Middle School can be a tricky time to convince kids that poetry has a meaningful place in their lives. You may even think I’m crazy to suggest that there are 10 captivating poetry books for middle schoolers.
I mean, it’s MIDDLE SCHOOL, after all!
Most kids are just trying to survive middle school!
Forget about poetry, right!?!
But these tween and early teen years are actually the perfect time to focus on all of the various forms and styles of poetry.
Poetry has a unique ability to capture the imagination.
To make the reader feel connected, understood, and valuable. Poetry can evoke compassion and empathy in unique ways, and nurture creativity.
And middle school is actually an ideal time to focus on these qualities.
So why not get started now!?!
Here are 10 captivating poetry books for middle schoolers!
by Michael Driscoll and Meredith Hamilton
I think this is one of the best books to begin with!
Don’t let the word “child’s” make you think that this book isn’t appropriate for your tween or young teen.
Yes, there are illustrations and sure, this book is appropriate for slightly younger children as well, but I believe middle school is a perfect time to read through this book.
In fact, I’m confident you’ll learn a lot and enjoy it too!
This book covers the history of the world’s most famous poets. Their different styles of poetry, including epics, odes, haikus, and free verse, are explored and defined, along with other forms and styles.
An accompanying CD includes a professional actor reading each poem aloud.
This book is an enjoyable and excellent introduction to poetry.
by Frances Shoonmaker Bolin and Chi Chun
Emily Dickinson was a master at describing the natural world and capturing feelings through her prose.
Full of beauty and simple elegance, this book also includes illustrations and brief commentary and definitions.
This is actually just one book in the Poetry for Young People series about famous, influential poets.
I recommend the entire series which covers other poets like Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, and many others.
But Emily Dickinson is a great poet to start with!
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, Marjorey Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes
I discovered this recently, just after my son finished reading a novel by Kwame Alexander.
I noticed this collaborative collection with these other authors and was immediately intrigued.
Collectively, these four are authors, poets, teachers, and Marjorey Wentworth is actually the poet laureate of South Carolina.
They’ve created a collection of poems which pay tribute to other highly esteemed poets.
From ancient writers to 20th-century writers and contemporary poets, readers are exposed to a variety of styles, and expressions.
Mixed-media and collage work add style and feeling to the poems and brief biographies of the featured poets are also included.
In the preface, Alexander writes, “A poem is a small but powerful thing.”
I whole-heartedly agree!
by Naomi Shihab Nye
I was first introduced to Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry a few years ago, while listening to her On Being interview with Krista Tippett.
I fell in love with her poetry immediately and wondered why I’d never been exposed to her work before.
In this book, poems explore the dependence of people on the honeybee, as well as our connection to each other as human beings.
The entire scope of life and the breadth and depth of our emotions are explored.
Like most of the other poets I reference here, she has written so much fantastic poetry, it’s hard to recommend just one of her books.
But I am starting with Honeybee because I think it’s a wonderful introduction to her poetry.
by Nikki Giovanni
It can be easy to forget that poetry began as an oral tradition, especially if we’re forced to read dry poems from a page.
But historically, memorization and recitation paved the way for things like spoken word. Words combined with music to give us a variety of beloved songs, including hip hop.
The accompanying CD alone is incredible! With recitations from Nikki Giovanni, Queen Latifah, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many other talented artists.
While studying what academia traditionally considers “famous” or “influential” poets, many of the artists highlighted in this book are commonly left out.
I am thrilled that these creatives have been highlighted in this book!
by Jacquiline Woodson
Jacquiline Woodson, an African American, was raised in both South Carolina and New York during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Living through the aftermath of Jim Crow and the growing Civil Rights Movement, she shares her story through poems which capture the complicated feelings, environment, and societal changes occurring during that tumultuous time.
Jacquiline Woodson has been open about her own struggles with reading as a child. This book makes for an especially powerful and inspiring read for middle schoolers and demonstrates, (yet again!) the power of poetry.
This is a gorgeous book with a unique style.
by Thanhha Lai
Similar to Brown Girl Dreaming, Thanhha Lai uses short, free-verse poems to create a beautiful and poignant story.
The story’s character, based on the author’s own life experience as a refugee, is forced to flee Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon.
She immigrates to Alabama with her family and what unfolds is her experience describing her grief, bravery, experiences with racism and discrimination, friendship, and healing.
This book is stunning.
by Margarita Engle
This is a memoir, written in free verse.
Margarita Engle shares the story of her life growing up as a Cuban-American child during the Cold War.
With her mother’s roots in Cuba, but mostly residing in Los Angeles, she struggles with the challenges she faces after the Cuban revolution breaks out and the Bay of Pigs Invasion occurs.
This is a moving portrait of the discrimination faced by immigrants, the unique challenges of being bilingual, and the strength needed to thrive despite very difficult circumstances.
by Tabatha Yeats
Oh, I love this so much!
Because as humans, making mistakes is inevitable.
Little mistakes and big ones. Mistakes that cause embarrassment or minor inconveniences while other mistakes have much graver consequences.
Betraying a friend’s trust, breaking a rule and getting caught are mistakes we often wish we could have avoided.
While other mistakes end up being “happy accidents” and adding joy and surprise to our lives.
This book uses poetry to explore how we can embrace our mistakes, both the ones that turn out in our favor, as well as the ones we would do best to learn from and not repeat.
I love how Tabatha Yeats uses poetry to develop solutions. These middle school years are a rich and wonderful time to introduce this as a concept.
by Shel Silverstein
I don’t imagine I will ever compile a list of top 10 poetry books, without mentioning Shel Silverstein.
And while the majority of his poetry might feel juvenile to some tweens and teens at first glance, I have some strong opinions on the importance of revisiting his work.
I would happily recommend any of his books but there’s something about The Missing Piece that resonates with the middle school years.
A simple question about what it means to be unfulfilled and how one pursues feeling complete.
That’s a bit profound, don’t you think?
And certainly appropriate during these often angst-filled, questioning, coming-of-age years, wouldn’t you say?
For these reasons, I highly recommend revisiting this book!
So there you have it, your list of 10 captivating poetry books for middle schoolers!
Make sure to check out these additional book recommendations for the middle schooler in your life:
And here are poetry recommendations for other age groups:
Do you have any recommendations? I’d LOVE for you to leave a comment with one or two (or ten!) of your favorites!