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.

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The books I picked & why

Brown Girl Dreaming

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of Brown Girl Dreaming

Why did I love 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.  

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The compelling story of a young Black girl growing up in 1960-70s America - a multi-award winning New York Times bestseller and President Obama's 'O' Book Club pick.

Brown Girl Dreaming is the unforgettable story of Jacqueline Woodson's childhood, told in vivid and accessible blank verse. She shares what it was like to grow up as an African-American in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, never truly feeling at home, and discovering the first sparks of an incredible, lifelong gift for writing. It's packed with wonderful reflections on family and on place, in a way that will appeal to…

Blood Water Paint

By Joy McCullough,

Book cover of Blood Water Paint

Why did I love 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. 

By Joy McCullough,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Blood Water Paint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Margarita Engle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Your Heart, My Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells a “deeply felt and engrossing” (Horn Book Magazine) story of love in a time of hunger inspired by her own family’s struggles during a dark period in Cuba’s history.

The people of Cuba are living in el período especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation.

Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm…


By Melanie Crowder,

Book cover of Audacity

Why did I love 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.

By Melanie Crowder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Audacity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2015 National Jewish Book Award finalist

The inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history

A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, Audacity is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. Bucking the norms of both her traditional Jewish family and societal conventions, Clara refuses to accept substandard working conditions in the factories on Manhattan's Lower East Side.…

Book cover of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Why did I love 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.

By Walter Dean Myers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Here in Harlem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed writer Walter Dean Myers celebrates the people of Harlem with these powerful and soulful first-person poems in the voices of the residents who make up the legendary neighborhood: basketball players, teachers, mail carriers, jazz artists, maids, veterans, nannies, students, and more. Exhilarating and electric, these poems capture the energy and resilience of a neighborhood and a people.

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