Cormier, Robert.1999. Frenchtown Summer. New York: Delacorte Press. (Paperback and audio versions are available.)
Eugene is twelve-years-old that hot summer of 1938 as he wanders around the French-Canadian tenement on his paper route. No one really pays attention to him, so he has the opportunity to really watch the people that surround him. He thinks about a lot of things that puzzle him, including the long-ago murder of a young woman, but most of all, he thinks about his father, who seems so distant and uncaring. Eugene has a big family, but he feels lost in it often since is so different from most of them. Fans who have read some of Cormier’s other works, will recognize some of the areas and themes. Written in free verse, this lyrical story is full of detail that really brings a story and a time to life. This appeals to young adults and to older readers also. Rene Auberjonois reads the audio version and does a great job of reading poetry. The additional tape with the audio version that includes an interview with Cormier himself is a great bonus.
Creech, Sharon. 2001. Love That Dog. New York: Harper Collins. (Paperback and audio versions are available.)
Jack thinks poetry is for girls and so says repeatedly, but his teacher wants him to keep a poetry journal for class. Slowly Jack begins to realize that poetry is really for everybody. With his teacher’s help he explores some of the more popular works of well-known poets, and he begins to understand that poets write about what they see, hear and experience. As Jack writes more poetry, he begins to share more of his feelings, until at the end, he writes about his love for his dog and how much he mourns his loss. Young poets will enjoy watching Jack’s poetry become more fluent and more powerful as the year goes on. Teachers will appreciate the influence Jack’s teacher, Miss Stretchberry has on him. The inclusion of the poems of Walter Dean Myers, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost and William Blake appendix will explain some of Jack’s allusions and explanations. Written for students in the middle grades, this book will appeal to all age groups.
Glenn, Mel. 1997. Jump Ball: a basketball season in poems. New York: Lodestar Books.
The high school’s basketball team tells the story of their championship season in poetry form. Each member of the team writes in a slightly different style and from a different viewpoint. The poems of some teachers, coaches and parents are also included. Some of the boys dream of becoming professional athletes and playing their way out of the slums; others dream of going to college. Romance, jealousy, grades and homelessness are the subjects of some of the poems. Clippings from the local newspaper and snippets of interviews with teachers serve as introductions for some of the poems. Most readers can see the looming tragedy at the end but it is still shocking. This is a great way to get reluctant boys to read a novel in verse.
Glenn, Mel.2000. Split Image; a story in poems. New York: Harper Collins.
Everyone thought Laura Li was perfect, but she had some very serious problems. The poems in this slim novel are written by Laura Li, a Chinese girl in an American school. Laura took care of her invalid brother, worked in the school library, and made very good grades. Everyone had expectations of her. Her parents wanted her to be a good student and traditional Chinese daughter. The teachers thought she was an excellent student. The girls were jealous of her beauty, her grades and her popularity. All the boys wanted to date her. But Laura felt like she couldn’t be what she wanted to be, so she would slip out of the house at night to go to parties, do drugs and flirt with lots of boys. Laura felt so trapped that she committed suicide in the school library. The reader must piece Laura’s life together based on the information about Laura in all the different poems from many different viewpoints. The language is powerful and the images are vivid. Boys and girls will respond to this story about one girl’s search for her own identity. Even reluctant readers will like this story told in poems.
Herrera, Juan Felipe. 1999. Crashboomlove; a novel in verse. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
In Fowlerville, California, sixteen-year-old Cesar struggles to find his way in a difficult environment. His father has abandoned him and his mother for his “other” family in Colorado. Cesar’s school is a racial and socio-economic battleground and he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He really wants a better life but he can’t quite figure out how to get there. Along the way, he has brushes with drugs, some violent situations and criminal activity, but he keep hoping he will find something better. The poems include a lot of Spanish terms, which make them more personal and Cesar more believable. The story will appeal to many young adults, especially Hispanic teens.
Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic. Paperback
and audio versions are available.
Set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl Days, this is the Newbery Award winning story of Billie Jo Halpern, a fourteen-year-old girl who loves to play the piano. Her pregnant mother is terribly burned in an accident that is partly Billie Jo’s fault, partly her father’s fault. While Billie Jo’s hands are badly burned, but her mother dies begging for water shortly after giving birth to a little boy. Despite the injuries and the hardships, Billie Jo’s struggles to keep the family going are truly heroic. No one really notices how much Billie Jo is suffering through the dust-covered days as she tries to keep the family together and wonders if she will ever play the piano again. In desperation, Billie Jo jumps a freight train to escape only to realize that running away doesn’t solve any problems. The poetry is as powerful as the winds that blow the farmland away. Young people respond to this gritty story told in sparse verse. Realistic and unsentimental this story has a hopeful ending rather than reaching a happily-ever-after conclusion.
