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Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month Week 1, by Lisa Krok

April is National Poetry Month, so let’s celebrate with novels in verse! I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers.

National Poetry Month is a great time to introduce or reintroduce teens to this genre and its many forms. Here we go!

Day 1: Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes


Nikki and her sister, Carol, live with their mentally ill mother after their father leaves. When alcoholism and schizophrenia combine to make their mother unfit, Nikki and Carol are placed in foster care, and eventually separated. Three years later, mom remarries and Nikki returns to her care, which includes a new nefarious stepfather. Throughout the trials of an unstable home life, Nikki makes the library her new best friend.

Poetry activity:

Since the library was a shining diamond in young Nikki’s life, diamante poems are a perfect fit to pair with this book. Diamantes are diamond shaped poems that follow a specific form. Click on this link for details:

How to write a diamante poem  

Day 2: Solo by Kwame Alexander


Born into rock star royalty, Blade clings to his girlfriend, Chapel, in the absence of his deceased mother and addicted, unreliable father, Rutherford. When Blade is humiliated by Rutherford drunkenly crashing into his high school graduation speech, he loses Chapel and much of his hope. When a hidden family secret is unearthed, Blade travels to Ghana to unravel his own history and attempt to rebuild.

Poetry activity:

Rutherford Morrison certainly got on Blade’s nerves pretty regularly. Writing a clerihew would have likely been a good way for him to vent. A clerihew is basically a poetic way to roast someone. Follow this link for details:  Clerihew activity

Day 3: With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero

by Margarita Engle                          


After a farmer finds him abandoned as a small boy in a cow pasture, Ruben is adopted by his great uncle and his wife. He does not know what happened to his Mama. Self-taught to read at three years old, Ruben learns to trade rhymes for treats, and reads to improve his rhymes. Throughout falling in love, heartbreak, family secrets, natural disasters, smallpox, poverty, drinking, and travel, poetry is always where he finds hope, the star in his hand.

Poetry activity:

One type of poetry Ruben wrote was redondilla. This is a Spanish verse form in which each stanza consists of four lines, each with eight syllables, and a rhyme scheme ABBA. This means that the first and last lines will rhyme, and the second and third lines will rhyme.

Day 4: White Rose by Kip Wilson


Sophie Scholl and her brother write and distribute anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and informing their fellow German citizens. The next year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated to provide information about their collaborators in this rebellion. This novel in verse reports on their lives and their brave stance against the Nazis.

Poetry activity:

Sophie Scholl and her brother passed out zines to protest the Nazi regime. Sometimes poets call them “chapbooks”, but the term zine is more common today. Follow this link to learn how to create a zine.  Zine Making 101

Day 5: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson


Twenty years after her haunting novel Speak was published, Laurie Halse Anderson follows up with this vulnerable, compelling memoir in verse that advocates for those suffering from sexual assault. The demand for consent is explicit, and is both an acknowledgement and rally cry for survivors. Raw, spirited, and timeless, readers are urged to not just speak but to SHOUT their voices loud and clear.

Poetry activity:

Laurie says writing this helped heal her heart. Try writing a “Heal Your Heart Haiku” using 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables each. See Laurie’s comments in this video.

Day 6: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


After Will’s brother Shawn is shot and killed, Will knows what he is expected to do. The rules: no crying, no snitching, get revenge. With a piece shoved into the back of his jeans, he steps into the elevator. As the elevator doors open at each floor, Will is greeted by ghosts of sorts from his past who challenge his thoughts. Are seven floors and sixty seconds enough time for him to decide what to do?

Poetry activity:

Long Way Downtakes place over the course of sixty seconds. When Will steps off the elevator onto the first floor, readers don’t know his decision. Will he seek revenge as planned, or did his long way down with the visitors in the elevator change his mind? Armed with pencil, paper, and a stopwatch or timer (most phones have them) – write your own free verse ending to this storyin just sixty seconds! When time is up, flip your paper over and write a different ending in just sixty seconds. This can also be done in seven sections of sixty second intervals, to represent the seven floors as Will descends in the elevator. Be creative, this ending could take many paths!

Day 7: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar


As Celi Rivera’s body is changing, her mother is insisting on an ancestral ritual that Mima’s community has reclaimed. Celi does NOT want to participate and wants to take a stand. She is full of questions about her changing body, her best friend questioning being gender fluid, and her first attraction to a boy.

Poetry activity:

Celi has been participating in the Puerto Rican drum dance, bomba. Bomba involves a connection and a challenge between the drummer and the dancer. First, watch this bomba video . If you have a music department in your school with a drum you can borrow, do so. If you don’t have access to a real drum, improvise by using any item that resonates with a sound similar to a drum. After watching the bomba video, have students with pencils ready as the beat begins. Leader beats the drum in a myriad of rhythms for 15 seconds or so at a time, as teens write free verse poetry coordinated to that beat. Generally, faster beats will have more words of lesser syllables, while slower beats may induce verse with fewer words having more syllables. Try this first with the  leader as the drummer, then given teens a chance to be the drummer while their friends write. Alternatively, download some bomba music and write that way, although the beats will change more frequently, creating more of a challenge when writing.

-Lisa Krok

Find all of these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

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Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

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