The Rumpus reviews ROBINSON ALONE by Kathleen Rooney
Early Nerd Special reviews THE GOOD BRAIDER by Terry Farish
Kid’s Book Review reviews NOBODY’S BOY by Diane Bates
Gator Book Chomp reviews MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose
Most verse novels, whether they be middle grade, young adult or adult are straight up contemporary. There are quite a few historicals and a couple of animals stories, but in general not a lot of genre finds its way into verse novels. I’m hoping that this will change. So in honor of Halloween season and the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, I’m highlighting a few verse novels that break out of the contemporary mainstream and flirt with fantasy and supernatural.
I’ve previously crowned Lisa Schroeder as the queen of the Aftermath-Of-Death-Verse-Novel. Those who have read her best-selling I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and CHASING BROOKLYN know that these books, although very romantic also have a hint of menace and creep factor to them. They aren’t quite horror stories, but there are some genuine chills and thrills to these ghost stories. I’d love to see verse novelists take this even further. Imagine ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD except in verse. That’s what I’m taking about.
FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean is another verse novel ghost story. This one is kind of a different kind of mash up though. It’s sort of The Sixth Sense meets Ellen Hopkins’ IMPULSE meets THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher. I loved the moody imagery and threatening bitter-hearted ghosts in this one. It’s vivid scenes and timely themes make it appeal on a number of levels. This is one to advocate for a film adaptation too. It would be spooky and poignant. Visit Carolee’s blog to find out about another giveaway tour.
SHARP TEETH by Toby Barlow is a werewolf story in verse. This one, which is aimed at an adult audience, has been described as “a howling, hole-digging, bone-snapping, blood-lapping, intestine-gobbling success.” So now I’m asking myself: if there’s a werewolf verse novel, where are the vampire ones, the zombie ones? Apparently Ryan Mecum asked himself this very question and answered it with ZOMBIE HAIKU, VAMPIRE HAIKU and THE DAWN OF ZOMBIE HAIKU. Not to be outdone by Toby Barlow, Mecum also penned WEREWOLF HAIKU. Take that.
So the good news is there’s a growing selection of spooky genre in verse novels. And the great news is one of these books can be yours. Simply add my upcoming verse novel AUDACIOUS (Orca Books fall 2013) to your Goodreads shelves or follow this blog or me on Twitter. Let me know what you’ve done in a comment below to finalize your entry.
And don’t forget to visit some of the more than 400 other blogs hosting Spooktacular Giveaways. You will find the links here.
Katie’s Book Blog reviews FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean
Bookshelves of Doom reviews MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL by Martine Leavitt
Teen Ink reviews KARMA by Cathy Ostlere
Word Chasing reviews CINNAMON RAIN by Emma Cameron
Cordite reviews ALL THE WAY HOME by Kristin Henry
Reading After Bedtime reviews PERFECT by Ellen Hopkins
PinKindle reviews DEFY THE STARS by Stephanie Parent
There is a lot of discussion about what is and what is not a verse novel, especially as it relates to YA and middle grade fiction. I’ve had lengthy arguments with people in which some verse novels are accused of being “prose with line breaks” not poetry. Other people think verse novels like LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech are “too short to be novels”. Still others admire books like THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN for not “relying on the hackneyed conventions of the verse novel”. In other words, not too versy.
Perhaps some of the difficultly readers and reviewers have with this form stem from its newness. While epic poems are as old as literature and challenging literary long works in verse have long been a staple of esoteric libraries, popular accessible long verse narratives for young readers are a relatively new phenomena. Beginning in the 1990s and growing in popularity ever since, verse novels for young readers continue to defy categorization – are they poetry? They don’t qualify for most poetry prizes. They are rarely shelved with poetry. Are they novels? They have occasionally been nominated and even won major prizes such as Newbery or Printz awards which are mostly reserved for novels. They are almost always shelved with prose novels.
Verse novels are hard to define, certainly, and just as hard, if not harder to write than prose novels. In many cases, however, they are described as easier to read. Why is that? The themes in verse novels are no easier than prose. The vocabulary varies, but can be just as advanced as the most challenging YA and MG novels. Syntax, if anything, is MORE challenging in many verse novels. And word length? Well it’s true that many verse novels are quite short but some others are as long as many prose novels for young readers.
I think there is a lot of conjecture and anecdotal evidence that reluctant or struggling readers find the form “less threatening” perhaps because of all the” white space on the page”. My personal opinion is that it has less to do with white space and more to do with “breathing room” and the narrative rhythm. The narrative beats of a verse novel tend to be shorter. In a prose novel sometimes it can take ten pages just for the hero to express the urgency of packing for the zombie apocalypse. In a verse novel this could be achieved perhaps with a short acrostic:Zippered backpack Overstuffed My life depends on Bringing only what matters In case this really is the End
Verse novels tend to have at least as many narrative beats as prose novels but they are delivered more quickly, in manageable sizes. In this way they are something like high/low books for struggling readers. However, the wonderful thing about verse novels is that rather than being less syntactically complex, rather than having simpler vocabulary (like high/low) it is perfectly conceivable that they can just as syntactically and linguistically rich as prose novels, if not more, not to mention their narrative complexity.
My verse novel AUDACIOUS , for example, has numerous subplots dealing with issues such as religion, death and grieving, eating disorders, artistic integrity, bullying and chronic disease. It has a main character and more than ten supporting characters. It is far from simple either narratively or in its vocabulary or syntax. However a reading level analysis measures it at about grade 2-4, making it the same level as my hi/lo novel WICKET SEASON. Partly this is because reading level analysis reads each line as a separate sentence and reading level is lowered by having short sentences (many lines in AUDACIOUS are only one word long).
But I believe that these measures might be a quite good reflection of readers’ experiences. I believe that for many struggling readers it is not so much the vocabulary, sentence length or narrative complexity that they struggle with but the sheer weight of some prose. My daughter, who has a very advanced vocabulary for her age (she’s 8) is an avid and fast reader but prefer shorter series books (Sisters 8, Magic Treehouse etc) because she likes to finish them in one sitting or at most in a day or two. With television, the internet, school, karate, swimming, acting and skateboarding it’s simply too hard for her to keep a story path in her head for longer than that. There is too much going on.
However, she devoured THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN in a couple of days. IVAN is not a simple novel. It has emotional complexity well beyond anything my daughter has read on her own before (we have, of course read books to her, mostly Harry Potter) but she had no difficulty sticking with it and understanding it. I think its unique form (and of course Katherine Applegate’s skill as a writer for children) has something to do with that.
I think the lightness, for want of a better word, is the defining feature of verse novels for young readers. In this sense the complaints about verse novels being either too “versy” or not “versy” enough are moot. It is not about the verse or any of the associated poetic techniques. It is about the light. Verse novels for young readers take poetry and use it as a tool to help readers rather than a weapon with which to bludgeon them.
I think verse novels have a very important role to play for emerging, reluctant or struggling readers. I would love to see school librarians in particular embrace this aspect of verse novels in their practice. I would also love to see more verse novels aimed at the largest segment of reluctant/struggling readers – boys. Darren Shan? Gary Paulsen? R. L. Stine? Anyone?
Good Books and Good Wine reviews MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL by Martine Leavitt
Bookshelves of Doom reviews THE GOOD BRAIDER by Terry Farish
Lisa Schroeder reviews FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean
Devour Books reviews THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate
Children Literature reviews THE WILD BOOK by Margerita Engle
This week for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday we have a guest reviewer, Lucy, aged 8. Here’s what she had to say:
Last week I read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. Mom had already read and she thought I would like it. So she bought a copy at ALA in June and got the author to sign it.
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.
I like this book because, it is funny, sad and happy.
The characters are: Ivan a gorilla, Stella an elephant, Bob a stray dog. And…Ruby. The humans are: Mack, George and Julia. Ivan is my favorite because he makes the most of his life. Ivan says “I think I’ve always been an artist”. And I do too. I relate to Ivan, even though he’s a gorilla and I’m a human!
This would be a good book for families to read together. It is short, only 26,000 words and has a reading level of about grade 3-4.
Editors note: Lucy and I discussed this being a “verse novel” and she immediately said “I want to read other verse novels!”. In my opinion IVAN is a wonderful gateway into verse novels for middle grade readers because it is almost a hybrid between verse and very spare evocative prose.
Don’t forget to visit Shannon Messenger’s Blog to find links to other Marvelous Middle grade Monday Bloggers.