This year several of my students got hooked on novels in verse. A novel in verse is a short novel that is told in a series of poems or verses. The books have become popular quite quickly. I have students who have read every novel in verse that is available in the classroom. They are recommending these novels to each other, and to students who have not yet read books in this format.
As a teacher, I am finding that these are great books for readers of this age (and beyond). These novels tend to have a lot of depth. Some of my students who have difficulty sticking with books until the end have the stamina to finish a novel in verse. I am not sure if they like the fact that they feel like they are turning pages quickly, or that each page is shorter than a typical novel. Whatever the reason, they are reading some terrific books in this genre, and changing the ways they think about what they read because of it.
My students were reading these books and recommending them informally, and we found new titles by pure luck. To give these books the value they deserved, I realized that we needed to cluster these books together and add a basket of "Novels in Verse" to our classroom library. We pulled together a basket of these books and will continue to add to our basket. These are the books that are currently included in our classroom collection:
Novels in Verse
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
The book is about JoEllen, who splits her time between her mother's home in the city and her father's home in the country. The book is told in first person, so we get into the thinking of JoEllen and how she feels about having these two quite separate lives. Illustrations, photos, and maps are added to each page so there are visuals throughout. This book packs a lot into just 73 pages.
Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli
This is the book that hooked many of my readers onto novels in verse. This is the story of Diana, who finds out that her father lost his job so they'll have to move. Leaving her home and her best friend is hard. The story is told in verse, but there is also a bit of variety in the way the pages are set up — with a few lists and other intriguing ways of breaking up the text.
Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart by Vera Williams
Poems and illustrations work together in this short book. Amber and Essie are sisters who are very close. They are having a hard time as a family because their father is in jail and they don't always have enough money or food. The sisters' close relationship is what gets them through their struggles. This book ends happily when their father returns home again.
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
The main character in this story, Annie, enjoys running and creating art. Her friend Max also enjoys running. This is the story of the two of them as they grow up. Sharon Creech is at her best in this novel -like her other novel in verse, Love That Dog, we come to know this character well and care about her.
These are two great books that not only fit into the category of novel in verse but are also historical fiction. Becoming Joe Dimaggio takes place in the 1940s. Almost Forever takes place during the Vietnam War. Both let readers in on a child's perspective of these interesting eras. This historical context might be difficult for some students, although many children who have fathers in the military can relate to Almost Forever.
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Kek, who tells this story, is a refugee from Sudan. His experiences in the United States are often difficult for him. The way that he speaks, his reasons for leaving his country, and events in a new country all make this a very believable story. This is more sophisticated than some of the other novels in verse, and most people who read it shed a few tears. Many of my students who have recently moved to the US have carried this book around with them, hugging it to their hearts.
The Trial by Jen Bryant
This book is meant for a middle school audience. The story focuses on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in the 1930s. The main character Katie takes us through her own view of the trial as a journalist.
Grow by Juanita Havill
This is the story of a group of characters who are trying to create and preserve a garden in their neighborhood. As they work together to help their garden thrive, they each grow in their own ways and in their relationships with each other.
Where the Steps Were by Andrea Cheng
This is the story of a third-grade class in a school that will soon be torn down. This book is told in many voices from the classroom, and you come to know well the characters and class as a whole.
Spinning Through the Universe by Helen Frost
This is another story of a classroom community. These fifth graders each share perspectives about things happening in their personal and school lives. At the end of the book, the author provides a section of information about the form of each poem as well as some poetry-specific vocabulary. She invites readers to try to figure out each of the poetic forms on their own before reading this closing section.