The best middle grade verse novels published in 2021

Who am I?

I have written three verse novels; two YA, Skyscraping and The Way the Light Bends, and one half-verse, half-prose MG Every Shiny Thing (co-authored with Laurie Morrison.) I teach verse novel specific classes for The Highlights Foundation and The Writing Barn, on topics like plotting verse novels, creating an image system in verse novels, revising verse novels. I also edit verse novel manuscripts, working with one private student per month. Along with this, I’ve taught a Writing for Children class at Bryn Mawr College. Presently, I teach kids and teens through the Kelly Yang Project and run a local, kids’ literary journal here in Philadelphia called the Mt. Airy Musers. 


I wrote...

Every Shiny Thing

By Cordelia Jensen, Laurie Morrison,

Book cover of Every Shiny Thing

What is my book about?

In this beautifully constructed middle-grade novel, told half in prose and half in verse, Lauren prides herself on being a good sister, and Sierra is used to taking care of her mom. When Lauren’s parents send her brother to a therapeutic boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum and Sierra moves to a foster home in Lauren’s wealthy neighborhood, both girls are lost until they find a deep bond with each other. But when Lauren recruits Sierra to help with a Robin Hood scheme to raise money for autistic kids who don’t have her family’s resources, Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong.

Lauren must learn that having good intentions isn’t all that matters when you battle injustice, and Sierra needs to realize that sometimes the person you need to take care of is yourself.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Alone

Cordelia Jensen Why did I love this book?

As a teacher of verse novel specific classes, I’m always looking for verse novels that take on new and interesting plots and settings. This is the very first dystopian verse novels I’ve read which makes it refreshing. Maddie wakes up alone in her town, everyone, except her neighbor’s dog, has taken a transport that she’s missed. She must survive on her own in this town, find food, water, heat, and fight against scavengers. Verse wise, I loved how her poetry advanced as she aged and read all the poetry books in her local, abandoned library. I had no idea how this book would end, and it kept me on the edge of my seat!  

By Megan E. Freeman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Alone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Perfect for fans of Hatchet and the I Survived series, this harrowing middle grade debut novel-in-verse from a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet tells the story of a young girl who wakes up one day to find herself utterly alone in her small Colorado town.

When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She's alone-left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive…


Book cover of Red, White, and Whole

Cordelia Jensen Why did I love this book?

Like my own YA verse novel Skyscraping, Red, White & Whole doesn’t just deal with the aftermath of losing a parent but, also, what it is like to live alongside a sick parent. This book is heavy in this way, but it is also filled with fun 1980s nostalgia, interactions with a new crush, and the everyday life of school and friends. Verse wise, this poem’s first poem works as a “seed poem” and other poems come later and at the end that references this first one, showing just how much Reha’s life shifts and the growth she gains along the way. 

By Rajani LaRocca,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Red, White, and Whole as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Newbery Honor Book! A heartbreakingly hopeful novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.

* Walter Award Winner * New England Book Award Winner * An NCTE Notable Verse Novel * Golden Kite Award Winner * Goodreads Choice Nominee * A Washington Post Best Children's Book of the Year * An SLJ Best Book of the Year * A BookPage Best Book of the Year * An NYPL Best Book of the Year * A Mighty Girl's Best Book of the Year * An ILA Notable Book…


Book cover of The Magical Imperfect

Cordelia Jensen Why did I love this book?

The main character in The Magical Imperfect has selective mutism. This is a clever idea for a main character written in verse because, typically, there’s little dialogue in the form. What really stood out to me, though, is the climax of the story that takes place during an earthquake. Baron cleverly uses time stamps and white space in a striking way to help create story tension and layer meaning during this exciting and scary twenty-page multi-poem scene.

By Chris Baron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magical Imperfect as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

For fans of Wonder, Chris Baron's The Magical Imperfect is an affecting middle grade story of two outcasts who become friends…

Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.

When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.

As the two become friends, other kids…


Book cover of Starfish

Cordelia Jensen Why did I love this book?

Starfish by Lisa Fipps has captured the hearts of many this year. Ellie is bullied by many for her weight, and it is heartbreaking to read but, through the help of a therapist and a new friend, Ellie learns to feel confident about herself and find her voice. Verse wise, the concept of what it means “to take up space” works as a theme in the narrative but also as a poetic concept.  

By Lisa Fipps,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Starfish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she's been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules - like "no making waves," "avoid eating in public," and "don't move so fast that your body jiggles." And she's found her safe space - her swimming pool - where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It's also where she can get away from her pushy…


Book cover of Unsettled

Cordelia Jensen Why did I love this book?

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi, loosely based on the author’s own story, chronicles the experience of Nurah, a thirteen-year-old girl who moves from Pakistan to Georgia. She experiences racism and prejudice in a variety of forms, she makes new friends, discovers new passions, undergoes loss, and learns to adjust to a vastly different place. Many verse novels tell stories of immigration, but this one stands for its consistent lyricism and its honest, moving portrayal of a coming-of-age experience that is at once specific and universal. 

By Reem Faruqi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Unsettled as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year · Kid's Indie Next List · Featured in Today Show’s AAPI Heritage Month list · A Kirkus Children's Best Book of 2021 · A National Council of Teachers of English Notable Verse Novel · Jane Addams 2022 Children’s Book Award Finalist · 2021 Nerdy Award Winner · Muslim Bookstagram Award Winner for Best Middle School Book

For fans of Other Words for Home and Front Desk, this powerful, charming immigration story follows a girl who moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, and must find her footing in a new…


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Book cover of Heroes with Chutzpah: 101 True Tales of Jewish Trailblazers, Changemakers & Rebels

Kerry M. Olitzky Author Of Heroes with Chutzpah: 101 True Tales of Jewish Trailblazers, Changemakers & Rebels

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In Heroes with Chutzpah, readers will meet 101 Jewish changemakers from the recent past and present, who challenged the status quo in the arts, sciences, social justice, sports and politics. Each one-page biography is accompanied by an original digital portrait. This children's book about Jewish heroes is inspiring and fun.

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