Posts Tagged novels in verse

Free verse choice reads for middle grade readers

I come across a lot of free verse novels for teens in my work as a librarian, but fewer for middle grade readers, especially in recent years. Then I had the good fortune to read Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen, which recently won the Washington State Book Award for Middle Grade Books, and I was again hooked.

What’s the appeal of novels in free verse? Some readers (often adults) will tell us it’s the imagery, the pacing, the sparseness of writing that requires restraint and specificity of words. Teachers and librarians know that there’s another kind of reader who may be a perfect match for a novel in verse: the reluctant reader.

Opening a book written verse and seeing all that air, all that white space, can be inviting on its own. The books may have 200 or more pages and look long, but have half the number of words as a traditional prose piece. In addition, “novels in verse can be especially appealing to reluctant readers because they use so much vivid imagery,” says Dorie Raybuck in this excellent Horn Book piece “This Is Too Much!” Why Verse Novels Work for Reluctant Readers.”

When trying to find a free verse book for your readers, search the library under the subject heading “novels in verse” (makes sense!) and then filter to the age range and type of book you want. In the meantime, a few recommendations to get readers started.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
2015 Newbery Medal Winner and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner. “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle
When Tony’s mother is sent to jail, he is sent to stay with a great uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a daunting move Tony’s new world bears no semblance to his previous one. But slowly, against a remote and remarkable backdrop, the scars from Tony’s troubled past begin to heal. A Kirkus Reviews best books of 2013.

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
School Library Journal says: “Grimes’s latest is a sensitively written middle grade novel in verse that takes its syllable count from Japanese tanka.  Garvey is an overweight boy who is teased at school and whose father constantly prods him to be more like his athletic older sister, Angie. But Garvey has a best friend (Joe), an open heart (which leads him to a new friend, Manny), and, as readers learn midway through the book, a talent for singing, which lands him a coveted solo in the school’s chorus concert.”

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lại
Winner of the National Book Award and also a Newbery Honor Book. Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen
A young orphaned girl in modern-day China discovers the meaning of family in this “heartbreaking, heartwarming, and impressive debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) told in verse. 2016 Washington State Book Award winner.

 

Interview with Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu + Giveaway

Today we have on the blog an interview with Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, author of SOMEWHERE AMONG, a beautiful and haunting debut novel in verse about an American-Japanese girl struggling with the loneliness of being caught between two worlds when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes an ocean away. Read on for the interview and a chance to win this lovely book!

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What inspired SOMEWHERE AMONG?

Our life in Japan! I have lived and raised my children in a binational, bicultural, bilingual, multi-generational home in Tokyo for the past 24 years. Clashes, comedic scenarios and common ground have provided much introspection. Although I don’t see myself as a writer of Asian topics, there were a few things I wanted to share in children’s non-fiction magazine articles and picture books. I found it difficult to fill in the spaces of what American children know.

I started a children’s photo blog in 2006 when my youngest child was in fifth grade. That satisfied the desire to show modern Japan. I later started a novel set in Texas (my home state). After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, I had to ground myself in Japan. Emotions and images and memories of our life and our nations’ shared history rushed into poems that turned into this story.

At the story’s center is a paper doll that a woman had handed me on the train in my early days here. The doll came with the message “May Peace Prevail on the Earth.” I had tried to write a picture book about that, but the story was too big for 32 pages.

The 2011 disaster spurred me to write about Japan and the paper doll was the inspiration and motivation to try to tell its story again.

What kind of research did you do to tell this story?

I had started out with what I remembered. Then after the first draft, I used news reports, newspaper articles, weather data, and websites like NASA’s. The storyline didn’t change much from the first drafts. Through revisions it was a matter of making sure the timeline was correct and layering details.

The school and family life details were inspired by but altered from our experience. My children went through the Japanese public system and we lived in a multi-generational home. I couldn’t have written this story without that experience. It would have been very shallow.

