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Sixteen verse novels

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson delivers a poignant novel in verse that highlights an important topic within the sports world, especially football. Zacharias Johnson, Jr. (aka ZJ) is the son of a football star. The world adores him, and to that outside world ZJ, his dad, and the rest of his family enjoy a charmed life. However, outside of the spotlight, things aren’t as perfect as they appear. ZJ’s father is having health issues from repeated hard hits and head injuries while playing pro. He struggles with headaches, anger, and heartbreaking memory loss. Between the myriad doctor visits, medications, and medical tests, ZJ’s life quickly turns from charmed to tragic as he has to face the fact that his father and family are forever changed. ZJ initially fights his new reality and must learn to lean on family, friends, and the support of his community in his grief in order to move forward. Woodson again shows herself to be a masterful writer, and her meaningful exploration of concussions and head injuries in football, a subject rarely broached in middle-grade fiction, provides young athletes with necessary insights into sport's less glamorous side. In addition to this, it is a novel that explores family, mental illness, and the healing that a tight-knit, loving community can provide.
Verse novel/realistic fiction
Sixth to eighth grade

Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Eleven-year-old Maya is a happy, confident, binational only child living near Tokyo with her Japanese father, grandmother, and great-grandfather and her American mother. Then the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastate northern Japan. Maya and her family are safe, but she changes overnight into a fearful child, constantly worried about those affected by the disaster, and wondering what will become of her own family when the predicted Big One (earthquake) hits Tokyo. Donwerth-Chikamatsu's novel in verse uses numerous graphics to excellent effect: military time entries in red next to Maya's stream-of-consciousness narrative establish her anxiety and racing thoughts, wavy fonts mimic the rolling of the earth, illustrative placement of different-sized text and punctuation marks turn text into pictures, and a sparingly used background of concentric circles calls to mind the ripple effects of the disaster and its effects on Maya. With the loving support of her family, the affection of a stray cat that adopts the family, and her own practice of folding 1,000 paper cranes, Maya regains her equilibrium and gradually finds ways to conquer her fear and anxiety in her actions to help others, in a moving yet believable conclusion.
Verse novel
Fifth and sixth grade

Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
When Valentina awakes to a red sky marred by billowing blue smoke, she knows something has gone wrong in her home of Pripyat. Her worry only grows when her father doesn’t return from his shift at the Chernobyl power station, the source of the otherworldly fire. But good Soviet citizens don’t ask questions, her mother reminds her, a fact that goes double for children. Despite its best efforts, the government cannot conceal the magnitude of this disaster, and it begins evacuating Pripyat’s residents. When the mother of Oksana—a classmate who bullies Valentina for being Jewish—is placed in quarantine, Valentina’s mother sends both girls to Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother. Blankman gives her three female leads complex characters that are revealed by the shifting narration and their interactions with one another. Prejudice and abuse are combated by experience and love, which help all involved to grow. The book’s dangerous atmosphere comes less from the nuclear disaster than it does from the oppressive and watchful government, adding yet another intriguing layer to this well-executed historical novel.
Historical fiction
Fifth to eighth grade

Booked by Kwame Alexander
The Bell twins are stars on the basketball court and comrades in life. While there are some differences—Josh shaves his head and Jordan loves his locks—both twins adhere to the Bell basketball rules: in this game of life, your family is the court, and the ball is your heart. With a former professional basketball player dad and an assistant principal mom, there is an intensely strong home front supporting sports and education in equal measures. When life intervenes in the form of a hot new girl, the balance shifts and growing apart proves painful. An accomplished author and poet, Alexander eloquently mashes up concrete poetry, hip-hop, a love of jazz, and a thriving family bond. The effect is poetry in motion. It is a rare Verse novel that is fundamentally poetic rather than using this writing trend as a device. There is also a quirky vocabulary element that adds a fun intellectual note to the narrative. This may be just the right book for those who live for sports or music or both.
Verse novel/sports
Fifth to eighth grade

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Verse novel
Fifth to eighth grade

