Excellence in Poetry for Children - National Council of Teachers of English

NCTE Poetry Committee

Members of the NCTE Children’s Poetry Awards Committee determine the award recipient every other year and select notable poetry books each year.

Learn more about the NCTE Children’s Poetry Award Committee and apply to be a member.

Award Details

NCTE established the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for their aggregate work for children ages 3-13. NCTE also recognizes and fosters excellence in children’s poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays.

Each year, the committee also produces a Notable Poetry Books and Verse Novels list.

Literary Merit (art and craft of aggregate work – as poet or anthologist). Creating books of poetry that demonstrate imagination, authenticity of voice, evidence of a strong persona, and universality/timelessness are essential. In short, we are looking for a poet who creates poetry books that contain clean, spare lines; use language and form in fresh ways; surprise the reader by using syntax artistically; excite the reader’s imagination with keen perceptions and sharp images; touch the reader’s emotions: a maker of word events.

Poet’s or Anthologist’s Contributions. Aggregate work, evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft, and excellence are considered.

Evolution of the Poet’s or Anthologist’s Work. Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry, evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina, and evidence of different styles and modes of expression are considered.

Appeal to Children. Although the appeal to children of a poet’s or anthologist’s work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criteria for evaluation. Evidence of students’ excitement for the poetry and evidence of childlike quality should be present, yet the work’s potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent.

The award is presented in every other year by the chair of the NCTE Children’s Poetry Award Committee at the Children’s Book Awards Luncheon during the NCTE Annual Convention. The award recipient receives a plaque, is a featured speaker at the luncheon, and is invited to present at a poetry session during the NCTE Annual Convention. The Notable Books and Verse Novels list is also announced annually at the Convention.

The award was given annually until 1982 and every three years until 2009. In 2008, the criteria were updated and the time frame was changed to every other year.

NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children Winners


2021 Janet S. Wong
2019 Paul B. Janeczko
2017 Marilyn Nelson
2015 Marilyn Singer
2013 Joyce Sidman
2011 J. Patrick Lewis

Past Poetry Award Winners

NCTE Poets Spotlight Series by author Renee LaTulippe

Books must have been published and/or distributed in the English language during the calendar year. Bilingual books are also accepted. Nominations of individual books may come from publishers, the membership of NCTE, and from the educational community at large. Any poetry title for children ages 3-13 is accepted. This includes all forms of poetry, including individual poetry, anthologies, narratives, biographical poems, and verse novels.

Individual Poems demonstrate*

  • Content that is interesting to and understandable by intended readers.
  • Language that is innovative, with careful word choices and uses of poetic devices to enhance meaning.
  • Form or structure that helps readers understand more about the poetic subject or mood.

Collections and Anthologies demonstrate*

  • Purposeful selection of quality poetry.
  • Arrangement that is logical.
  • Inclusiveness of a range of poetry.
    In addition, if an old collection or anthology has been recently published or reissued, it must have a new perspective, fresh approach, and/or be newly illustrated to be considered as a new collection.

Picture books/stories in rhyme

  • The poetry in picture books must incorporate poetic language that exemplifies figurative language, demonstrating depth rather than simply being rhymed couplets.
  • A narrative told in poetic form.
  • Excellence in writing and emotional impact: does the poetry “create images, express feelings, and stir emotions”?*
  • Format that enriches the story in some way.

*Some criteria excerpted from Galda, L., Cullinan, B. E., & Sipe, L. R. (2010). Literature and the child (7th ed.). Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Nominations must be submitted to the Award Committee by October 15. We request early submission when possible to give the committee enough time to review all submissions. One copy of each book nominated should be sent to the committee members for examination. Digital copies are welcome and can be emailed directly to the committee members. Advance copies or galley proofs are acceptable and encouraged, especially for books published after October 15. Hard copies are still requested in addition to the digital versions so that the committee can fully evaluate each work. Extensions of the deadline may be accepted so please email us with questions.

Contact bookawards@ncte.org with the title(s) and author(s) of the books you are nominating. We will give you the award committee contact information to send the books to the members directly. No other forms are required. NCTE members should use the submission form on the Children’s Book Award homepage.

Children’s Poetry Award seals (for books by the Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award winners or for the Notable Poetry and Verse Novel listed titles) are available to accompany winning books and their future printings. The seals serve to endorse the excellence of the books and distinguish them from among the thousands of books published each year.

Complimentary digital seals are available to the winning authors and their publishers. Please contact Sarah Miller, bookawards@ncte.org, to make this request.

Physical sticker seals can be purchased in our webstore.