Lee Bennett Hopkins is "one of America's most prolific anthologists of poetry for young people," according to Anthony L. Manna in the Children's Literature Association Quarterly. The compiler of numerous children's verse collections, "Hopkins has spent his career trying to make the crystal image accessible to children," noted Manna. His collections encompass a variety of topics, including animals, holidays, the seasons, and works of noted poets like Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. Poetry, Hopkins stated in Instructor magazine, "should come to [children] as naturally as breathing, for nothing—no thing: can ring and rage through hearts and minds as does this genre of literature."
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1938, Hopkins grew up in a poor but close family. At age ten, his family moved in with other relatives to make ends meet, and he spent most of his youth in Newark, New Jersey. The oldest child in the family, Hopkins had to help out with the family finances, often missing school so he could work. Though the family was able to get on its feet again and rent a basement apartment, relations soon deteriorated between Hopkins's parents, leading to separation. The circumstances of his youth would later play a prominent part in his fiction writing for young adults.
Early reading encompassed everything from comic books and movie magazines to the occasional adult novel, and in spite of frequent absences, Hopkins maintained passing grades in school, excelling in English classes. Then a schoolteacher reached out Lee and helped change his life. "Mrs. McLaughlin saved me," Hopkins wrote in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS). "She introduced me to two things that had given me direction and hope—the love of reading and theatre."
After graduating from high school, Hopkins was determined that he would become a teacher. To pay his way through Newark State Teacher's College a teacher's training college which later became Kean University, he worked several jobs. Taking a job in Fair Lawn, NJ, a suburban, middle-class school district, he taught sixth grade for three years after which he became the resource teacher, gathering and organizing materials for the other teachers. It was during this time he came up with using poetry as an aid in reading. However, it quickly became apparent to him that poetry could be expanded to introduce all subject areas. In the late 1960s, after receiving his Masters of Science degree at Bank Street College of Education in NYC, he became consultant at Bank Street, where he again used poetry as a learning tool. In 1968 he became an editor at Scholastic, a post he held until 1976 when he became a full-time writer and anthologist.
During his years at Scholastic, Hopkins hit on his charmed formula for poetry anthologies, a pattern apparent in one of his earliest volumes, the award-winning Don't You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hughes. Writing in SAAS, Hopkins described the key elements in his compilations. "Balance is important in an anthology. I want many voices within a book, so I rarely use more than one or two works by the same poet. I also envision each volume as a stage play or film, having a definite beginning, middle, and end. The right flow is a necessity for me. Sometimes a word at the end of a work will lead into the title of the next selection. I want my collections to read like a short story or novel—not a hodgepodge of works thrown together aimlessly." Since 1969, Hopkins has compiled scores of poetry anthologies, each employing this same successful formula.
U.S. history, geography, and biography are presented in other anthologies by Hopkins. Hand in Hand includes over seventy verse selections that offer "a singular out-look on American history as viewed by some of America's foremost poets, past and present," according to Nancy Vasilakis in Horn Book. As Vasilakis concluded, "This well-conceived anthology should be a welcome supplement to any study of American history." Noted Americans are celebrated in Lives: Poems about Famous Americans, an anthology with many poems specially commissioned for inclusion. Thomas Edison, Sacagawea, and Rosa Parks are among the fourteen featured Americans. "Teachers looking for poetry to enhance social-studies units will find several good choices here," noted Carolyn Phelan in a Booklist review. My America is a geographical description of the country in verse form, focusing on eight regions. Barbara Chatton, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that "this volume will enrich literature and social-studies units."
Wonderful Words: Poems about Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening deals with the language arts. "Hopkins's selection of poems about words will delight both readers and children," said Publishers Weekly. Corrina Austin commented in School Library Journal that "all of the selections are excellent."
Excruciating embarrassment and other difficult emotions are the subject of the fourteen poems in Oh No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters: Poems. This collection deals with a host of "familiar situations," according to School Library Journal, including bad hair-cuts, fumbling a catch during a baseball game, stage fright, and the death of a pet. Martha V. Parravano noted in Horn Book that the first-person narration in each poem makes it easy for readers "to identify with the situations and emotions." Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman noted that "the scenarios in words and pictures show young children that books are about them." Lauralyn Persson in School Library Journal wrote that the poems "all depict little moments of being human," while a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that while some of the topics covered in the collection are serious, most of "the contributors keep the mood light."