Hearing the story of 9/11 from the perspective of an American living overseas is fascinating. Is that something you planned from the beginning, or did it come out in the writing process?

I didn’t set out to write about 9-11. This story came about through grounding myself by reminiscing. Sitting down to write about our life and memories here, I couldn’t get very far before 9-11 came up.

However, the sinking of the Japanese fishing boat, the Ehime Maru actually came up first. That incident exemplified the struggle (I especially felt) to reconcile the history and tragedies that my children’s two nations share. I distinctly remember that sadness and the months of TV coverage. The fishing ship tragedy happened in February 2001.

So, through writing this story, I was dragged into dealing with 9-11 again. I was dealing with aftershocks at our Tokyo home and the grief of the tsunami damage from a distance. It was not easy to deal with this. I could have easily avoided writing this story.

What are some books of poetry or novels in verse you would recommend for kids?

Oh! I have to say that I have limited access to English books because of price and place. I cannot afford all the books I would love to buy and our local library only has two or three short shelves of Newbery winners. No verse novels.

The only verse novel I had read before I started Somewhere Among was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Holly Thompson’s young adult novel, Orchards, had arrived just before the earthquakes of 2011. I knew it was about suicide so I didn’t get to read it until after the aftershocks and I had written my first draft. I discovered and read Susan Taylor Brown’s Hugging the Rock. I also learned of and read Thanhha Lai’s middle grade Inside Out and Back Again after it had won the Newbery. I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming last summer. All of those are wonderful.

Since attending Highlights Foundations Verse Novel workshop in 2012, I have read and enjoyed the work of instructors Virginia Euwer Wolf, Sonya Sones, and Linda Oatman High and attendees K.A. Holt, Sarah Tregay, and Madeleine Kuderick. There are future verse novelists from that group to watch out for.

Helen Frost, Margarita Engle, Mariko Nagai, Leza Lowitz and Holly Thompson’s books are on my wish list. There are many other verse novels I would love to read. Most of them are for young adults. I read and write mostly for middle grade readers 9-12 so middle grade novels are my first choice of purchase now.

Children’s poetry anthologies aren’t particularly age-specific. All anthologies and books by Lee Bennett Hopkins are great. My children loved You be Good I’ll be Night by Eve Merriam. Talking Like the Rain by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy. My favorite children’s poets are Joyce Sidman, Janet Wong, Helen Frost, Charles Ghigna, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Coatsworth.

I enjoy the video interviews that Lee Bennett Hopkins and Renee La Tulippe produce about children’s poets. There are so many wonderful things done for poetry for children. Sylvia Vardell’s blog www.poetryforchildren.com . Poetry Minute for younger readers www.poetryminute.org and Poetry 180 for older readers www.loc.gov/poetry/180

 

Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu lives in Tokyo, Japan. Her work has been published in Hunger Mountain, Highlights, Highlights High Five, Y.A.R.N., and other magazines. She received a grant from the Highlights Foundation to attend Chautauqua in 2009. Somewhere Among won the 2013 Writers’ League of Texas award in the middle grade category and is her debut novel.

For a chance to win a copy of SOMEWHERE AMONG, please leave a comment below by noon Eastern time on Monday, May 30th. If you tweet about the contest, we can give you an extra entry. Continental U.S. only, please (sorry! It’s the postage!).

Katharine Manning sighed her way through the lovely SOMEWHERE AMONG. She is a middle grade writer of dreamy fantasies and fast-paced soccer books. To see more of her raving about middle grade books, visit Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter.

National Poetry Month: Making Poetry WOW!

April is National Poetry Month, and today’s post is all about poetry!

There are many perceptions of poetry these days, and one of them is that it’s boring.

As a young child, I listened to my parents read poetry by Carl Sandberg and James Whitcomb Riley. As a young adult, I found Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and read them to myself. The classical poetry canon many of us grew up with is lovely, but there are so many different kinds of learners and we need to try to reach more of them. Wouldn’t it be great to help them find the wow of poetry? One way to do that is to explore a varied collection of poetry forms for the varied collection of readers we all want to ignite.

