Archive | January 2013

VerseDay #5 : Verse Novelist Carolee Dean

This week VerseDay welcomes verse novelist Carolee Dean.

One of my favorite verse novels from last year was Carolee Dean’s FORGET ME NOT. I’ve previously highlighted this book as one of the few verse novels that includes a supernatural element but also as one that deals with the issue of teen suicide. This week Carolee dropped into to answer a few questions about FORGET ME NOT

FTWN: You’ve published young adult books in prose before FORGET ME NOT, what made you decide to write in verse?Forget Me Not

ComfortCAROLEE DEAN: My previous two novels, Comfort (Houghton Mifflin) and Take Me There (Simon Pulse) both featured boy poets as main characters and contained many original poems. I’ve always wanted to write a novel in verse but my stories usually have a lot of dialogue and it’s not always easy to handle dialogue in verse, especially if there are multiple voices in a scene. Figuring out how to handle that aspect of the story was the greatest challenge. There were several scenes in the “hallway” where multiple characters had interweaving lines of dialogue.  I decided to put those scenes in script format which worked especially well since Ally, the main character, is an actress.

FTWN: Unlike many verse novels, and your previous books, FORGET ME NOT contains a strong element of the supernatural. How was writing in this genre different or challenging for you?

Take Me ThereCAROLEE DEAN: I write about contemporary issues so it was important to me to keep that focus.  Teens today are dealing with very real life-and-death issues. Forget Me Not explores bullying, social ostracism, and suicide. The supernatural elements of the book serve as metaphors to extend those ideas.  For me it was important that the supernatural elements extend, but not over shadow, the contemporary struggles of the characters. Also, I felt that the question of what happens to the soul after suicide would best be explored using the supernatural. It may seem like a “supernatural” idea, but it is a question that many of us have asked when someone we know has chosen to his or her own life.

FTWN: Your book concerns bullying and cyber-bullying, both very current issues. How do you tap into what is going on with teens today? Do you research, interview?

CAROLEE DEAN: So much of the bullying happening today goes largely unnoticed by adults because it is happening over social media. I work at three different high schools as a speech-language pathologist so I see bullying first hand and hear students talking about their experiences with being bullied.  Our staff receive frequent trainings on bully prevention. I also work very closely with the school social workers. We all have lunch together at least once a week. I recently interviewed a couple of them about the phenomenon of girl bullies.  If you are interested in reading more about it, the article may be found at

FTWN: Who are your verse novel inspirations? Any favorite verse novels?

CAROLEE DEAN: Some of my favorites are Crank by Ellen Hopkins, Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones, Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder, Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, Girl Coming in for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland, and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. These are my modern inspirations, but verse novels are actually one of the oldest forms of storytelling and include the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer as well as Dante’s Divine Comedy. I wrote an article about the history of verse novels at Cynsations which may be found at

FTWN: What can you tell us about what you are working on now? Will you write another verse novel?

CAROLEE DEAN: I’m currently writing a book about a team or archaeologists and their teen children who accompany them on a dig where an ancient book is uncovered. The events happening in the book parallel the lives of the four teens. It is written in prose but contains verse. I have several ideas for future verse novels. I just wish I had more time to write them!!

FTWN: That sounds awesome. I love archaeology and the premise of the ancient book paralelling the teens’ lives is really cool. I can’t wait to read it.

Thanks for dropping by, Carolee!

This entry was posted on January 31, 2013. 1 Comment


Newbery Medal image

In honor of the just announced Newbery winner, I’m reposting this fabulous review from Lucy, aged 8.

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.

This is what Goodreads says about the book:

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.

The One and Only IvanI 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.


VERSEDAYBUTTON copyHappy VerseDay! This week Angelhorn is hosting. Here’s a taste:

VERSEDAY #4: Movies about Poets

It’s VerseDay again, and another installment of our yearlong celebration of verse. This week, in honor of Kill Your Darlings, an Allen Ginsberg biopic starring Daniel Radcliffe, that debuted at Sundance recently, I thought I’d take note of a few other films that celebrate (and I use that term loosely) the true lives of poets…

Read more.

If you’d like to be involved in VerseDay, a year long celebration of all things verse, feel free to sign up here. The first half of 2013 filled up quickly but there are still openings after June. We’d love to have you.

