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.

The books I picked & why

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Alone

By Megan E. Freeman,

Book cover of Alone

Why 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!  


Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca,

Book cover of Red, White, and Whole

Why 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. 


The Magical Imperfect

By Chris Baron,

Book cover of The Magical Imperfect

Why 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.


Starfish

By Lisa Fipps,

Book cover of Starfish

Why 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.  


Unsettled

By Reem Faruqi,

Book cover of Unsettled

Why 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. 


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