THE 2022 NERDIES: POETRY AND NOVELS IN VERSE ANNOUNCED BY ANGIE MOORE
About a decade ago, I read the book Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, my first experience with novels in verse, and I became hooked! It became my favorite format for reading, and since becoming a school librarian, they are one of my favorites to recommend to readers. But, of course, it is more than the format that counts; it’s a well-written book, whether fiction or nonfiction, fantasy, realistic, or historical. Since my first experience with novels in verse, so many amazing ones have been written for young people that it is sometimes hard to keep up. This list of poetry and novels in verse chosen by Nerdy readers features some of the best of 2022 for young readers of all ages. Books are listed in alphabetical order.
**Book descriptions & cover images are taken from Goodreads.
In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamplands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.
Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds & Jason Griffin, Illustrator (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Prepare yourself for something unlike anything: A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now. Jason Reynolds and his best bud, Jason Griffin had a mind-meld. And they decided to tackle it, in one fell swoop, in about ten sentences, and 300 pages of art, this piece, this contemplation-manifesto-fierce-vulnerable-gorgeous-terrifying-WhatIsWrongWithHumans-hope-filled-hopeful-searing-Eye-Poppingly-Illustrated-tender-heartbreaking-how-The-HECK-did-They-Come-UP-with-This project about oxygen. And all of the symbolism attached to that word, especially NOW. And so for anyone who didn’t really know what it means to not be able to breathe, REALLY breathe, for generations, now you know. And those who already do, you’ll be nodding yep yep, that is exactly how it is.
Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson (HarperCollins US)
When the Germans invade Ukraine, Zhanna, a young Jewish girl, must leave behind her friends, her freedom, and her promising musical future at the world’s top conservatory. With no time to say goodbye, Zhanna, her sister Frina, and their entire family are removed from their home by the Nazis and forced on a long, cold, death march. When a guard turns a blind eye, Zhanna flees with nothing more than her musical talent, her beloved sheet music, and her father’s final plea: “I don’t care what you do. Just live.”
Augusta Savage: The Shape of A Sculptor’s Life by Marilyn Nelson (Christy Ottaviano Books)
Augusta Savage was arguably the most influential American artist of the 1930s. A gifted sculptor, Savage was commissioned to create a portrait bust of W.E.B. Du Bois for the New York Public Library. She flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, and became a teacher to an entire generation of African American artists, including Jacob Lawrence, and would go on to be nationally recognized as one of the featured artists at the 1939 World’s Fair. She was the first-ever recorded Black gallerist. After being denied an artists’ fellowship abroad on the basis of race, Augusta Savage worked to advance equal rights in the arts. And yet popular history has forgotten her name. Deftly written and brimming with photographs of Savage’s stunning sculpture, this is an important portrait of an exceptional artist who, despite the limitations she faced, was compelled to forge a life through art and creativity.
Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes (Wordsong)
Garvey’s finally happy—he’s feeling close to his father through their shared love of music, bullies are no longer tormenting him, and his best friends Manny and Joe are by his side. But when the schools, stores, and restaurants close because people are getting sick, Garvey’s improved life goes into lockdown as well. And when Garvey’s father gets sick, Garvey must find a way to use his newfound musical skills to bring hope to both his father and himself. Moving, powerful, and beautifully told, this remarkable novel shows readers how even small acts have large reverberations, how every person can make a difference in this world, and how—even in the most difficult times—there are ways to reach for hope and healing.
Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi (HarperCollins)
Seventh grader Aafiyah loves playing tennis, reading Weird but True facts, and hanging out with her best friend, Zaina. However, Aafiyah has a bad habit that troubles her–she’s drawn to pretty things and can’t help but occasionally “borrow” them. But when her father is falsely accused of a crime he hasn’t committed and gets taken in by authorities, Aafiyah knows she needs to do something to help. When she brainstorms a way to bring her father back, she turns to her Weird but True facts and devises the perfect plan. But what if her plan means giving in to her bad habit, the one she’s been trying to stop? Aafiyah wants to reunite her family but finds that maybe her plan isn’t so perfect after all.
In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo (Quill Tree Books)
Anna can’t wait to move to the beautiful country—the Chinese name for America. Although she’s only ever known life in Taiwan, she can’t help but brag about the move to her family and friends. But the beautiful country isn’t anything like Anna pictured. Her family can only afford a cramped apartment, she’s bullied at school, and she struggles to understand a new language. On top of that, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like her dreams. How will she be able to make the beautiful country her home?
How do you speak up when it feels like no one is listening? In this moving novel in verse that Printz Honor-winning author Lisa Fipps calls powerful, one girl takes on seventh grade while facing mental health challenges, and must find her voice to advocate for the help and understanding she deserves.
Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers)
This coming-of-age novel in verse follows a teen girl who connects with the women of her maternal line through their journals and comes to better understand her fraught relationship with her mother.
A freewheeling romp through the world of imagery and metaphor, this quietly startling collection of thirty poems, framed by the four elements, is about art and reality, fact and fancy. Look around: what do you see? A clown balancing a pie in a tree, or an empty nest perched on a leafless branch? As poet Connie Wanek alludes to in her afterword—a lively dialogue with former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser—sometimes the simplest sights and sounds “summon our imaginations” and cry out to be clothed in the alchemical language of poetry. This compendium of the fleeting and unexpected turns the everyday—turtles, trees, and tadpoles; cow pies, lazy afternoons, and pillowy white marshmallows—into poetic gold. A brilliant and timeless collaboration that evokes both the mystery and grandeur of the natural world and the cozy, mundane moments of daily life, this exquisitely illustrated collection is the go-to gift book of the season for poetry fans of all ages.