Hopkins has compiled several books about holidays. among them the comprehensive compendium Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More providing short bits of information about each day of the year. School Library Journal called the volume an "imaginative compilation -- a beautiful, useful, unique almanac."
The multi-talented Hopkins has also penned his own works, including autobiographies, classroom materials, poetry, picture books, and novels for young adults. Two of his novels, Mama and Mama and Her Boys, tell about a resourceful single mother and her two sons. In Mama, the reader is confronted with a chatty, shoplifting single mom. Narrated by Mama's older son, the story presents Mama going from job to job while the family barely keeps its head above water. Reviewing Mama, a contributor to Publishers Weekly called the work a "not-to-be-missed first novel." "You'll remember Mama," wrote Zena Sutherland in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review, noting that the mother is "tough, cheerfully vulgar in her tastes," but "passionately dedicated to see that her two sons whose father has decamped have everything they need." Mama makes a curtain call in Mama and Her Boys, in which the boys are now worried that their mother might marry her boss, Mr. Jacobs; a better match, as far as they are concerned, is the school custodian, Mr. Carlisle. Reviewing the sequel Publishers Weekly concluded that Hopkins "packs the ensuing incidents with merriment and an understated lesson about different kinds of love and companionship."
Hopkins explores the alphabet through poems in Alphathoughts: Alphabet Poems. Each poem focuses on a subject that starts with a particular letter of the alphabet, and some feature alliteration or tongue-twisting phrases. Called "a clever and child-friendly book of pithy poetry" by Ilene Cooper of Booklist, Alphathoughts features poems in a variety of lengths, some of which a Kirkus Reviews contributor found "memorable and will likely show up in anthologies later."
Hopkins's original poetry has won high praise; a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that "Hopkins brings freshness and immediacy to his subjects" and "deftly depicts a sense of delight and wonder in everyday experience." Been to Yesterdays: Poems of Life is a gathering of poems that look at the psychology of Hopkins at age thirteen, when his parents separated. "This autobiographical cycle of poems is a rare gift, a careful exploration of one life that illumines the lives of all who read it," wrote Kathleen Whalin in School Library Journal.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not reading poetry or working on a poem of my own." This simple work ethic has made him one of the most popular and best-known anthologists of poetry at work today. He has compiled more anthologies for children than anyone has in the history of children's literature. He has helped make poetry accessible to young readers in over a hundred volumes of his own writings and in his compilations. As a reviewer for Juvenile Miscellany concluded, "Hopkins' immersion in poetry, past and present, text and illustration, places him at the heart of children's literature."
- Public school teacher in Fair Lawn, NJ, 1960–66
- Bank Street College of Education, New York, NY, senior consultant, 1966–68
- Scholastic Magazines, Inc., New York, NY, curriculum and editorial specialist, 1968–74
- full-time writer, 1976–
- Lecturer on children's literature
- Host and consultant to children's television series Zebra Wings, Agency for Instructional Television, beginning 1976
- Consultant to school systems and publishers
- National trustee, National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, beginning 1991
- Namesake and founder of Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for poetry, established in 1993, in cooperation with Pennsylvania Center for the Book, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, established in 1995, in cooperation with International Reading Association
- Florida Lifetime Achievement Award, 2010
- The National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award, 2010.
- International Reading Association
- American Library Association
- National Council of Teachers of English
- member of board of directors, 1975–78
- chair of 1978 and 1991 Poetry Award committees
- member of Commission on Literature, 1983–85
- member of Children's Literature Assembly, 1985–88
- honorary board member of Children's Literature Council of Pennsylvania, 1990–)
- National Trustee for the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, Austin, TX.
- Outstanding Alumnus in the Arts - Kean University
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws - Kean University
- Phi Delta Kappa Educational Leadership Award
- IRA Broadcast Media Award for Radio
- Ambassador Extraordinary in the Order of the Long Leaf Pine - NC
- IRA Manhattan Council Literary Award
- National Children's Book Week Poet for "Good Books, Good Times!"
- Pennsylvania Author of the Year Award
- University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for "lifetime contributions to Children's Literature.
- National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award
- Florida Lifetime Achievement Award
- Outstanding Pennsylvania Author Award
In addition, Hopkins' books received a host of honors including five ALA Notable Books.
- Creative Activities for Gifted Children, Fearon, 1968. (with Annette Frank Shapiro)
- Books Are by People, Citation Press, 1969.
- Let Them Be Themselves: Language Arts Enrichment for Disadvantaged Children in Elementary Schools, Citation Press 1969, second edition published as Let Them Be Themselves: Language Arts for Children in Elementary Schools, 1974, third edition, Harper, 1992.
