Thursday, October 6, 2016

Poetry Friday - A New Verse Novel

         Thanks to Violet Nesdoly, our host for Poetry Friday today! She's celebrating Poetry Camp where so many PF people camped out with poetry last weekend, thanks to Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Visit here to see all the links!

       FYI -  I am serving on the Cybil's Poetry group again this year, this time Round One. I want to remind you that anyone can nominate a favorite book that was published from Oct. 16th, 2015 to Oct. 15th, 2016, when nominations close. Go HERE if you're interested!

          As serendipity goes, I had an arc of this verse novel from Candlewick Press, just out this October. I read it last week, and it has been nominated in the Cybil's poetry category. Verse novels are as diverse as stand alone poems are, always interesting to read an author's approach. With more being written in these recent years, I am sorry not to be in the classroom in order to see how they might affect the writing of my students, many of whom loved poetry and all types of writing. Would they try a short story in verse? Or a non-fiction research essay? It feels as if these verse novels will affect students in both their knowledge and opinions of how poetry can work for them as writers. 


To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party - Skila Brown



          I've lived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for a long time, and in the winter there are always stories of people lost. It's frightening to imagine. They are often alone, have driven off an embankment far enough down so that no one spots the car, or decided to go snowshoeing and are lost in a sudden storm. But they do have a good chance of being rescued because of technology and rescue groups.This was not true of the plight of the Donner party in 1846.

          Skila Brown has written a lovely, but heartbreaking verse novel about the Donner Party. We know of this story in Colorado, but she has made it a new telling through the use of poetry and by having the story told with one voice, Mary Ann. She is the second to oldest daughter of the Graves family at nineteen years. There are twelve in this family, one "in-law" married to the oldest daughter, a mother and father and the ten other children from seventeen years to an infant. They are a real family from this history, and the story is taken from accounts written by members of all the Donner group and others who met them along the way.    
     
           Through Mary Ann's voice, Skila Brown uses the poems to introduce characters--the strong and scared, the kind and mean. Taken together we begin to see how the adventure will go, with Mary Ann's excitement and support of her father as they begin, and walk and walk, then walk some more. The poems lengthen when a particular quiet scene is shown, adding the details of setting and people’s interactions. Then they shorten as the challenges continue to appear--quick, brief lines, like when one breathes fast with stress. There is beauty shown in brief words, comparisons with Mary Ann's past, and her first impressions.

            Attention to word placement adds to the movement, this never-stopping journey: “The days seem/agonizingly long” (large space) “frightening short”. It's hard to imagine walking hundreds of miles, and the poems show the repetition of scenery. It becomes endless prairie, no-relief of horizon desert, mountain up-and-down canyons. Finally arrives the snow, the endless snow. In a story where although one already knows the sad end, the poems stand alone as this small group walks: they dance to a fiddle, watch the food dwindle: “Father unwraps the beef, carefully slices/each of us a piece, as big as a finger.”  The uncomfortable predictions are there all along this journey made of hope, grit, and finally resignation. One favorite line comes as they choose to move up into the mountains, seeing storm clouds, but hoping that the snow will only last a day. It did not.

"Everything's being slowly painted white./as if we're climbing up into winter." It’s a poignant story told again in verse.

34 comments:

  1. Sounds beautiful, if sad. I will keep an eye out for it.

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    1. Thanks, Sally. even in the best of circumstances, it was a challenging trip, but through different choices, this became a disaster. Skila Brown gave a new perspective.

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  2. What a heartbreaking story that must have been to write.

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    1. I imagine so, perhaps especially told through the eyes of a young person just starting her life. Thanks, Kat.

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  3. I have a breathless feeling just from reading your description, Linda. What an undertaking -- both for the family AND for the poet.

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    1. I agree about the challenge of telling this story in a different way, Tabatha. I wonder how it will go with those younger who may not know the story?

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  4. Sounds beautiful. I'll watch for this one. Thanks, Linda.

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    1. You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it!