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan
This poignant novel in verse tells of 11-year-old Stevie, an Irish girl who loves acquiring all kinds of knowledge. She’s especially proud of her learning skills, so when she encounters matters for which she has no answers, her emotional world is turned upside down. One such topic is her recurring nightmares, which often seem to be triggered by school anxiety and her father’s leaving. The other, more pressing subject is the confusing feelings she has for her friend, Chloe. What follows is a winter adventure of self-discovery and queer-identity questioning, with plenty of support from her single-parent Mum, her friend Andrew, and an unexpected ally of a librarian. Chapter headers use sea-themed typography to allude to Stevie’s drowning emotional state as her story unfolds and she nervously learns about two great unknowns, the ocean and crushes. For a child so focused on tangible facts, this type of love is a puzzle, and this novel asks big questions about representation and the lifelong process of healing, exploring how a child can choose to come out when they have no queer role models. Grehan brings a likable voice to her young protagonist, and readers will be rooting for Stevie in all of her endeavors. A heartwarming and tear-provoking coming-of-age novel, brimming with empathy and a child’s imagination.
Verse novel LGBTQI+
Fifth and sixth grade

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
Twelve-year-old Emmy is the new kid, transplanted from Wisconsin to San Francisco. Despite a musical upbringing (Mom sings opera; Dad is a concert pianist), Emmy doesn't have any musical talent and even blacked out on stage during her last recital. When it's time to sign up for electives, all the cool girls take music, so intimidated Emmy winds up in computer science. After a rocky start, Emmy makes friends, becomes immersed in coding, and develops a special bond with her computer teacher, Ms. Delaney. Inevitable middle-school drama ensues, including the devastating news that Ms. Delaney is ill. By the book's end, Emmy has developed a passion for coding music and found new social confidence, despite Ms. Delaney's worsening prognosis. The book features a free-verse format that perfectly captures Emmy's seesawing emotions and allows for the seamless incorporation of lines of code that show how composing music and creating code follow similar patterns. Music, coding, strong female techie role models—this engaging first novel should attract a wide audience.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Mimi Yoshiko Oliver and her family just moved from Berkeley, California, to Hillsborough, Vermont, where she immediately encounters barrier after barrier to overcome. Mimi’s goal is to become an astronaut; however, it’s 1969, a time when young girls are encouraged to become mothers, secretaries, teachers, or nurses. She also wants to fit in at school. That was easy at her school in Berkeley, where there were kids from every background, but in white-populated Vermont, she stands out as the only half black, half Japanese student. Mimi also goes against the grain by entering the science fair and protesting (via courteous civil disobedience) not being allowed to take the shop class instead of home economics. Persistent like raindrops on granite—drip, drip, drip—she makes friends, finds solutions, and, in being true to herself, gains respect. Written as a novel in verse, the book captures the key snapshots of Mimi’s journey through a transitional time in our history. Mimi’s voice as narrator is clear and focused: she must figure out who she is, instead of answering the question, “What are you?” Out of respect for her parents, the decisions she makes pull from both halves to make a whole. Perfect for readers who straddle societies, feel they don’t fit in, or need that confirmation of self-celebration.
Verse novel/historical fiction

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes 
Garvey is tired of his father’s attempts to turn him into something he’s not: an athlete. Avoiding outdoor activities, he comforts himself with food and music. Inevitably, he gains weight, but it isn’t the physical discomfort of climbing stairs at school that bothers him—it’s the teasing about his size. His best friend encourages him to join the school chorus, where he learns, in addition to music, how to deal with name-calling, how to use his exceptional tenor voice, and, ultimately, how to connect with his father through a genuine shared interest. Garvey’s growing confidence gives him a different perspective and even leads him to take up running. A Coretta Scott King Author Award winner and the recipient of the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, Grimes returns to the novel in verse format, creating voice, characters, and plot in a series of pithy tanka poems, a traditional Japanese form similar to haiku but using five lines. While the story ends on a hopeful note, Grimes is clear that it takes work and time, as well as insight and determination, to create real change. Written from Garvey’s point of view, the succinct verses convey the narrative as well as his emotions with brevity, clarity, and finesse
Verse novel/realistic fiction
Fifth to eighth grade