Hesse, Karen. 2001. Witness. New York: Scholastic. Paperback and audio versions are available.
Based on actual events in 1924 in a small town in Vermont, Hesse again uses poetry to tell a story, this time about the Ku Klux Klan moving into a new area. Eleven different characters recount the story. Leonora is a twelve-year-old African-American girl. Six-year-old Sara is a Jewish city girl. At first, most of the people in the town embrace the “All-American” ideals that the Klan espouse, but Viola, the constable’s wife and a farmer named Sara Chickering, realize quickly that hate has come to their peaceful town. When the violence begins, the girls wonder if they will ever live in peace again. Readers will want to discuss the issues of racism, bigotry and fear that they find in these intense, concise verses. The pictures and character descriptions in the book really help bring the characters to life.
Seuss, Dr. 1957. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York: Random House. Paperback, audio and video versions available.
No collection of stories told in verse would be complete without at least one of Dr. Seuss’s stories. Full of wonderful rhymes, wacky art work and adventure, this is the story of an evil, hard-hearted creature called the Grinch who was so mean that he stole the Christmas presents, trees, tinsel and “even the roast beast” from the table of the cheerful Whos in Whoville. It is only after he hears the Whos singing a Christmas song when they don’t have a single gift, that the Grinch realizes that Christmas spirit doesn’t come in a box. One reason the Dr. Seuss books are still so popular is that adults enjoy reading them. Young adults like them, too. Many of the Dr. Seuss have been made into videos and cartoons.
Sones, Sonya. 1999. Stop Pretending: What happened when my big sister went
crazy. New York: HarperCollins. A paperback edition is available.
Largely autobiographical, these poems form the diary of Cookie, a twelve-year-old girl who documents her sister’s descent into mental illness and the effects of her hospitalization on the family. Cookie worries that her sister will never get any better and that she, too, will go crazy and. The poems are about fear, friendship, loneliness, family problems and drug use. Cookie’s haunting descriptions of silent hospital visits and leaving her sister alone in despair will bring tears to the eyes of some readers. The fact that Cookie is afraid to tell her friends about her sister for fear of rejection will cause some of the readers think about the qualities of true friendship.
Wayland, April Halprin. 2002. Girl Coming in for a Landing. Illustrated by Elaine Clayton. New York: Random House.
This collection of 100 poems recounts the school year of an unnamed teenaged girl. Reading more like a journal, than a novel, she tells about her boredom with school, the first date, her friends, her crush on one of her teachers and her excitement when one of her original poems is published. Some of the poems are beautifully written with perfect rhythms and rhymes, while others are short and ragged, but they are all believable. Girls of all ages will identify with the young woman revealed in the poems. Boys will appreciate the hints on how to talk to girls. At the end of the book, the author includes advice on how to write poems and how to submit them to publishers.
Wolf, Virgina Euwer. 1993. Make Lemonade. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Paperback and audio versions are available.
Fourteen-year-old LaVaughn wants to go to college to escape her life in the projects, so she takes a job as a babysitter so she can start saving money. Her employer, Jolly, is an illiterate, seventeen year old single mother of two, who soon loses her job in a box factory. Hoping to help, LaVaughn soon discovers herself babysitting for free. Finally LaVaughn convinces Jolly to join teen education course and Jolly begins to get her life together. The reader gets to share LaVaughn’s internal debates on how much to help her friend. The poems, written are very realistic, complete with slang and ungrammatical structures. Teen girls especially will like the story of the two girls and their individual struggles to improve their lives.
Wolf, Virgina Euwer. 2001. True Believer. New York: Antheneum Books for Young
Readers. Paperback and audio versions are available.
In this sequel to Make Lemonade, LaVaughn once again displays a fierce determination to do well in school so she can go to college and escape the dreary, hopeless life-style she sees all around her. LaVaughn writes about her friends, Myrtle and Annie and the pact the three of them made to avoid becoming teenaged mothers. Complications set in when, Jody, an old friend moves back into the neighborhood and LaVaughn discovers that he is much more attractive than he had been before. LaVaughn’s language changes in the poems since she is attending special classes in school to improve her grammar, but the poems are still powerful and urgent. The reader shares LaVaughn’s struggles with new ideas, new challenges and her first emotional involvement with a boy, and realizes how people can overcome many hardships with sheer determination, the help of a few good role models, and careful thought. This National Book Award winner will appeal to reluctant readers.