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Always avoid poetry? Try reading stories in verse

Poetry. You either love it or avoid it. Please don’t stop reading this if you avoid it! Don’t scroll past thinking there is nothing more you need to know in this post.

I apologize if I may have caused anxiety-inducing flashbacks of high school or college English classes where you had to analyze metaphors and symbolism or assignments to copy Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter in an original poem to your beloved cat.

I want to reassure you I will not be recommending books that will teach you how to like these things because you have a right to not like things. You’re a story person. I get that. So for you, I have a question. Have you ever read a story….in verse? No? What is that? I’m so glad you asked.

I remember reading my first novel in verse when I was ten, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. The Newbery Medal-winning novel about a young girl during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma is written in free verse and chronicles her struggles to survive and find hope in the midst of the Great Depression.

Do I remember what happens in the story now as an adult? No, but I do remember how reading this book made me feel.

I was not a poetry reader, but reading the harsh aspects of this girl’s life in simple but beautiful words left an impression that I can best describe as a calm connectedness.

Thanks to the Scholastic Book Fair, I was already a fan of Hesse from reading The Music of Dolphins, another novel where she plays with format to add another dimension to her storytelling, which may have been the initial reason I picked up Out of the Dust.

Since then, anytime a novel in verse crosses my path, I have to give it a look. Here are a few I have enjoyed over the years.


The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado
(Own Voices, Latinx, First-generation American)

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. Grappling with the expectations projected on her by her strict, religious mother and the patriarchal attitudes toward her mind and body, she finds her voice in her poetry.

The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined by Stephanie Hemphill
(Biographical Fiction, Neurodiversity, Female Empowerment) 

A lyrical, dark and moving look at the life of Joan of Arc, who as a teen girl in the fifteenth century commanded an army and helped crown a king of France. The intimate perspective of Joan’s inner voice brings humanity and sensitivity to look at a larger-than-life figure.

Simon & Schuster

Stone Mirrors: the Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins
(Biographical Fiction, Native American Women, African American Women)

This biographical novel in verse fleshes out the scant details of the life of a woman nearly lost in history, half Native American, half African American sculptor Edmonia Lewis. Working in the years right after the Civil War, Lewis overcame prejudice and trauma to pursue her artistic calling to the highest level in this artful retelling.

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan
(Literary, Coping with Love and Loss)

Told from the perspective of Ana, a married London lawyer who has an affair with a married client and learns of his death from his wife, Rebecca. Crossan draws out suspense by slowly revealing the details of Ana’s life and the circumstances of her lover’s death as Ana edges her way into Rebecca’s life.

However you feel about poetry, I hope one of these titles sparks your curiosity enough to maybe, just maybe, give things you thought you didn’t like to read a try. For more novels in verse, check out this list from the Tulsa City-County Library catalog.

A lifelong reader of all genres and an aspiring fiction author, Carissa Kellerby has worked at several locations during her 13 years with the Tulsa City-County Library and is currently the manager of the Jenks Library.