Great article from School Library Journal about YA books in verse! This list should keep you all busy for awhile.
By Jill Heritage Maza — School Library Journal, 06/01/2010
A little more than 15 years ago, novels-in-verse began appearing on publishers’ YA lists. Titles such as Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade and Mel Glenn’s Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? tackled meaty issues including teen pregnancy and school violence. Through verse, these authors were able to craft authentic teen voices and amplify a story’s emotional punch, all at a pace impossible to reach through prose. Shortly thereafter, Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust segued the verse novel from teen problem novel to middle-grade historical fiction. Now a staple of young adults’ reading diet, titles written in verse continue to hit the mark on trueness of voice, quickness of pace, emotional impact, and abundant white space. Realism still reigns, but writers of historical fiction and, increasingly, biography turn to verse for the same reasons. What might have felt irrelevant to a reader is rendered immediate when the inner thoughts of a character ring eerily familiar.
Readers are now just as likely to discover intricately constructed poems in traditional forms as they are to find free verse, meant to be read by budding poets and laymen alike. Perhaps Mr. B., Kevin’s teacher in Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, sums it up best: “Don’t worry so much about what poetry means. Pretend poetry is chili and you’re starving. Would you ask what chili means? Just eat it up.” Readers have clearly taken this directive, as what was once a drip in the publishing world has become a steady stream, the numbers of novels-in-verse rising year after year. Gold standards like Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, David Levithan’s Realm of Possibility, Nikki Grimes’s Bronx Masquerade, Jacqueline Woodson’s Locomotion, and Helen Frost’s Keesha’s House, all exemplars of the form, have paved the way for the not-to-be-missed titles that follow.
BERNIER-GRAND, Carmen T. Diego: Bigger Than Life. illus. by David Diaz. Marshall Cavendish. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5383-3.
Gr 5-8–Brilliant, stylized illustrations punctuated by reproductions of Rivera’s own works combine with playful free verse to depict the life of fiery artist Diego Rivera in this companion to Frida: ¡Viva la Vida!/Long Live Life! (Marshall Cavendish, 2007). Readers discover the origins of Rivera’s socialistic leanings, follow the evolution of his artistic style, and glimpse his rocky relationships.
ENGLE, Margarita. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba.Holt. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-9082-6.
Gr 8 Up–Engle, a biography-in-verse master, illuminates a little-known person in Cuban history while evoking the breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty of the island nation. She chronicles the 1851 journey of Swedish novelist and women’s rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer to Cuba and her interaction with Elena, a wealthy planter’s daughter, and Cecilia, a house slave.
HEMPHILL, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. Knopf. 2007. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83799-9; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93799-6; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-440-23968-0.
Gr 8 Up–Through a series of skillfully crafted poems, Hemphill pieces together a collage of the life and work of the American poet. The poems, many of which are written “in the style of” Plath’s work, are spoken by a cast of characters from her life and scattered with the poet’s own imagery and language. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.
SCHUTZ, Samantha. I Don’t Want to Be Crazy. Scholastic/PUSH. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-439-80518-6.
Gr 9 Up–This memoir-in-verse skillfully captures the utter breathlessness Schutz felt while coming to terms with an anxiety disorder that surfaced and plagued her throughout and after her college years. Regardless of mental health issues, teens will undoubtedly feel a kinship with her sometimes-overwhelming search for self-identity.
SMITH, Charles R., Jr. Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali. illus. by Bryan Collier. Candlewick. 2007. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-1692-2; pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5002-5.
Gr 5-8-Each “round” depicts a different period in Ali’s colorful life, from childhood through religious conversion to his life after retirement from boxing. Smith’s rhythmic verse speaks to Ali in the second person, “you declared your goal ‘to be the greatest of all time,’” while Collier’s stylized watercolors amplify the subject’s larger-than-life personality.
WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Becoming Billie Holiday. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2008. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-507-2.
Gr 9 Up–Holiday’s hard-edged, soulful voice sings out in this portrait of the legendary jazz musician told through nearly 100 poems spun from her song titles. Cooper’s evocative illustrations drive home the singer’s vulnerability, from a scene portending her rape at an early age to a young girl’s innocent dreams of dancing “safe in my hero’s arms.”
HERRICK,Steven. Cold Skin. Front St. 2009. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-572-0.
Gr 9 Up-In this coming-of-age novel/murder mystery set in post-World War II Australia, Eddie longs to work in the mines but is forbidden by his father. While treading water at school, he tenderly discovers first love and dark secrets about the adults in his life. The voices of various townsfolk, expressed in poems, reveal clues to a killer’s identity.
