Show Children the Wacky Side of Poetry

Have you ever read poetry aloud to children? How did they respond? Did they smile? Did they squeal? Were there questions? Were they bored? Did they wiggle in their chairs and stare at you with vacant eyes?

 Well, it isn’t always easy to predict how children will respond to poetry. Michael Rosen – popular children’s poet and novelist – says that to arouse the interest of children, teachers must start reading poetry along with them and make these sessions as enjoyable as possible. Children seem naturally drawn to rhyme, rhythm and humour – all of which is often there in poetry. So why do they lose interest over time? Ask yourself what kind of poems children are being exposed to.

Often, as part of the school curriculum, children come across poems that they find hard to relate to. It’s important in these cases to guide them toward poems that will appeal to them, poems that they can have fun with.

Below are a few guidelines that will help you choose poems for young children. Choose poems that:

  • are witty or goofy
  • rhyme or have a good sense of rhythm
  • have nonsense words
  • have onomatopoeic words (words that mimic the sounds or actions they describe. eg. swish, flutter, whisper, etc)
  • have repetition of words or sentences
  • that evoke imagery

Below is a list of fun poetry books that will help you show children the wacky and witty side of poetry.

  1. Oluguti Toluguti: Indian Rhymes to Read and Recite by Sandhya Rao & Radhika (ages 3 to 5)
  2. Catch That Crocodile! by Anushka Ravishankar (ages 5 to 7)
  3. Miles of smiles by Bruce Lansky (ages 7 to 9)
  4. This Book Makes No Sense: Nonsense poems and Worse Edited by Michael Heyman (ages 9 to 12)
  5. Science Verse by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith (ages 12+)

Fill Your Library With Bursts of Poetry

UNESCO observes 21st March as World Poetry Day – a day when different forms of poetry and their creators are celebrated. Hippocampus has dedicated this month to celebrating poetry and urges you to do the same in your school library. Help your students discover the fun and beauty of poetry by using our tips on awakening the poet within each child.

Let the World Know!

To create an atmosphere of festivity, splash the whole school with poetry. Paste fun and interesting poems onto library walls, school corridors, students’ desks, the staff room, bathrooms, the playground – anywhere they’re likely to grab the attention of both children and staff. Help students discover and experience poems of all shapes and sizes through March. For ideas on how to choose poems that will appeal to children, click here.

Run a Poem Marathon

Pick a day during which students are asked to write as many original poems as they can. Children who submit the maximum number of poems at the end of the day get featured on the library notice board along with their poems. Ensure that they get sufficient time to think and come up with poems. Children can even be asked to hang these poems from a tree in the school, which should then rightly be named the ‘Poetree’.

Poem in Your Pocket

Encourage students to read as many poems as they can for a week (long, short, silly, grim, happy, sad, rhyming, non-rhyming, etc). At the end of it, ask them to choose their favourite poem. Select a day on which they are to carry this poem in their pocket all day long. Set aside a time during which they can be paired up with a classmate so that they can recite the pocketed poems to each other.

In Praise of Poets

Shouldn’t children know more about the creative minds behind the poems that they’re reading? Pick 3-4 poets whose books you have in the library. Put their names up in the library for all to see. Ask children to pick a poet and find out more about his/her life from different sources. The collected information can either go up on the notice board along with a photo of the poet, or be presented by each student in a manner that they are comfortable with. Hold a short discussion for children in older grades about the link between the lives of these poets and the poems they write.

Poetry Corner

Create a poetry corner by collecting the best poetry books and CDs from the school library. Put a few mats and cushions close to the corner so that children feel at home while reading or listening to poetry. Please note that to play the CDs, there needs to be a music system and a pair of headphones.

Funny Poems in Funny places

Take a bunch of funny poems and hide them in different places in the library – under tables, in drawers, behind the book shelves and in other unlikely places. Make a poster that tells students to keep an eye out for these funny poems in funny places. And guess what? A poem in hand means a candy in the pocket!

