The best YA books in verse that bring history alive

Who am I?

I write historical YA in verse—pretty much the niche of the niche. Before I was published, I spent many years writing and querying various YA projects in prose, but it wasn’t until I decided to try a project in verse that I really found my groove. Nowadays, everything I write falls under that same (small) umbrella, so I really looked to novels like the ones here to learn from the best. These days, I still love reading YA historicals and anything in verse, but YA historicals in verse remain forever my favorite.


I wrote...

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

By Kip Wilson,

Book cover of The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

What is my book about?

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin is a historical novel-in-verse about 18-year-old Hilde, just released from a Berlin orphanage, ready to make her way in the world. She stumbles into Café Lila, a queer club full of love and music, and meets Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer. 

But it’s 1932, and Berlin is in turmoil. Between elections, protests in the streets, and the growing unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future…and what it means to love a place that will soon be changed forever.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Brown Girl Dreaming

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of Brown Girl Dreaming

Why this book?

Brown Girl Dreaming is an absolutely beautiful book. I found the writing simply stunning, with images that stayed with me long after I finished reading. I also loved the use of a variety of poetic forms and found the haiku especially effective in delivering powerful moments with a punch. 

This book is a memoir, based on Woodson’s years growing up in a tumultuous time to be a brown girl, placing YA readers in her head and heart during those years. It’s no wonder that this heartfelt book won so many of the industry’s top awards.  


Blood Water Paint

By Joy McCullough,

Book cover of Blood Water Paint

Why this book?

Blood Water Paint is an incredible #MeToo story based on the life of 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I found it timely and empowering, and I’m sure it will hook even readers who don't generally love historical fiction.

Interspersed with Artemisia’s own story are snippets from the biblical figures Judith and Susanna, who serve to inspire and empower her. While those stories are in prose, Artemisia’s story shines in gorgeous, ferocious verse perfect for today’s YA readers. 


Your Heart, My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger

By Margarita Engle,

Book cover of Your Heart, My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger

Why this book?

Your Heart, My Sky is a gorgeous book set on the island of Cuba during a terrible period of starvation in the 1990s. The points of view of two young lovers and a stray dog work together to paint a full picture of both the bleak situation and their heightened emotions during this desperate time.

I found the romance to be the perfect bright spot as the protagonists and their families struggle to survive on the island they love. As always, Engle’s poetry sings as the perfect vehicle for this very personal story that YA fans will surely devour. 


Audacity

By Melanie Crowder,

Book cover of Audacity

Why this book?

Audacity is based on the life of Jewish immigrant Clara Lemlich, who fought for female workers’ rights in New York factories in the early 20th century. I found this verse novel gripping from its very first pages. 

YA readers today will definitely identify with the young woman at the story’s core—especially those who are familiar with the historical backdrop. Despite the difficulties the protagonist faces, her story is filled with hope and is told in beautifully-written verse.


Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

By Walter Dean Myers,

Book cover of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Why this book?

Here in Harlem pays homage to the people of Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. I loved how the rhythmic, musical verse brings the setting to life. It’s modeled on Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, but in a completely unique way that will really speak to YA readers.

The voices depicted in this poetry collection—especially Clara Brown’s recurring testimonies—make the book feel like a fully alive story rather than simple moments captured in time.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, painting, and Harlem?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, painting, and Harlem.

Survival Explore 112 books about survival
Painting Explore 37 books about painting
Harlem Explore 19 books about Harlem

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Crossover, Out of the Dust, and Long Way Down if you like this list.