KOERTGE, Ron. Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs. Candlewick. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4435-2.
Gr 5-8-Kevin, aka Shakespeare, who made his poetic debut in Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Candlewick, 2003), now navigates girls, baseball, and his father’s new romance. Well-versed in the rules of poetry but less adept in the ways of adolescent love, he starts to fall for fellow budding poet Amy while flip-flopping on his feelings for girlfriend Mira.
MCVOY, Terra Elan. After the Kiss. S & S/ Pulse. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0211-9.
Gr 9 Up–Two teens’ lives collide when Camille, the new girl in town, unknowingly kisses Becca’s haiku-spouting boyfriend at a party. Camille tells her side in a sort of stream of consciousness, while Becca speaks in free verse. The girls’ distinct voices make this book so much more than a predictable YA drama.
MYERS, Walter Dean. Street Love. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-028079-6; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-028080-2; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-06-440732-8.
Gr 8 Up–The rhythm of the street is palpable. Damien, bound for Brown, must make a life-altering decision when he falls in love with Junice, whose mother is in prison. Myers lifts verse to a whole new level as he manipulates pace and beat to craft unique voices for each character.
RICHARDS, Jame. Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood. Knopf/Borzoi. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85885-7; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95885-4.
Gr 8 Up–This cross-class romance between wealthy Celestia and miner’s son Peter is set against the backdrop of a Gilded Age retreat on Lake Conemaugh, Pennsylvania. Readers will lie in wait for the inevitable climax, the collision of Celestia and Peter’s tale with the very real Johnstown Flood of 1889.
SCHROEDER, Lisa. Chasing Brooklyn. S & S/Pulse. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9168-7.
Gr 7-10–Still recovering from the death of Lucca, his girlfriend, Brooklyn, and his brother, Nico, are crushed when Lucca’s best friend kills himself. As both Brooklyn and Nico start conversing with the dead boys’ spirits, they rediscover pieces of themselves and one another.
For the Younger Set
CREECH, Sharon. Hate That Cat. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler Bks. 2008. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-143092-3; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-143093-0; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-06-143094-7.
Gr 3-6–Once again flexing his poetic muscles for Miss Stretchberry, Jack begrudgingly opens up a space in his life for a new kitten. His poems are frequently inspired by famous poets, just as in Love That Dog (HarperCollins, 2001), and illustrate his growing maturity as a poet. Audio version available from HarperChildrens Audio; audio download available from Audible.
HERRICK, Steven. Naked Bunyip Dancing. illus. by Beth Norling. Front St. 2008. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-499-0.
Gr 3-6–With a title culled from a nonsensical brainstorming session, this is a collection of poems by the zany, fictional class of 6C. Replete with a poem-spouting teacher, Australian slang, and some less fantastic real-life troubles, the students lead readers into their quirky world. Spunky cartoon illustrations add an extra dash of energy.
NERI, G. Chess Rumble. illus. by Jesse Joshua Watson. Lee & Low. 2007. RTE $18.95. ISBN 978-1-58430-279-7.
Gr 5-8–Marcus’s words, rife with frustration, tumble out of him in free-flowing verse as he paints a picture of his quickly fading innocence after a year of tragedy. Blacks, whites, and grays form the backdrop for Marcus’s urban concrete world and growing relationship with CM, the Chess Master, a mentor who sets him straight.
SMITH, Anita Hope. Keeping the Night Watch. illus. by E. B. Lewis. Holt. 2008. RTE $18.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-7202-0.
Gr 5-8–In The Way a Door Closes (Holt, 2003) 13-year-old CJ came to terms with his father’s departure. Now the man of the house is back, and CJ struggles to let him into his heart and home. Lewis’s watercolors show a tender mix of budding maturity and vulnerability while free verse and other poetic forms echo CJ’s moods.
SPINELLI, Eileen. Where I Live. illus. by Matt Phelan. Dial. 2007. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3122-6.
Gr 1-4–Through free verse and list poems, Diana talks of all she loves in her small part of the world. When her father loses his job, the family must move six hours away from all that matters to her. This rare novel-in-verse for the younger end of the spectrum is peppered with heartwarming pencil drawings.
WOODSON, Jacqueline. Peace, Locomotion.Putnam. 2009. Tr $15.99 ISBN 978-0-399-24655-5.
Gr 4-6–This stand-alone sequel to Locomotion (Putnam, 2003) is told through letters from 12-year-old Lonnie to his younger sister. Still settling into foster life with Miss Edna, Lonnie gets to know his injured-returned-from-war foster brother. Though admittedly this is not a novel-in-verse, two of Lonnie’s lyrical and vividly constructed poems about peace bookend the letters. Audiobook available from Brilliance Audio.
