Brown’s poetry books – his words are the most agile on the planet and his illustrations (often acrylic) are both eye catching and zany. In this little book of love and friendship poetry forms a warm glow inside you. Never corny, never sentimental, but always eye-popping, ear-zinging fun. I adore it.

I cackle
and you chortle.
Together we chorkle.
It sounds like two porpoises
sharing a snorkel.


Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
HarperCollins, 2004

Another American poet, Shel Silverstein (1930–1999) offers endless poetry joy through his quirky poems and illustrations. This anthology showcases poems stoked by a moon-soaring imagination, dazzling humour and body-swaying rhythms. The poems rove the world planting diamond gardens and stacking pancakes as high as the roof. They will make you shiver and gasp and laugh!




Moon, Have You Met My Mother? The collected poems of Karla Kuskin, Karla Kuskin, illus. Sergio Ruzzier
HarperCollins, 2003

American Karla Kuskin’s (1932–2009) children’s poetry is so breathtakingly simple, so delicious to read aloud, so surprising as it moves, I want to hug every poem she wrote. This anthology is the perfect place to spend a summer holiday – to absorb the way words strung along the line can offer supreme reading delight.

You are the kind of dog I love
you are a walking hill of hair.


brown girl dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
Puffin Books, 2014

Jacqueline Woodson was the Young People’s Poet Laureate in America (2015–2017) and has won multiple awards for her poetry. An autobiography told through poems, brown girl dreaming builds the portrait of Jacqueline as a young girl finding her way in the world. The writing is mesmerising: the detail sharp, the voice captivating, the musical effects lyrical. You enter the heart-blasting family vignettes where being a woman and being a black woman (or girl) set you back. This book, so poetically and humanly rich, opens a window on becoming a poet.



all the small poems and fourteen more, Valerie Worth, illus. Natalie Babbitt
Sunburst, 1994

American Valerie Worth (1933–1994) slows me down as a reader so I can absorb things. Her poems love to leapfrog from physical things: porches, cows, chairs, the sun, a tractor, a pie, a frog, a fence, a duck. Complex difficult poems are necessary food for me but I love the way a moment or a thing can shine with just a handful of sweetly chosen words. I am watching the dog, I am looking through the magnifying glass, I am seeing the gold glint of a pumpkin grin. Wonderful!

Grass on the lawn
Says nothing:
Clipped, empty,


A Poke in the I, ed. Paul B. Janeczko, illus. Chris Raschka
Walker Books, 2001

Poetry catches your eye, ear, heart and mind in a universe of ways. This book aims for your eye because the poems make pictures on the page in the tradition of concrete poetry. Paul is a whiz at making words skip and skate and spin on the page, yet his imagination is also skipping, skating and spinning. Chris’s ripped-paper collages are an equal treat for the eye. Every time I read this book, I want to make up some concrete poems – and I do! Utterly inspiring!



Pawprints in the Butter: A Collection of Cats, Joy Cowley and friends
Mallinson Rendel, 1991

I was over the moon to discover this book in the library because it is out of print, and I was so happy to find it in a second-hand bookshop. And now I am over the moon knowing Joy’s poems for children will be back in print (in The Gobbledegook Book). I especially love this book because the illustrations (crayon and dye) are by children. But most of all I love reading these poems aloud when I visit schools because they are a festival of sound. Add to that Joy’s delicious sense of humour and a fondness for cats of all shapes and sizes and you are in poetry heaven.

There’s a lump on my bed,
A bump on my bed,
A furry purry hump on my bed,
And my mother said,
‘Put the cat out!’