Ever since I heard Humpty Dumpty, I have enjoyed poetry. The silly, serious, and even the bizarre have spoken to me. Even if you aren’t generally a poetry fan, I think some of these could win you over. Here are some novels-in-verse, poetry collections, books that scatter poems throughout and a few novels that are simply poetry related. I also threw in one spoken word piece because it shouldn’t be missed.
Novels in Verse
Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
Harcourt Children’s Books
Summary: Newbery Honor-winner Margarita Engle tells the story of Cuban folk hero, abolitionist, and women’s rights pioneer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in this powerful new YA historical novel in verse.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books
Summary: When Lupita discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of their close-knit Mexican American family.
In the midst of juggling high school classes, finding her voice as an actress, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, Lupita desperately wants to support her mother by doing anything she can to help. While Papi is preoccupied with caring for Mami, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. Struggling in her new roles and overwhelmed by change, Lupita escapes the chaos of home by writing in the shade of a mesquite tree, seeking refuge in the healing power of words.
Told in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about the testing of family bonds, the strength of a teenage girl navigating pain and hardship, and the kind of love that cannot be uprooted.
The Language Inside by Holly Thompson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Summary: A nuanced novel in verse that explores identity in a multicultural world.
Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma’s grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.
Emma feels out of place in the United States.She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.
Poetry Scattered Through or Poetry Related
Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Running Press Kids
Summary: To make sense of her high school crush’s suicide, Frenchie retraces her steps the last night she was with him. (this is a very brief summary, but if you want to know more, check out Jessica’s review from earlier this month)
Jumped in by Patrick Flores-Scott
Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. (Rich in Color review available here)
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Summary: Coretta Scott King award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelsons great uncle was Lewis Micheaux, owner of the famous National Memorial African Bookstore. Located in the heart of Harlem, New York, from 1939 to 1975, Micheauxs bookstore became the epicenter of black literary life and a rallying point for the Black Nationalist movement. Some of its famous and most loyal patrons include Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. DuBois. In this inspiring work of historical fiction, Nelson tells the true story of a man with a passion for knowledge and of a bookstore whose influence has become legendary.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
Summary: It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.
Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba. The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Summary: In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.
Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement. This martyr’s wreath, woven from a little-known but sophisticated form of poetry, challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to “speak what we see.”
Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love by Pat Mora
Summary: Beloved children’s book author and speaker Pat Mora has written an original collection of poems, each with a different teen narrator sharing unique thoughts, moments, sadness, or heart’s desire: the girl who loves swimming, plunging into the water that creates her own world; the guy who leaves flowers on the windshield of the girl he likes. Each of the teens in these 50 original poems, written using a variety of poetic forms, will be recognizable to the reader as the universal emotions, ideas, impressions, and beliefs float across the pages in these gracefully told verses.
Also included are the author’s footnotes on the various types of poetic forms used throughout to help demystify poetry and showcase its accessibility, which makes this a perfect classroom tool for teachers as well as an inspiration to readers who may wish to try their own hand at writing.
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States Edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: Ten years after the publication of the acclaimed Cool Salsa, editor Lori Marie Carlson has brought together a stunning variety of Latino poets for a long-awaited follow-up. Established and familiar names are joined by many new young voices, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos has written the Introduction.
The poets collected here illuminate the difficulty of straddling cultures, languages, and identities. They celebrate food, family, love, and triumph. In English, Spanish, and poetic jumbles of both, they tell us who they are, where they are, and what their hopes are for the future. — All cover images and summaries via IndieBound
Spoken Word Poetry
Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry – The Spoken Word Team from Santa Fe Indian School
The video below explains a bit about the project. The Moccasins & Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry Trailer from Cordillera Productions on Vimeo.