We wrapped up poetry month at the the library last week and ended on my favorite way to read poetry, novels in verse.
When I was working at the public library, Ellen Hopkins was all the rage. Her thick, compact books covered topics like drug use, prostitution, and teen pregnancy. You know, all of the things that kids love to read about! I knew that my readers here would love novels in verse as much as I do, but I wasn’t ready to introduce Hopkins to my middle school students. Lucky for me, novels in verse are blowing up in every kind of genre.
Here are some that I love that work for middle school as well as high school:
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
I recommended this book to the 6th grade language arts teachers when they were looking for books that take place in India, and they ended up making it assigned reading! It is the story of a young girl who’s dream of becoming a bharatanatyam dancer is shattered when she looses her leg in an automobile accident. She has to humble herself and start over if she wants to continue to dance. The story is beautifully told and is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Award winning novel is like a book sent from the heavens for all librarians and teachers that are desperate for a well written book for their most reluctant readers. I have kids fighting for this book. Like, really arguing! Which I have to admit I love to see. It is the story of twin brothers (Josh and Jordan) star basketball players in their junior high who have been coached by their father, a retired basketball player. For the first time, they start to drift apart when Jordan begins dating a new girl in school and Josh has to deal with the feeling of being abandoned and alone. Alexander has just released his second novel in verse, Booked. And it is already as popular as his first.
All the Broken Pieces by Anne E. Burg
When kids are finished reading The Crossover, I usually give them this book by Anne Burg. The story takes place right after the Vietnam War, Matt Pin was born in Vietnam, the son of an American solider who abandoned him and a Vietnamese mother who gave him away in hopes that he would have a better life in America. He is adopted by a loving family but has to face classmates that see him as an enemy and memories of his past.
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson received well deserved accolades for her latest novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, but I want to highlight an often overlooked masterpiece, Locomotion. Its the heartbreaking story of Lonnie, who lost his parents in a fire when he was seven. He was separated from his younger sister when she was adopted and he was sent to foster care. Now he is in a stable foster home and has a teacher who encourages him to express himself through poetry.
Other novels in verse that I love:
House Arrest by K. A. Holt
Sold by Patricia McCormick
The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle