To honor National Poetry Month in April, we’re spotlighting notable novels in verse from the past year. From illustrated lighthearted verse to historical fiction to contemporary realism, this eclectic potpourri of Horn Book Guide–recommended novels showcases the form and gives readers — from primary-age kids to older teens — good reasons to celebrate poetry.
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide
Calhoun, Dia Eva of the Farm
235 pp. Atheneum 2012 ISBN 978-1-4424-1700-7
Gr. 4–6 When life on the family farm as twelve-year-old Eva knows it is threatened by a recession, fire blight, and sudden medical expenses, she turns to her great passion — poetry — for comfort, self-expression, and a possible means of making money. Eva’s beautifully constructed, imagistic poems within this novel shine, allaying the minor lyrical inconsistencies of the main verse narration.
Engle, Margarita The Wild Book
133 pp. Harcourt 2012 ISBN 978-0-547-58131-6
Gr. 4–6 Engle relates, with some fictionalization, her grandmother Fefa’s childhood in dangerous early-twentieth-century Cuba. Fefa suffers from “word-blindness” (dyslexia), but she slowly learns to read and write as a blank book from Mamá becomes her “garden” in which “words sprout / like seedlings.” Spare, dreamlike verse pairs perfectly with a first-person narrator whose understanding of written language is unique.
Hemphill, Stephanie Sisters of Glass
154 pp. Knopf 2012 ISBN 978-0-375-86109-3 LE ISBN 978-0-375-96109-0
YA Before his death, their father, a respected glassblower, declared that younger daughter Maria must marry Venetian nobility, leaving elder Giovanna to stay on Murano with the family. The sisters each long for the other’s future (and suitor); creative ingenuity allows for a satisfying resolution. A vivid fifteenth-century Venetian setting, true-to-life family tensions, and fairy-tale romance complete this novel told in elegant verse. Glos.
Hopkins, Ellen Tilt
604 pp. McElderry 2012 ISBN 978-1-4169-8330-9
YA Mikayla, Shane, and Harley alternate narration as they struggle to find balance amidst poor choices, family issues, and personal crises; snippets from secondary characters add perspective. The issues-laden plot and labyrinthine web of characters is the stuff of soap operas, which older teens may relish. Hopkins’s free verse, with thoughtful line breaks and word choices, is by turns poised and visceral.
Rosen, Michael Running with Trains: A Novel in Poetry and Two Voices
102 pp. Boyds/Wordsong 2012 ISBN 978-1-59078-863-9
Gr. 4–6 With Dad MIA in Vietnam and Mom back in school, thirteen-year-old Perry takes the train back and forth between Gran’s and Mom’s every week; Steve is a lonely nine-year-old on an Ohio farm, enamored with the train that passes through his family’s property. Both boys’ alternating voices are unique and poignant in this verse novel about self-discovery and the nature of home.
Rosenthal, Betsy R. Looking for Me
172 pp. Houghton 2012 ISBN 978-0-547-61084-9
Gr. 4–6 In some free verse and some loosely rhymed poems, Rosenthal tells the story of her mother Edith’s Depression-era childhood in a Jewish family with twelve children. The novel is episodic but gives individual personalities to the many siblings. Edith’s voice is touching and genuine; readers will maintain hope that she someday realize she’s more than “just plain Edith / who’s number four.” Glos.
Tregay, Sarah Love & Leftovers
435 pp. HarperCollins/Tegen 2012 ISBN 978-0-06-202358-2
YA Marcie’s dad comes out as gay, and she moves from Idaho to New Hampshire with her depressed mother. Missing her boyfriend and crew of friends nicknamed “the Leftovers,” she struggles to acclimate (and remain faithful). She returns to Boise midyear, but everything is different—including her. The first-person verse narration wrought with satisfying angst makes Marcie’s woes and joys palpable.
Wissinger, Tamera Will Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse
128 pp. Houghton 2013 ISBN 978-0-547-82011-8
Gr. 1–3 Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Sam is excited for his fishing trip with Dad — until little sister Lucy tags along. Poems of varied forms describe the fishing trio’s day: preparations, techniques (“Heeere, fishy, fishy, fishy…”), frustrations (“Lucy’s winning eight to… / none”), and eventual triumphs. Cordell’s buoyant illustrations are a natural fit for the upbeat verse. A “Poet’s Tackle Box” section outlines poetic devices and forms. Bib.
From the March/April 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, click here.