Today’s children’s poetry, beautifully illustrated and written with craft and wit, is reaching the best-seller lists. Several children’s poets have sold over a million copies of their books during their lifetime. This is a relatively new phenomenon. In earlier centuries, with the exception of Edward Lear’s nonsense poems and Iona and Peter Opie’s anthology of children’s verse, children’s poetry was an adult venue from which to look nostalgically on childhood. Today, children’s poetry is an art form intended instead for children.
There are several children’s literature awards given in the United States, but only four of these awards are dedicated exclusively to children’s poetry. They are The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Award for Poetry for Children, intended to encourage the excellence and the publication of children’s poetry and to connect teachers and children such poetry; The International Reading Association’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award given to a poet who has published no more than two books of children’s poetry; Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Children’s Poetry, given for the most outstanding children’s poetry book published in the last year; and The Claudia Lewis Award, given by Bank Street College’s Children’s Book Committee for the best children’s poetry book published that year. Wales has set the international precedent by recently appointing the poet Gwyneth Glyn as its seventh Children’s Poet Laureate.
In inaugurating this award, the Poetry Foundation recognizes the importance of children’s poetry in the larger poetry world. The Poetry Foundation’s study Poetry in America confirms that children who are exposed to a broad array of poetry–from nursery rhymes to Shel Silverstein to Maxine Kumin–are more likely to read poems as adults.
The Children’s Poet Laureate will serve a two-year appointment and will receive a $25,000 cash award. The laureate will also serve as an ambassador between the world of children’s poetry and the culture at large, and will work to acquaint adults and children with the wealth of wonderful children’s poems in the world.