The best YA books in verse that bring history alive

The Books I Picked & Why

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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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