by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Most people become poets by inclination and talent, but Jack Prelutsky (1940 – ), whose birthday is this month, was taking lessons to be a singer, and he liked to draw. He had a teacher in elementary school who must have read poetry really badly, because he was convinced that he didn’t like poetry. Not at all.
He went to Hunter College for two years, studying philosophy and psychology. At some point after the third time he flunked English, he dropped out of school. He took the name Jack Ballard and began singing in coffeehouses in New York. He also had a series of day jobs: driving a taxi, moving furniture, busboy, potter, woodworker, door-to-door salesman, and working in a bookstore.
Prelutsky also had fun drawing imaginary animals, so one of his friends suggested he send in his work to some publishers. Maybe he could get a job as an illustrator. On an impulse, he jotted some little rhymes as captions for the pictures just before submitting them.
When he was called in to meet with Susan Hirshman, he was stunned that she wanted his work. But not the pictures it took six months to draw. She wanted the poems which only took two hours to scribble down. Hirshman told him he was a natural poet, and published his book, A Gopher in the Garden and Other Animal Poems, in 1967. She was his editor for the next 37 years, until she retired. At age 24, Jack Prelutsky had accidentally become a working poet.
He’s now published over 50 poetry collections, mostly for children, and was named as the very first ‘Children’s Poet Laureate’ by the Poetry Foundation (2006-2008).
‘Children’s poetry’ is often looked down on by “serious” critics, but it is the first doorway into poetry. If children peek around that doorframe and don’t feel welcome, chances are they won’t connect to poetry later in life either.
So for the child in you, and for any children you have in your life, read on – out loud is the best way!
Poems from Kids Pick the Funniest Poems:
Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face
Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.
Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.
Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.
Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.
Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place —
be glad your nose is on your face!
Suzanna Socked Me Sunday
Suzanna socked me Sunday,
she socked me Monday, too,
she also socked me Tuesday,
I was turning black and blue.
She socked me double Wednesday,
and Thursday even more,
but when she socked me Friday,
she began to get me sore.
“Enough’s enough,” I yelled at her,
“I hate it when you hit me!”
“Well, then I won’t” Suzanna said—
that Saturday, she bit me.
I Found a Four-Leaf Clover
I found a four-leaf clover
and was happy with my find,
but with time to think it over,
I’ve entirely changed my mind.
I concealed it in my pocket,
safe inside a paper pad,
soon, much swifter than a rocket,
my good fortune turned to bad.
I smashed my fingers in a door,
I dropped a dozen eggs,
I slipped and tumbled to the floor,
a dog nipped both my legs,
my ring slid down the bathtub drain,
my pen leaked on my shirt,
I barked my shin, I missed my train,
I sat on my dessert.
I broke my brand-new glasses,
and I couldn’t find my keys,
I stepped in spilled molasses,
and was stung by angry bees.
When the kitten ripped the curtain,
and the toast burst into flame,
I was absolutely certain
that the clover was to blame.
I buried it discreetly
in the middle of a field,
now my luck has changed completely,
and my wounds have almost healed.
If I ever find another,
I will simply let it be,
or I’ll give it to my brother—
he deserves it more than me.
Poem from Something Big Has Been Here:
My Neighbor’s Dog is Purple
My neighbor’s dog is purple,
Its eyes are large and green,
its tail is almost endless,
the longest I have seen.
My neighbor’s dog is quiet,
It does not bark one bit,
but when my neighbor’s dog is near,
I feel afraid of it.
My Neighbor’s dog looks nasty,
it has a wicked smile…..
before my neighbor painted it,
it was a crocodile.
Poems from My Dog May Be a Genius:
The Average Hippopotamus
The average hippopotamus
is big from top to bottomus,
It travels at a trotamus,
And swims when days are hotamus.
Because it eats a lotamus,
It’s practically a yachtamus,
So it’s a cinch to spotamus
The average hippopotamus.
My Dog May Be a Genius
My dog may be a genius,
and in fact there’s little doubt.
He recognizes many words,
unless I spell them out.
If I so much as whisper “walk,”
he hurries off at once
to fetch his leash…it’s evident
my dog is not a dunce.
I can’t say “food” in front of him,
I spell f-o-o-d,
and he goes wild unless I spell
But recently this tactic
isn’t working out too well.
I think my d-o-g has learned
Poem from Ride a Purple Pelican:
Kitty Caught a Caterpillar
Kitty caught a caterpillar,
Kitty caught a snail,
Kitty caught a turtle
By its tiny turtle tail,
Kitty caught a cricket
With a sticky bit of thread,
She tried to catch a bumblebee,
The bee caught her instead.
Poem from The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders:
Carpenter, carpenter, build us a house,
A sweet little house for a mouse and a spouse,
A mouse and a spouse and a family too,
We know that you can, and we hope that you do.
Build it of brick so it’s cozy and warm,
To keep us from harm in a cold winter storm.
As soon as you finish, we’ll pay you with cheese,
Carpenter, carpenter, build our house, please.
Poem from It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles:
Deep in Our Refrigerator
Deep in our refrigerator,
there’s a special place
for food that’s been around awhile . . .
we keep it, just in case.
“It’s probably too old to eat,”
my mother likes to say.
“But I don’t think it’s old enough
for me to throw away.”
It stays there for a month or more
to ripen in the cold,
and soon we notice fuzzy clumps
of multicolored mold.
The clumps are larger every day,
we notice this as well,
but mostly what we notice
is a certain special smell.