Grasping Mysteries: Girls who Loved Math by Jeannine Atkins
In this companion book to Finding Wonders (2016), Atkins presents the lives of seven girls who excelled in mathematics and later, often after overcoming significant obstacles, made significant contributions in related fields. Caroline Herschel discovered a comet, and Vera Rubin provided evidence of dark matter in the universe. Inventor Hertha Ayrton became the first woman electrical engineer. Meticulous statistical records were key to Florence Nightingale’s success in changing hospital care and Edna Lee Paisano’s progress in gaining significantly greater representation for Native Americans in Census Bureau reports. Marie Tharp turned a mountain of data into maps of the Atlantic Ocean floor, while Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories to the moon. Written in free verse, the text is welcoming, informative, pithy, wry, very readable, and occasionally haunting: as Florence Nightingale carries her lantern through the hospital wards at night, soldiers “reach out to touch the shadow she leaves behind.” Still, doctors resentful of her authority refer to her not as the “Lady with the Lamp” but as the “Lady with the Hammer.” A heartening celebration of mathematically gifted women.
Verse novel/math
Fifth and sixth grade

Knockout by K.A. Holt
Twelve-year-old Levi has his problems. A tracheotomy when he was younger has left him in sometimes perilous heath as he struggles to breathe, an inhaler always at the ready. His parents are divorced; his older brother, Timothy, is often inaccessible as he studies for the exam that will determine whether he will be admitted to medical school; and his best friend Tam has found a new friend, a cheerleader named Kate, who occupies all her time. Things start to look up, though, when Levi discovers boxing and turns out to be a natural. But lessons are expensive and money is a problem. It also becomes a major consideration when he decides he wants to go to a private school that has a boxing team. In the meantime, he is injured in the ring and must go to a hospital in Cincinnati. Can the doctors there cure his previously existing condition? Holt, who tells her story in shaped verse, handles her material expertly, crafting an appealing story that most readers will find to be, yes, a knockout.
Verse novel/sports

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
An escape from war-torn Britain becomes a struggle for survival when a ship is torpedoed off the coast of England. In June 1940, Great Britain formed the Children’s Overseas Reception Board to transfer Britain’s children away from the encroaching war to safe harbors around the world. Over 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 15 applied for just 20,000 spots. Thirteen-year-old Kenneth Sparks is chosen to travel on the City of Benares, a luxury ocean liner, to Canada, where he will live with his aunt in Edmonton. The children are distracted by rich food, new toys, and soft beds, but the accompanying convoy of war ships is a constant reminder that while the blitzkrieg might be behind them, German torpedoes are a very present threat. Three days into their voyage, the Benares is hit, sending crew and passengers into the lifeboats and the water. Ken, along with a handful of others, all white except 32 Asian sailors of varied ethnicity (called Lascars at the time), must survive with little water, food, or shelter if they are to make it out alive. Told in verse, the story of Lifeboat 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. Hood makes effective use of line breaks and punctuation to wrap readers up in Ken’s tale. Copious research, including interviews with the real Ken Sparks, went into the making of this fictional recasting of a true story of survival. Backmatter offers further information, including the racism experienced by the Lascars. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II. 
Verse novel/historical fiction
Fifth to eighth grade

Nina Morena Suena by Jacqueline Woodson
Qué significa crecer en dos lugares y no pertenecer completamente a ninguno? Jacqueline Woodson crecí entre Carolina del Sur y Nueva York y siempre se sintió a medias en ambos. Estos poemas, conmovedores y poderosos, lo reflejan; así como reflejan la experiencia de ser una niña afroamericana en las décadas de 1960 y 1970, de una infancia vivida entre los residuos de las leyes de Jim Crow, de su aprendizaje constante sobre el movimiento de derechos civiles. Cada verso es una mirada al alma de alguien que, desde muy pequeña, busca su lugar en el mundo. Tal vez lo encontr en su propia voz al escribir. La elocuente poesa de Woodson es tambi una celebración de la escritura pues, a pesar de que tuvo dificultades con la lectura cuando era nia, su amor por las historias inspiró las primeras chispas de la talentosa escritora que es hoy. Este libro es resultado de eso. Es el universo de una niña morena que, contra todo y contra todos, se atrevi a soar.
Verse novel
Fifth to eighth grade