- Partners in Learning: A Child-Centered Approach to Teaching the Social Studies, Citation Press, 1971. (with Misha Arenstein)
- Pass the Poetry, Please!: Bringing Poetry into the Minds and Hearts of Children, Citation Press 1972, third revised edition, HarperCollins, 1998.
- More Books by More People, Citation Press,1974.
- Do You Know What Day Tomorrow Is?: A Teacher's Almanac, Citation Press,1975. (with Misha Arenstein)
- The Best of Book Bonanza, Holt, 1980
- Pauses: Autobiographical Reflections on 101 Creators of Children's Books, HarperCollins. 1995.
- Mama, Dell 1977, reprinted, Boyds Mills Press, 2000.
- Wonder Wheels, Dell, 1980.
- Mama and Her Boys, Harper, 1981, reprinted, Boyds Mills Press, 2000.
- Important Dates in Afro-American History, F. Watts.1969.
- This Street's for Me (poetry), Ilus. by Ann Grifalconi, Crown, 1970.
- Charlie's World: A Book of Poems, Ilus. by Charles Robinson, Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.
- Kim's Place and Other Poems,Ilus. by Lawrence DiFiori, Holt, 1974.
- I Loved Rose Ann, Ilus. by Ingrid Fetz, Knopf , 1976.
- The Writing Bug: An Autobiography. Richard C. Owen, 1994.
- Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life, Boyds Mills Press, 1995
- Good Rhymes, Good Times!, Ilus. by Frane Lessac, HarperCollins, 1995.
- Alphathoughts: Alphabet Poems, Ilus.by Marla Baggetta, Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong, 2003.
- City I Love. Ilus. by Marcellus Hall. Abrams, 2010.
- Full Moon and Star. Ilus. by Marcellus Hall. Abrams, 2011.
- Mary's Song, Ilus. by Stephen Alcorn. Eerdmans, 2013.
- Manger, Ilus. by Helen Cann. Eerdmans, 2014.
- I Think I Saw a Snail: Young Poems for City Seasons, Ilus. by Harold James, Crown, 1969.
- Don't You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hughes, Ilus. by Ann Grifalconi, foreword by Arna Bontemps, Knopf (New York, NY), 1969.
- City Talk, Ilus. by Roy Arnella, Knopf, 1970.
- Faces and Places: Poems for You, Ilus. by Lisl Weil, Scholastic 1970. (with Misha Arenstein).
- The City Spreads Its Wings, Illus. by Moneta Barnett, Franklin Watts, 1970.
- Me!: A Book of Poems, Illus.by Talavaldis Stubis, Seabury, 1970.
- Zoo!: A Book of Poems, Illus. by Robert Frankenberg, Crown, 1971.
- Girls Can Too!: A Book of Poems, Illus. by Emily McCully, Franklin Watts, 1972.
- Happy Birthday to Me!, Scholastic 1972.
- When I Am All Alone: A Book of Poems, Scholastic, 1972.
- Time to Shout: Poems for You, Ilus. by Lisl Weil, Scholastic, 1973. (with Misha Arenstein)
- I Really Want to Feel Good about Myself: Poems by Former Addicts, Thomas Nelson, 1974. (with Sunna Rasch)
- On Our Way: Poems of Pride and Love, Ilus. by David Parks, Knopf ,1974.
- Hey-How for Halloween, Ilus. by Janet McCaffery, Harcourt, 1974.
- Take Hold!: An Anthology of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poems, Thomas Nelson, 1974.
- Poetry on Wheels, Ilus. by Frank Aloise, Garrard, 1974.
- Sing Hey for Christmas Day, Ilus. by Laura Jean Allen, Harcourt , 1975
- A Haunting We Will Go: Ghostly Stories and Poems, Ilus. by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman, 1976.
- Witching Time: Mischievous Stories and Poems, Ilus. by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman, 1976.
- Good Morning to You, Valentine, Ilus. by Tomie dePaola. Harcourt, 1976
- Merrily Comes Our Harvest In, Ilus.by Ben Shecter, Harcourt, 1976.
- Thread One to a Star, Four Winds,1976. (with Misha Arenstein)
- Potato Chips and a Slice of Moon: Poems You'll Like, Ilus. Wayne Blickenstaff, Scholastic,1976. (with Misha Arenstein)
- Beat the Drum! Independence Day Has Come, Ilus. by Tomie de Paola, Harcourt, 1977.
