Archive for Novels in Verse

Booktalk: Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Crazy cover

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips was one of my favorite teen books of 2014, and there are several facets of this book that make it unique.  It’s a poem-format novel, it’s historical fiction, and it tackles family problems in general and mental illness specifically.  Laura is a great protagonist, and readers will feel for her as she tries to deal with the normal hurdles of her teenage life while wondering if the mental illness in her family will prove to be the biggest hurdle of all.


The year is 1963.  My name is Laura, I’m 15 years old, and I’m an artist like my mother.

My world is filled with plenty of good things, like my friends, Mrs. Grant my art teacher, Dennis Martin with his deep blue eyes and his gorgeous smile, American Bandstand on TV, and my Beach Boys records.

Unfortunately, my world is filled with lousy things, too.  Like how whenever I get embarrassed I get these big red splotches all over my neck and I can’t stop sweating.  Like the way I thought that Dennis Martin was going to ask me to take a ride in his new car, except he didn’t and now my friends think I’m a lost cause.  Like the way I think I might be going crazy.

I told you that I’m an artist like my mother.  That’s only partially true … or maybe it’s not true at all.  You see, my mother used to be a painter back when she was my age.  But then she stopped.  I still look at her paintings on the walls sometimes, and I wonder why she doesn’t do it anymore.  I wonder if the part of her brain that made the paintings is the same part that doesn’t always work the right way … and which seems to be getting worse.  I wonder if creating those paintings was a symptom of what was going wrong inside her head.  And I wonder if me being an artist like my mother means that I’ll go crazy, too.


Booktalk: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling cover

I’ve been a fan of Lucy Frank’s writing ever since I read her YA novels I Am an Artichoke and Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? back in my librarian trainee days. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling is also an excellent book, told in a unique writing style (as a poem-format novel, with poems in each girl’s voice on different sides of the page) and with powerful themes of friendship and overcoming odds.

This would be a great choice for books about death and grief as well as survivor stories (because yes, this story includes a range of possibilities).  Do you know teens who finished The Fault in Our Stars and are looking for more books that will make them contemplate their own mortality?   Share this book with them!


Francesca was sick for a long time, but she didn’t know it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  She knew that something was wrong, and that some days she felt so sick that she didn’t want to move, or walk, or get out of bed.  But she just figured that she ate the wrong thing … or maybe she was imagining it … or maybe it was real, but if she just ignored it, it would go away.  Well, ignoring it didn’t work.  And one of the most romantic nights of her life quickly turned into one of the most EMBARASSING nights of her life when she got so sick that she wound up in the hospital.  Where she got a roommate named Shannon who’d been sick for a VERY long time.

Shannon tells her what it’s like to live when your body is full of steroids and painkillers.  What it’s like to live with a chronic disease that isn’t fatal … unless, of course, you die from it.  What it’s like to live when everybody you know is either lying to you or feeling sorry for you.

Francesca and Shannon are two girls lying next to each other in a hospital room.  Two girls separated by a thin curtain that hangs between them.  Two girls staring at the ceiling.

Sharing Poetry With Teens (2014)

Here are the books I mentioned in this episode:

Slam edited by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Poetry Speaks Who I Am edited by Elise Paschen
Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman High
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Booktalk: Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies Knives cover

I first picked up Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses because I love fairy tales, I love retellings of fairy tales, and (I confess) I thought that a poem-format book would make for an easy booktalk.  But the more I read, the more I realized that I didn’t want to read any of the poems out loud both because of the “mature” language and because I didn’t want to limit myself to just one or two stories.  So instead I wrote the booktalk in more of a list format, so that listeners will get some idea of the range of stories in this book.

If you go to Ron Koertge’s website, you can learn more about this and his other books.  I’ll confess that I’d only read his novels before, but if you’re interested in poetry he has another recent release that might interest you, as well.

ETA: This booktalk had a really fast turnaround time (I recorded it about two minutes after writing it).  Then I realized after I’d posted this episode that I made a couple of small but vital grammatical errors in my recorded booktalk.  I’ve fixed the errors in the printed version below.  My apologies for the confusion.


Once upon a time, people made some bad decisions.

Two girls listened to their mother, and turned against their beautiful stepsister.  A man broke into a witch’s garden because his pregnant wife was craving a salad.  The Beast hoped that Beauty would fall in love with him.  A girl was kind enough to share her food with a stranger.  A man promised that his daughter could spin straw into gold.  And a girl wondered what it would be like to be eaten by a wolf.

Yes, there’s magic, and danger, and punishments, and rewards, and falling in and out of love, and revenge, and death.  But most of these stories don’t end QUITE the way you’d expect.

Booktalk: Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Glimpse cover

I’ve been an admirer of Carol Lynch Williams’ work for quite a few years now.  I’m especially a fan of her novels My Angelica, Carolina Autumn, If I Forget, You Remember, The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson, and The Chosen OneGlimpse is an atypical example of her work, since this is a poem-format novel.  That being said, even in her usual prose novels her writing has a beautiful and lyrical quality that is well-suited to the poetic form.

I enjoy booktalking poem-format novels because it makes my job a little easier.  It’s the one time I’ll let myself read out loud from the book, which means I don’t have to memorize quite as much as usual.  I will say that whenever I create a booktalk for a poem-format novel I usually mark off two or three poems (in this book I originally marked the poems on page 1 and page 35), but as time goes on I usually end up selecting just one poem to share with the class.

Remember that one of the most effective aspects of a booktalk is the eye contact you have with your audience, so even if you’re reading aloud from a book you should be familiar enough with what you’re going to read that you can look up at your audience at the end of each sentence.


Hope and Lizzie are sisters who are just one year apart.  They’ve been close for many years, but one day when Hope comes in and sees her sister Lizzie holding a shotgun, she realizes that their lives are very different now, and that Lizzie has been keeping secrets.  After Lizzie is taken away from the family, Hope is left behind with their mother and with a lot of questions.  Like … why was Lizzie so quiet and depressed lately?  What secrets was she keeping?  And why would she want to kill herself?  This novel is written as a series of poems, and I’m going to share the first poem of this book with you so you can hear part of this story in Hope’s own voice.

In one moment
it is over.
In one moment
it is gone.
The morning grows
thin, gray

and our lives —
how they were —
have vanished.
Our lives have

when I walk
in on Lizzie
my sister
holding a shotgun.

She fingers the

Looks up.
My sister.
My sister just looks
up at me.

the trigger

of that gun.

Sharing Poetry With Teens

Happy poetry month!  This episode contains some of my favorite poems to read aloud to classes, and they came from these books:

Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls ed. by Betsy Franco

The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States ed. by Lori Marie Carlson

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex

Help! My Booktalk is Due Tomorrow!

So let’s just say that some time in the future, you receive some terrible news.  You have to get ready to present some booktalks to a class right away, with hardly any prep time.  What will you do?  WHAT WILL YOU DO???

Well, if you listen to this podcast today, you’ll know how to cope with that crisis in the future.  You’ll also get some good ideas that you can apply to just about any class visit.

I give examples of several booktalks in this episode that can be presented with a minimum of memorization.  The specific books I mention are Odd Jobs: Portraits of Unusual Occupations by Nancy Rica Schiff and What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones.  If you’re looking for more suggestions of books that would fit the bill, here are a few more of my favorites.

“Show and Tell” Nonfiction Books:
Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators by Robbie Cooper
Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights From the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice by James Lileks
Post Secret: Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren
Bat Boy Lives! by the editors of The Weekly World News

Poem-Format Novels:
The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith
Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman High
After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy
Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams