How I Discovered Poetry

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
How I Discovered Poetry Book Poster Image
Poet's moving memoir in free verse charts '50s childhood.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

How I Discovered Poetry teaches kids about the civil rights movement, the Cold War, the Red Scare, and the Native American relocation program through the eyes of a child living through and learning about these things. 

Positive Messages

The importance of family and family support through uncertain times. How words can be used to express your inner thoughts, fears, and hopes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marilyn herself is a great role model, and her parents and teachers support her interest in poetry.


References to violence stemming from the civil rights movement and concerns about the atom bomb and the Red Scare. The children conduct bomb drills in anticipation of war. One possibly disturbing incident takes place on the playground when two children break another child's arm using a seesaw when she used the "N" word. 


Talk of girls liking or wanting to learn how to kiss boys.


Talk of people calling African Americans a "bad name" and allusions to the "N" word, but it's never actually said.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that How I Discovered Poetry, by Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson, is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a military family in the 1950s told though 50 free-verse poems. This book was named a 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book. There's discussion of the Cold War, the Red Scare, and the civil rights movement, and two children break the arm of another child because she used the "N" word.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 15 years old Written byavengersassemble May 26, 2015

Interesting and Intriguing Memoir!

As stated above, this is an interesting and intriguing non-fiction books that explores life as an African-American army brat in the '50s. The book is great... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old December 15, 2020


This was a very good book but kinda confusing it was like random memories that don't matter.

What's the story?

Marilyn's dad is in the Air Force, and when he's called up for active duty, her family moves from base to base all across the United States and overseas. His career takes them on a varied, sometimes lonely and sometimes treacherous path around the world. Marilyn discovers that words, specifically poetry, serve as a good place to put her feelings when the good-byes become too much. Marilyn takes readers on a walk through history and self-discovery from age 4 to 14, as she lives through the Red Scare, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and other historical and personal moments.

Is it any good?

Marilyn Nelson's HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY is a beautifully written and vulnerable look at her life growing up in a military family during some of the most challenging times of American history. Nelson takes readers on a journey of self-discovery with such humor and honesty that readers feel the impact of each good-bye and delight in each new discovery as if it were their own.

Readers will love seeing the growth in Nelson's recollections as she advances in age from the funny misunderstandings of a 5-year-old to the aspirations of a young teen. Illustrator Hadley Hooper does a wonderful job of adding just the right touches to accompany Nelson's verse.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sacrifices a military family makes. Would you like to relocate every year leaving behind friends and family?

  • Do you watch the news and talk about it as a family? Do you discuss significant media events at home?

  • How I Discovered Poetry shows how Marilyn discovers what she loves to do. If poetry or writing isn't your thing, which activities make you excited and seem like a good outlet for bottled-up feelings?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love poetry and books about civil rights

Themes & Topics

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