After highlighting a variety of poetry picture books in the April issue of Notes from the Horn Book and March issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book, we wanted to feature some of the notable novels in verse from the last year before National Poetry Month 2014 comes to a close.
After Gabby’s dad moved out, she “didn’t cry. Instead, / I filled the quiet / with daydreams.” She has trouble paying attention at school until a new teacher recognizes her love of words and allows Gabby time to write poetry. Told in free verse, Nikki Grimes’s Words with Wings is a very accessible story about an appealing child who transforms from introverted daydreamer to writer. (Boyds/Wordsong, 2013)
Serafina lives in modern rural Haiti. Food is scarce, and her mother is pregnant again. Serafina longs to attend school and become a doctor like Antoinette Solaine, who tried unsuccessfully to save Serafina’s baby brother, Pierre. Woven into the spare first-person free-verse poems is the history of Haiti and Serafina’s family. Rich details of everyday life add texture to Ann E. Burg’s Serafina’s Promise, an emotional, fast-moving tale for intermediate readers. (Scholastic, 2013)
In How I Discovered Poetry’s fifty poems (some previously published) Marilyn Nelson chronicles her formative years during the 1950s, from age four to thirteen, against the backdrop of the cold war and stirrings of the civil rights movement and women’s lib. Nelson’s father was a military officer and the family crisscrossed the country; they encountered racism (both the subtle and not-so-subtle types) but also loving kindness. A few family photos are included, rounded out by spare spot art that underscores the time period.
In Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s Freakboy, high school wrestler Brendan likes girls “too much, / and not in / the same / way / everyone / else / does.” Brendan’s story weaves together with his girlfriend Vanessa’s and that of transgender woman Angel in three-part verse-harmony. Each individual has a unique personality all his or her own in this sincere, profound rendering of sexuality, queerness, and identity. (Farrar, 2013)
In The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan’s contemporary immigration story told in verse, Kasienka and her mother move from Poland to England in search of Kasienka’s father, Tata. The free-verse narrative presents Kasienka’s feelings with economical precision, reflecting her distress but also her resilient nature as she endures bullying, delights in the sensations of kissing her first boyfriend, and finally finds Tata and accepts his new, separate life. (Bloomsbury, 2013)
An 1812 incident at Fort Wayne, Indiana, reveals the issues and human costs of westward expansion in Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost. Two boys — Miami Anikwa and settler James — are good friends. Then American and British armies arrive and prepare for battle. Apprehension on both sides breeds injustices and resentments that flare into catastrophic acts. Poignant and beautifully fashioned, the book is told in Frost’s signature poems. (Farrar/Foster, 2013)
In the first-person, present-tense verse novel Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, Stephanie Hemphill tracks Mary Godwin Shelley’s moves and emotions from the time she becomes infatuated with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley through their scandalous elopement, penury, European travels, and the births and deaths of their several children — up to Percy Shelley’s drowning on an ill-conceived sailing trip. A good beginning for readers curious about the author of Frankenstein. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 2013)
Fourteen-year-old Walker offers up a prayer (“my brother’s been dead / two whole months, and [Mom’s] still crying”), and Jesus answers it in person. Turns out He’s a pretty ordinary Joe, with an irreverent sense of humor. Ron Koertge’s verse novel Coaltown Jesus — in third person with short lines, plain language, and abundant white space — is a good vehicle for meditations on life, loss, and faith. (Candlewick, 2013)