Perform Poetry

Poetry is a form of expression. It can not only be read, but also be recited or sung. Pick a day to host poetry performances by children and teachers in the library. Encourage them to be creative by dramatizing the poem and using different props if required. Other students, teachers and parents must be invited to watch these poetic performances.

Gift a poem

Would your students like to gift a poem to someone in their family? Encourage them to find a poem that they like or write an original one. Have them write it down and make a drawing related to it. Suggest writing a short message along with the poem, to add a personal touch. There, the gift is ready for delivery!

Write to us at to tell us how you used these tips in your school library.

‘Litpert’ Shailaja Menon on reading aloud to independent readers

Have any questions related to literacy or language? Shoot your questions to right away and have literacy expert Dr.Shailaja Menon answer them. Big questions, tiny questions, serious questions, silly questions, soft questions, hard questions – any questions that have been lurking in your mind! See Dr.Shailaja’s response to this month’s inquiry.

We often think of reading aloud to young children who are yet to read independently. But how important is reading aloud to older children? Until what age should a child be read aloud to, and how often?

Consider that as a species, we love listening to stories – at all ages! Then ask: why is it that we think of reading aloud as a practice restricted only to younger children who can’t yet read independently? There is really no reason to limit reading aloud in that way – while there are plenty of reasons for continuing to read aloud to older children!

First, as adults, we have the very important task of building and maintaining relationships with our students/children. Sharing books, stories and ideas, and talking about them together is a wonderful way to do so! It is also a subtle way in which to share life lessons with older students who may not like being overtly preached at, or moralized to. The read aloud may raise moral, ethical, conceptual or relational issues that are worth discussing together.

Second, by reading aloud, you model joyful reading. Older children, in particular, are likely to be distracted away from books in contemporary urban, middle-class society with a variety of technological and other gizmos. In less privileged contexts, they may be distracted by other concerns. In either case, older children will benefit tremendously from having access to mentors who are lifelong readers and who are willing to share that love aloud with them.  As Shirly Brice Heath, an eminent sociolinguist has suggested, “The single most important condition for literacy learning is the presence of mentors who are joyfully literate people.”

Third, reading aloud books to older children permits them to access books that they can’t yet access conceptually on their own. When children start reading independently, we often assume that they can now be left to their own devices. This is far from the truth! Children who appear to be independent readers may struggle with denser or longer books. By reading aloud, you not only free them (for a while) from struggling through the text on their own, but you also get opportunities to model what good readers do when they read challenging texts. An adult who is reading aloud can pause at strategic points and “think aloud” about the challenge posed by that portion of the text, and how they might solve that problem. This can be woven seamlessly with the read aloud (short pauses, brief sharing of strategies) such that the children listening to it can pick up the strategies used by more fluent readers, even while gaining access to a book that they might not have attempted on their own. Reading together also permits collective meaning-making – which enhances both comprehension and enjoyment of the text!

So, in short, I would encourage parents and teachers to continue to read aloud to children of all ages, but at the very least, until the eighth grade. The frequency would vary depending on the context and purposes – but please make the sharing of good literature a weekly part of your classroom/home routines!

Dr. Shailaja Menon currently works as faculty in the area of Language and Literacy, School of Education, Azim Premji University. She has her Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and degrees in human development and psychology from MSU, Baroda, and Delhi University, respectively.

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

Shailaja has worked in various educational settings in the US and in India. She has an abiding interest in imparting a love for language, literature and literacy to children, teachers and teacher educators and engages in a variety of initiatives that help promote these.

‘Each time I see a child enjoy something I’ve drawn, my heart takes a giant leap of joy’

Have you noticed the way children’s books in India have become more aesthetically appealing over the last few years? Talented illustrator Priya Kuriyan has been a strong contributor to this slow visual revolution toward making children’s books more child-friendly. Read our interview with Priya Kuriyan, in which she talks about the importance of visual thinking skills and what it means to draw for children.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have done wonderful illustrations for several children’s books. What inspires you to draw for children?

