Looking for good MG verse

As of late, as you may or may not have noticed in my recent posts, I have been on a crusade to increase the amount of poetry that gets into the hands of middle grade readers. Lo and behold, a colleague of mine brought to my attention a list on amazon.com, of MG novels written in verse. Huzzah, I thought, perhaps this is the way to meet this goal.

However, at my monthly children’s writers shoptalk, I got to see first hand one of the books on the list: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. I eagerly began to read the book, and then my heart fell. Yes, the book was written in verse, free verse, in that sentences were broken across multiple lines. And yes, the text was further arranged as stanzas. But as far as I could tell, this was not true verse, true poetry. It seemed to have the form of verse, but none of its substance.

Later, after the meeting, I found myself chatting with another group member who, like myself, writes and publishes poetry. As we talked, I conveying my disappointment with the book. My friend then thanked me, profusely, saying she had felt the same way. I went on further to say that given the low word count, the book was more akin to a long short story, or perhaps a novelette.

Before I continue, allow me to make it clear that I only read the first so many pages in the book, and that this post is not about the merits of the volume as a story. In fact, online reviews have praised it as a wonderful story. Yet, I wonder. How much of that praise was due to the verse-like form of the text? Hard to say for sure. So let’s leave that discussion for others to pursue.

Returning to the form of May B., I found the text lacking in the music of verse. This is not to say that a poem needs to be sing-songy. Not at all. But it does need to develop a flow, a rhythm all its own. This is true whether we’re speaking of structured or free verse.

Take, for example, Chapter 1.

I won’t go.

“It’s for the best,” Ma says,
yanking to braid my hair,
trying to make something of what’s left.

Ma and Pa want me to leave
and live with strangers.

I won’t go.

Now, let’s rearrange that same text in paragraph form.

I won’t go.

“It’s for the best,” Ma says, yanking to braid my hair, trying to make something of what’s left. Ma and Pa want me to leave and live with strangers.

I won’t go.

The first thing you notice is that it reads quite well in either form. That is, there’s nothing in the rhythm of the text that lends itself to being arranged as verse. However, if we had tried to rearrange, say, a Shakespearean sonnet, we would still hear the same lilting music in verse or paragraph form.

So, I’ll keep looking for good examples of poetry, or verse novels, for MG readers. Hope springs eternal!

Nuff said!

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