Whether you’re talking about bold warriors, courageous activists, intrepid explorers or the people whose daily duties save lives and protect communities, heroes make an engaging topic to explore with your kids. Poetry about heroes gives you the opportunity to talk about your family’s values and goals, inspire your kids to be world-changing people and learn about biographical poetry with your children.
Classical Heroes in Poetry
Epic poetry, including "Beowulf," "The Song of Roland," "The Iliad," "The Odyssey" and "El Cid," is all about heroes, and the story-like, long poems are usually action-packed enough to keep many kids’ attention, especially if you opt for one of the illustrated, kid-friendly abridged versions or put together your own “highlights reel” by choosing the most interesting passages to read aloud. Because epic poetry tends to follow a clear storyline, this form of poetry can feel accessible to kids who are reluctant to deal with poetic devices such as metaphor or simile. It’s also interesting to talk about brawn versus brain in these traditional heroes. Encourage your kids to think about what makes the protagonists in these poems heroes and whether those qualities are ones that would be considered as heroic in the modern world.
Historic Heroes in Poetry
Kids may also enjoy poetry about heroes they recognize from history class. John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Randolph of Roanoke” articulates what qualities made a man heroic during the early days of the United States, including intelligence, honesty and courage. Kids can compare Randolph’s virtues to the ones named in the Declaration of Independence. In his “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte,” Lord Byron does a good job weighing the good and bad actions of the French general, offering a good opportunity to talk about the complexity of being a hero. Vachel Lindsay’s poem “Lincoln” is rich in associations that might surprise kids, who will want to puzzle out the meaning of phrases such as “prairie-fire” and “ghosts of buffaloes.”
Cultural Heroes in Poetry
Poetry can also help children understand how people can become heroes by demonstrating personal courage in difficult times. In her poem “Rosa,” Rita Dove writes about the moment when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus. The poem is simple, but it raises important questions about what qualities a modern hero might need. Emma Lazarus’ poem “Florence Nightingale” captures the reverence with which the contemporary world considered the Crimean War-era nurse. Bobbi Katz’ book “Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration” tells the stories of heroes such as Lewis and Clark, Sally Ride and Ernest Shackleton through poetry.
Everyday Heroes in Poetry
Children will quickly recognize that firefighters, police officers, doctors, teachers and even their parents can be unsung heroes. J. Patrick Lewis does a nice job introducing this idea in his book, “Heroes and She-roes: Poems of Amazing and Everyday Heroes” by mixing poems about heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. with poems about teachers and firefighters. Andrew Fusek Peters celebrates “the cut knee healer/hug-me-tighter” powers of motherhood in his poem “Mum.” Kids can compare these everyday heroes to more well-known heroes.