Top Ten Middle Grade Novels in Verse by Kaitlyn Ilinitch
I absolutely love novels in verse. I can’t get enough of this genre, and I am always on the lookout for new titles. As a student, I had always been drawn to poetry, but ever since I read Brown Girl Dreaming in 2015, my love for poetry has grown immensely.
What is so great about novels in verse is that they tell stories but also allow readers to contemplate the power of words (or lack of words). I book talk this genre often to my 7th grade students for the following reasons:
- I want my students to explore a genre that they probably haven’t explored before. From personal experience, most students who enter my classroom have not read books in this format.
- I want my students to understand and feel the power of words. I’ve had students study and discuss novels in verse in book clubs, specifically focusing on the author’s word choice and structure.
- Novels in verse are multifaceted because they include many different genres. In my list below, I have included memoir, realistic fiction, and historical fiction. Therefore, students can be exposed to diverse genres and life experiences all through the means of poetry.
- I use excerpts from novels in verse in order to study writer’s craft and have students write their own free verse poems, usually in the form of memoir.
- I want to convey to my students the passion I have for a genre I love deeply. My enthusiasm is contagious. In fact, during a book talk this year one student even commented, “You love poetry, don’t you?” Yes, I really do.
Below are my top ten middle grade novels in verse. These are titles that I often recommend to students. They are in no particular order.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Set in the 1960s and 1970s, Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful memoir is about her childhood experiences during the civil rights movement and moving between two very different places that she calls home. I was captivated by the beauty of Woodson’s language and its emotional impact.
House Arrest by K.A. Holt
Timothy is on house arrest for one year because, in a moment of desperation, he stole a credit card in order to help pay for his brother’s medication. Written in diary form, House Arrest is about the strengthening of family in the face of multiple obstacles, including childhood illness and divorce. This novel is a page-turner, and I can’t wait for the follow-up titled Knockout, which comes out this March!
Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt
Kevin is a bully who happens to fall in love with poetry. I love the transformation of this character throughout the story and the message this novel sends to students about the importance of kindness.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
A Mexican-American family’s bond is strengthened in the face of the mother’s cancer battle. This novel is emotional, yet hopeful.
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
This novel is told through the eyes of Kek, a refugee from Africa who comes to America for the first time. While Kek transitions to a new life, he grapples with all that he left behind and his missing mother.
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Set during the Vietnam War, Matt is a refugee who comes to America to live with his adoptive family. Haunted by his memories of the war, baseball serves as a way to help him transition into American life and grapple with his past. This novel pairs well with Home of the Brave.
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
Set in the 1950s and 1960s, Margarita Engle’s memoir captures a young girl caught between two cultures: American and Cuban. This novel pairs well with Brown Girl Dreaming.
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Calliope has Tourette syndrome and struggles to fit in at a new school. This is another excellent novel about acceptance and the importance of kindness.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Set in Oklahoma during the 1930s, Billie Jo grapples with the death of her mother while dealing with the frequent dust storms that threaten the family farm.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Set during the Vietnam War, Hà and her family flee Vietnam to seek refuge in America. This novel pairs well with All the Broken Pieces and Home of the Brave.
Bonus: Nothing but the Truth by Avi
While this book is not considered poetry, it is a novel that plays with form and can definitely lend itself to discussions about writer’s craft. Told as a documentary novel made up of diary entries, memos, letters, and conversations, Nothing but the Truth focuses on Philip, who one day hums along loudly to his school’s morning observation of “The Star Spangled Banner.” After this controversial incident, one event leads to the next, which ultimately causes attention from the national media. I like this novel because since students are given all of the documents, it is up to them to decide what really happened on that day.
Kaitlyn Ilinitch is a 7th grade language arts teacher in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @MissIreads.