Poems for Bedtime: An Anthology for Sleepytime Reading

Here’s a suggestion for your nightly reading ritual—taking a few moments just before lights-out to read a poem. It’s easy with One Minute till Bedtime, an anthology of brief, under-a-minute poems for children. Think of these nuggets of verse, and the cartoon-like images that go with them, as a “lagniappe”—a little extra treat during tuck-in.

The 130 contemporary poems in One Minute till Bedtime were selected by Kenn Nesbit, who was named Children’s Poet Laureate in 2011 by the Poetry Society. Nesbit thinks children and poetry go together like peanut butter and jelly, and that hearing verse in childhood can spark a lifelong love for this form of literature. The poems he chose range from funny to whimsical (“On Adopting a Pet Elephant”) to amusingly mordant, like Lemony Snicket’s “Count Your Blessing.” But each one is very short, so it’s easy to acquiesce and read a few more on demand. Here’s an example from Nikki Grimes:

Backyard Circus

Apples, apples
Juggle, toss.
If you drop one

The illustrations are by Christoph Neimann, the graphics genius whose work is often seen in The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. Each drawing is thoughtfully matched to the text. One full-page spread has three tiny poems about food, with an image of broccoli spears and a carrot assembling a sort of catapult to launch themselves into a child’s open mouth. The poem “Trampoline” is printed upside down. Even the book’s table of contents is enlivened with an evocative image: a crescent moon pushes a lawn mower through a cloud so that it spits out stars. And Neimann’s drawing of five little birds perched on the spiky crown of the Statue of Liberty, gazing at the city skyline, perfectly enhances this brief verse by Charles Waters:

Five little birds in New York City,
Five little birds sit nice and pretty,
Five little birds sing a doo-wop ditty,
Five little birds in New York City.

Using a few lines of verse to mark the end of the day and a shift to dreamtime is part of an old literary tradition. Shakespeare’s plays may be in blank verse, but he closes each scene with a rhymed couplet, as when Romeo says farewell to Juliet:

Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Could there be a sweeter way to end the day and move into sleep than with a tiny burst of poetry?