Bring May flowers – at least they better this year! Spring hasn’t really sprung here in NYC. April is also National Poetry Month, and it gives us librarians a great hook for displays, story times, and programs.
One of my favorite parts of April is introducing novels in verse to my students. While most of my students have enjoyed Shel Silverstein, a little Jeff Foxworthy, and various other books of poetry during read alouds (The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub is a perennial favorite), many have never experienced a long narrative poem or a novel written in poetry.
I’m always delighted to come across another one, and this year my new favorite is Padma Venkatraman‘s A Time to Dance. (Okay, it’s tied with Woodson‘s amazing award-winning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, but you already know about that one, right?)
Veda is a dancer who has just won an important classical dance competition – only to suffer a devastating injury in a car accident on the way home. Venkatraman traces her recovery and journey to dancing again in this lyrical and lovely novel in verse. Veda’s losses and her triumphs are told through free verse, and each poem acts as a chapter.
As Veda relearns to dance and how to love herself and others, she comes to understand that she is now truly a dancer for Shiva. Though her emotional and spiritual growth has come at great cost, Veda triumphs over pain, loss, and grief.
Ventrakaman’s book is wonderful, each verse providing crystal clear images of Veda and her family and friends, her home and her dancing and each verse allowing the reader to feel Veda’s many emotions, but especially those of joy and love.
I can’t wait to add A Time to Dance to my library’s collection. Novels in verse provide such a wonderful way to involve students in poetry in a new way, and they also provide many different opportunities to integrate with curriculum. For instance, when I did recent lessons with Brown Girl Dreaming, I was able to compare and contrast poetry vs. prose, memoir vs.autobiography, and life in the North vs. the South (plus today vs. Woodson’s childhood). Teachers loved it because the library period tied in to what they were teaching, and the kids? Well, they just plain loved it. So much that I’ll be continuing to read aloud from Brown Girl Dreaming over the next few weeks.
More middle grade novels in verse you might enjoy are:
- Out of the Dust – Karen Hesse
- Love That Dog – Sharon Creech
- Home of the Brave – Katherine Applegate
- Frenchtown Summer – Robert Cormier
- Planet Middle School – Nikki Grimes
- Inside Out and Back Again – Thanhha Lai
- The Crossover – Kwame Alexander
This is a VERY short list – several of the authors have multiple novels in verse. And there’s plenty of other authors and novels to explore – just type in “novels in verse for kids” into Google, and voila! Plenty of lists to keep you adding to your TBR pile.