TOP TEN Verse Novels for Young Readers
You might be surprised how often I hear, “I don’t get poetry,” even from writers. (Second only to “TaB? I thought they stopped making that in the 70s.”) But these are novels—good writing and storytelling speak for themselves, no matter what the form.
There are so many great verse novels to choose from, but these are my favorites: some influenced me to start writing in verse; others just affirmed how beautiful an art form it can be.
1. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: Your mother’s on fire. You reach for a bucket of water, not stopping to think of the drought—not a drop of water for hundreds of miles around. You’ve drenched her with a different clear liquid: kerosene.
Now your mother and unborn brother are dead, your father’s burying himself in the bottle and your hands are too burned to play the piano you love. What do you do now? And with the rest of your life?
2. Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse: Natives of the
3. The Weight of the Sky by Lisa Ann Sandell: An American girl spends the summer in
4. Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell: Who needs another thick volume added to the tonnage of Arthurian legends? We all do, if it’s this one. From the point of view of Elaine of Ascolat, the Lady of Shalott, this book has it all: Language, imagery, romance, rivalry, war, healing...all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story.
5. Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy: The Lodz ghetto of
6. Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson: In the style of main characters told by benevolent teachers to write journals/poems/feelings...Lonnie has been separated from everyone he loves and put in foster care. You get to see the world through his eyes, including his own view of himself. (The sequel Peace, Locomotion is out now.)
7. Heartbeat by Sharon Creech: This was my introduction to Creech, so it remains my favorite...even after bawling my eyes out over Love That Dog (and, to some degree, the sequel Hate That Cat). You can feel a pulse—each footfall as the main character runs—giving the story a subtle structure and momentum.
8. Pieces of
9. John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet: A high-school English teacher rescued boxes of moldy decrepit books from the incinerator for one last hurrah. My copy had underlining and margin notes in dozens of different handwritings. By the time we finished the unit, its binding was replaced by a rubber band. The teacher held out a garbage can and students gleefully slam dunked the books (recycling didn’t exist yet), but I couldn’t let mine go. Do you know what it feels like to have a relationship with a book? You have this experience with it...and evidence of other people’s energy and experience just makes it more layered.
10. Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Epic story of searching for a lost love. Best read when young and preferably in a window seat. (Not technically a novel, I guess, more of a long poem.) This poem inspired one of the storylines in my own novel: my forbidden lovers were to be separated by the Johnstown Flood. In the actual execution of it, though, I liked seeing them together more, so the epic search became only a few pages. Oh well. How about a modern-day Evangeline...hmm....
Wow, from the Dust Bowl to the Holocaust, and the Civil War to the loss of loved ones...we poetic types sure are a serious bunch. Will anyone ever write a funny verse novel? Do you know of one?
So what do you think? Will you give verse novels a chance? Have you already? What are your favorites? Most are quick reads and, once you start, you’ll want another one and another one (like salty snacks), though I recommend savoring every carefully chosen word.
- Current Mood: relieved