Children, poetry and libraries
Children need poems! Good poems capture and illuminate our world in magical and stimulating ways. When a child reads a poem the world floods into their mind, with all of its strange and exciting colours, sounds, smells, textures, rhythms, contradictions, connections, complexities and wonders.
Reading poetry is a unique means of enabling a child to look at and interpret the world around them, to understand themselves - and their place in that world - in a fresh and creative way. Good poetry plays a vital role in stimulating and developing a child's imagination; reading a poem can directly spark a child's own creativity. A child will discover the sheer pleasure to be found in the use of language and rhythm, a delight in words and in the endless ways of combining them, whether it is for that essential playfulness we all need to release within ourselves, or for the equally essential purpose of finding expression for our experiences, our ideas, thoughts and feelings.
More than this, poetry plays an integral role in the process of learning to read; it builds confidence and enthusiasm in the use of language, whether it be in reading or writing, and whether that writing is of poetry or prose. Reading poetry as a child lays the foundations for a lasting pleasure throughout adult life. Poetry pleases, inspires and consoles us like no other literary form; it is vital to establish an early love for it - life is much the poorer without it.
And where can children find poetry? It's hard for parents and grandparents to know which books or poets to choose. It's difficult to find a comprehensive range of poetry books of a high standard in bookshops, and often only the most recently published or currently trendy books will be stocked.
The Children's Poetry Bookshelf provides a very useful way to purchase and keep up to date with poetry published recently and to make sure great titles aren't missed. It is wonderful for children to have their own poetry books to read at home. But ultimately it is a local or school library with a well-maintained and wide-ranging children's poetry section which will provide a child with the much-needed means for extensive exploration and discovery. Nothing can compare to the way a child can ramble along library shelves, exploring different types of book at their own speed, discovering new authors by happy accident.
In a library the child can experiment, can move through a collection finding their own path from book to book, from poet to poet. They can read today's poets, they can read classics; they can read local poets, or poems from all corners of the world; they can dip into anthologies or seek out their favourite poet's full poetry collections. They can make real discoveries, real choices. All this under one roof. It is vital that children learn to use the resources libraries can offer from a very early age, and that the expertise of librarians is made available to them. Libraries need to provide a comprehensive and well-thought-out range of poetry titles for children, and the Children's Poetry Bookshelf is an extremely helpful means of ensuring that a collection is built upon a core of books of a high standard.
The Scottish Poetry Library has an extensive collection of poetry books for children housed in a cosy and colourful children's area. The library catalogue is online, and books can be borrowed in person or by post. You'll find all the great tradition of Scottish children's poetry from traditional Scottish rhymes to Robert Louis Stevenson and William Soutar through to today's Scottish favourites such as Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Matthew Fitt, but you'll also find poetry from all over the UK and the world, for all ages, and in many languages.
Perhaps there's a title or poet that you're finding it hard to get hold of, or a poet you'd like to try out before buying yourself: that's where a library can help. Perhaps you need to find a poem or a book of poems about a certain subject or theme; perhaps you need advice on what to read, and what to read next. Librarians can offer helpful guidance, and the Scottish Poetry Library staff will be very happy to help. If you can't visit our award-winning Edinburgh premises, explore our highly regarded website at www.spl.org.uk and our young people's site at www.spl.org.uk/youngpeople where you'll find plenty of poetry resources to inspire you and your children, wherever you are based in the UK. Alternatively, call us on 0131 447 3077 and ask for one of our Education Officers, Juliet Rees or Lorna Irvine, or email us with your queries at www.spl.org.uk/education
The Poetry Library in London also provides children's poetry resources from its Education section