Thursday, April 19, 2007

Support Teen Literature Day

I tend to focus more on children, rather than young adults, in my work (often a blurry distinction), but today I’d like to highlight a brand new occasion, Teen Literature Day. Poetry may well be the most ageless of all genres, in that all kinds of poems can be shared with all ages of children. There are some poets, however, who have particularly addressed the issues and concerns more pressing to the adolescent audience. This includes the narrative poems of Mel Glenn, the varied anthologies compiled by former English teacher Paul Janeczko, the writing of Ralph Fletcher, and individual titles by people like Tupac Shakur. There are many collections of poetry available specifically for teen readers, including notable anthologies gathered by Ruth Gordon, Liz Rosenberg, Patrice Vecchione, Naomi Shihab Nye, Betsy Franco, and more. And of course many teens enjoy adult poetry, classics, and poetry Web sites. But one of my favorite sources of appealing contemporary poetry for young adults is the novel-in-verse or verse novel, a form particularly popular with young readers in middle and high school.

Here’s a helpful description from Tasmania, of all places:
“This contemporary genre combines the power of narrative with the rich, evocative language of verse. Of course, some verse novels contain ordinary verse and little plot, but the best free verse novels are beautifully crafted, convincing reading experiences with a strong sense of voice. Although the narrative structure of a verse novel is similar to a prose novel, the organisation of story is usually in a series of short sections, often with changing perspectives. Verse novels are often told with multiple narrators, providing readers with a cinematic view into the inner workings of characters’ minds. Most verse novels employ an informal, colloquial register.”

One could view today’s verse novel as the contemporary offshoot of the ancient epic poem, a lineage including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and even Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Victorian verse novels for adults evolved to compete with the mass market appetite for novels in mid-1800’s with novels generally earn more than poetry. Nilsen and Donelson cite Mel Glenn’s first book, Class Dismissed! (1982) as a ground-breaking verse novel for it’s “candid, first-person speech to discuss intense situations” (Literature for Today’s Young Adults, 2001, p. 299). Here’s a sampling of 10 of my favorite verse novels for young people:

Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog
Frost, Helen. Keesha’s House
Glenn, Mel. Split Image
Herrick, Steven. The Simple Gift
Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust
Koertge, Ron. The Brimstone Journals
Nelson, Marilyn. Carver, A Life in Poems
Sones, Sonya. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy
Wayland, April Halprin. Girl Coming in for a Landing
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. Make Lemonade
+ Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade (a blending of narrative and poetry)

Each of these authors has other verse novels worth checking out, too. It can also be very engaging to read these works out loud in parts, with different readers voicing different characters. Minimal preparation, maximum dramatic effect.

Picture credit:


Anonymous said...


A terrific list! May I add one of my favorites? Jacqueline Woodson's Locomotion.

Although I haven't yet read it, I believe Norma Fox Mazer's latest book, What I Believe, is told in poems.

And there's Meg Kearney's The Secret of Me...which is a treat if you haven't yet come across it.

Two more books to consider for next year's list, perhaps?

Thanks for the post.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by and for the suggestions. I have a L O N G list and just chose a few favorites for this post. I'll add the new ones you mentioned and check those out asap. Thanks again!