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  5. Thanks for your wonderful review, Linda. This story has always fascinated me, and I'm interested to see Brown's telling of something so tragic. What a challenge to handle a difficult subject and offer hope for young readers despite a sad ending.

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    1. I agree that it would be challenging, but I think many teens will like examining the decisions made, perhaps especially by this young woman, and also wondering about the survival aspect in the terrible weather. Thanks, Jama.

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  6. I'm thrilled that you shared this book. It sounds wonderful (well, you know what I mean) and I adore verse books. Definitely going to buy this one.

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    1. I hope you enjoy the way the story is told, Kimberley. Glad you are excited about it. Thanks!

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  7. It sounds heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing it.

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    1. You're welcome, Liz, and you're right; it is a sad story.

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  8. Very interesting. Since I grew up in Colorado I've been familiar with this story since I was young. I'll have to read Skila's book.

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    1. I guess many of us are familiar with it here in the west, Penny. It was interesting.

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  9. Sounds like an incredible story and verse novel. Great review, Linda!

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. It is quite a story!

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  10. It's quite a job being a Round 1 judge just for the volume of works to be read. We also found it difficult comparing verse novels to anthologies of poetry. I have loved the historical fiction verse novels of Caroline Starr Rose. Is this one similar? I wish verse novels were more popular in my class. We have enjoyed read alouds of Crossover and The Last 5th Grade... I just don't see my kids choosing them for their independent reading.
    I love what you said about opening up the idea of writing in verse to your students. I think that may be how I can push my students to read them.

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    1. There is a lot, I now know, Margaret. But it's going to be fun! Thanks for sharing about your class.

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  11. Oh my, this sounds gripping. I chose to attend the verse novel workshop at Poetry Camp and from even that brief encounter with four novelists, my appreciation for what verse offers in telling a story has grown. I'm adding this title to my "to read" list. Thanks, Linda!

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    1. I would have loved to have been in that session. I'm sure it was wonderful. Enjoy this one, Violet, and thanks!

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  12. Thanks for your impressions, Linda. I really admired Skila Brown's Caminar, and look forward to reading this one.

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    1. You're welcome, Jeannine. I enjoyed Caminar too, although it was a while ago, and I would have to re-read it to compare the style with this new one. I hope you enjoy it, too.

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  13. I loved this one! I reviewed it way too early, but I was so excited by it that I had to share! Glad to see you like it, too! Have you read Nathan Hale's Dangerous Tales--The Donner Dinner Party? Fun companion book!

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    1. Nice to hear from you about the book, Mary Lee. Thanks for the Nathan Hale title-will look for it.

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  14. I look forward to reading through your committee's short list. And thank you for doing the lion's share of the work!

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  15. The Donner Party story fascinates and horrifies. The way you describe this verse novel is so compelling. Perhaps its the perfect form to tell this tragic story.

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  16. Thanks for sharing this book, Linda. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and verse novels, so this one really intrigues me. Good luck with your Cybil judging!

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  17. Thank you for this review. I have been waiting to see something new from Skila Brown since Caminar. Caminar had a similar raw story that was very difficult in places. The poetry made it easier to take in. I really hope this writer continues to publish. Her skill and love of story are striking.

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  18. What a wonderful post! I"m not sure I would pick up this book for my own reading, so I appreciate the detail and the care of your review. Enjoy the Cybils--I missed the sign-up completely this year!

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  19. Linda, this post is riveting. I have always been both intrigued and horrified by the Donner Party story. Your review is beautifully written. I know this would be a story I would very much like to read.

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  20. What an undertaking to make such a tragic story come alive in verse. I'll have to check it out.

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  21. Finally getting around to Poetry Friday, and this is my first of the day. I think this sounds absolutely fascinating as a read, BUT... I'm afraid it will be like a carnival ride that I got on and began to enjoy, but now want to GET OFF! And there is no getting off once you start. This haunting story would probably be too much for my head and heart. It sounds like it was very well done, and maybe someday I will feel up to taking a peek. Very intriguing to try to get into those desperate minds. You've written a wonderful review of it!

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Having a conversation is a good thing!