Piles of Poetry

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

dreamer 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

Carolrhoda Books

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.

Poetry Collections

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

Square Fish

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
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.

Review: Jumped In


Title: Jumped In
Author: Patrick Flores-Scott
Genres: Contemporary & Poetry
Pages: 304
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Review Copy: Digital book purchased by reviewer
Availability: Published Aug. 27, 2013

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. — Image and summary via Goodreads

Review: From the beginning Sam pulled me into the Pacific Northwest with it’s gray sameness. The gloom just rolls across the pages with the weather completely matching his mood. Sam slowly reveals the reasons for his negativity. He has plenty of pain in his life, but fortunately, the book also has some light moments so readers don’t sink completely under the weight. Many of the lighter bits happen because of the poetry unit. The teacher, Ms. Cassidy, provides a lot of entertainment as she pulls out every trick in an attempt to catch and keep attention. The poems sometime bring smiles too. In the first poem, Luis compares the way people look at his scar to how people look at a “shriveled viejito grandpa smiling in his tiny Speedo.” The accompanying illustration adds to the humor. The rules of slackerhood also provide a few chuckles. Sam is completely serious about being an invisible slacker and goes to great lengths to fly under the radar of his teachers.

This is not a novel-in-verse but is a mix of poetry and prose. We hear from Sam predominantly in prose, but even that is lyrical at times. We only hear Luis through poetry though. Luis has fewer words than Sam, but every word is chosen carefully and the poems pack a punch. With Sam we see many details and the day to day business of life as he sleeps afternoons away or watches raindrops on the window and mold growing on the sill. The communication from Luis is brief and more direct.

And somewhere deep
Down by my heart and spleen
In my darkest guts
So they can’t see
I lock the worlds of ideas
That make me me.

In August, Edi Campbell wrote a post about Guy Pals. I recalled her post as I read. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but as Edi explained, there aren’t that many books that deal with male friendships though it seems like more are being written right now. I appreciated this look into the life of these boys. Though they certainly didn’t share all of their secrets with each other, they connected while creating something together. Many people can relate to such friendships. Often school friends are based on desk proximity and then grow into something more. I think it is fascinating to imagine the many ways that relationships can develop.

Jumped In is just over 300 pages, but there is a lot of blank space on the pages because of the poetry and the brief chapters, so this is a quick read in spite of it’s page length. The poetry breaks up the narrative and the humor keeps it from becoming too bleak. I have to admit, the title puzzled me for quite some time. “Jumped in” was a phrase that was unfamiliar to me. It’s related to gangs and I was glad that it was eventually explained in the book. With the mix of gangs, school, poetry, Nirvana, and family issues, there are plenty of things to catch a reader’s interest. Finding and listening to the Nirvana songs mentioned along the way added to the experience.

Patrick Flores-Scott has crafted an engaging novel that will likely win many hearts. I finished the book wanting to know more about the characters. I wanted to spend more time in their stories and see them continue to grow. Hopefully we will see more from Patrick Flores-Scott in the future.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a book that will speak to many — though I should warn you, tissues may be required.

Extra: Edi Campbell interviewed Patrick on her blog. Beware: there are serious spoilers so maybe read it after you read the book.

Hispanic Heritage Month

As a child, I remember hearing a lot about Black History Month, but until I was a teacher in Ft. Worth, Hispanic Heritage Month wasn’t really on my radar. I had been completely missing out on some incredible literature and a whole perspective of history. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website explains that this month is for “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” It is celebrated between September 15th and October 15th (there actually is a reason for those dates). Here are a few excellent YA titles you could read in celebration.



Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: Jessica reviewed this fantastic contemporary book earlier this year and we were fortunate enough to have an interview with Meg Medina too. This would be a two-for-one because you could also celebrate Banned Book Week with Yaqui after what happened earlier this month.





The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist: I loved this historical novel-in-verse by Margarita Engle that weaves a story around Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, an amazing young woman that I am eager to know more about now. She loved books, hated slavery, wanted equality for women, and spoke out to create change at a time when women were supposed to be decorative poperty. Excellent.



The Last Summer of the Death Warriors: “When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be.” — summary via Goodreads




Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Jessica also reviewed this powerful book earlier this year. If you haven’t yet read it, you will want to grab it immediately. Warning – you may need tissues.




Under the Mesquite: This is another novel-in-verse and it has an autobiographical quality to it that McCall explains in this post at Lee & Low. It is a beautiful story of a Mexican American family maintaining hope through difficult times. Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s second novel is also not to be missed. Audrey reviewed it here. It is a mix of contemporary and fantasy, but again is focused on family.

The Summer Prince


The Summer Prince: For a bit of dystopia, you will want to pick up this one. And just like the cover, the book is lush. We had a discussion about it earlier this month. *Spoilers* were included so look carefully if you haven’t read it yet.

**Quick edit here – this is actually not Hispanic, but rather Latin@ since it is set in Brazil. I made that mistake late at night while working on the post, but didn’t catch it right away.




Gringolandia: This is historical fiction dealing with human rights in Chile. It is also a book about family and how it shapes us. We were lucky enough to have Lyn Lachmann-Miller visit Rich in Color to share about writing outside of her culture.






Hammer of Witches: If it’s history with a bit of fantasy that you are looking for, this will fit the bill perfectly. I reviewed it back in April and the author Shana Mlawski also wrote a post for us about Diversity in Fantasy.




The Tequila Worm: A young teenage girl named Sofia tells of her coming of age in McAllen Texas. She’s part of a close community that loves and supports each other. Sofia works through her feelings for her family and culture as she attends an elite boarding school on scholarship.







Mexican WhiteBoy: This one is on my TBR list. “Danny’s tall skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face.” — summary via Goodreads



The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano: This is another book on my TBR list. “There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.” — summary via Goodreads (By the way, there is a giveaway of this book going on at Vamos a Leer through Sept. 29)

If you still want more titles, School Library Journal had a post in January listing many Resources for Finding Latino Kid LIt, the new blog Latin@s in Kid Lit is a great resource too, the Florida Department of Education created a Hispanic Heritage Month Recommended Reading List, and the Hub also posted a great list this week which included links to other resources. Finally, I found this excellent list of Hispanic Authors on Cindy Rodriguez’s blog. Now, if there were only more hours in the day so we could read all of these!

If you have recommendations, please share them in the comments. Thanks!