25 Of The Best Poetry Books For Teens
by TeachThought Staff
It can be difficult to get the majority of teenagers to show a natural interest in or appreciation for poetry.
And actually, as soon as I wrote that I realized that the same could most likely be said for most of the population, unfortunately. Poetry has so much potential for expression though, from allowing the opportunity to be curious and playful with rhythm, meaning, and metaphor to articulating complicated emotions and perspectives, making it the ideal medium for the angsty and adventure-filled life of most young adults. The challenge lies in making the introduction to prose in a way that sticks.
The key to getting teens excited about poetry — or anything, really — is to make it about them. Developmentally, this is a time in their lives where they are exploring who they are and their place in the world more consciously than ever before and they gravitate towards that which resonates with their own experiences and allows them to explore and express that in new and interesting ways.
Incorporating music and lyrics into lessons about prose is an excellent method to pique the interest of students, since they’re already familiar with and appreciative of popular culture. Akala’s TED Talk includes a game called “Hip-hop or Shakespeare” that involves guessing whether a line was written by a rapper or Shakespeare, which is more challenging than you might think and a great way to engage teens.
25 Of The Best Poetry Books For Teens
It’s also important to choose poetry that relates to where students are in life or what they care about. The following is a list of poetry books appreciated by young adult audiences:
1. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot: Eliot’s famous collection of nonsense verse about cats–the inspiration for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. This edition features pen-and-ink drolleries by Edward Gorey throughout.
2. Paint Me Like I Am from WritersCorp: Paint Me Like I Am is a collection of poems by teens who have taken part in writing programs run by a national nonprofit organization called WritersCorps. To read the words of these young people is to hear the diverse voices of teenagers everywhere.
3. Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits: A 15-year-old girl named Jessie voices typical—and not so typical—teenage concerns in this unique, hilarious collection of poems. Her musings about trying out new makeup and hairstyles, playing volleyball and cello, and dealing with her annoying younger brother are never boring or predictable.
Who else do you know who designs her own clothes and writes poetry to her cat? Jessie’s a girl with strong opinions, and she isn’t shy about sharing them. Her funny, sarcastic take on high school life is revealed through concrete poetry: words, ideas, type, and design that combine to make pictures and patterns.
4. How to Eat a Poem by American Poetry & Literacy Project: Focusing on popular verse from the nineteenth century through today, this anthology invites young readers to sample a taste of irresistible poems that will nourish their minds and spirits.
Selected for both popularity and literary quality, seventy charming poems cover a wide range of subjects: poetry, books, words, and imagination; the beauty of the natural world; travel, adventure, sports, and play; love, friendship, sadness, hope, and other emotions.
5. Bilbo’s Last Song by J.R.R. Tolkien: Bilbo’s Last Song is considered by many to be Tolkien’s epilogue to his classic work The Lord of the Rings. As Bilbo Baggins takes his final voyage to the Undying Lands, he must say goodbye to Middle-earth. Poignant and lyrical, the song is both a longing to set forth on his ultimate journey and a tender farewell to friends left behind.
6. Bull by David Elliott: Much like Lin-Manuel Miranda did in Hamilton, the New York Times best-selling author David Elliott turns a classic on its head in form and approach, updating the timeless story of Theseus and the Minotaur for a new generation. A rough, rowdy, and darkly comedic young adult retelling in verse, Bull will have readers reevaluating one of mythology’s most infamous monsters.
7. Poetry Speaks Who I Am by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah: Poetry Speaks Who I Am is filled with more than 100 remarkable poems about you, who you are, and who you are becoming. Dive in-find the poem you love, the one that makes you angry, the one that makes you laugh, the one that knocks the wind out of you, and become a part of Poetry Speaks Who I Am by adding your own inside the book.
8. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle: In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.
9. Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes: Using the structure of a poetry slam, Nikki Grimes’ award-winning novel is a powerful exploration of self, an homage to spoken-word poetry, and an intriguing look into the life of eighteen urban teens.
