In recent years, verse novels for children have become more and more popular. I couldn't wish for a better trend in children's literature!
Verse novels are especially welcome because they can also be less daunting than prose novels to middle grade readers who might feel intimidated by long, dense chapter books. Reluctant readers don't have to slog through long, descriptive prose passages full of backstory. There is an immediacy to verse and it carries the reader along on a wave.
Poetry also lends itself well to the expression of diverse voices, and I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of experiences I found in these verse chapter books. There is everything from basketball to fantasy to Sudan to Saigon.
This book list has a story for everyone.
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Table of contents
Would you like a printable copy of this book list? You can grab it at the end of the post.
Fantasy Middle Grade Verse Novels
PRINCE PUGGLY OF SPUD AND THE KINGDOM OF SPIFF by Robert Paul Weston
Find it: Amazon | Your Library
The premise is wonderfully silly: in the Kingdom of Spiff everyone is obsessed with fashion, and ridiculously elaborate fashion at that. Well, almost everyone — the Princess prefers pajamas… and books. In Spud, however, things are a bit different and when Puggly of Spud and Frannie of Spiff meet up they set out to teach the others a thing or two about what is really important. This is really fun to read aloud because of the fantastical vocabulary and the rhyming couplets. Even the font is “fancified.” I do, however, recommend it for more experienced listeners. I certainly think a 5 year old can listen to it, but it is not the usual fare and I found that mini recaps of the action before we began each reading session to be extra-helpful. Nevertheless, it was a hit.
Also by Robert Paul Weston: Zorgamazoo
Contemporary Fiction Verse Novels
LITTLE DOG LOST by Marion Dane Bauer
If you are looking for a first book in verse to read out loud to your kids, look no further. Little Dog, Lost is an utterly charming story. Three plot points: a boy who needs a dog, a dog who needs an owner and a neighbor who needs friends come together in an extremely satisfying story. For me, the cadence of the free verse made this book easier to read aloud than prose. The story is heartfelt and engaging while still providing kids (and parents!) the opportunity to contemplate and discuss ideas like the importance of community and companionship. I read it aloud to my 6 and 10 year olds and we all throughly enjoyed it.
Read the companion novel: Little Cat's Luck
MORE: Novels told from the animals' points of view
GONE FISHING: A NOVEL by Tamera Will Wissinger
9-year-old Sam loves fishing with his dad, which is why he is horrified when his he learns his little sister is to tag along on this trip! (Never mind that later she commits the sin of catching more fish than he!) Wissinger composes the story with different types of poems. Odes, haiku, quatrains, tercet, and more all come together to tell the story in multiple voices. This book has loads of illustrations and is great fun. There is even a handy author's note describing the different poetic forms she uses. Be sure to catch the sequel, Gone Camping. Ages 7 and up.
LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE (series) by Julie Sternberg
Eleanor, an 8 year old resident of Brooklyn. Kids may not even realize they are reading poetry when they dive into these three books. Eleanor's experiences as a 21st century kid who worries about losing her beloved babysitter, fitting in at summer camp and overcoming stage fright are incredibly relatable. I've put this series on a few lists before, including summer reading and early chapter book lists. Ages 7 and up.
SUMMERHOUSE TIME (series) by Ellen Spinelli
Spinelli's verse novel and its sequel, The Dancing Pancake, is classic summer fare. 11 year old Sophie and her family head out to their beach house. Sophie looks forward to swapping secrets with her favorite cousin, trips to the donut shop and hanging out at the beach. Things aren't quite as she expects, but the summer turns out well in the end. An easy, breezy summer read. Ages 7 and up.
ALL OF ME by Chris Baron
Written in verse, All of Me is the story of Ari, a Jewish boy is struggling with his body image. He is also preparing for his bar mitzvah and dealing with his parents' difficult relationship. Baron's book digs deep into Ari's frustrations, fears and negative self-image as he must come to terms with how he sees himself and his place in the world. Incredibly moving. Ages 9 and up.
