Monday, April 15, 2013

Five Diverse Middle Grade Novels in Verse

Continuing our celebration of National Poetry Month in the U.S., here are five middle grade novels in verse. Enjoy and Happy Poetry Month!

Planet Middle School
written by Nikki Grimes
Planet Middle School
You can read a great review of Planet Middle School at Coastline Books.

Inside Out & Back Again
written by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out & Back Again
This book was showered with praise when it was published, winning the National Book Award, as well a Newbery Honor, and garnering multiple starred reviews. All the praise was well-earned. This semi-autobiographical story follows ten-year old Hà and her family from war-ravaged Saigon to the United States. Though times were hard in Vietnam, Hà was happy with her family, growing her papaya tree, and excelling in her studies. Hà struggles with the harsh realities of life aboard the rescue boat that eventually takes her family to a refugee camp, and with adjusting to her new home in Alabama. Life in the United States is very different than Saigon, and Hà is ostracized, cruelly mocked, and teased in her new school. She struggles to understand not only a new language, but a new culture, foods, and landscapes. The sense of place that Lai evokes in this book is exquisite, making her readers feel they are with Hà on every step of her journey. The poetic form helps readers grasp at least a fraction of the depth and intensity of Hà's emotions as she makes her way through the incredibly tumultuous year chronicled in this book. You can read more about Inside Out & Back Again at Goodreads. 
Home of the Brave
written by Katherine Applegate
Home of the BraveHome of the Brave
An earlier novel (2008) by recent Newbery Award winner Katherine Applegate, Home of the Brave, is a lovely book that tells the story of Kek, a young Sudanese boy who comes to the United States as a refugee. The violence in his homeland reduced his family to just his mother and himself, but with his mother missing after an attack on their refugee camp, Kek goes to live with his aunt and cousin in Minnesota. I fell in love with little Kek who is heartwrenchingly earnest and pure of heart, despite the atrocities he has witnessed. Appelgate does a superb job of communicating the trauma Kek has experienced without being graphic. As he adjusts to a world of material abundance, Kek finds both pain (in being mocked by fellow students; weathering the harsh mid-Western winter; assimilating to a new and very foreign culture; dealing with the past), but also many joys (his friendship with a neighbor; his wonderful ESL teachers and classmates; a forlorn cow and her owner) in his new home. You can read more about Home of the Brave at Goodreads.

written by Karen Hesse

It has been many years since I read this book, but I remember enjoying it. Told through 11 voices, this story is set in a small Vermont town in 1924 that has a newly formed branch of the terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Leonora, who is twelve and Black, and Esther, who is six and Jewish, have both come under attack by the KKK. Hesse gives the different perspectives of the townspeople's reactions to the KKK's actions, some of whom know what is going on is wrong and do nothing, and some of whom stand up for what's right. You can read more about Witness at Goodreads.

written by Helen Frost

*This one is a bit tricky as the friends who recommended it to me (thank you, friends!) said that the content can be a bit heavy and feels more YA than middle grade at the times, so this might be a good choice for older middle grade or younger YA readers.
**I have now read Hidden myself and agree that it is appropriate for the 10-14 age range, depending on the maturity of the reader. There's no questionable content, in my opinion, but there are some heavy (though important to see in children's literature) themes.

Told in the alternating voices, Hidden tells the story of two girls, Darra and Wren,  both with tightly guarded secrets and answers the other seeks. When Darra and Wren were eight-years old, Darra's father stole a minivan with Wren hidden inside. At fourteen, the girls meet for the first time at a summer camp and must choose if they are willing to reveal the truth to each other. You can read more about Hidden at Goodreads.

Do you have any favorite diverse middle grade novels in verse? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!


  1. I have actually not read any of these! I do like books in verse, though. Thanks for sharing at The Children's Bookshelf.

    1. One good thing about novels in verse is they are such quick reads. We hope you enjoy them! It's our pleasure to share with The Children's Bookshelf!