Each time I see a child enjoy something that I’ve drawn, my heart takes a giant leap of joy! There’s nothing more satisfying than that. It makes me very happy because even though it may be in a really small way, I feel like I’ve played a tiny part in bringing a bit of joy into their childhood. Also, working on children’s books lets me briefly inhabit the world that the characters from the story live in. This world is usually a more magical and optimistic world than the one we live in. It’s also a constant reminder in many ways about simple things in life, like trying to be a good and kind person (grown-ups need that reminder more often, really).

Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.

I can re-read almost all of Roald Dahl’s books, but Matilda is perhaps my favourite. I love all of Dahl’s characters in the book – Agatha Trunchbull, Miss Jennifer Honey and, of course, Matilda. Quentin Blake happens to be one of my all time favourite illustrators. So, that’s a big bonus.  I can’t help but root for Matilda each time I read the book. I love the mean humour Dahl employs in his writing, and Blake in his illustrations.

Name three contemporary illustrators whose work you admire and feel that children will love and enjoy.

1) Emily Gravet – I love the way all her books are designed, with so much attention even to things like the end paper and the back cover that form an essential part of the story.

2) Oliver Jeffers – He takes the simplest topics and makes the most beautiful stories out of them. Stuck is one of my favourites.

3) Jon Klassen – I love his extremely graphic style and the way he uses monochromatic colours so beautifully. I love the deadpan (and slightly dark) humour in all his books, especially I Want My Hat Back.

Which are five books that every school library must own?

1) A Monster Calls – Written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, this book tackles the difficult theme of coming to terms with losing a parent. It also challenges notions of what children’s books should look like.

2) The Little Prince – One of those books that can be read at many different levels of meaning, depending on how old you are or whatever is going on in your life at that point.

3) The London Jungle Book – Bhajju Shyam’s imagination is as vivid as a child’s. There’s an illustration of the London Underground imagined as giant snakes burrowing holes in the ground, which is a favourite of mine.

4) The Lorax – This is one of the best books about the perils of not caring enough for the environment. I love the way Dr. Seuss takes a dig at not-so-nice political characters through his wacky drawings.

5) Mayil Will Not be Quiet – Indian teens and pre-teens will relate to this book. There were always many American and British books about the lives of teenagers. It was high time someone wrote a book in the Indian context about the feelings of young teens and pre-teens. Incidentally, Mayil becomes a teenager in the second book from the same series – Mostly Madly Mayil.

While exploring books with children, we often tend to focus more on the text while not tapping fully into the potential of pictures. What are ways in which we can explore the visual narrative with children more effectively?

Picture books – in the true sense – are books that use text very economically and briefly (or not at all). While making picture books, illustrators must ensure that their illustrations aren’t just decorations to the text. They must improve upon the story by adding details that the writer might not have included in the text. Basically, the illustrator must own the story too. This encourages a child to go through the book again and again, notice details she might not have seen during the first reading, and create her own sub-plots within the story. This is what leads to improving their visual thinking skills and also spurs creativity in them.

Publishers, illustrators and librarians need to communicate to parents the idea that visual literacy is as important as learning new words because ultimately it is they who choose books for their children. Publishers should also experiment with more formats – where the design of the book is closely linked with the story and it’s not always about just having illustrations and a story between two covers. Also, I say this a bit sheepishly, but to truly explore the visual narrative, more Indian illustrator need to also start writing their own picture books. It will definitely bring in very different results.

If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?

Willy Wonka? I’d love to own a crazy chocolate factory.

Priya Kuriyan is an illustrator and animator. Born in Kerala, she grew up in numerous towns in India. A graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, she has directed educational films for the television show Sesame Street, India as well as a film for the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI). Over the past few years, she has illustrated numerous children’s books for a number of Indian publishers, the latest being ‘Rooster Raga’ for Tulika, Chennai. She currently lives and works in Delhi.

