Verse Novels

 
Verse novels — or novels in verse as they are sometimes called — are exactly what they say they 
are. Novels – in verse, or poetry.

I love verse novels. They make me feel connected with the story and transport me inside of the story and even the main character’s head.

There are lots of things that make a great verse novel — check out my blog for some things I’ve written on craft and technique of verse novels.

But ultimately, it comes down to story and language.

Here are my top twelve favorite verse novels (in no particular order!) — each of these authors uses the craft tools of a poet like line breaks, white space, evocative imagery and wraps them into a compelling story with great characters and creates books that I love – read after read.

Check out my blog for more discussions of the amazingness of verse novels and spectacular authors!

Elizabeth Acevedo – The Poet X

Elizabeth Acevedo. The Poet X.
New York: Harper Teen, 2018

Read this book! Elizabeth Acevedo writes an incredible story with a masterful poet’s craft. Xiomara is a young woman who learns how to assert what she wants and needs through the power of verse.

Ron Koertge - Coaltown Jesus

Ron Koertge. Coaltown Jesus.
Boston: Candlewick Press, 2013

This might be one of my top five favorite novels period. Coaltown Jesus is funny and profound and moving. Walker, the main character, prays for someone to help his mother deep in grief after the death of his older brother. Walker’s prayers may be answered when Jesus appears, but Jesus is not quite what Walker was expecting. Koertge writes a tender story about characters that hurt.

Jason Reynolds - Long Way Down

Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down.
New York: Antheneum, 2017

I loved this book from the moment I opened it. The story is compelling and the verse is beautiful. Sometimes you just soak in the total experience of a novel.

Long Way Down is the story of Will. Will’s older brother, Shawn, was just shot and the novel begins with Will deciding he’s going to follow the “rules.” The “rules” are simple – don’t cry and get revenge. Will grabs his brother’s gun and gets in the elevator and is greeted with a series of interactions with people from his life that try to help Will decide if he will follow the “rules or not.”

Nikki Grimes – Garvey’s Choice

Nikki Grimes, Garvey’s Choice
Honsdale: WordSong (Highlights), 2016

I love this novel because it is written entirely in a form – the Tanka. Some are what Grimes calls ‘traditional American tankas’, other poems repeat the traditional syllabic pattern of a tanka (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, 7 syllables and  7 syllables) for multiple stanzas.”

. In a note, Grimes explains that although tanka subjects are usually about mood, “in each poem, my focus is more centered on telling a story,” (107).  In using the tanka with set patterns, Grimes enhances the musicality of the verse as well as nodding to the nature of the music that the main character Garvey begins to discover in terms of beat and rhythm.

Kwame Alexander – Booked

Kwame Alexander, Booked
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Booked is the story of Nick. Nick’s thirteen and pushing at all his edges. He’s interested in a girl, passionate about soccer, has parents who are breaking up and he’s stuck in the middle, trying to sort it out in between fighting off bullies and his father’s dictionary reading.

 

Vera B. Williams – Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart

Vera B. Williams, Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
New York Harper Collins, 2001

Somewhere between a picture book and a verse novel, this is the story of two sisters whose lives have been disrupted by their mother’s financial stress and their father’s imprisonment.  What I love about this book is it is truly kid-focused. We know that their dad is in prison, but Williams never explains why. Why? Because this is about the girls’ experiences of loss and confusion. By keeping the reader on the experience of these two girls, Williams gives the reader an opportunity to engage with the main characters and helps to build that empathic bridge between reader and Amber and Essie.

Christine Hepperman – Ask Me How I Got Here

Christine Hepperman, Ask Me How I Got Here
New York: Greenwillow Books, 2016

This is a story about Addie finding her voice and learning to share what she needs and wants from her life. Addie’s journal poems were my favorite because they were raw and honest and really Addie’s first expressions of her voice that emerges by the end of the novel.

Kwame Alexander – Crossover

Kwame Alexander, Crossover
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014

This is the story of two brothers – twins – Josh and Jordan. They are basketball prodigies at middle school – their father was once a professional basketballer. This is both the story of how the brothers begin to find their own voices and identies. Alexander expertly weaves basketball, the two main storylines, and a significant number of secondary lines in and out in tight language and metaphors.

Walter Dean Myers – Street Love

Walter Dean Myers, Street Love
New York: Amistad Harper Teen, 2006

Using structured poetry, rap-like lyrics, and free verse, Walter Dean Myers shapes a beautiful story of love, told in several different voices. Loosely based on a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, this is really about making a change and engaging again with your own life.