- Monsters, Ghoulies, and Creepy Creatures: Fantastic Stories and Poems, Ilus. by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman. 1977.
- To Look at Any Thing, Illus. by John Earl, Harcourt, 1978.
- Pups, Dogs, Foxes, and Wolves: Stories, Poems, and Verse, Illus. by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman, 1979.
Kits, Cats, Lions, and Tigers: Stories, Poems, and Verse, Ilus. by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman, 1979.
Go to Bed: A Book of Bedtime Poems, Illus. by Rosekranz Hoffman, Knopf, l979.
- Easter Buds Are Springing: Poems for Easter, Illus. by Tomie de Paola, Harcourt,1979.
- Merely Players: An Anthology of Life Poems, Thomas Nelson .1979.
- My Mane Catches the Wind: Poems about Horses, Ilus. by Sam Savitt, Harcourt,1979.
- By Myself, Ilus. by Glo Coalson, Crowell, 1980.
- Elves, Fairies, and Gnomes, Ilus. by Rosekranz Hoffman, Knopf, 1980.
- Moments: Poems about the Seasons, Ilus. by Michael Hague, Harcourt, 1980.
- Morning, Noon, and Nighttime, Too!, Ilus. by Nancy Hannans, Harper,1980.
- I Am the Cat, Ilus. by Linda Rochester Richards, Harcourt, 1981.
- And God Bless Me: Prayers, Lullabies and Dream-Poems, Ilus. by Patricia Henderson Lincoln, Knopf, 1982.
- Circus! Circus!, Ilus. by John O'Brien, Knopf, 1982.
- Rainbows Are Made: Poems by Carl Sandburg, Ilus. by Fritz Eichenberg, Harcourt, 1982.
- A Dog's Life, Ilus. by Linda Rochester Richards, Harcourt, 1983.
- How Do You Make an Elephant Float?, and Other Delicious Food Riddles, Ilus.. by Rosekranz Hoffman, Albert Whitman,1983.
- Animals from Mother Goose, Ilus..by Kathryn Hewitt, Harcourt, 1989.
- People from Mother Goose, Ilus. by Kathryn Hewitt, Harcourt, 1989.
- The Sky Is Full of Song, Ilus. by Dirk Zimmer, Harper. 1983.
- A Song in Stone: City Poems, Ilus. by Anna Held Audette, Crowell, 1983.
- Crickets and Bullfrogs and Whispers of Thunder: Poems and Pictures by Harry Behn, Harcourt, 1984.
- Love and Kisses, Ilus. by Kris Boyd, Houghton, 1984.
- Surprises: An I-Can-Read Book of Poems, Ilus. by Meagan Lloyd, Harperl,1984.
- Creatures, Ilus. by Stella Ormai, Harcourt. 1985.
- Munching: Poems about Eating, Ilus. by Nelle Davis, Little, Brown,1985.
- Best Friends, Ilus. by James Watts, Harper, 1986.
- The Sea Is Calling Me, Ilus. by Walter Gaffney-Kessel, Harcourt, 1986.
- Click, Rumble, Roar: Poems about Machines, Ilus. by Anna Held Audette, Crowell, 1987.
- Dinosaurs, Ilus. by Murray Tinkelman, Harcourt, 1987.
- More Surprises: An I-Can-Read Book, Ilus. by Meagan Lloyd, Harper, 1987.
- Voyages: Poems by Walt Whitman, Ilus. by Charles Mikolaycak, Harcourt, 1988.
- Side by Side: Poems to Read Together, Ilus. by Hilary Knight, Simon & Schuster, 1988.
- Still as a Star: Nighttime Poems, Ilus. by Karen Malone, Little, Brown, 1988.
- Good Books, Good Times!, Ilus. by Harvey Stevenson, Harper , 1990.
- On the Farm, Ilus. by Laurel Molk, Little, Brown,1991.
- Happy Birthday, IIus. by Hilary Knight, Simon & Schuster ,1991.
- Questions: An I-Can-Read Book, Ilus. by Carolyn Croll, HarperCollins,1992.
- Through Our Eyes: Poems and Pictures about Growing Up, Ilus. by Jeffrey Dunn, Little, Brown,1992.
- To the Zoo: Animal Poems, Ilus. by John Wallner, Little, Brown, 1992.
- Ring out, Wild Bells: Poems of Holidays and Seasons, Ilus. by Karen Baumann, Harcourt, 1992.