Also recommended: Baron's The Magical Imperfect
REZ DOGS by Joseph Bruchac
Malian, who lives in Boston, is staying with her grandparents on the Wabanaki reservation when the COVID lockdown begins. The pace of life changes, and Malian makes the adjustment to help keep everyone safe. A dog shows up at the house and Malian is determined to take care of him, too. Bruchac blends traditional Wabanaki stories into this very modern tale of 21st century. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Middle grade novels by Native American authors
THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander
Alexander's wonderful tale about twin brothers is touching, relatable and extraordinarily engaging. Josh narrates his story of coming to terms with his brother's new girlfriend, sibling rivalry, the pressure and joy of playing ball and his relationship with his father. This book does have a sad ending and I recommend it for kids ages 10 and up.
OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga
This free-verse novel begins in Syria around the start of the Arab Spring. Jude and her pregnant mother decide to emigrate to live with her uncle in America. Her older brother, caught up in the protests against the government, stays behind with their father. In America, Jude meets new friends and discovers an interest in theater. With unflinching honesty and a keen perception, Jude describes the transition from Syria to her experiences adjusting to living in America. A splendid book. Ages 9 and up.
GARVEY'S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes
Readers of this blog know that I am a long-time fan of Nikki Grimes' poetry. She wrote Garvey's Choice in tanka verse. Garvey, a young Black boy, is working on finding out who he wants to be. He has a family who loves him, but his father's vision for him is different than what Garvey wants for himself. Garvey feels free when singing in the the school chorus and when he shares his secrets with his best friend, Joe. Wonderful. Ages 8 and up.
Also read: Words with Wings
FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry
Calliope June and her mother move around a lot. They have just moved again and Calli (as she likes to be called) hopes that for once they can stay long enough to have a normal life. Calli narrates her story of living with Tourette syndrome; she tries to hide her tics by wearing loud, vintage clothing and she must deal with the teasing comments from classmates. Calli's voice is written in verse, and her neighbor and new friend's point of view is written in first person prose. The alternating voices make for a great reading experience and although Calli's TS experience may be less common, the themes of friendship, family and fitting in are universal to every young reader. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Middle grade books with protagonists who have medical challenges
STARFISH by Lisa Flipps
Ellie is tired of being bullied about her weight. It's bad enough coming from her peers, but her mother also doesn't seem to accept her for who she is. Ellie is about to start sixth grade and her best friend has moved away. When Catalina moves in next door, she befriends Ellie and, as a person of color, understands what it's like to be judged by what you look like. Flipps writes Ellie's story in verse, mirroring Ellie's own use of poetry to express herself. A very satisfying story. Ages 9 and up.
ALONE by Megan E. Freeman
Maddie and her friends planned to meet for a sleepover. Her friends never show up and in the morning, Maddie finds her town has been entirely abandoned. Unable to communicate with anyone Maddie must learn to survive on her own. At first, there is running water and electricity, but when that goes she teaches herself to drive, finds supplies in neighboring homes and has only a dog for a companion. A suspenseful page-turner! Ages 10 and up.
LAND OF THE CRANES by Aida Salazar
Salazar brings us another lovely verse novel. Betita, a girl who find magic in words, lives with the uncertainty of her family's immigration status. One day, her father's workplace is raided by ICE and he is deported. Then, due to a tragic navigational mistake on the highway, Betita and her pregnant mother end up in detainment. There is no tidy ending for Betita and her family, a situation far too many families find themselves in. Ages 9 and up.
Also by Aida Salazar: The Moon Within
MORE: Poetry for middle school students
Historical Verse Middle Grade Novels
MAY B. by Caroline Rose Starr
If your child is a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but turns up his nose at poetry, place May B. in his hands. 13 year old May and her family live on the frontier and in order to help out, May's parents find her a place working for another family fifteen few miles away. When the couple mysteriously disappear and leave May alone, she must find a way to survive the oncoming winter. A thoughtful touch is May's strong interest in learning and reading, even as she struggles with dyslexia (although, unlike modern readers, May doesn't know dyslexia is her problem).
OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse
Billie Jo narrates her story of living in the dustbowl Texas during the Depression. In free verse, she describes the difficulties of poverty, having a distant father, and the tragic accident of her mother's death which also damaged her own hands so she is no longer able to play the piano. A moving story. Ages 9 and up.
SALT: A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP IN A TIME OF WAR by Helen Frost
Frost writes Salt in the alternating voices of two twelve year olds. Anikwa is a member of the Miami tribe, and James is the son of Anglo traders at nearby Fort Wayne in the Indiana territory. It is 1812, and tensions are rising between the two groups. Salt becomes crucial when James' father refuses to trade salt with the Miami, but James attempts to smuggle it to his friend. One of the most interesting aspects of Frost's verse is that she writes James's poems in long parallel lines, which represent the stripes of the American flag. In contrast, the verse lines of Anikwa's story mirror Miami ribbon work. Ages 10 and up.
Note: I really enjoyed Salt and although I am recommending it here, I encourage you to read Debbie Reese's review of the book at American Indians in Children's Literature to become aware of its potential problems and get talking points for further discussion about the representation of the Miami Nation.
LOOKING FOR ME:... IN THIS GREAT BIG FAMILY by Betsy R. Rosenthal
11-year-old Edith is the fourth of twelve children in a Jewish family, growing up in Depression-era Baltimore. Edith feels a little lost in her family and the verse is full of her observations–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always insightful–about her siblings, parents, friends and neighborhood. Edith loves learning and dreams about being a teacher, even though she doesn't feel very smart. However, she gains the quiet support of a few special people and learns to identify herself as something other than "the fourth child." Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Middle grade memoirs and biographies in verse
RED BUTTERFLY by A. L. Sonnichsen
This verse novel tells the story of a Kara, Chinese orphan who was abandoned -- she speculates because of her gender and her disabled hand -- and then informally adopted by an older American couple living in the country. At the start of the book, she lives with her American mother, who has stayed in the country illegally to look after Kara. Kara feels the typical push and pull of an eleven year old who both wants to spread her wings, as well as find comfort in a familiar home. When an accident happens, Kara is separated from her American mother and placed in the Chinese adoption system. Ages 9 and up.
SOMEWHERE AMONG by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
This year, Ema is not going to spend summer in California, as usual. She and her mother, who is experiencing a difficult pregnancy will be moving in with Ema's grandparents in Japan. Ema looks forward to meeting her baby sister but she is confused by her grandmother's strict rules and cold manner. But then, the terrorist attack occurs in her mother's home country, and illness befalls the family at home. The events help Ema understand her grandmother better and she witnesses her kindness. Donwerth-Chikamatsu uses verse to tell this lovely story of survival and learning. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Children's books about remembering 9/11
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhhà Lai
This is the story of Hà, a 9-year-old girl living in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. Hà, her mother and three brothers escape the city on a ship as it falls to the communists. Rescued by the American navy, they eventually find their way to Alabama through the help of a sponsor. This story is suspenseful, touching and even quite funny in parts. Kids everywhere will relate to Hà's description of learning English and its spelling and grammar rules! It is a story of fitting in, the importance of family, and hope even in sorrow. I loved it. Ages 8 and up.
THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Written in verse, The Red Pencil contains some tough subject matter. 12-year-old Amira lives in the Darfur region of Sudan on her family's farm. It is 2003, just as war is breaking out in the area. She loves her family and dreams of going to school. When the Janjaweed arrive in her village, the survivors make the long walk to the refugee camp, where conditions are hard. Amira receives the gift of a red pencil and yellow notepad which becomes a catalyst of sorts, both for her spirit and for her mind. The most difficult scene in the book is when the Janjaweed terrorize the village and Amira sees the death of her father. The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions unanswered but curious and thoughtful children will want to learn more. Ages 10 and up.
UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg
9-year-old Grace lives with her enslaved family on a Southern plantation. Because Grace has light skin and blue eyes, her enslavers bring her into the house to work in the kitchen and serve at table. Grace can't keep her feelings about her situation hidden and when she lets her words slip her enslavers threaten to sell her entire family. Grace's courage helps them escape to the swamps where there is hope of freedom. Ages 9 and up.
Also read: Serafina's Promise
Katey Howes says
You always find such interesting themes and selections. I'm familiar with about 1/2 of these books, and looking forward to discovering the rest with my kiddos. Perfect for poetry month! My 9 year old bought me Brown Girl Dreaming for Christmas last year, started reading t before she wrapped it, and then promptly stole it from me once I had opened it. That's the best review a book can get!
Erica MomandKiddo says
That is certainly a great stamp of approval!
This is a good list. I would definitely add "Diamond Willow" by Helen Frost, "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse, "Words with Wings" by Nikki Grimes and "Home of the Brave" by Katherine Applegate. I love the depth that verse novels can have as well as beautiful, poetic language.
Erica MomandKiddo says
I'm reading Out of the Dust right now! Thanks for the recommendations.
Even in Australia says
I loved Brown Girl Dreaming and liked The Crossover even better, although I'm a littlse sick of stories that kill off parents. And Like Pickle Juice is one of my faves. My 7yo would be shocked to hear that it's considered poetry, since she "hates" poetry, except for "funny" poems (i.e. Shel Silverstein). My 9yo loved The Red Pencil and Brown Girl Dreaming. There are quite a few on here that I've never heard of and am excited to read. I think my girls would especially like Looking for Me.. and the older one would enjoy Inside Out and Back Again and May B.
Erica MomandKiddo says
I fully admit, I didn't think about how Pickle Juice was poetry the first time I read it!
This post could not be more timely for me! I recently discovered novels in verse (with "Inside Out & Back Again") and fell in love with the genre. So much said in few, powerful words! I'm currently enjoying "Brown Girl Dreaming" and can't wait to read your suggestions above. I agree with the comment above that "Home of the Brave" must be added to this list.
Erica MomandKiddo says
I've heard that Home of the Brave is good. Thanks for the recommendation.
My 7 yo daughter just read "Little Dog Lost" and I read it over her shoulder at times. What a lovely book! Thanks for the recommendations!
Erica MomandKiddo says
I'm so glad you liked it. It has become a favorite of ours.
Ann Magee says
Sorry I'm late to the party. Was wondering if you knew of any Nonfiction books in verse? Thanks!
Hi Ann, Thanks for your question. There are some nonfiction books - the only novels that I can think of are Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle. They are both memoirs. I love the poetry of Joyce Sidman, who frequently teaches about nature in her poems. I also recently read "Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph," which is a longer nonfiction picture book written in verse. It is gorgeous. It is definitely an untapped market. I hope this helps.
Update: There are also picture book biographies written in verse, if that is something useful for you.
Thank you for this list. I purchased Like Bug Juice on a Burger for my daughter based on your recommendation. She absolutely loved it. I noticed she was gravitating toward books written in prose. I assumed you had a list of suggestions and you did. Thank you for helping with the Christmas shopping.
Great list! KA Holt has a couple of wonderful novels in verse - Rhyme Schemer and House Arrest. They're both highly engaging for middle grade readers.
THank you for the recommendations!
I just read May B., which I first learned about months ago from your list. I really enjoyed it and would be interested in seeing more lists like this. Maybe some of the biographies in verse that you mentioned in the comments? Thanks for bringing these books to my attention. I plan to read more of them.
A couple of biographies in verse that I enjoyed are Brown Girl Dreaming and Enchanted Air. Caroline Starr Rose also wrote another historical verse novel, Blue Birds. Also look at Salt by Helen Frost and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.