Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Verse Novels

Last month Katie Dekoster from Book Love speculated that Novels in Verse (NIVs) were becoming the new vampires. I certainly hope so, since I have one coming out next year and another (the sequel)  in 2014.

I’ve written about novels in verse many times on this blog, and people are becoming more familiar with this form. While most of the well-known novels in verses are aimed at YA audiences, there is a good selection of NIVs for middle grade readers too.  This week I’d like to highlight three of my favorites.

All of these middle grade NIVS cleverly combine premise and form. Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up by Ron Koertge and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech both feature young male narrators who are reluctantly learning about poetry, while having an archetypal middle grade coming of age. Not that these books are derivative or banal. They are both not only great stories but great learning tools. Shakespeare Bat Clean-Up would be a great books in particular for reluctant boy readers, while if Love That Dog doesn’t make you cry, you have a heart of stone.

Excerpt from Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge

Another of my favorite NIVs for middle graders is Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a sweet, tug on your heart strings story about a foster kid searching for capital F Family. The titular narrator is also learning about poetry, but this book tends to be less about poetics and more about the power of writing to heal.

Verse novels tend to be a bit dark and are mostly contemporary or historical realism. I’d love to see humor or even some genre novels in verse, both for middle graders and YA readers. Maybe I’ll write one someday.

More MMGMers here:

10 thoughts on “Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Verse Novels

  1. Thanks for the great reviews. Another great middle grade NIV is Carol Saller’s, Eddie’s Way. Also a young male narrator. I do think that these are great for reluctant readers. Sometimes it’s just overwhelming to have all those words filling up the page. The white space makes it seem like it’s not so many words and with NIV you do have to boil down the essence of a story, something a reluctant reader appreciates.

  2. Confession – I’ve never read a children’s novel in verse! I need to get on that – from you samples, they will obviously be more easy on the palate than Milton 🙂

    1. I think that’s why some people shy away from them: because they think they are “epic poems” like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. They’re not like that at all. More like a collection of narrative poems that tell a story.

  3. Nothing makes my students wrinkle their noses faster than novels in verse. Just can’t get them to read them. My problem is that frequently they are not really in verse– just in lines of cut up prose. Helen Frost is the absolute best at this genre, I think.

    1. I’ve only read KEESHA’S HOUSE by Helen Frost, but I agree she’s great.

      How old are your students? Do you think possibly your own judgement of what is verse and what isn’t might be rubbing off on them?

      What would your students make of one of the most famous poems ever written:

      (Poem #274) This Is Just To Say
      I have eaten
      the plums
      that were in
      the icebox

      and which
      you were probably
      for breakfast.

      Forgive me
      they were delicious
      so sweet
      and so cold.
      – William Carlos Williams

      I would say that it is the cutting up that makes it poetry, just as cutting a bolt of fabric makes a dress. Free verse is possibly the most misunderstood form of writing there is. I’d encourage you to look at the first two books I reviewed because they address this very question.

      1. I have yet to get into novels in verse (I’ve only read Love That Dog, and I did think it was adorable. and I’m sure I cried. I’m a softie), but I agree with you here. Poetry is a lot about the breath, and the space on the page dictates that. I’ve always loved the Williams poem.

        You’d think I’d run towards this form (I have an MFA in Poetics), but I’ve shied away from it. Maybe for that reason? Maybe I’m being a snob? I know that I would be critical perhaps, but it’s not fair if I haven’t given them a chance.

        I’m going to reserve a few from the library right now! 🙂

  4. I had an aversion to the so-called novels in verse until I started reading them for the Cybils. I think the comments from Pam Torres and Karen Yingling are applicable. And I came to admire and enjoy them. A couple of my favorites this year: MAY B. (by Caroline Rose) and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (by Katherine Applegate).

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