Follow Harriet on Twitter
New Children’s Poet Laureate: Kenn Nesbitt
The Poetry Foundation announced its newest Children’s Poet Laureate: Kenn Nesbitt. Nesbitt is the author of The Tighty-Whitey Spider (2010), My Hippo Has the Hiccups (2009), and Revenge of the Lunch Ladies (2007). He was born in Berkeley, California and grew up across the golden state, in Fresno and San Diego, before majoring in computer science at National University in San Diego. He currently resides in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two children.
From the Poetry Foundation:
Inaugural Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky was in attendance at last night’s Pegasus Awards, held at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. The Poetry Foundation installed the office of the Children’s Poet Laureate in 2006, after its research study, Poetry in America, demonstrated that a lifelong love for poetry is most likely to result if cultivated early in childhood and reinforced thereafter.
During his laureateship, Nesbitt will deliver two major public readings for children and their families, teachers, and librarians. He will also serve as an advisor to the Poetry Foundation on children’s literature, and will likely engage in a variety of projects and events across the country to help instill a love of poetry among the nation’s youngest readers.
Tell us about your life BCP (Before Children’s Poetry).
I don’t believe I had a life before children’s poetry. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents reading Mother Goose nursery rhymes and the books of Dr. Seuss. Throughout my childhood, my father would recite—from memory—poems by Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service, Ernest Thayer, and many others.
There was, however, a gap. At the age of 15, I discovered computers and taught myself to program, and this consumed me for the next 17 years. I studied computer science in college and worked for many years as a software developer, including a two-year stint at Microsoft, before rediscovering my passion for children’s poetry.
You write primarily humorous poetry and nonsense verse. Do subjects such as science, nature, biography, or history ever inspire you?
My entire raison d’être is to get kids excited about reading. I want them to have as much fun with books as is humanly possible. I want to light up every synapse in their brains, and get them to think in new and previously impossible ways. In other words, I am not trying to educate as much as I am trying to inspire and motivate, to get kids to think and wonder. As such, at least so far, I have avoided writing about real-world subjects like science and history. Nevertheless, I have incorporated these themes into the occasional poem. If I can make kids laugh with a poem about math or nature, I certainly don’t shy away from it.
Why do you think poetry is necessary for children?
I’m no biologist, but I do believe that our brains are constantly shaped and strengthened by the thoughts we think and by the ideas and concepts we discover and explore. Reading is a fundamental and necessary part of this, but not all reading is the same. Reading a telephone directory won’t make you any smarter or wiser.
Good children’s poetry can distill an idea or an emotion into a short and memorable “package” that can broaden a child’s perspective on the world. Poetry is perhaps the most playful of all exercises for building children’s growing brains and minds.