Five Poetic Picture Books for National Poetry Month

five poetic picture books by cynthia rylant

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'll be sharing some of my favorite poetic picture books. Beautiful, vivid, delightful reads. Here are five by Cynthia Rylant, an amazingly prolific author with an insane diversity of titles to her name.

Alligator Boy, Harcourt, 2007.
Rhyming and some twists of syntax that seem unnatural. This isn’t my favorite Rylant book thus far. She gets away with the decent rhyme in part because the story is fantastical—it lends itself to a sort of high-brow, old-fashioned way of structuring sentences. However, I love the tenderness. The little boy wants to be an alligator, so he dresses up as one and is happy. How many times haven’t my own kids wanted to wear a costume out and I wonder if I should let them? I do, of course; it’s part of the magic of childhood.

Cat Heaven, Blue Sky Press (Scholastic), 1997.
Another rhyming book, but I just couldn’t resist. “And when cats are hungry,/there’s God’s kitchen counter/all covered with/white kitty dishes,/full of tuna and salmon/and mounds of sardines,/and wonderful little pink fishes.” Oh, yeah, now that’s cat heaven!

In November, Harcourt, 2000.
Prose, and superbly poetic language. Take the very first page: “In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures. The bed is white and silent, and much life can hide beneath its blankets.” A lovely metaphor that is vivid and gentle and fully accessible for any child. This continues throughout—trees are sticks and bones, spreading their arms like dancers; berries are the winter birds’ treasures; food smells orange. The story comes back to the bed image in the last line: “...the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.”

Long Night Moon, Simon and Schuster, 2004.
This one is based on the Native American naming of each month’s moon. “In July the Thunder Moon trembles/shudders/and disappears/in a thick black sky./It listens to the/clouds/beat their drums.” So beautiful it hurts. Also a stunning example of personification at work. And the reader is brought in on the final page: “And in December/the Long Night Moon waits/and waits/and waits/for morning./This/is the faithful moon./This one is your friend.”

The Stars Will Still Shine. HarperCollins, 2005.
The art is lovely, the rhyming text moving far, far beyond mere verse. It’s comforting: “There will be goodness/there will be grace/there will be light/in every dark place.”