Poetry to Read & Discuss

Specific Poems with Philosophical Content

Please feel free to submit suggested poems and resources by commenting on any of the pages below!

Metaphysics Poems

Epistemology Poems

Animal Ethics Poems

Environmental Ethics Poems [[coming soon! Please comment below with suggestions.]]

Social and Political Philosophy Poems

Multiculturalism Poems

Anthologies

  • The American Poetry & Literacy Project and The Academy of American Poets. How to Eat a Poem: A Smorgasbord of Tasty and Delicious Poems for Young Readers.
  • Charlip, Remy. Arm in Arm.
    • This collection of whimsical poetry and drawings (and poetic drawings!) showcases Charlip’s keen sense of a young child’s unique outlook on the world. Creative repetition, sound play, and concrete poetry make this collection a delight for all ages. Children thrive on repetition, but crave surprise as well. Charlip uses rhyme and homonyms to make the exploration of words and double or triple meanings just like a game. In a comical scripted poem towards the end of the book, one character remarks, “I feel like a cup of tea.” “Funny, you don’t look like one,” replies the other. Many of the poems could be good stimuli or extensions for a discussion around the philosophy of language; however, the collection is so abstract and whimsical that I find it possibly better to just enjoy as a great introduction to poetic thinking-outside-the-box, without tearing it apart to dissect for hidden meanings.
  • Field, Edward. Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit.
  • Holman, Felice. At the top of my voice: and other poems.
  • Johnson, Dave (editor). Movin’: Teen Poets Take Voice.
  • Jarrette, Richard. Beso the Donkey
    • Beso the Donkey is a stunning collection of short poems centred around the speaker’s experience getting to know Beso as an individual. Organized into three sections, “Beso,” “With Beso,” and “Beyond Beso,” we witness a range of ways of engaging with Beso. Beso is an individual to be observed and learned from, a friend to care for and learn from, a companion to mourn and learn from. In each poem, there a appears simultaneously a new connection with Beso the donkey as well as a revelation of some new insight the speaker has gained through his relationship with Beso. The collection is particularly relevant to animal ethics discussions on what is acceptable to do to and demand of other creatures, and epistemology discussions on what kind of knowledge is available to us.
  • Milne, A. A. When We Were Very Young.
  • Milne, A. A. Now We Are Six.
    • When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six are two delightful books written by the celebrated creator of Winnie the Pooh, getting right at some of the central issues that “very young” people wonder and worry about. I am usually wary of books written explicitly for children by adults, as I find they often dumb down language or focus only on simplistic ideas, which underestimates children’s vast inquiry potential and actually teaches kids not to push themselves. On the contrary, Milne’s poems do a lovely job of getting right inside a child’s brain, and combining an innocent wonder at the new world with a serious look at ethical issues as diverse as friendship, loyalty, and weightloss/body image.
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab. This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World.
    • This Same Sky is a beautiful anthology of poems collected from non-U.S. poets from sixty-eight different countries. While acknowledging the wealth of valuable poetry from the United States, Shihab has taken this opportunity to celebrate a sampling of the diverse poets that make up the collected voices of other cultures. Many of these poems were translated into English for the first time for this collection. As philosophers and conscientious citizens of the Earth, it is essential that we challenge ourselves to read widely and expose ourselves to perspectives far outside of our own. The anthology is organized by themes, giving us perspectives on the earth and its inhabitants from all over the world. Importantly, though each poem is accessible to young readers, nothing is “dumbed down.” Readers will find layers upon layers to explore and debate in each poem.
  • Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree.
    • This is a time-honoured classic narrative, illustrated poem about a boy’s relationship with a tree over the boy (and then man’s) entire lifetime. It is most often used to discuss environmental ethics and humanity’s relationship with nature. However, it also raises questions on the nature of and ethics of friendship, relationships, altruism, and even family dynamics. For a discussion and further questions on these topics, visit Tom Wartenberg’s module on the book at Teaching Children Philosophy.
  • Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends.
  • Salas, Laura Purdie. BookSpeak! Poems About Books. (illustrations by Josée Bisaillon)
    • For children who already adore books, this is a brilliant introduction to poetry. Bisaillon’s whimsical illustrations are the perfect complement to Salas’ embodied poems. For children who are still unsure if books can really be that fun, Bookspeak! is a wonderful way to draw them in. Words soar across the page like “inky black birds,” an unloved book mourns its loneliness, a bookplate is a “paper love tattoo,” and a characters plead for their stories to continue. Throughout each poem, one theme is clear: The written word creates worlds. Not only a great introduction to poetry, the book pushes the reader to think philosophically about the nature of fiction. Echoing the “tree in a forest” dilemma, Salas writes, “If a book remains unopened and no reader turns its page, does it still embrace a story…?”
  • Worley, Peter; Day, Andrew. Thoughtings: Puzzles, Problems, and Paradoxes in Poetry to Think With. Carmerthen, Wales: Independent Thinking Press, 2012.Thoughtings
    • When I set out to write about P4C and poetry, everyone told me it had never been done before. Turns out some others had the idea years before me! In Thoughtings, Worley and Day draw on their extensive work with young philosophers to complete this collection of philosophical poems. What is a “thoughting,” you may ask? According to a five-year-old who was asked to define “thinking” without using the same word in the answer, “It’s when you’re thoughting.” Each poem in Thoughting is inspired by philosophical dilemmas that have bothered children and adults in the past, and each is designed to push the reader to interrogate those itchy questions a little further. This book will bother you – it’s meant to. Like life, these poems have a lot of familiar aspects but don’t completely make sense put together. They will challenge you to think about things upside-down and every which way. Each poem is followed by a list of discussion questions to start with, from “Where is meaning in a word?” to “Would it be possible to look out from someone else’s eyes?” to “Are opinions never wrong?” For more extensive description and to download a free sample of the e-book edition, visit The Philosophy Foundation.
  • Yolen, Jane. Least Things: Poems About Small Natures. Least Things: Poems About Small NaturesPhotography by Jason Stemple.
    • A sweet book of haikus and stunning natural photography to invite children to consider the inherent value and wonder in the smallest creatures with whom we share the earth – a snail, a frog, a human infant, and more. Pairing the haikus with fun facts about each species makes the book fun and educational at the same time. This could be a great low-key stimulus for a beginning P4C session with pre-readers on environmental ethics or animal ethics. Some questions to consider:
      • What is a “thing?” Can an living being be a thing?
      • The speaker refers to many of the beings as “it,” even though it is clear they are thinking and feeling beings. Why do you think this is? In what other ways does our language influence how we think about living beings?
      • The snail in the book makes her way “between the minutes.” What does this mean? Can we identify a space after one minute ends and the next begins?
      • The butterfly says with her wings, she can “wallpaper a dream.” What are the limits of a dream/dreamworld? How do you know when you are dreaming and when you are awake?