VERSEDAY # 3: Formal Poetic Forms in Verse Novels and Elsewhere

Last VerseDay on Angelhorn I spoke to poet Lesléa Newman who mentioned the benefits of writing formal poetry. Lesléa uses a number of formal poetic forms in her recent verse novel OCTOBER MOURNING. She gives an example of a pantoum in a recent post from FIGMENT. I also use a variety of forms in my upcoming verse novel AUDACIOUS. So just for fun, I thought I’d muse a bit on each of these forms.

One of  the simplest, and in many ways the most useful form for me to use as a poet, is rhyme. I know rhyming poetry has fallen very much out of favor in “literary” poetry circles, but it is very much alive and well in slam poetry and of course the vibrant musical poetic form, hip hop. For me rhyme sometimes suggests major plot points that might not have otherwise come up. In AUDACIOUS for example, there is a subplot concerning bulimia, which only emerged when I rhymed “dinner” with “thinner”. It was a real aha moment about one of the characters and that detail fed into the main plot in a very real way (excuse the pun!).

Another form I used was Haiku, in it’s most widely understood variety, which is a line of five syllables, a line of seven syllables, then another line of five. Several of the longer poems in AUDACIOUS are comprised of haiku formed stanzas. I use this technique when I am in danger of rambling on and on (which is almost always). A few of poems are stand alone haiku. One, in the haiku tradition, creates a nature oriented image. Another untraditionally, summarizes what my protagonist can remember about a visit to the Emergency Room.

The hardest form I attempted was for a poem called “Two Sonnets for Stink Eye the Librarian”. I chose a Shakespearean Sonnet form for this poem and it is one of my favorites in the book. Although I have gone over and over it, I’m sure some scholar will eventually point out that I’ve gotten it somehow wrong. If that happens I will have to simply point out that I did not write the book for scholars!

I wrote one poem, titled “Pinky” in a form meant to suggest the kind of rolling internal and half rhyme used in hip hop and slam poetry. I adore this kind of poetry (I’m less enamored of some hip hop, particularly when its subject matter is moronic) and really enjoyed writing this one.

Several of the poems experiment with concrete forms, some more concrete than others. One poem, ‘Sirens: Part Two” describes an incident that takes place on Christmas day, and suggests the shape of a tree. I think it is one of the most powerful poems in the book.

Acrostic poems have long been some of my favorites to write (I used to write them for my classmates, with their names), and there are a few of these in AUDACIOUS, including two about a toothbrush!

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Finally, sometimes I found the formality of composing a free verse poem in stanzas with a set number of lines to be a useful challenge. In general one of the challenges of poetry is to say the most with the least, and this kind of containment certainly helped me to achieve this.

There are many other poetic forms I’d like to try in the sequel to AUDACIOUS, which I’m writing now. I’d love to try the pantoum that Leslea describes for example. I’d also like to try a villanelle, a roundel and maybe even limericks.

There are, of course, a number of books and websites about poetic forms, but one of the most useful I’ve found is actually a children’s book called A KICK IN THE HEAD by Paul Janeczko. I plan to consult it often.

What poetic forms have you tried?

This entry was posted on January 17, 2013. 1 Comment

January Verse Novel Reviews: Week 2

Pinkindle reviews WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW by Sonya Sones

The Australian Broadcasting Commission looks at ALL THE WAY HOME by Kristen Henry

YA Q&A raves about SOLD by Patricia McCormick

Bibliographic Monologues recommends ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson


Gathering Books takes a good look at LOVE & LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay (with cool photo art)

love and leftovers

VERSEDAY #2 – Blogger: Angelhorn

Hop on over to Angelhorn for the second VerseDay post. Here’s a taste:

Some Writer’s Resolutions Inspired by Verse Novelist Leslea Newman

It’s VerseDay again! VerseDay is a yearlong blog fest celebrating all things verse. Hosted by, VerseDay will highlight weekly posts from writers and bloggers who have something to say about verse. This blog, Angelhorn will be blogging for verse day regularly so watch this space for more VerseDay fun. You can visit the VerseDay homepage to find out what other bloggers and writers are involved and sign up yourself.

For my first VerseDay post I want to share what I learned and resolved after chatting with poet Lesléa Newman.

When I chatted with Lesléa Newman earlier this week about her magnificent verse novel OCTOBER MOURNING:A Song for Matthew Shepard, I was interested to learn that she didn’t write the poems that make up this extraordinary book in order.

GabrielleSaraP: OCTOBER MOURNING is both a verse novel and a collection of poetry which would appeal to fans of both forms. Any comments?

Lesleanewman: I really thought of it as a collection of themed poems, as opposed to a verse novel. The book has a narrative arc so it is novelistic…

Read more here.