Library column: Novels in verse deliver poignant storytelling

By Elizabeth Ripley
Contributing Writer

We all know the verse April showers bring May flowers, so while avoiding the rain this month, curl up with a novel in verse. In addition to bringing next month’s flowers, April is National Poetry Month. While many think of Emily Dickinson or Pablo Neruda or Shel Silverstein when thinking of poetry, the genre has so much more to offer (no offence Emily, Pablo and Shel)!

Since each word in a poem is specifically chosen, novels in verse deliver a sparse, poignant, sometimes biting, portrayal of life; whether it’s the day-to-day, a landmark court case, or a fairy tale retelling. The following are some of my favorite young adult novels in verse. While they may be about young adults, the stories are universal.

Join us on Friday, April 28 for a workshop hosted by National Student Poet winner Stella Binion at the Johnsville Library. For more information and information on other poetry related events, contact your local Anoka County Library.

“Loving vs Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case” by Patricia Hruby Powell, artwork by Shadra Strickland – In beautiful verse, interspersed with artwork by Shadra Strickland and period photographs and documents, Patricia Hruby Powell tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving and the fight for their marriage. Powell takes readers to Virginia in the 1950s when two teenagers, one white and one black, fell in love. Facing discrimination and the law, but sure in their love, the two married. With the help of a lawyer, the couple take their case all the way to the Supreme Court in the civil rights case, Loving vs Virginia, where the court ruled in their favor, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. (Chronicle Books, 2017).

“Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty” by Christine Hepperman – In Poisoned Apples, Hepperman masterfully retells familiar fairy tales in short, feminist, poems that highlight issues and realities common to most American teenagers. Some poems are bitingly funny, like “A SHAPE MAGAZINE Fairy Tale” others, like “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy” delve into similar subject matter, without the sarcasm to counter the darkness. The collection of 50 poem is interspersed with stark black and white photographs, inviting readers to not only read the poems, but the photographs as well. (Greenwillow Books, 2014).

“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson – This book tells the story of Woodson’s life in the 1960s. She was born in Ohio, spent half of her life in the south and then moved to New York City with her family. The movement provided Woodson with a unique viewpoint of the Civil Rights Movement and the culture of the United States during tumultuous Civil Rights Movement and beyond. Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor for Brown Girl Dreaming. (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014).

“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros – A modern classic, Cisneros The House on Mango Street is as relevant today, as it was in the 1980s. Told from the perspective of young Esperanza, the novella is told in a series of verse vignettes, tackling the issues of family, growing up, and what it means to be a woman, and a Latina in the North side of Chicago. Although slim, The House on Mango Street stays with the reader and only gets better after each re-reading. (Vintage Books, 1991).

“House Arrest” by K.A. Holt – Twelve-year-old Timothy is not a bad kid. Yes, he stole a wallet, but it was only to get money to pay for his sick brother Levi’s medicine and it was just his luck someone saw. “That one quick second turned into/ juvie/ a judge/ a year of house arrest,/ a year of this court-ordered journal,/ a year to avoid messing up/ and being sent back to juvie/ so fast my head will spin.” The prose and deep familial bond make this novel stand out from other “problem novels.” (Chronicle Books, 2015).

Elizabeth Ripley is a librarian with Anoka County Library’s Johnsville branch.