Blogs and Websites

  • Poetry Box: A New Zealand Poetry Page for Children
    • West Auckland poet Paula Green blogs daily with book reviews, poetry recommendations, poetry prompts and challenges, and more. Children from all over the country submit their original poetry, author interviews, and poetry book reviews to her to be featured on the site. This is a great place for kids to go to learn about the diversity of contemporary poetry out there, to get inspiration for their own writing, and to see their work published!
  • Australian Children’s Poetry
    • Along with a Poem of the Day showcasing work by Australian children’s poets, the site offers an A-Z database of poets, articles on teaching and writing poetry for children, competition announcements, interviews, links, news, and reviews.
  • Teen Ink Poetry
    • Free and accessible to all teenagers, the Teen Ink website publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and visual arts by thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds. Browse the website, submit your own, or subscribe to the 48-page monthly print magazine. Read a free PDF sample of the print magazine here. Teen Ink now offers two forums as well, a general discussion forum and a Writers’ Workshop for teens to share and critique each others’ work.
  • Poetry Soup
  • The Children’s Poetry Archive
    • This is a brilliant archive of voice recordings of poets reading poetry, alongside printed versions of the poems, poet bios, children’s accompanying illustrations, and extended resources. As of May 2015 the site is in BETA form, but looks certain to be a valuable resource for children, educators, and poetry-lovers of all ages. Free registration with the archive allows you to save and organize lists of your favourite poems and poets to access later and share with friends.
  • Giggle Poetry
    • A website of comical children’s poetry and resources for educators.
  • Family Friend Poems
    • A database of contemporary poetry geared towards children and teens, organized by subject and audience. The site includes a section of poetry particularly chosen for students, with information about the form and rhythm of each poem, and a highly rated poem of the day. There is also a section on poetic techniques to spark inspiration and give guidance for students to begin writing their own poems.

–> More Resources!

On Philosophy for Children

On Reading and Writing Poetry With Children

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