Catch the Olympic Fever

The Winter Olympics 2014 is almost at the finish line! Don’t miss this chance to unleash the spirit of Sochi in your library using our fun activity ideas. There is so much that children can learn about different countries, cultures, sports, game rules and more. If you’re interested in promoting information literacy in your library, write to us at for our free resources on the Winter Olympics.

HOO’s Picks: Bring Math Alive Through Stories

Pieces of math are discovered by children every day. Math isn’t only about addition and division. It is also about shapes, symmetry and measurement. Math isn’t about memorizing formulas. It is about exploration. Math isn’t found only between the pages of a school textbook. It can be found all around us – in the flowers in your garden, in the song that you just hummed and even in your own kitchen. Below is a list of math books recommended by Hippocampus School Services through which you can make math exciting for your preschooler. 

Number play: These books are perfect for simple concepts such as counting, addition and subtraction. Read these books in class even if you haven’t yet introduced these concepts. You’ll be surprised at how much your students can absorb. That’s the power of good storytelling.

  • Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  • Rooster’s Off to See the World by Eric Carle
  • Let’s Go by Anthara Mohan
  • One Lonely Unicorn by Meenakshi Bharadwaj

Essential geometry: Research shows that children who develop early geometrical reasoning skills are able to quickly grasp relatively complex concepts in other domains as well. But let’s not get too technical, right? Geometry is possibly what comes most intuitively to young children. Here are two books that successfully capture the playfulness and spontaneity of geometry.

  • When the Earth Lost its Shapes by Shobha Viswanath
  • What Shall I Make? By Nandini Nayar

Measurement: Introduce measurement to children in the simplest ways possible. Here are two books that you could start with, one of which is about time and the other explores the concept of weight.

  • Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins
  • Up Down by Vinayak Varma

Number rhyme: What better way to learn to count than through a rhyme? The structure and rhythm of the rhyme will make basic counting a memorable experience for the child.

  • Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats
  • Five Little Monkeys by Richard Brown & Kate Ruttle

Have you been trying to find books based on a theme? Write to us at if you would like support.  

Celebrating National Library Week 2013 with HSS

In November 2013, soon after the festival of lights, schools in 9 different states across India found time for yet another unique kind of celebration… National Library Week! India has recognized November 14-20th as National Library Week ever since 1968, but this was the first year that schools from across the country were brought together by Hippocampus to celebrate the joy of reading. From North to South and East to West, schools engaged in fun library activities, book-related contests, interactive sessions with authors and illustrators, and good old-fashioned Drop Everything And Read sessions.

While we knew there would be interest in NLW, we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of enthusiasm we saw from students, staff and nearly 30 accomplished authors, illustrators and storytellers who visited schools around the country. It was heartening to see how excited children were to meet these bright minds who are responsible for bringing to life many wonderful stories. At Bangalore International School, award-winning Pakistani-Canadian author Rukhsana Khan talked to children about the realities of conflict and war. At Bishop’s School, Pune, author Sowmya Rajendran conducted an interactive session on gender, friendship and beauty. At Amity School, Delhi, children sang monster songs with author Anuskha Ravishankar, after she read out from her book ‘Moin and the Monster’.

Schools also showed their excitement by sending us countless .photographs of their libraries dotted with NLW posters that promoted reading for joy, and students partaking in our suggested library activities. At The Millenium School, Gurgaon, students and staff decided to Drop Everything And Read outdoors and took beautiful photos to capture the event. We also loved seeing images of colourful character-costume parties from Mayoor School, Delhi, as well as stunning shots of Shishu Mandir students surrounded by a pile of red-coloured leaves while proudly displaying the featured NLW story called, of course, The Red Leaf.  Each day, we received around 20 photos from schools, all of which illustrated their passion for reading and appreciation of their library.

The National Library Week also encouraged students and staff to celebrate reading through their artistic abilities. We were flooded with entries to our Get Caught Reading Photo Contest for staff and Book Cover Design Contest for students. Over 150 photographs and 300 book cover designs were submitted! It was near impossible to choose the winners, but thankfully, we let experts decide. Well-known illustrator Ajanta Guhathakurta named 8th grade student Rudra Narayan from Sishya as the winner of the Book Cover Design Contest for her drawing which “evokes curiosity in the mind.” Respected photographer Mahesh Bhat selected Nilofer Ibrahim – a middle-school math and science teacher from Bangalore International School – as the winning photographer. To see the incredibly creative photograph and book cover, go to

Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all the participating schools!

We couldn’t be more thrilled with the turn-out of the National Library Week 2013 celebrations and can’t wait to make the party bigger and better this year!

Inside Bright Minds: Author Asha Nehemiah

Each month, look out for our interviews with wonderful authors, illustrators and storytellers who are contributing to the wealth of children’s literature. We are thrilled to kick-start this series with popular children’s author Asha Nehemiah. Over the years, Asha’s books have been published by Scholastic, Duckbill, Puffin and Children’s Book Trust. ‘Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula’, ‘Mystery of the Silk Umbrella and ‘Zigzag and Other Stories appear on CBSE’s list of Recommended Books for Schools. Read her interview with HSS in which she talks about promoting reading for joy in schools, her favourite children’s books and her dream job inspired by Roald Dahl.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the factors you keep in mind when writing for children?

Children today have many more options for entertainment than ever before: TV, movies, internet, games, apps! So if I want a child to read my book, it had better be as entertaining as any of her other choices – ideally it should offer a child something more satisfying. So I always keep this in mind when I write. In order to make my book a more fulfilling option, I try to include some emotion in it. Talk about feelings and relationships along with the fun and adventure. I’m also very conscious of the fact that the child’s entry into the world of reading and books is influenced by my book. This is a big responsibility. If my book is boring, children may begin to think that reading is a boring activity.

Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.

Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ series. I loved the stories as a child and read them even today. Her books are so layered in terms of humour and plot that they can be enjoyed by children at one level and by adults at another.

 What are three effective ways in which schools can promote reading for joy? 

a) Schools should make parents partners in the process. Conduct workshops and interactions with parents so that they understand how vital it is to ensure that children have the time to read and access to a wide variety of books. It’s entirely up to the parents to see that their child’s time at home is not so packed with activities that there’s never a window of time when they can relax and read.

b) Schools should provide a great library with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Have librarians and language teachers who love reading and read widely themselves so that their love for reading rubs off on the children. Ensure that there are books for every taste.

c) Schools should budget for providing every student with five books (every year) that become their own and that they can take home to read. These five books should be chosen across genres and interests. Children will, quite naturally, discuss what they read and peer influence will encourage reading. The choice of the books – with different selections for each class – must be made fresh at the beginning of every year.

Name three contemporary authors who you feel children should be introduced to.

It’s difficult for me to limit this list to 3 as there are so many wonderful contemporary authors.  Here’s my shortlist: Ranjit Lal, Uma Krishnaswami, Anushka  Ravishanker, Subhadra Sengupta, Michael Morpurgo, Morris Gleizman, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Paterson, Anthony Horowitz, David  Walliams, Elizabeth Laird, Rebecca Stead, Kate Di Camillo, Sharon Creech, Karen Cushman.

Name a few books which you feel every school library must own.

The Why-Why Girl by Mahasweta Devi

Hanuman’s Ramayan by Devdutt Patnaik

Cool by Michael Morpurago

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleizman

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?

Willy Wonka in his Chocolate Factory, creating new types of chocolate and eating it! My dream job!

If you’re interested in having an author or illustrator visit your school, write to us at Please note that this will be possible only if there is an author/illustrator in your city/town.

Ask the Litpert

Have any questions related to literacy or language? Shoot your questions right away to and have literacy expert Dr. Shailaja Menon answer them. Big questions, tiny questions, serious questions, silly questions, soft questions, hard questions – we love them all. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Q. What is the big deal about Reading Aloud?

