Friday, December 2, 2011

Beauty In Children's Novels Written In Verse

Poetry Friday can be enjoyed with Carol at Carol's Corner!

Home Sweet Home
No matter what kind of writing I am working with both personally and in my teaching, I always return to saying, “tell the story”.  Recently, I have read several books that tell their wonderful stories in verse.  They are both written for children, and both are heartbreaking in the telling of memories of place.  They communicate more than about being homesick, but rather grief stricken or heartsick for their homes.  Thanhha Lai won the National Book Award this year for her poetic novel, Inside Out And Back Again, which tells the tale of a family immigrating to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon.  And Karen Hesse, whose book Out Of The Dust won the Newbery in 1998, also wrote Aleutian Sparrow, a chronicling of the removal of the Aleut people from their homes in the Aleutian islands in order to protect them from the Japanese at the beginning of World War II.  They were not allowed to return, although the Japanese threat ended in 1942, until April of 1945, only to find their villages looted and destroyed.  It can’t be easy to write an entire novel in verse, but these two writers, along with others, create something very easy to read.  I’d like to share a little bit from each.

From Inside Out And Back Again:

         When the main character’s mother visits a kind of fortuneteller in the New Year:        
This year he predicts
         our lives will twist inside out.
         Maybe soldiers will no longer
         patrol our neighborhood,
maybe I can jump rope
          after dark,
         maybe the whistles
         that tell Mother
         to push us under the bed
         will stop screeching.

From Aleutian Sparrow:

         I was six when I stood outside Alfred’s grandfather’s house,
                  where the old ways steep like tea in a cup of hours.


Most of us dreamed of going Outside, hungry for a taste of
         life beyond the Aleutians.
Few of us truly meant it, few of us ever really intended to
         leave the fog and the wind, the sun and the rain, the
         hunting and trapping and fishing, the easy welcome
         of neighbors.
We never thought who we were was so dependent on where
we were.

Other books in verse I’ve enjoyed are Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech, Witness, also by Karen Hesse, the trilogy beginning with Make Lemonade by Virginia Ewer Wolfe, and Keesha’s House, by Helen Frost.  There are others.   Each tells a compelling story like the ones above, and is worthy of recommendations to students who might think they don’t like poetry, but do love to read a great story.  


  1. Yes, the tale's the thing! And poetry can be a great way to tell it. My kids have enjoyed Love That Dog/Hate That Cat, and Witness. Have to keep an eye out for the others.

  2. Inside Out and Aleutian Sparrow are certainly well done, and important works. I think I would have to be in a good state of mind to read them though, as the subject matter seems pretty deep and emotional.

  3. I love the idea of a children's novel written in verse, and the excerpts you've chosen are beautiful. Poetic writing can gentle such difficult subjects, I would think.

    Love your photo of your own "home sweet home," too. Big sky...

  4. These are wonderful titles. I am always surprised at the powerful responses my kids have had to titles like "Out of the Dust."

  5. I could go on and on about novels written in verse! I am a SuperFan. I am so excited about the National Book Award Winner and finalists this year. So glad you highlighted Inside Out and Back Again here... I am going to have to add that to my book blog. Helen Frost is incredible. Have you read Diamond Willow? I also love Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant. You have named some of my favorites, though. Neal Shusterman was actually inspired to write the title character's point of view in verse in his book Bruiser as a result of reading Ellen Hopkins's Crank. Poetry is such compact, powerful language. There is nothing else like it... did I mention I could go on and on? You lit a fire in me by mentioning this genre today! Thank you!

  6. I love novels in verse, but I haven't read either of these! Can't wait to get hold of them!

  7. I've read both those novels in verse, but loved seeing them put together with the theme of homesickness. Interesting how one book can change another, which, of course, must be what happens as you teach these.

    I'm also a big fan of Witness. If you can get hold of the cd of it, you'll be treated to a great interview with Karen Hesse about the process.

    Thanks for beauty in your post!

  8. How did I miss Aleutian Sparrow?? I'll look for that one.

    If you love Helen Frost, then you MUST read Crossing Stones. I think it's her best.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing these!
    "old ways steep like tea in a cup of hours" - that's poetry.

  10. Witness is a favorite of mine, too. Thanks for these suggestions.

  11. We must be distantly related for us to be so in sync (haha) - we are also having a novels-in-verse theme over at GatheringBooks - and I have been buried deep in this genre for the longest time now - I've read quite a bit, but there are a few more stacked - waiting to be read (haven't found Sharon Creech's novels yet).

    I've read and reviewed Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again and found myself crying towards the end. I also read Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust - moved me very deeply. I've been on the lookout for her Aleutian Sparrow but was not able to find it. I've read Helen Frost's Hidden and I also have her Crossing Stones. But one of my greatest finds, I believe, is Margarita Engle. She's a real treasure. :)


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