The best historical verse novels for middle schoolers

Ann E. Burg Author Of Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown
By Ann E. Burg

Who am I?

Technology advances, scenery changes, but the human heart remains the same. As a writer, I hope to honor lives unnoticed or forgotten and have found that writing in verse affords me the truest, most uncorrupted pathway into the human heart. Each of the verse novels I’ve written or recommended here is spun from the strongest threads of time, place, and character. My hope is that the spare words within each book will build bridges across time and culture, and that those of us willing to open our hearts and cross these bridges will help create a more tolerant and peaceful world. 

I wrote...

Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown

By Ann E. Burg,

Book cover of Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown

What is my book about?

My most recent book, Flooded, Requiem for Johnstown, tells the story of the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Johnstown Pennsylvania was a working-class factory city. Above the soot-soaked streets, an elite fishing and hunting club, built on a pristine man-made lake, drew America's wealthiest business barons. Though repeatedly urged to fix the deteriorating dam that held the lake, club members disregarded these warnings. When heavy rains came, the dam collapsed and plunged the city into chaos.

While set in a different century and told through the experiences of characters whose daily lives were much different than our own, the events which unfolded in Johnstown reflect the same attitudes and issues we face today. History has much to tell us if we are listening.

The books I picked & why

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Out of the Dust

By Karen Hesse,

Book cover of Out of the Dust

Why this book?

Out of the Dust was the first verse novel I read. Set during the Dust Bowl of the thirties, I was drawn into the story from the first page. I loved Billy Jo, the main character, and was impressed by Karen Hesse’s ability to capture, in so few words, the dust, desolation, and difficulty of living in Oklahoma at that time. 

The Firefly Letters

By Margarita Engle,

Book cover of The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

Why this book?

The Firefly Letters was another early read. There is nothing that Margarita has written that I’ve not loved, but since this was the first of her books that I read, it has remained a favorite. Her poetic portrait of the early suffragette, Fredrika Bremer, reminded me that when hearts and minds are open, bonds of sisterhood transcend societal restrictions. It is a powerful book whose message continues to resonate. 

The Watch That Ends the Night

By Allan Wolf,

Book cover of The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

Why this book?

The Watch That Ends The Night tells the story of the Titanic through the voices of those who were there. I read this after I had written my own most recent book and was struck with how similarly Allan and I approached historical catastrophes. Both books are multi-voiced and contemplate the same issues of privilege and class distinctions. Like me, Allan chose to listen to nature and endow her with a voice of her own.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson,

Book cover of White Rose

Why this book?

This is based on the true story of Sophie Scholl, who courageously rebelled against the restrictions and horrors of the Nazi regime. White Rose was a more recent read and it saddened me to think that we've learned so little from the lessons of the past. Though it is a story with a tragic ending, White Rose reminded me how important it is to speak out against injustice before injustice becomes the norm. 

The Full Cicada Moon

By Marilyn Hilton,

Book cover of The Full Cicada Moon

Why this book?

This book is set in 1969, before the onslaught of cell phones and social media, when all eyes gazed upward toward the moon. Apollo 11 was preparing for its launch to the heavens, and the main character, Mimi Oliver dreams of becoming an astronaut. But first, as the daughter of a Japanese mother and Black father, Mimi needs to discover her own identity here on earth. The Full Cicada Moon illustrates my core belief that books build bridges between time and culture— just as Mimi does. 

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