One activity I enjoy every spring is tracking down the list of Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners (usually announced in January or February) at my library. This year I snagged two of the Newbery winners before they got long waiting lists, and was surprised to find that they were both novels in verse. Poem-novels are a bit of an unexplored genre for me; there are a few that I’ve enjoyed, but sometimes I find myself steering away from them because it’s hard for me to get into the narrative.
But I just finished one that shot to the top of my list in this genre; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. It had gotten a lot of buzz from book blogs and magazines leading up to the awards, and ended up winning a Newbery Honor. I’m giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up! The poems form an autobiography/memoir of Woodson, who has several other award-winning books to her name. It chronicles her growing-up years in Brooklyn, NY and Greenville, SC, the tension between finding a home in two such different places and the happy memories of childhood as well. The poems I love most are the ones where Woodson is writing about finding her identity as a writer; learning to read and create stories, and realizing that she wants to continue doing that. The voice is so natural and doesn’t feel forced into the poetic form, which I also appreciated. I love that even though it could be a more fragmented format the narrative arc is still strong, and I loved reading about a girl whose childhood was so different from mine. I love that I’m discovering more diverse writers this year. Brown Girl Dreaming makes me want to give a second look to other novels in verse. At the same library trip I also grabbed this year’s Newbery Award winner, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. The basketball-centric plot didn’t draw me in as much as Brown Girl Dreaming, but I still the story and the language and I bet the sports fan in your family would love it.
Here are some other novels in verse that a reader you know might enjoy:
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
This is the first poem-novel I remember reading, back when I was in grade school. I loved the setting (the Midwest during the Dust Bowl years) and the girl’s lonely face on the cover. It’s sad, but lovely and sweeping and emotional and redemptive and so many other adjectives.
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston
Have you ever read an entire novel in rhyming couplets? About fashion? Didn’t think so. This one is extremely silly and funny and well-written. The interior design is fun to look at; it’s whimsical and creative and keeps the couplet structure from getting boring. This would make an excellent read-aloud, too.
Recommendation time! Any other poem novels that you enjoy? Share them below!
Featured image by Paul Boekell
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Helena Sorensen says
Ooh. This sounds good. I just saw Brown Girl Dreaming on an Amazon list the other day and wondered about it!
Let me know what you think if you read it, Helena! I definitely enjoyed it.
LeAnna Alderman Sterste says
May B. By Caroline Starr Rose is a lovely novel in verse.
Writing that one down on my list!
I read both of these too, but, despite not really liking basketball, it was The Crossover that really stood out for me. I need to read some of Woodson’s fiction, and maybe I’ll have a better experience — I did like Brown Girl Dreaming, but it didn’t blow me away and/or stick with me like The Crossover did. They’re both masterful, though.
Isn’t it interesting how different books strike different readers? Maybe I’ll give The Crossover another chance some time. 🙂
Sarah Oyerinde says
I second May B. by Caroline Starr Rose!
Thanks for your book recommendations. I’ll definitely be checking some of those out.
Jodi Buttram says
Reading these types of books in elementry and middle school led to a love for Norse literature and epic poems in late highschool and college. It opens up the possibility of discovering completely uncharted literary worlds!
Good point, Jodi! Those epics always intimidated me so I didn’t even think about that as I was writing this. 🙂
Laurie Walters says
Helen Frost writes beautiful novels in verse — Crossing Stones was my favorite. I’m a children’s librarian and I got to hear her speak at our library. Thanks for your reviews!
Michelle Thomas says
The only epic poem/poetic novel I ever made it through was The Singer Trilogy by Calvin Miller. It was originally three books, so I suppose I can claim I’ve read three. 🙂 My problem is that when something looks like poetry, I need it to have a rhythm. I’ll have to look up Prince Puggly and see if my library has it.