A: Reading Aloud should be an integral part of the daily routine of classrooms and homes. Read Alouds provide an opportunity to introduce children, from an early age, to high quality literature. Literature sparks children’s imagination and brings them into connection with the collective knowledge of human experiences and relationships. It acts as a window into worlds that children have not yet experienced for themselves; and it serves as a mirror for them to understand and examine their own lives.

Reading Aloud good literature also helps create a space in the classroom for productive TALK and discussion around the books, ideas and stories shared. Children are often discouraged from talking in many Indian classrooms. Research, on the contrary, suggests that classrooms that are rich with productive talk around shared ideas, create conditions for children to develop their oral language, vocabulary, comprehension and literary engagement and appreciation.

Reading Aloud good books also provides “models” for children to use in their own attempts at creating texts of different kinds. Teachers can use the books shared in the classroom to introduce children to different genres of writing (e.g., realistic fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, etc.), and can discuss the techniques and strategies that authors use to create texts of different kinds. In short, Reading Aloud is one of the most powerful, versatile and easy to access techniques to foster language development, critical thinking skills and a lasting love for literature!

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

Dr. Shailaja Menon currently works as faculty in the area of Language and Literacy, School of Education, Azim Premji University. She has her Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and degrees in human development and psychology from MSU, Baroda, and Delhi University, respectively. Shailaja has worked in various educational settings in the US and in India. She has an abiding interest in imparting a love for language, literature and literacy to children, teachers and teacher educators and engages in a variety of initiatives that help promote these.


Heart of the School: Bangalore International School

HEART OF THE SCHOOL is aimed at showcasing dynamic school libraries across the country where librarians are doing amazing work to build and nurture a culture of reading. This month, we are featuring Bangalore International School, Bangalore, and highlighting a few key aspects of their library that have contributed to making it a special reading space for children. The BIS Library Media Centre is often described by the school as an ‘intellectual getaway’.

a) Enthusiastic team of librarians – The first thing that will strike you about the BIS library is the incredible enthusiasm exuded by their team of librarians – Joseph Colin, J Asha and Suryanarayana. It’s always heartening to see librarians who are open to exploring new ways in which to promote joyful reading, even when there are challenges involved. The BIS library team believes that their strength lies in being able to create a friendly atmosphere in the library and being flexible in their approach.

b) Diverse library activities – There’s never a dull moment at the BIS library. While there is ample time set aside for quiet reading time, diverse library activities aimed at making reading fun for children are conducted frequently (Bookmark contests, analyzing book characters, making book-related posters, writing letters to authors, etc).

c) Author visits – At BIS, children love interacting with authors. Some of the authors who visited them in 2013 were popular writers Poile Sengupta, Monideepa Sahu and Rukhsana Khan. This year, even before May 2014, they are hoping to invite children’s writers Deepika Murty (Pika Nani), RamG Vallath and Suzanne Sangi.

d) Growing, relevant book collection – Today, there are roughly 30,000 books at the BIS library. Every month, 30 new books are added to this collection. What’s impressive is that book-suggestions from children are taken very seriously and the library team doesn’t hesitate to procure these books. Weeding of books is an annual affair, with typically around 50 unused books being removed. This helps them maintain a relevant collection that is used by children.

e) Recognizing challenges and searching for solutions – Like with any other library, the BIS librarians are faced with challenges and to tackle these, they are constantly experimenting to see what works. For instance, getting middle-school children interested in reading has been an ongoing challenge for them. To solve this, all middle-school children were asked to suggest books that they would like to see in their library. These books were procured and activities based on these books were conducted. Involving their favourite literature teacher while conducting library activities also helped.

BIS Library Team’s Favourite Children Books

Primary school The Terrible Greedy Fossifoo by Charles Fuge

Elementary SchoolBig Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Middle SchoolBoris by the Sea by Matvei Yankelevich

High SchoolIt Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet by James Herriot

Write to us at if you feel that your school library is a dynamic learning space that deserves to be highlighted in HOO’ked on Books