Novels in verse have been getting a lot of attention in the children’s book world lately. Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia: A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (copyright 2014) won the National Book Award for 2015, and with good reason. It is a fantastic memoir. Through poetry, Woodson shares what it was like for her growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s.
As I read, memories of my own childhood began to flutter around my brain like the butterflies in Woodson’s first book. I’ve heard it said that we read to know that we are not alone, and even though my experiences are different than Woodson’s, reading her story makes me feel less alone. We may be of a different race, religion, generation, and place, but I think we could be wonderful friends.
One thing that stood out to me in this book was her mother taking her to the public library and allowing her to check out whatever seven books she wanted. Woodson would most often choose what she called “baby” books. As a school librarian, I offer my students free choice over what they want to read. It is my opinion that kids are too often told that they must read books that challenge them. This is fine in the classroom, but to be a reader, we need to right to read whatever interests us.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (copyright 2014) is novel-in-verse perfection. This book is everything; energizing rhythm and striking word choice paired with endearing characters. I loved it.
Twelve year old Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan play basketball. This story, told from the point of view of Josh, chronicles their life on the court, at school, and with their family. Twelve year old boys have a lot to deal with, and this book tackles some tough issues involved in growing up. It is sure to be a hit with boys everywhere, and girls will enjoy it too. Do you know a reluctant reader? Leave this out somewhere. See where it goes.
The poetry aspect of this book means there is little text on each page, and it is a quick read. (The striking vocabulary and imagery make it academically worthwhile, but we don’t need to tell kids that.) If you pick this up you will likely finish it in one sitting. I made myself stop because I didn’t want it to end!
You don’t have to take my word for it. This book won the 2015 Coretta Scott King and Newbery awards. Seriously, you must read this book. And then be sure to find a kid to share it with.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (copyright 2008) is an older one, but it is the first novel in verse that I fell in love with. This book is written in the point of view of Jack, a student in Miss Stretchberry’s class who hates poetry and doesn’t feel like he is capable of writing it. This book is a quick read, but it resonates on so many levels. Jack’s relationship with his teacher, his relationship with writing and poetry, his relationship with his dog. It is stunning how Creech brings it all together in so few, important, words.
The classic poetry in the back matter adds to the appeal of this book. Educators, especially, will love it.
Do you have a favorite verse novel not mentioned here? Please leave a comment – I would love to read more! -Erin