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga
From start to finish, Warga’s middle-grade debut puts its hands around your heart and holds it, ever so gently, so that you’re aware of your own fragility and resilience—just as Jude is while her life changes drastically from one day to the next. Growing up in a coastal town in Syria, Jude’s days revolve around her family and best friend, watching movies, and going to school. But there’s trouble on the horizon, and Jude’s brother, Issa, gets involved in the resistance movement. Jude and her mother leave, moving in with Uncle Mazin and his family in Cincinnati. The novel’s blank verse form works beautifully to capture Jude’s tumultuous emotions as she adjusts to her new life. Friendships, complicated family relationships, Islamophobia, and a new language are just a few of the layers Warga weaves into Jude’s consciousness. Jude is keenly aware of who she is—a sister, daughter, cousin, niece, friend—even as she works out the nuances of these roles. Her voice is both wise and naive, her responses credible, and her bravery admirable and accessible. After a few emotional crescendos, the story is resolved with satisfying closure and believable new possibilities. This should find its way into every middle-grade reader’s hands. Newbery honor
Verse novel/historical fiction
Fifth to eighth grade

Pauli Murrary The Life of a Pioneering Feminist & Civil Rights Activist by Rosita Stevens-Holsey and Terry Catasús Jennings
Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Pauli Murray sat in a whites-only section of a Virginia bus in 1940 and was arrested. This inspiring biography in verse aims to promote the life and work of the lesser-known yet influential Black civil rights activist and feminist. Free-verse poems relate Murray’s childhood during the Jim Crow era in North Carolina, her budding activism amid the Great Depression, her more formal activism and writings as a lawyer, and her later years in the clergy. They emphasize another part of Murray’s identity as well: Murray fought for women’s rights in a male-dominated world (what she called her “battle against Jane Crow”), and before the term transgender came into use, she routinely questioned her gender identity and chose to dress in men’s clothes. Incorporating quotes by Murray and excerpts of her poetry, the book’s verses often don’t flow smoothly. Readers who persist, however, will find numerous historical surprises, from Murray’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt to her role in Brown v. Board of Education.
Verse novel/LGBTQI
Sixth to eighth grade

Rebound by Kwame Alexander
It’s the end of the school year in 1988, and Charlie Bell is flattened by the death of his father. Charlie tries to hide in the pages of his comic book collection, much to his mother’s despair. Finally she ships him off to stay with his grandparents for the summer. At first it’s just a fresh form of misery, as Charlie’s acidic grandfather goads him into physical activity in the stifling heat. Then his cousin Roxie coaxes him onto the basketball court. It’s the combination of family, friends, and mad new skills that finally help Charlie begin to rebound from his father’s death. Charlie Bell is the father of twins Jordan and Josh Bell, stars of Alexander’s Newbery Medal–winning novel Crossover (2014). Fans of Crossover will remember that Chuck “Da Man” Bell played professional basketball, and they’ll be intrigued by his initial resistance to learning the game. But this is an Alexander production, so the plot, as rich and satisfying as it is, is outdazzled by the brilliance of wordplay and syntax. There is a rhythm to each page, whether it’s the snappy give-and-take of dialogue, the throbbing of Charlie’s bottomless melancholy, or the rushing excitement of a basketball game. In addition, comics-style illustrations by Emmy-winning artist Anyabwile bring Charlie’s fantasies of basketball glory to life. One of many award titles by award winning poet and novelist, Kwame Alexander, 2018 Karla Harry Visiting Author.
Verse novel
Fifth to eighth grade

Singing with Elephants by Margarita Engle
Newbery Medal and Pura Belpré Award winner Engle enchants readers with a novel in verse about a Cuban-born girl discovering her voice. It’s 1947 when Olivia, her sister, Catalina, and her veterinarian parents move to Santa Barbara. Life in a new country isn’t easy for them, and it is full of racial taunts. Still mourning the death of her abuelita, Olivia befriends famous poet Gabriela Mistral, who encourages her to write and express her emotions. Lacking confidence, Olivia finds solace in her cheerful animal friends, who, like her, speak their individual, poetic language. Before long, she befriends two baby elephants, one of whom is taken by an actor and made into a spectacle. Full of anger, Olivia learns to stand up for herself and for those who don’t have a voice. Engle’s writing style encourages young readers to fall in love with poetry. The reader learns along with Olivia about grammar and literary terms (noun, verb, onomatopoeia, etc.). Our young friend comes to discover that language shouldn’t be used to hinder but to create beauty. Recommended by Ms.Garfield.
Verse novel
Fifth and sixth grade