For the Older Set
APPLEGATE, Katherine. Home of the Brave. Feiwel & Friends. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-312-36765-7.
Gr 5-7–A Sudanese refugee and orphan finds himself transplanted to modern-day Minnesota in the wintertime. Seeing the U.S. through Kek’s wide-eyed verse will, for better or worse, prompt readers to take a second look at the world American teens take for granted. Audio version available from Listening Library.
BINGHAM, Kelly. Shark Girl. Candlewick. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3207-6.
Gr 6-10–In a flash, 15-year-old Jane goes from the top artist at her California high school to the girl who lost her arm in a shark attack. Verse captures her frustration and anger as well as her budding hope that she might still find a future in her passion.
HOPKINS, Ellen. Tricks. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5007-3.
Gr 9 Up–Five teens resort to the unthinkable in order to survive, only finding a glimmer of redemption when their lives begin to intersect. Through their raw voices, Hopkins once again delivers a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens and her dedicated fans.
MCCORMICK, Patricia. Sold. Hyperion. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-5171-3; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-5172-0.
Gr 9 Up–Most realism-in-verse focuses on teens confronting varying yet distinctly American problems. McCormick, however, captures the gut-wrenching story of 13-year-old Lakshmi, a Nepali teen who is sold into prostitution in India by her stepfather. Free verse relays her quest to survive and rise above dire circumstances.
SONES, Sonya. What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. S & S. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-689-87602-8; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-689-87603-5.
Gr 9 Up–This follow-up to What My Mother Doesn’t Know (S & S, 2001), voiced by social-leper Robin rather than his popular girlfriend, more than stands on its own. Through poetry and a few of his own comics, Robin grapples with his seemingly unequal relationship and finds a place for himself through art.
WOLFF, Virginia Euwer. This Full House. (Make Lemonade Trilogy). HarperCollins/Bowen Press. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-158304-9; PLB $18.89. ISBN 978-0-06-158305-6.
Gr 9 Up-LaVaughn, a senior in high school, struggles to find her way into a medical science program and discovers new information about the women in her life in this final installment of Wolff’s trilogy. As in Make Lemonade (Holt, 1993) and True Believer (S & S, 2001), her story digs into the consequences of life choices and the possibilities of second chances. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.
BURG, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-08092-7.
Gr 5-8–Matt’s new life with a loving adoptive American family is hard to reconcile with the life he left when airlifted out of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Wounds run deep as he blames himself for events in Vietnam and vets struggle to regain a foothold in their old lives. Audio version available from Scholastic Audio.
BRYANT, Jen. Kaleidoscope Eyes. Knopf. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84048-7; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94048-4.
Gr 5-8–While cleaning out her grandfather’s attic, 13-year-old Lyza discovers a few old maps, a letter marked “for Lyza,” and a key. These clues spur a treasure hunt that unfolds against the backdrop of suburban New Jersey circa 1968. The Vietnam War looms heavily as race issues, the draft, and hippy counterculture touch the child’s life and quest.
ENGLE, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. Holt. 2008. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-8674-4.
Gr 9 Up–Poems in alternating voices during Cuba’s wars with Spain from 1850 to 1899 tell the story of Rosa, a “freed” slave and natural healer, destined to a life on the lam in the island’s wild interior. A ruthless soldier and an escapee from a reconcentration camp are among other narrators in this hauntingly beautiful glimpse into Cuba’s troubled past. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.
FROST, Helen. Crossing Stones. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-31653-2.
Gr 6-10–In free verse and cupped hand sonnets, Frost tells of four teens from two families in rural Michigan who must reconsider all they hold true when World War I enters their lives. For Muriel, the gutsy protagonist, this means reconciling her antiwar sentiments with a confusing bond to Frank, who has left to fight. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
ROY, Jennifer. Yellow Star. Marshall Cavendish. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7614-5277-5.
Gr 5-8–Syvia, a young Jewish Pole (and the author’s aunt), describes life in the Lodz Ghetto, from her entry at age four to liberation six years later. Free verse is punctuated by prose that presents the bleak historical setting for her innocent depictions, which include an especially breath-holding scene of Syvia and her father hiding in a grave. Audio version available from Recorded Books; audio download available from Audible.
WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Birmingham, 1963. illus. by author. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2007. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-440-2.
Gr 5-8–Told through free verse and illustrated with a collage of archival photographs and ephemera, the tragic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings tug hard at readers’ emotions when seen through the eyes of a fictional child attending church that day, her 10th birthday. Endnotes contextualize the poignant story by providing further historical information and documentation. Audio version available from Recorded Books.