- Pterodactyls and Pizza: A Trumpet Club Book of Poetry, Ilus. by Nadine Bernard Westcott, Trumpet Club, 1992.
- Flit, Flutter, Fly!: Poems about Bugs and Other Crawly Creatures, Ilus. by Peter Palagonia, Doubleday, 1992.
- Ragged Shadows: Poems of Halloween Night, Ilus. by Giles Laroche, Little, Brown,1993.
- Extra Innings: Baseball Poems, Ilus.by Scott Medlock, Harcourt 1993.
- It's about Time,, Ilus. by Matt Novak, Simon & Schuster,1993.
- Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry, Ilus. by Peter Fiore, Simon & Schuster, 1994.
- April, Bubbles, Chocolate: An ABC of Poetry, Ilus. by Barry Root, Simon & Schuster, 1994.
- Weather: An I-Can-Read Book, Ilus. by Melanie Hill, HarperCollins,1994.
- Blast Off: Poems about Space: An I-Can-Read Book, Ilus. by Melissa Sweet, HarperCollins.1995.
- Small Talk: A Book of Short Poems, Ilus. by Susan Gaber, Harcourt, 1995.
- School Supplies, Ills.by Renee Flower, Simon & Schuster,1996.
- Opening Days: Sports Poems, Ilus.by Scott Medlock, Harcourt, 1996.
- Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems, Ilus. by Karen Barbour, Simon & Schuster,1997.
- Song and Dance, Illus. by Cheryl Munro Taylor, Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- All God's Children: A Book of Prayers, Ills. by Amanda Schaffer, Harcourt Brace, 1998.
- Climb into My Lap: First Poems to Read Together, Ilus. by Kathryn Brown, Simon & Schuster,1998.
- Dino-Roars, Ilus. by Cynthia Fisher, Golden Books, 1999.
- Lives: Poems about Famous Americans, Ilus. by Leslie Staub, HarperCollins,1999.
- Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems, Ills. by Virginia Halstead, Simon & Schuster, 1999.
- Sports! Sports! Sports!: An I-Can-Read Book, Ilus. by Brian Floca, HarperCollins, 1999.
- My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, Ilus. by Stephen Alcorn, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
- Yummy!: Eating through a Day, Ilus. by Renee Flower, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
- Hoofbeats, Claws & Rippled Fins: Creature Poems, Ilus. by Stephen Alcorn, HarperCollins, 2002.
- Home to Me: Poems across America, Ills. by Stephen Alcorn, Orchard, 2002.
- A Pet for Me:An I-Can-Read-Book, lIus. by Jane Manning, HarperCollins, 2003.
- Wonderful Words: Poems about Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, Ills. by Karen Barbour, Simon & Schuster, 2004.
- Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry, Ilus. by Melanie Hall, HarperCollins, 2004.
- Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry, Ilus. by Melanie Hall, HarperCollins, 2004.
- Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More, Ilus. by Stephen Alcorn, Greenwillow, 2005.
- Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry, Ilus.by JoAnn Adinolfi, HarperCollins, 2005.
- Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters: Poems, Ilus. by Wolf Erlbruch, HarperCollins, 2005.
- Halloween Howls: Holiday Poetry, Ills. by Stacey Schuett, HarperCollins, 2005.
- Got Geography!, Illus. by Philip Stanton, Greenwillow, 2006.
- Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums, Illus. by Stacey Dressen-McQueen, Abrams, 2007.
- Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems, Illus.by Sachiko Yoshikawa, HarperCollins, 2008.
- America at War, Ilus. by Stephen Alcorn. McElderry,2008.
- Sky Magic, Ilus. by Mariusz Stawaski, Dutton, 2009.
- Incredible Inventions, Ilus. by Julia Sarcone Roach,Greenwillow,2009.
- Sharing The Seasons, Ilus. by David Diaz. McElderry, 2010.
- Amazing Faces, Ilus. by Chris Soentpiet.Lee & Low, 2010.
- Give Me Wings, Ilus. by Ponder Goembel. Holiday House, 2010
- Hear My Prayer, Ilus. by Gretchen “Gigi” Moore.Zonderkidz,2011
- I Am The Book, Ilus. by Yayo. Holiday House, 2011
- Dizzy Dinosaurs, Ilus. by Barr Gott HarperCollins, 2011
- Nasty Bugs, Ilus. by Will Terry. Dial, 2012
- All The World's A Stage, Ilus. by Guy Billout. Creative Editions, 2013.