The best books to introduce readers to novels in verse

Who am I?

I am a poet and author living and writing in Northern Colorado. I love reading (and writing) novels in verse because they invite the reader into an active relationship with the author-poet. The story is co-created through mutual trust and imagination: the reader has to trust the author to provide enough language to reveal the narrative, and the author has to trust the reader to fill in details left by the white space on the page. Through this mutual effort and creative collaboration, dazzling stories emerge.


I wrote...

Alone

By Megan E. Freeman,

Book cover of Alone

What is my book about?

Perfect for fans of Hatchet and the I Survived series, this harrowing novel in verse 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. As months pass, Maddie escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But her most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?

The books I picked & why

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The Crossover

By Kwame Alexander,

Book cover of The Crossover

Why this book?

The Crossover tells the story of basketball phenom Josh Bell and the unexpected events that turn his life upside down, both on and off the court. Poet and author Kwame Alexander uses all the tools in his poetry toolkit to bring this vibrant story to life. The rhythm and motion of his verse shake the foundations of the story and place the reader firmly in the center of the court and the heart of the main character. Winner of the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, this book is a must-read and a great introduction to the power and potential of novels in verse.


Out of the Dust

By Karen Hesse,

Book cover of Out of the Dust

Why this book?

Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust was the first verse novel I ever read, and it has remained one of my favorite books. Set during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, it centers around young Billie Jo and her father as they navigate the aftermath of terrible tragedy during one of the worst droughts in history. Hesse’s poetry is as sparse as the story’s setting, and her meticulous use of language allows Billie Jo’s story to unfold in small and vivid increments. Hesse’s exquisite story would be compelling in any form; her eloquent verse elevates it to another level entirely. This is another Newbery Medal winner, and most deservedly so.


Blood Water Paint

By Joy McCullough,

Book cover of Blood Water Paint

Why this book?

Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint is historical fiction that tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a Renaissance painter who survived a sexual assault and persevered to see her assailant convicted in an Italian court. If the true aspects of the story weren’t compelling enough, McCullough contrasts her fictional character with the biblical heroines Judith and Susanna, using prose and verse strategically to weave the stories with their counter-narratives. McCullough’s experience as a playwright shines through here and her poetic devices are downright Shakespearean, revealing clues to her characters’ emotional truths through the deceptively simple arrangement of words on the page. This book is astonishingly good and a must-read for anyone intrigued by novels in verse.


Long Way Down

By Jason Reynolds,

Book cover of Long Way Down

Why this book?

“Sixty Seconds. 

Seven Floors. 

Three Rules. 

One gun.” 

Told entirely over the course of a single elevator ride, Long Way Down is the story of one boy’s agonizing dilemma of whether or not to avenge his brother’s murder. Jason Reynolds is a masterful poet, and his verse places the reader directly next to Will in the elevator as he rages, grieves, is visited by ghosts, and lives his worst nightmares. There is more white space than words on each page of this book, and Reynolds works directly with the reader to bring Will’s story to vivid life. The deserving winner of many elite and prestigious awards, this extraordinary book is in a class by itself.


Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

By David Elliott,

Book cover of Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

Why this book?

In Voices, David Elliott uses formal verse to explore the last hours that Joan of Arc lived. Told from multiple points of view, including the voice of the flame that will burn Joan at the stake, Elliott chooses specific poetic forms to reflect fundamental truths about the different characters. All forms of verse in the book were popular during Joan’s actual lifetime, and Elliott provides an interesting author’s note at the back of the book. Aside from being a poetic tour de force, Voices is a true page-turner, and readers will root for Joan to triumph over her enemies, even as they dread the inevitable outcome.


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