When finally it all becomes
a nasty mass of slime,
my mother takes it out, and says,
“Apparently, it’s time.”
She dumps it in the garbage can,
though not without regret,
then fills the space with other food
that’s not so ancient yet.
Poem from The Dragons Are Singing Tonight:
A Dragon’s Lament
I’m tired of being a dragon,
Ferocious and brimming with flame,
The cause of unspeakable terror
When anyone mentions my name.
I’m bored with my bad reputation
For being a miserable brute,
And being routinely expected
To brazenly pillage and loot.
I wish that I weren’t repulsive,
Despicable, ruthless, and fierce,
With talons designed to dismember
And fangs finely fashioned to pierce.
I’ve lost my desire for doing
The deeds any dragon should do,
But since I can’t alter my nature,
I guess I’ll just terrify you.
Poem from If Not for the Cat:
If Not for the Cat
If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.
In a Scholastic.com interview, Jack Prelutsky was asked where his ideas come from, and he answered: “Everywhere! Everything I see or hear can become a poem. Several toys in my studio have turned into poems. I remember things that happened when I was a kid . . . Or I write about things I like or don’t like.”
Prelutsky now lives in the Seattle, Washington area, and spends much of his time reading his poems aloud to children in schools and libraries all around the United States. The Accidental Poet has come a very long way from the kid who “hated” poetry.
I hope the kid in you had some fun. And if there are children in your life, that you read some of the poems out loud to them, so they won’t grow up thinking they don’t like poetry.
Note: This is an updated and slightly revised version of a previous Word Cloud from August 2017.
- Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/jack-prelutsky
- Academy of American Poets: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/jack-prelutsky
- A Gopher in the Garden and Other Animal Poems(1967) (illustrated by Robert Leydenfrost)
- The Terrible Tiger(1970) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- Toucans Two and Other Poems(1970) (illustrated by José Aruego)
- Circus(1974) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep(1976) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- It’s Halloween(1977) (illustrated by Marylin Hafner)
- The Mean Old Mean Hyena(1978) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- The Queen of Eene(1978) (illustrated by Victoria Chess)
- The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble Your Sleep(1980) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- It’s Christmas(1981) (illustrated by Marylin Hafner)
- It’s Thanksgiving(1982) (illustrated by Marylin Hafner)
- Kermit’s Garden of Verses(1982) (illustrated by Bruce McNally)
- The Baby Uggs Are Hatching(1982) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- It’s Valentine’s Day(1983) (illustrated by Yossi Abulafia)
- Zoo Doings(1983) (illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky)
- The Random House Book of Poetry for Children(1983) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- It’s Snowing! It’s Snowing!(1984) (illustrated by Jeanne Titherington)
- What I Did Last Summer(1984) (illustrated by Yossi Abulafia)
- The New Kid on the Block(1984) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- Ride a Purple Pelican(1984) (illustrated by Garth Williams)
- My Parents Think I’m Sleeping(1985) (illustrated by Yossi Abulafia)
- Read Aloud-Rhymes for the Very Young(1986) (illustrated by Marc Brown)
- Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast: Dinosaur Poems(1988) (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
- Beneath a Blue Umbrella(1990) (illustrated by Garth Williams)
- Something BIG Has Been Here(1990) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funnybone(1991) (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)
- There’ll Be a Slight Delay: and Other Poems for Grown-ups(1991) (illustrated by Jack Ziegler)
- Nonny Mouse Writes Again!(1993) (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)
- The Dragons Are Singing Tonight(1993) (illustrated by Peter Sís)
- Monday’s Troll(1996) (illustrated by Peter Sís)
- A Pizza the Size of the Sun(1996) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- The Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom(1997) (illustrated by Meilo So)
- Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!(1998) (with Seuss; illustrated by Lane Smith)
- Dog Days: Rhymes around the Year(1999) (illustrated by Dyanna Wolcott)
- The Gargoyle on the Roof(1999) (illustrated by Peter Sís)
- The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury(1999) (illustrated by Meilo So)
- It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles(2000) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- Awful Ogre’s Awful Day(2001) (illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky)
- The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders(2002) (illustrated by Petra Mathers)
- Scranimals(2002) (illustrated by Peter Sís)
- If Not for the Cat(2004) (illustrated by Ted Rand)
- Wild Witches’ Ball(2004) (illustrated by Kelly Ashbury)
- Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems(2006) (illustrated by Carin Berger)
- I’m Glad I’m Me: Poems About You(2006)
- What a Day It Was at School!(2006) (illustrated by Doug Cushman)
- Good Sports: Rhymes about Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More(2007) (illustrated by Chris Raschka)
- In Aunt Giraffe’s Green Garden(2007) (illustrated by Petra Mathers)
- Me I Am!(2007) (illustrated by Christine Davenier)
- The Wizard(2007) (illustrated by Brandon Dorman)
- Awful Ogre Running Wild(2008) (illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky)
- My Dog May Be a Genius(2008) (illustrated by James Stevenson)
- Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face and Other Poems(2008) (illustrated by Brandon Dorman)
- Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem(2008)
- The Swamps of Sleethe: Stories from Beyond the Solar System(2009) (illustrated by Jimmy Pickering)
- The Carnival of the Animals(2010) (illustrated by Mary GrandPré)
- There’s No Place Like School(2010) (illustrated by Jane Manning)
- I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus(2012) (illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic)
- Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems(2013) (illustrated by Carin Berger)
- The Silver Moon: Lullabies and Cradle Songs(2013) (illustrated by Jui Ishida)
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud