Open Sesame: Six Novels Written in Verse

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

For National Poetry Month
Six Novels Written in Verse

April is National Poetry Month! Time to indulge in poetic forms of all kinds, and kids’ books serve up odes of opportunities. Picture books are notorious for reveling in rhyme and rhythm, but  novels can deliver a powerful poetic punch too, and ought to be a part of any reader’s well-stocked library bag. Highly accessible, novels in verse have an intimate and immediate feel to them, and often make good read-alouds, even as they are perfect for savoring in quiet. Has your family had a healthy serving of poetry today? Try one of these six middle grade novels and satisfy their cravings for couplets.

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, is a super sweet story, which unfolds in a series of school journal entries. Each entry, comprised of a free verse poem written by Jack, is a response to the poetry exercises his teacher keeps assigning. At first resistant to the process, through writing, reading, and understanding poetry, Jack opens up to its power and his own feelings about his beloved dog, Sky. The poems are easy to fall into, and the heartfelt storyline is earnest and true. Plus readers are introduced to a handful of important poets along the way.

  • Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Published by Harper Collins, 2001. 112 pgs. ISBN: 978-0060292874

Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, follows the story of 10-year old Hà who must flee her home in Saigon during the Vietnam War. With their father missing in action, she, her brothers, and mother make the journey from their beloved home in Vietnam across the world to Alabama. Dropped into a shocking new culture, which is often cruel to outsiders, Hà must find where she fits into her new life, while also grieving the loss of her father. Based on the author’s own experience of fleeing Saigon as a child, and told in spare free verse poetry that swells with raw honesty, humor and heart, this is a gorgeous work that is wholly relevant today.

  • Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Published by Harper Collins, 2011. 272 pgs. ISBN: 978-0061962783

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, written by Tamera Will Wissinger and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is an entertaining, fast-paced story, about fishing and siblings and poetry.  Sam is not happy when his little sister joins a fishing trip he is taking with his dad, something Sam absolutely loves to do. But as the day progresses and the fish get hooked, Sam and his sister find new respect for one another, and readers are fed a variety of poetic formats, including ode, haiku, ballad, sonnet, and poems with multiple voices. Pencil and watercolor drawings add charm and humor, and a Poet’s Tackle Box at the end gives young poets advice on the use of poetry techniques, rhyme, rhythm, and form.

  • Gone Fishing written by Tamera Will Wissinger and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 128 pgs. ISBN: 978-0547820118

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, is a moving autobiographical work chronicling the author’s childhood in South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York, during the 60’s and 70’s. Written in free verse poetry, honeyed with eloquence and emotion, each poem draws the reader into the life of a young girl as she reveals the workings of her heart and mind. Themes of race and religion, family and friendship, are rooted in the power of place and familial love. Young writers will be especially inspired by Woodson’s girlhood dreams of becoming a writer. An exquisite novel.

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014. 337 pgs. ISBN: 978-0399252518

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, is set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the Great Depression, and the vivid details of the free verse poetry in which the book is written, recreate the experience while introducing readers to an extraordinary heroine, 14-year old Billie Joe. Full of grit, determination and fierce hope, Billie Joe rises above her family’s desperate living situation and the consequences of a tragic accident to find peace, forgiveness, and the joy of playing piano again. An emotionally eloquent and compelling story.

  • Out of the Dust written by Karen Hesse. Published by scholastic Press, 1997. 227 pgs. ISBN: 978-0590360807

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, tells the story of 12-year old twin brothers Josh and Jordan, who are stars on their school basketball team. The brothers come alive through free verse that rushes through Josh with the ease and energy of a natural born poet, tackling a range of emotions with honesty. Josh opens up about basketball, his ex-pro basketball-playing father, his strong vice-principal mother, and his brother, who is spending a lot of time with a new girlfriend and not enough time with Josh. But a shocking turn late in the story forces him to remember, “In this game of life, your family is the court, and the ball is your heart.”

  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. 237 pgs. ISBN: 978-0544107717


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

One Comment on “Open Sesame: Six Novels Written in Verse

  1. Yes! So many wonderful books!!

    See also:
    Eva of the Farm by Dia Calhoun (and the sequel, After the River the Sun)
    Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse
    Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
    Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
    The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
    The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter

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