10. Seeing The Blue Between by Paul Janeczko: How do you write poetry? It’s a question with as many answers as there are poets. Now, in this unprecedented volume, thirty-two internationally renowned poets provide words of wisdom and inspiring examples of their own work for new poets everywhere.
11. Laughing Out Loud, I Fly by Juan Felipe Herrera: From U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, here are stirring poems that read like music. Awarded the Pura Belpré Honor for this book, Herrera writes in both Spanish and English about the joy and laughter and sometimes the confusion of growing up in an upside-down, jumbled-up world—between two cultures, two homes.
12. The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur: This collection of deeply personal poetry is a mirror into the legendary artist’s enigmatic world and its many contradictions. Written in his own hand from the time he was nineteen, these seventy-two poems embrace his spirit, his energy — and his ultimate message of hope.
13. Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside A Cereal Box by Juan Felipe Herrera: From U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera comes the story of one teen’s emotional journey in the days after 9/11, and a personal look at the culture of Loisaida, the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This emotional and stirring novel won the Américas Award and is written in a unique and arresting style.
14. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle: Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.
15. I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy by Liz Rosenberg: The teenage years are a time filled with sadness, madness, joy, and all the messy stuff in between. But between moments of despair and confusion often come times of great clarity and insight, when you might think, like the poet Rumi, “Whoever’s calm and sensible is insane!”
It is moments like these that have inspired the touching, honest, and gripping poems found in I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy. This collection includes poems by Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe, W. B. Yeats, Dorothy Parker, Jane Kenyon, and many more, including teenage writers and up-and-coming poets.
16. Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25 by Naomi Shihab Nye: This lively collection by young contemporary writers is rooted in the strong, emotional particulars of family, friendship, childhood memories, school, dislocation, war, and more; interestingly, there is almost no talk of sex or romance. The spare lines are passionate, wry, irreverent, and eloquent about meaning found in daily-life scenarios.
17. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
18. Honeybee: Short Prose & Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: In eighty-two poems and paragraphs, Naomi Shihab Nye alights on the essentials of our time—our loved ones, our dense air, our wars, our memories, our planet—and leaves us feeling curiously sweeter and profoundly soothed.
19. Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook: Structured like an old-school mix-tape, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately is Alicia Cook’s lyric message to anyone who has dealt with addiction. “Side A” touches on all aspects of the human condition: life, death, love, trauma, and growth. “Side B” contains haunting black-out remixes of those poems.
20. Poems From Homeroom by Kathi Appelt: Experienced poet and teacher Kathi Appelt has written a wonderful collection of poems for young adult readers, accompanied by fascinating accounts of how and why the poems came to be, along with writing exercises to inspire readers to create their own poetry.
21. The Realm Of Possibility by David Levithan: This collection of linked poems from David Levithan will introduce you to a world of unforgettable and emotionally resonant voices. Enter The Realm of Possibility and meet a boy whose girlfriend is in love with Holden Caulfield; a girl who loves the boy who wears all black; a boy with the perfect body; and a girl who writes love songs for a girl she can’t have.
22. Out Of The Dust by Karen Hesse: This gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo’s struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression.
23. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle: Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula.
In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice.
24. My Own True Name by Pat Mora: Interlaced with Mexican phrases and cultural symbols, these powerful selections, representing more than 15 years of work, address bicultural life and the meaning of family. Mora speaks very much from an adult perspective, but her poems are about universal experiences–the pleasures of eating pizza and mango, and the cultural significance of both; the wrenching experience of witnessing poverty. Mixed in are personal poems that ask the vital question, “Where am I from?” more directly.
25. The Watch That Ends The Night: Voices From The Titanic by Allan Wolf: Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter.
The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret (“the unsinkable Molly”) Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker’s reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.
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25 Of The Best Poetry Books For Teens