Updated: Apr 9
National Poetry Month is a time to celebrate the important role that poets play in the world, to show how poetic voices are speaking out, sharing stories, and inspiring readers. Often when people think of poetry, they think of vintage poems written a hundred years ago or more. My students are often afraid of reading poetry, for fear that they’ll need to decipher the poem’s meaning, or analyze every word. But poetry can be so much more than that. I like to think of poems like songs–most people have at least one song that really touches their emotions, and brings them joy. I hope there is a book on this list of amazing BIPOC poets that will do that for you! So here it is, our top choices: 20 books of poetry that can be enjoyed by all ages, from early elementary children to adults.
MAR Recommends: 20 Books of Poetry written by BIPOC authors
April is National Poetry month. To honour the importance place poetry and poets should have on your bookshelf, we have put together a list of 20 books of poetry written by BIPOC authors. In this list you will find powerful, notable poets like Amanda Gorman, who is on both our picture book list and our young adult list. Amanda Gorman wrote and performed the Presidential Inauguration poem in January of 2021 and inspired people around the world with her incredible poetic voice. Children will love her anthem Change Sings while older readers will appreciate her insights in Call us what we Carry.
For those who prefer their poems in stories, we have several novels written in verse, such as Ibi Zoboi’s acclaimed poetic novel Punching the Air, and Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, both recommended for high school students.
There are so many remarkable poets we could have shared on our adult list this month, but we managed to narrow it down to our five favourites. Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese poet who lived the early years of his life in a refugee camp, will blow you away with his poetry in Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which won the T.S. Eliot prize for poetry. For those who aren’t typically poetry readers, I recommend starting out with Danusha Lameris’ Bonfire Opera, a collection that has been described as down to earth and accessible, due to her narrative style, and the way in which she makes the ordinary and simple things beautiful. We hope you will take some time this month to sit and read a poem or two! Happy reading!
Picture Books / Early Elementary
Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
“A fresh approach to exploring interracial communication. In an unusual, long-distance collaboration, poets Latham and Waters have crafted a collection of poems that explore the intersection between race and childhood friendships. Each poet reveals his or her individual perspective on shared experiences by imagining their childhood selves existing in the current day of complex racial realities. Their interactions, expressed through poetic verse, navigate the ambiguous and often challenging feelings that children encounter as they grapple with identity and race—a process forced on them when they are paired for a classroom poetry project. The story takes readers through school days, interludes with concerned parents, and polarizing peer interactions.” - Kirkus Reviews
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman
“Change Sings: A Children's Anthem will leave readers knowing that anything is possible when we join our voices together. The book's poetic text and rhythmic illustrations lead readers along the main character's inspiring journey -- a true call to action for the youngest members of our society. The book's diverse characters let readers see themselves in the book and know that extraordinary change comes from the small actions we take together, as simple as making friends with those who are different from us, picking up trash, and helping others in need.” - Common Sense Media
The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin
“In a holistic—and wholly original—treatment, Larkin spins a buoyant monologue to his (actual) young sons about why bees are to be valued and how they are analogous to rambunctious children; the narrative is threaded with unconditional love for both subjects. Smart AABB rhymes propel the narrative, while other lyrical structures offer pauses and maintain attention: ‘Sometimes bees can be a bit rude./They fly in your face and prance on your food…. /And worst of all, they do this thing/called sting./OUCH!’” - School Library Journal
Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers
“This always-inventive father and son team offers up an “I am jam,” celebrating how every individual is really a collection of identities. The rap-like verse is voiced by a young narrator named Jeremy, who notices that every person he encounters sees him in a different light: to his sister, he’s a little brother; to his teacher (whose real life counterparts may find inspiration in these pages for a memorable classroom activity), he’s a writer; to a cute passerby, he’s a dancer; to his mother, he’s a dreamer. Each new identity is hailed with an exuberant fist bump: ‘The mailman lifted his fist./ I gave it a bam!/ It is kind of amazing all the people I am.’” - Publishers Weekly
A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott
“In this powerfully lyrical poem, Elliott articulates what resides “deep down inside” of the African American, skateboard-loving, first-person protagonist: joy, sorrow, fear, anger, hunger, pride, peace, and more. While the protagonist speaks, Denmon’s illustrations, primarily in blue, pale yellow, and mauve, depict the tween boy doing skateboard tricks (showing the bottom of his board that’s covered in peace and justice stickers) and spending time with friends, while muted backgrounds depict life in his urban neighbourhood. This book delivers positivity, despite the inclusion of police brutality, a Black Lives Matter protest, and a vigil for the dead — all of which affirm the child’s realities.” - The Horn Book
For Every One by Jason Reynolds
“Award-winning writer Reynolds offers a letter in the form of a long poem that acknowledges and encourages young people’s dreams and aspirations. The poem uses the author’s own experiences to show common ground with his readers, making it clear that he is presenting himself as a fellow traveler on the journey: “This letter / is being written / from the inside. / From the front line / and the fault line. / From the uncertain thick of it all.” He shares observations of others and the ways in which they coped and speaks of the futility of finding answers in the usual places: “Though the struggle / is always made to / sound admirable / and poetic, / the thumping uncertainty / is still there.” This short piece is full of the elements that make Reynolds such a successful writer: honesty, rich imagery, great facility with language, and an irresistible cadence.” - Kirkus Reviews
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
“There are so many reasons to read this novel. It's a book about kindness, for one; it sings, for another, as any good verse novel should. Verse novels are coming into vogue, and Jude's voice is heightened by Warga's decision to write her story this way. It feels true. It feels like middle school and wanting things the way you do in middle school. It feels like being in the middle of so many things and not quite knowing how to navigate that uncertainty. But our protaganist is level-headed and charismatic, clear-eyed — and did I mention charismatic?” - NPR
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (also available as graphic novel)