For fans of Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson, this middle-grade novel-in-verse follows two boys in 1980s Brooklyn as they become friends for a season. Punk rock-loving JJ Pankowski can’t seem to fit in at his new school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as one of the only white kids. Pie Velez, a math and history geek by day and graffiti artist by night is eager to follow in his idol, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s, footsteps. The boys stumble into an unlikely friendship, swapping notes on their love of music and art, which sees them through a difficult semester at school and at home. But a run-in with the cops threatens to unravel it all. Moonwalking is a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys’ search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.
Meet Odder, the Queen of Play:
Nobody has her moves.
She doesn’t just swim to the bottom,
She doesn’t just somersault,
She doesn’t just ride the waves,
she makes them.
Odder spends her days off the coast of central California, practicing her underwater acrobatics and spinning the quirky stories for which she’s known. She’s a fearless daredevil, curious to a fault. But when Odder comes face-to-face with a hungry great white shark, her life takes a dramatic turn, one that will challenge everything she believes about herself—and about the humans who hope to save her. Inspired by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that pairs orphaned otter pups with surrogate mothers, this poignant and humorous tale told in free verse examines bravery and healing through the eyes of one of nature’s most beloved and charming animals.
Singing With Elephants by Margarita Engle (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic. Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage to stay true to herself and do what she thinks is right–attempting to rescue a baby elephant in need–even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.
The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
In his village in Upper Kwanta, 11-year-old Kofi loves his family, playing oware with his grandfather and swimming in the river Offin. He’s warned though, to never go to the river at night. His brother tells him ”There are things about the water you do not know. “ Like what? Kofi asks. “The beasts.” His brother answers. One fateful night, the unthinkable happens and in a flash, Kofi’s world turns upside down. Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life and what happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero (Peachtree Teen)
Sent to stay with her aunt in Prague and witness the humble life of an artist, Ilana Lopez—a biracial Jewish girl—finds herself torn between her dream of becoming a violinist and her immigrant parents’ desire for her to pursue a more stable career. When she discovers a forgotten Jewish cemetery behind her aunt’s cottage, she meets the ghost of a kindhearted boy named Benjamin, who died over a century ago. As Ilana restores Benjamin’s grave, he introduces her to the enchanted side of Prague, where ghosts walk the streets and their kisses have warmth. But Benjamin isn’t the only one interested in Ilana. Rudolph Wassermann, a man with no shadow, has become fascinated with her and the music she plays. He offers to share his magic, so Ilana can be with Benjamin and pursue her passion for violin. But after Ilana discovers the truth about Wassermann and how Benjamin became bound to the city, she resolves to save the boy she loves, even if it means losing him—forever.
The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson (Versify)
After her eighteenth birthday, Hilde, a former orphan in 1930s Berlin, goes out into the world to discover her place in it. But finding a job is hard, at least until she stumbles into Café Lila, a vibrant cabaret full of expressive customers—and Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer. As the café and all who work there embrace Hilde, and she embraces them in turn, she discovers her voice and her own blossoming feelings for Rosa. But Berlin is in turmoil. Between the elections, protests in the streets, and the beginning seeds of unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future . . . and what it means to love a place on the cusp of war.
The Road to After by Rebekah Lowell (Penguin/Paulsen)
For most of her life, Lacey has been a prisoner without even realizing it. Her dad rarely let her, her little sister, or her mama out of his sight. But their situation changes suddenly and dramatically the day her grandparents arrive to help them leave. It’s the beginning of a different kind of life for Lacey, and at first she has a hard time letting go of her dad’s rules. Gradually though, his hold on her lessens, and her days become filled with choices she’s never had before. Now Lacey can take pleasure in sketching the world as she sees it in her nature journal. And as she spends more time outside making things grow and creating good memories with family and friends, she feels her world opening up and blossoming into something new and exciting.
They Call Her Fregona: A Border Kid’s Poems (A Border Kid’s Poems #2) by David Bowles (Kokila)
“You can be my boyfriend.” It only takes five words to change Güero’s life at the end of seventh grade. The summer becomes extra busy as he learns to balance new band practice with his old crew, Los Bobbys, and being Joanna Padilla’s boyfriend. They call her “fregona” because she’s tough, always sticking up for her family and keeping the school bully in check. But Güero sees her softness. Together they cook dollar-store spaghetti and hold hands in the orange grove, learning more about themselves and each other than they could have imagined. But when they start eighth grade, Joanna faces a tragedy that requires Güero to reconsider what it means to show up for someone you love.
Honoring multiple poetic traditions, They Call Her Fregona is a bittersweet first-love story in verse and the highly anticipated follow-up to They Call Me Güero.
Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.
Zoobilations!: Animal Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Beach Lane Books)
Come horse around and live out your ele-phant-asies in this utterly original collection of animal poems. From the s t r e t c h of a giraffe’s neck to the smooth skin of a naked mole rat, readers will see animals in a whole new way—and laugh like hyenas as they turn each pun-filled page.
Angie Moore has been living her dream as a school librarian for over a decade. She believes that all readers have the right to read what they choose and that books can truly save lives. She is currently finishing her MLIS and is a K-5 teacher librarian in Michigan. You can find her drinking excessive amounts of coffee while reading a pile of picturebooks or on Twitter as @almemoore.