Padma Venkatraman – A Time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, A Time to Dance
New York: Scholastic, 2014

Veda is a dancer. As a child, she climbed the Shiva statue in a temple, trying to get closer to the sounds of the dance she heard in her head. Yet her identity is thrown into question when she is in a car accident and the lower portion of her right leg must be amputated. This novel in verse tracks Veda’s attempts to come to grips with her accident, relearn to dance, and ultimately to accept her body as it exists now, not in the past.

Jacqueline Woodson – Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014

Covering the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Brown Girl Dreaming is the autobiographical story of Jacqueline Woodson. This is a masterful novel in verse. Each poem can stand on its own yet each poem contributes to the whole and refers both forward and backwards in the text.

Marilyn Nelson – how I discovered poetry

Marilyn Nelson, how I discovered poetry
New York: Dial Books, 2014

Similar to Brown Girl Dreaming, this is a verse novel about growing up and about the power of words. As Nelson points out in the afterword, this is her memoir but this is also the story of the Speaker’s. By doing so, Nelson offers space for the reader to inhabit the poems. Each individual poem is a sonnet – some are unrhymed and don’t have the traditional turn at the end, but still fit the sonnet form. As the poems build, you can see how the Speaker is rooted in her family as foundation which gives her the courage and need to move into the land of words.

Some other great verse novels ...

Just a short list of a few more favorites! Keep checking back for new additions to the list. I’m always reading!

  • Katherine Elizabeth Clark. Freakboy. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013.
  • Sharon Creech. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Book, Harper Trophy, 2001.
  • And the sequel, Hate That Cat published in 2008.
  • Sarah Crossan. The Weight of Water. New York: Scholastic, 2014. Originally published in Great Britain in 2012.
  • Helen Frost. Diamond Willow. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2008.
  • Nikki Grimes. Words with Wings. Honsdale: WordSong (Highlights), 2013.
  • K.A. Holt. House Arrest. New York: Scholastic, 2015.
  • Thanhha Lai. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: Harper, 2011.  
  • Kelsey Sutton. The Lonely Ones. New York: Philomel Books, 2016.
  • Holly Thompson. Orchards: A Novel. New York: Ember, 2011.
  • Tamera Will Wissinger. GONE FISHING: A Novel In Verse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
  • And the sequel, Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse published in 2017.

Verse Novels

 
Verse novels — or novels in verse as they are sometimes called — are exactly what they say they 
are. Novels – in verse, or poetry.

I love verse novels. They make me feel connected with the story and transport me inside of the story and even the main character’s head.

There are lots of things that make a great verse novel — check out my blog for some things I’ve written on craft and technique of verse novels.

But ultimately, it comes down to story and language.

Here are my top twelve favorite verse novels (in no particular order!) — each of these authors uses the craft tools of a poet like line breaks, white space, evocative imagery and wraps them into a compelling story with great characters and creates books that I love – read after read.

Check out my blog for more discussions of the amazingness of verse novels and spectacular authors!

Elizabeth Acevedo – The Poet X

Elizabeth Acevedo. The Poet X.
New York: Harper Teen, 2018

Read this book! Elizabeth Acevedo writes an incredible story with a masterful poet’s craft. Xiomara is a young woman who learns how to assert what she wants and needs through the power of verse.

Ron Koertge - Coaltown Jesus

Ron Koertge. Coaltown Jesus.
Boston: Candlewick Press, 2013

This might be one of my top five favorite novels period. Coaltown Jesus is funny and profound and moving. Walker, the main character, prays for someone to help his mother deep in grief after the death of his older brother. Walker’s prayers may be answered when Jesus appears, but Jesus is not quite what Walker was expecting. Koertge writes a tender story about characters that hurt.

Jason Reynolds - Long Way Down

Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down.
New York: Antheneum, 2017

I loved this book from the moment I opened it. The story is compelling and the verse is beautiful. Sometimes you just soak in the total experience of a novel.

Long Way Down is the story of Will. Will’s older brother, Shawn, was just shot and the novel begins with Will deciding he’s going to follow the “rules.” The “rules” are simple – don’t cry and get revenge. Will grabs his brother’s gun and gets in the elevator and is greeted with a series of interactions with people from his life that try to help Will decide if he will follow the “rules or not.”

Nikki Grimes – Garvey’s Choice

Nikki Grimes, Garvey’s Choice
Honsdale: WordSong (Highlights), 2016

I love this novel because it is written entirely in a form – the Tanka. Some are what Grimes calls ‘traditional American tankas’, other poems repeat the traditional syllabic pattern of a tanka (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, 7 syllables and  7 syllables) for multiple stanzas.”