Here are just a few ways you can help kids explore poetry. You might even make poets of some of them!

Novels in verse can be particularly interesting for Middle Grade readers (I have found them to be fearless about trying something new, myself), but also for those readers who are developing their stamina and excitement about reading in general. Synopses are from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, 2015 Newbery Medal, 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor

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‘With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering, ‘ announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (“He Said, She Said” 2013).

Diamond Willow, 2009 Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year and Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013 , both by Helen Frost

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Twelve-year-old Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents’house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it’s just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences . . . And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again.

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Anikwa and James, twelve years old in 1812, spend their days fishing, trapping, and exploring together in the forests of the Indiana Territory. To Anikwa and his family, members of the Miami tribe, this land has been home for centuries. As traders, James’s family has ties to the Miami community as well as to the American soldiers in the fort. Now tensions are rising—the British and American armies prepare to meet at Fort Wayne for a crucial battle, and Native Americans from surrounding tribes gather in Kekionga to protect their homeland. After trading stops and precious commodities, like salt, are withheld, the fort comes under siege, and war ravages the land. James and Anikwa, like everyone around them, must decide where their deepest loyalties lie. Can their families—and their friendship—survive?

May B and Blue Birds, both by Carolyn Starr Rose

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May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
National Book Award, 2015 Newbery Honor, 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, 2015 Sibert Honor, 2015 Claudia Lewis Award for Older Readers

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Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Picture books of science-themed poetry are another wonderful way to connect with readers. Picture book treatments may seem simplistic but they are one of the best ways to grab a reader of any age in the shortest possible time. There are many new ones being released all the time, but here are just a few. I wish there had been books like these when I was a budding science enthusiast!

Step Gently Out and Sweep Up the Sun, both by Helen Frost with photographs by Rick Lieder

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What would happen if you walked very, very quietly and looked ever so carefully at the natural world outside? You might see a cricket leap, a moth spread her wings, or a spider step across a silken web. In simple, evocative language, Helen Frost offers a hint at the many tiny creatures around us. And in astonishing close-up photographs, Rick Lieder captures the glint of a katydid’s eye, the glow of a firefly, and many more living wonders just awaiting discovery. Fascinating facts about all the creatures pictured may be found at the end.

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Baby robins, pen-beaked in their nest. Mallards winging to a new clime. Whether chickadees or cardinals, sparrows or starlings, here are commonly seen birds in their natural settings, captured in photographs of rare beauty and grace. In perfect synchrony, a lyrical narrative evokes images of play and flight, perseverance and trust.At the end, readers will find profiles of the featured species. 

An Egret’s Day, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple
National Outdoor Book Awards Honor book

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Poems and photographs take readers up close to observe the daily life of the extraordinary Great Egret. A Great Egret rarely rests. This majestic bird, with its big feet, even bigger beak, and breathtaking lacy wings, is a treat to watch. With his camera, photographer Jason Stemple takes us close to these magnificent creatures to witness their physical–and quirky–beauty as well as their daily habits and behavior–soaring, hunting, preening, nesting–which most of us never get a chance to see. Meanwhile, celebrated poet Jane Yolen offers her keen observations in carefully-crafted poetry that is at once whimsical, thoughtful, and thought provoking. Interesting facts about the bird accompany each poem.

Insectlopedia, by Douglas Florian

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The windows are open and bugs are everywhere!

Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems, by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Virginia Halstead

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Showing that science is not a dry subject at all–rather it’s a way of looking at the world–these poems, by poets both beloved and new, cover a wide array of topics, including tools of science, weather, seeds, animals, and the processes of freezing. Full-color illustrations.

The Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom, edited by Jack Preultsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Culled by Jack Prelutsky from the works of more than 100 highly acclaimed poets of the twentieth century, here is a poetic parade of the animal kingdom that ranges from the lowly earthworm to the majestic whale and just about every creature in between. Some of the poems are playful and funny; others are insightful and thoughtful–but all are brief and fun to read aloud. Whether by Ogden Nash or Seamus Heaney, William Carlos Williams or Marianne Moore, the striking images of each poem are captured in the deft brushstrokes, sure sense of color, and lyrical compositions of Meilo So, a brilliant young watercolorist.

Fanciful and funny poems are the ones we turn to most often to capture kids’ imaginations, and they exist in abundance. Here are just a few which have delighted the Middle Grade students I’ve taught.

Once I Ate a Pie, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider (this is one of a series featuring animal images and poetry)

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It’s a dog’s life!  Every dog has a tail to wag . . . and a tale to tell. Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest asked a collection of canines to speak up—and so they do, in words, barks, and yips. Captured here are accounts of happy days filled with squeaky toys, good smells, plenty of naps, and the very important jobs they do for the people they love to love.

The Dragons are Singing Tonight, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis

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Prelutsky and Sis…bring to life so many sorts of dragons: the large, the small, the ferocious, the technological, the gentle, the ominous, and the disconsolate.(from Booklist)

Don’t Bump the Glump and Runny Babbitt, both by Shel Silverstein

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It’s a zoo in here!

Have you ever . . .

Seen a Gritchen in your kitchen?
Dared to dance with the One-Legged Zantz?
Declined to dine with the Glub-Toothed Sline?

You haven’t? Well then, step inside—but only if you are ready to be amazed, tickled, astonished and entertained by this most unusual bestiary of silly and scary creatures.

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Welcome to the world of Runny Babbit and his friends Toe Jurtle, Skertie Gunk, Rirty Dat, Dungry Hog, Snerry Jake, and many others who speak a topsy-turvy language all their own.

Oh, Theodore! Guinea Pig Poems, by Susan Katz, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

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Come meet Theodore: a plump, fuzzy guinea pig with a big appetite, a lot to say, and a personality all his own. As you, and his new owner, get to know him, you’ll find out what he eats and how he speaks. You’ll also discover the work involved in caring for a pet: feeding, cleaning, and taking him out for exercise. But it hardly seems like work once your pet becomes your best friend.
With the popularity of guinea pigs as family and classroom pets, Theodore’s antics are sure to ring true to many readers. And for those who haven’t had a guinea pig of their own, these short, funny, and accessible poems will create a vivid first impression.

In addition to reading poetry, one way to understand it is to dig into its different forms for yourself by writing some! Here are a few books to get you started exploring different styles of poetry with students.

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka

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In this splendid and playful volume — second of a trilogy — an acclaimed creative team presents examples of twenty-nine poetic forms, demonstrating not only the (sometimes bendable) rules of poetry, but also the spirit that brings these forms to life. Featuring poems from the likes of Eleanor Farjeon (aubade), X. J. Kennedy (elegy), Ogden Nash (couplet), Liz Rosenberg (pantoum), and William Shakespeare, the sonnet king himself, A Kick in the Head perfectly illustrates Robert Frost’s maxim that poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net.

R is for Rhyme : A Poetry Alphabet, by Judy Young, illustrated by Victor Juhasz

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From acrostics to ballads to meter and metaphor, enjoy this collection of poems that illustrate poetic tools, terms, and techniques. Each term and technique is demonstrated.

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Prelutsky has invented a method he calls ‘poemstarts’ to help children get started in writing poetry. He provides several introductory lines of a simple poem and then offers some open-ended suggestions for its completion. In this thematically organized collection, Prelutsky offers ten poemstarts on different popular themes, complemented by three short poems on the same subject by different authors.

Need more help with ideas to share the wow of poetry with students? Here are some resources for teachers.

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/calendar-activities/april-national-poetry-month-20478.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/poetry/
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/national-poetry-month-activities
http://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/poetry
http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy National Poetry Month!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press and blogs at the Best of It.