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Novels in Verse for Kids: Poetry in Motion

My 4th grade daughter, PickyKidPix, came home furious a few weeks ago. She said that she was the only person in her grade that got poetry for her MCAS standardized open response standardized test. Worse, I had kept her home sick during the one day they practiced poetry open response essays at school.

Novels In Verse for Kids Make Poetry into a Story

I’m sure it went fine, but she will be forever scarred associating poetry as something designed to confound her for a multiple choice Common Core Standardized test. I had felt the same way about poetry too until just a few years ago.

Sharon Creech‘s Hate That Cat novel in verse had completely blown my mind. I had no idea that 1) novels in verse existed, 2) that novels in verse could tell a  story and 3) that I would actually enjoy it.

I read Love That Dog next also by Sharon Creech (out of sequence, I know) to see if I’d feel the same way about another novel in verse. And, yes, the water was fine!

The word of poetry, albeit limited to novels in verse, suddenly opened up for me and I welcomed this new-to-me genre. When Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai won a Newbery Honor, I wanted to read it. I bought it and handed it to my 6th grader, Music Lovers, to test it out. She said that she liked it — everything but the ending.

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Without an emphatic thumbs up, it sat on my bedside table until one day I was brave enough to open it. And, again, I fell in love with Novels in Verse. Having grown up next door to Little Saigon in Southern California, I thought I understood the Vietnamese immigrant story. Not even close!

And that is the power of a Novel in Verse. With a minimum of words, it can a story in a very powerful way. And unlike those standardized test poetry passages, a Novel in Verse isn’t trying to confound you.

I’m just waiting for a good time to get PickyKidPix to give a Novel in Verse a try. This summer perhaps, when her test trauma is a distant memory.  I think Sharon Creech will win her over. If not, May B. by Caroline Starr Rose might.

Here’s the thing about Sharon Creech: you can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can never take the teacher out of her! I just love that! Thank you  Sharon and all you authors of Novels in Verse for introducing some of us to poetry as a pleasure!

p.s. I am pinning short and fun poems to introduce kids to poetry on my Pinterest board Poetry for Kids.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Jeanette Nyberg

    Oh there you go again- reading my mind. 4th grade Fen has been gravitating much more toward graphic novels and picture books for older kids lately. I think with her newfound obsession with the iPad, she is more interested in everything visual. This sounds like just the ticket to lure her back into the world of words.
    Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Sharpie Shoes- Preschool VersionMy Profile

  2. There hasn’t been much written about the Viet Nam War and it looks like this book makes a valuable contribution toward ending that, As for poetry, our children do read a lot of picture books in rhyming prose. I find it interesting that when we classify things as “poetry”, they shy away from it!

  3. Maria Gianferrari

    I love verse novels too!

    Heartbeat is another Sharon Creech verse novel that’s great.

    When your daughter is a bit older she might like Sonya Sones’ verse novels–they’re wonderful, very narrative and accessible: What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know are amazing.

    Karen Hesse’s novels are beautiful and lyrical, but I don’t think they’re quite as accessible for those who fear poetry, but worth a try. Out of the Dust and Witness are two of my favorites, but her others are also good.

    And Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy is for older readers, it’s gritty and poignant, yet full of hope.

  4. Very very interesting. I didn’t have a clue.

    Well, thanks for the introduction! I guess I will take a look.
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…A Fresh Perspective – Affirmations of HopeMy Profile

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I am going to try with my 4th grader too. They would also be good for read aloud together.
    iGameMom recently posted…Storytelling with Story WheelMy Profile

  6. Alexandra

    Thanks for listing these! I hope your girl is not too overwhelmed or confused with poetry – why was she the only one who got poetry anyway?
    Alexandra recently posted…Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  7. very interesting i love the verses

  8. Gotta love poetry books that open up our young readers to the sights, sounds and feel of this wonderful craft! Thanks for the suggestions!

  9. I haven’t read these MG books, but I’ve read a couple of YA books in verse. I was skeptical at first, but I really enjoyed them.
    Erica recently posted…How to “Read” Wordless Picture Books {Parent Tips}My Profile

  10. Honored to be here, Mia. Luv the enthusiasm! Also love the older books in verse mentioned: those by Sonya Sones, Karen Hesse, and Virginia Euwer Wolff. xx

  11. Thank you, Mia. You’re such a great advocate for children’s literature!
    Caroline Starr Rose recently posted…On Destiny and Emily Dickinson: Kathryn FitzmauriceMy Profile

  12. Ann

    These are some talented writings writing whole novels in verse! Thanks for the picks! It does seem absurd to have poetry on a standardized test!
    Ann recently posted…Wind/winMy Profile

    • Hi Ann,
      I am a big fan of novels in verse but it took a while to get there (that fear of poetry was quite constraining). I think PickyKidPix did fine with the poetry section of the test though it made her feel singled out. This year, I am noticing that she is enjoying poetry much more and probably wouldn’t have complained about a poetry section on her test (as long as everyone else had it too).
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Top 10: Best Poetry Books for Kids to Read GIVEAWAYMy Profile

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