My kids devoured books when they were little. Now that they’re teens, the stars of YouTube and Discord seem to be a bigger draw than the classic characters of literature I wish they would spend their time with. (Of course, calling them “classic characters of literature” doesn’t help much, ha.)
However recently, one of my kids devoured an entire book in just a couple of days and I realized there’s a magic bullet tip for reluctant readers that I’d been missing, and it might work for some of you and your kids too:
Help them select novels that are written in verse.
Before you’re like, Are you nuts? There’s no way I’m getting my kid to read 150 pages of poems! hear me out.
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When my son picked up Crossover by Kwame Alexander at the library a few weeks ago, he had torn through half the book by the time we got home. Because this novel is written as a series of short poems, he was finishing pages quickly. Novels written in verse create a kind of momentum that my son got caught up in, and it even encouraged him to keep going, since he could see so much progress so quickly.
In other words, the pace at which he was reading gave him a sense of confidence and satisfaction, and before he knew it, he was done with the book.
And — and here’s the key — he was ready to grab the next great book off the shelf and start reading that one too.
If you’re struggling to get your kids to read this summer before school starts, or to find some new books for school that “count” toward their personal reading time, hand them a book written in poetry and see if they don’t get hooked .
Here are some of my favorite books written in verse to get you started.
5 favorite modern novels for kids written in verse or poetry
I already mentioned the best-seller YA book The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Amazon | Indiebound), a fast-paced story about a set of twins who have insane skills on the court…and creating music. Ultimately, they’ll learn that breaking the rules isn’t worth it…but at a heartbreaking price.
So yes, there are even books about sports written in verse and this is among the very best. In fact, it won both the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award award, but more than that, it’s won praise from tens of thousands of teens.
Brown Girl Dreaming
We were all shocked to see some schools naming the outstanding Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Amazon | Indiebound) on banned book lists recently — like, they still have those? Oof. Evidently any story about the Black experience is considered “critical race theory.”
So parents, if you live in certain districts around the US, it’s up to you to make sure this incredible memoir about Woodson’s experience growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn during the Civil Rights Movement is one your kids read. Then again, there are plenty of schools with Brown Girl Dreaming still on their recommended reading lists, because it really is outstanding.
(Ed note: May we kindly suggest that any administrators “banning” children’s books on CRT actually do some reading themselves so they can educate themselves as to what Critical Race Theory actually is and where it’s taught? Spoiler: It’s a law school course, not a YA genre. /eyeroll]
Starfish by Lisa Fipps (Amazon | Indiebound) is a wonderfully told first-person story of Ellie, a fifth grader who makes a (literal) splash when she jumps in the pool at her fifth grade party. Since then, she’s created “fat girl rules” for herself to help her survive middle school and an overpowering mom. Rules like “make big waves,” and “be unapologetically you,” which are life lessons we could all stand to learn from. Critics adore this book told in verse, as do parents, teachers, and kids, who finally see their own stories played back to them so honestly and poignantly.
Inside Out and Back Again
If your kids are drawn to stories about experiences of kids different from themselves, then The NY Times best-seller Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Amazon | Indiebound) will have them mesmerized. This book told in verse is inspired by the author’s own experience fleeing Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, and you will be absolutely gripped by every page. It won the National Book Award as well as being named a Newbery Honor Book as well.
The Black Flamingo
If The Black Flamingo (Amazon | Bookshop) looks familiar, it’s because it’s been all over our book recommendations lately — from the Time list of the Top 100 YA books of all time, to favorite books featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists. But maybe you didn’t realize it’s another novel told in verse.
Written by poet and performer Dean Atta, it’s a semi-autobiographical story about a mixed-race Black, gay teen in London who never really knows where he fits in, until he discovers The Drag Society. It’s a particularly terrific read for teens who are passionate about social justice issues, as it explores discrimination on many different levels. And hey, maybe it will give your kids the motivation to make some changes in the world themselves.