. In a note, Grimes explains that although tanka subjects are usually about mood, “in each poem, my focus is more centered on telling a story,” (107).  In using the tanka with set patterns, Grimes enhances the musicality of the verse as well as nodding to the nature of the music that the main character Garvey begins to discover in terms of beat and rhythm.

Kwame Alexander – Booked

Kwame Alexander, Booked
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Booked is the story of Nick. Nick’s thirteen and pushing at all his edges. He’s interested in a girl, passionate about soccer, has parents who are breaking up and he’s stuck in the middle, trying to sort it out in between fighting off bullies and his father’s dictionary reading.

 

Vera B. Williams – Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart

Vera B. Williams, Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
New York Harper Collins, 2001

Somewhere between a picture book and a verse novel, this is the story of two sisters whose lives have been disrupted by their mother’s financial stress and their father’s imprisonment.  What I love about this book is it is truly kid-focused. We know that their dad is in prison, but Williams never explains why. Why? Because this is about the girls’ experiences of loss and confusion. By keeping the reader on the experience of these two girls, Williams gives the reader an opportunity to engage with the main characters and helps to build that empathic bridge between reader and Amber and Essie.

Christine Hepperman – Ask Me How I Got Here

Christine Hepperman, Ask Me How I Got Here
New York: Greenwillow Books, 2016

This is a story about Addie finding her voice and learning to share what she needs and wants from her life. Addie’s journal poems were my favorite because they were raw and honest and really Addie’s first expressions of her voice that emerges by the end of the novel.

Kwame Alexander – Crossover

Kwame Alexander, Crossover
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014

This is the story of two brothers – twins – Josh and Jordan. They are basketball prodigies at middle school – their father was once a professional basketballer. This is both the story of how the brothers begin to find their own voices and identies. Alexander expertly weaves basketball, the two main storylines, and a significant number of secondary lines in and out in tight language and metaphors.

Walter Dean Myers – Street Love

Walter Dean Myers, Street Love
New York: Amistad Harper Teen, 2006

Using structured poetry, rap-like lyrics, and free verse, Walter Dean Myers shapes a beautiful story of love, told in several different voices. Loosely based on a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, this is really about making a change and engaging again with your own life.

Padma Venkatraman – A Time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, A Time to Dance
New York: Scholastic, 2014

Veda is a dancer. As a child, she climbed the Shiva statue in a temple, trying to get closer to the sounds of the dance she heard in her head. Yet her identity is thrown into question when she is in a car accident and the lower portion of her right leg must be amputated. This novel in verse tracks Veda’s attempts to come to grips with her accident, relearn to dance, and ultimately to accept her body as it exists now, not in the past.

Jacqueline Woodson – Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014

Covering the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Brown Girl Dreaming is the autobiographical story of Jacqueline Woodson. This is a masterful novel in verse. Each poem can stand on its own yet each poem contributes to the whole and refers both forward and backwards in the text.

Marilyn Nelson – how I discovered poetry

Marilyn Nelson, how I discovered poetry
New York: Dial Books, 2014

Similar to Brown Girl Dreaming, this is a verse novel about growing up and about the power of words. As Nelson points out in the afterword, this is her memoir but this is also the story of the Speaker’s. By doing so, Nelson offers space for the reader to inhabit the poems. Each individual poem is a sonnet – some are unrhymed and don’t have the traditional turn at the end, but still fit the sonnet form. As the poems build, you can see how the Speaker is rooted in her family as foundation which gives her the courage and need to move into the land of words.

Some other great verse novels ...

Just a short list of a few more favorites! Keep checking back for new additions to the list. I’m always reading!

  • Katherine Elizabeth Clark. Freakboy. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013.
  • Sharon Creech. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Book, Harper Trophy, 2001.
  • And the sequel, Hate That Cat published in 2008.
  • Sarah Crossan. The Weight of Water. New York: Scholastic, 2014. Originally published in Great Britain in 2012.
  • Helen Frost. Diamond Willow. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2008.
  • Nikki Grimes. Words with Wings. Honsdale: WordSong (Highlights), 2013.
  • K.A. Holt. House Arrest. New York: Scholastic, 2015.
  • Thanhha Lai. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: Harper, 2011.  
  • Kelsey Sutton. The Lonely Ones. New York: Philomel Books, 2016.
  • Holly Thompson. Orchards: A Novel. New York: Ember, 2011.
  • Tamera Will Wissinger. GONE FISHING: A Novel In Verse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
  • And the sequel, Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse published in 2017.