Top Ten Novels in Verse by Lauren Strohecker

For many kids, “poetry” is a dirty word. Plenty of my own students tune out, glaze over, roll their eyes, or outwardly groan at its mere mention—but that’s a Nerdy Book Club post of it’s own. When getting the right book (sometimes any book!) into the hands of the right reader can be such a challenge, finding a way to invest students in poetry can be an uphill battle. For some readers, the gateway might just be fiction, and verse novels are a fantastic blend of poetic form and fiction narrative. So, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I give you ten of my favorite novels in verse. Happy reading!

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

Written in free verse, May B. tells the story of Mavis Betterly, a 12-year-old girl living on the Kansas frontier with her family. After a poor harvest, May’s father removes her from school and sends her to a neighbor’s farm to help an unhappy bride settle into her new home. When circumstances leave May stranded at the homestead on her own, she faces her greatest challenge yet: survival. ( Book trailer / Study guide )


Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Winner of the National Book Award as well as a Newbery Honor, Inside Out & Back Again follows Hà and her family as they flee Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Forced from the only home she’s ever known and separated even further from her missing father, Hà must now also learn to adjust to life in a strange new place. The book is inspired by the author’s own experiences in the United States after leaving Vietnam with her family in 1975. ( National Book Award Finalists Reading, November 2011 )


Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg

Eight-year-old Eleanor is having a terrible August—so bad, it’s like pickle juice on a cookie! Her longtime babysitter has moved away, and Eleanor is left with a hole in her life. With a little bit of help from her friends and family, can she find a way to fill it? ( The story behind the story. )


Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Like many kids, Jake hates poetry. When his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, shares some of her favorite poems with his class, Jack is resistant. But then, something unexpected happens… Jack finds himself connecting to some of the poems, unlocking a side of himself he never knew was there.  Also recommended: Hate that Cat. ( Scholastic’s literature circle guide )


October Mourning by Lesléa Newman

Haunting and powerful, October Mourning is Lesléa Newman’s fictionalized account of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Told from a variety of perspectives, both human and not (including the stars and the fence to which Shepard was tied), the book chronicles the events of that harrowing night and explores the lasting impact of Shepard’s death. ( Book trailer / Discussion guide / SLJ author interview )


The Girl in the Mirror by Meg Kearney

In this follow-up to The Secret of Me, high school senior Lizzie thinks she is ready, with the help of her adoptive parents, to learn more about her birth mother. When a tragedy strikes her family, Lizzie’s world is upended, and she must figure out for herself how to find her way again. Beautifully done, and teachers take note: Kearney includes a guide to the poetic forms she uses in a helpful appendix, complete with explanations of why she used certain forms throughout the narrative. ( Teacher’s guide )


Sold by Patricia McCormick

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives in a poor farming community in Nepal, and yet she is able to find a quiet beauty in her world—until the day her stepfather sells her into slavery in India. In the blink of an eye, Lakshmi is ripped from her home and forced into a life no child should ever have to face. Heartbreaking, often difficult to read, but ultimately hopeful, Lakshmi’s story is an important one, and she is a heroine worth rooting, hoping, and fighting for. ( Discussion guide / Author FAQ )


The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

This collection of interconnected poems gives us a glimpse into the overlapping lives, loves, and stories of twenty teenagers at the same New Jersey high school. From the gay couple experiencing their first romance, to the popular mean girl, to the surprisingly insecure jock, Levithan gives each narrator a distinct voice. And as their stories emerge, we see the many ways, both obvious and subtle, that these teens and their lives are connected. ( Excerpt )

Pieces of Georgia by Jennifer Bryant

Georgia McCoy is an artist, just like her mother, but things aren’t the same since her mom died. It’s hard to connect to her father, and she’s starting to forget what it’s like to be a family. But a surprise gift a few days after her thirteenth birthday starts to change things. Who sent this wonderful present? And will it be just what Georgia and her father need to start to heal? Also recommended: Kaleidoscope Eyes. ( Teacher’s guide )


Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

After reading Frost’s Crossing Stones, I saw this book featured on Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book Almanac. It tells the story of twelve-year-old Diamond Willow, who lives in Alaska with her family and their sled dogs. The family’s prize dog, Roxy, is also Diamond’s favorite, and with a little cajoling, Diamond convinces her parents to let her take the dogs on a solo run to visit her grandparents. When an accident threatens Roxy, Diamond must take responsibility for her actions and find a way to set things right. Beyond the remarkable story, this book is also a unique study in form; each poem is crafted in the shape of a diamond, with a smaller bold-print message nestled inside. Also recommended: Crossing Stones. ( Teaching ideas )

Lauren Strohecker is a K-6 librarian just outside of Philadelphia. Because there’s no such thing as enough books, she also works as a bookseller at an independent bookstore. Visit her on Twitter at @lkstrohecker.