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Originally published Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 6:01 AM

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Poetry books that will register on the kid cool-o-meter

Kids' books: A roundup of new poetry books for children includes "I've Lost My Hippopotamus," "Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart" and "Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems."

Scripps Howard News Service

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April is Poetry Month, and there's an abundance of new poetry books for children.

Here's a closer look:

Since the post of Children's Poet Laureate was created several years ago, three people have held the position, which has a two-year tenure. Established by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, the job of Children's Poet Laureate is to promote the importance — and fun — of poetry to children.

Two former Laureates — Jack Prelutsky, the first to hold the position, and Mary Ann Hoberman — have published new books of poetry this season. And J. Patrick Lewis, the current Laureate, has two new books of poetry out.

In his latest book, "I've Lost My Hippopotamus" (Greenwillow, $18.99, ages 5-10), Prelutsky presents more than 100 new poems, all infused with his delightfully silly sense of wordplay, which has natural appeal for elementary-school students. The numerous pen-and-ink drawings by artist Jackie Urbanovic add greatly to the fun quotient.

Hoberman, the second Laureate, serves as the editor of "Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart" (Little, Brown, $19.99, ages 7-12). Bright illustrations by Michael Emberley fill the pages of this collection of more than 120 poems, organized by subject, by several dozen poets (including Hoberman herself). She includes some memorizing tips in a concluding note.

As the current Laureate, Lewis is plenty busy giving poetry readings and finding other ways to promote the joy of wordplay to kids. But he's still found time to write an intriguing new book of kids' poetry, "Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems" (Harcourt, $16.99, ages 9-12), as well as team up with fellow poet Jane Yolen on another book, "Take Two! A Celebration of Twins" (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 4-10).

In "Edgar Allan Poe's Pie," Lewis parodies celebrated poets and some of their classic poems, while also introducing math concepts. Both kids who love poetry and kids who love math will enjoy this volume, which features comical illustrations by Michael Slack.

Lewis was inspired to write about twins in "Take Two!" because he himself is a twin. Yolen, his co-author, isn't a twin, but she has multiple sets of twins in her family. Together, the two produce a richly entertaining look at what it's like to have a double. Featuring lively art (done in watercolor, pen and collage) by Sophie Blackall, "Take Two!" includes several dozen poems as well as twin "facts."

Enjoying the great outdoors is the theme of three new books of poetry for kids:

In "Step Gently Out" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 2-5), poet Helen Frost joins with photographer Rick Lieder to craft poetry perfect for the picture-book set. The text is a single poem by Frost, who extols the pleasures of looking and listening to the small creatures in the world around us. Lieder's gorgeous photographs — close-ups of various insects — will help both children and adults newly appreciate the wonder of nature.

• Poet Marilyn Singer extols the virtues of simple childhood pleasures in "A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play" (Clarion, $16.99, ages 4-8). Singer's poems, paired with lively illustrations by LeUyen Pham, focus on things like blowing bubbles, jump-roping, playing hide-and-seek and figuring out things to do with a stick.

• Even readers who don't know much about baseball will be entertained by "Poem Runs" (Harcourt, $16.99, ages 6-10), the newest volume of poetry by popular author/illustrator Douglas Florian. As always, Florian's poems have a whimsical — even wry — tone, and his childlike illustrations are lush with color. Batter up!

Two poets sing the praises of the ocean in their new books:

• Poet David Elliott's "In the Sea" (Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 4-8) explores the denizens of the deep, offering readers poems about sea turtles, dolphins and clown fish. The brief but pithy rhymes are paired with resplendent woodblock-and-watercolor prints by artist Holly Meade, adding to the allure of this oversized picture book.

• In "Water Sings Blue" (Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 4-8), poet Kate Coombs also looks at ocean creatures, as well as such subjects as driftwood, sand and the tide. Artist Meilo So's watercolor illustrations, done with loose brush strokes and vivid colors, capture the movement, light and magic of the seashore.

Slavery is the subject of two gripping new books of poetry for older readers:

• The patchwork of sorrow, joy and hope experienced by African-American slaves is magnificently depicted in words and illustrations in "I Lay My Stitches Down" (Eerdmans Books, $17, ages 10-14). Poet Cynthia Grady uses quilt patterns as the inspiration for her spare, thought-provoking poems. Similarly, artist Michele Wood bases her eye-catching illustrations on the colors and shapes of quilts.

• Poet Ntozake Shange and artist Rod Brown lay bare the cruelties of slavery and the irresistible lure of freedom for slaves in "Freedom's a-Callin Me" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 10 up). Shange's poems look into the deadly difficulties that slaves encountered in making a run for freedom; one of her poems, for example, mourns those who were killed before they made it to freedom. Brown's paintings, meanwhile, are unsparing in their honest look at slavery.

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at

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