Tuesday, May 8, 2012


IRA in Chicago
 On Sunday, April 29th, I took part in an all day preconference institute at the International Reading Association in Chicago with seven other authors and another Crowe's Nester - Lisa Schroeder.
The title of our institute was Rekindling the Reading and Writing Fire. We spent an entire day sharing author tips with teachers about how professional authors write and think about stories as we explored a variety of genres that ended with a poetry panel that included me, Lisa, April Halprin Wayland, and Caroline Starr Rose.

The focus of our panel was on exploring how to hook struggling readers with verse novels in our segment entitled: Social Issues in Contemporary Fiction and Verse Novels: Recognizing Literary Devices and the Implications for Struggling Readers

Lisa and I have special places in our hearts for struggling readers. I work in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist and both of us have books selected as YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.


Although TAKE ME THERE is not a verse novel, it contains several original poems. It's about a boy who can't read or write, but dreams of becoming a poet. My first true verse novel, FORGET ME NOT, will be published by Simon Pulse in October of 2012.

In my work as a therapist in the public schools, I'm continously searching for ways to inspire struggling readers and writers. The buzz word in education is "high interest, low readability." Reading teachers are always looking for books that are easy to read but will hook kids with an interesting story. That task gets harder as kids get older. There are many fabulous picture books and chapter books for young children, but reaching teens with reading disabilities is a real challenge. Verse novels offer an interesting alternative.

In preparation for our panel, I took one of the poems from my upcoming verse novel, FORGET ME NOT, and retyped it as prose. Then I ran readability statistics on both the prose version and the poetry version. When the selection was analyzed as verse, the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Level was over two grades lower than when it was analyzed as prose. The implication is that when all other content is the same, poetry is easier to read than prose because of the way it appears on the page.

Verse novels often explore topics that are emotionally charged for teens and this provides the high interest that many assigned readings lack. During our panel we explored several other reasons that verse novels appeal to struggling readers. Verse novels tend to:
  • Use short words and sentences with few true paragraphs.
  • Build in natural pauses.
  • Leave a lot of white space on the page.
  • Be descriptive and incorporate sensory images.
  • Use mostly nouns and verbs, allowing the reader to form concrete images.
  • Present complete ideas in a short space with each poem representing its own unit. You can talk about the main idea after one page instead of muddling through a fifteen page chapter.
Verse novels not only appeal to students, they appeal to teachers as well. They may be used to teach figurative language and poetic devices and tend to use more of these elements than do traditional novels. One of my favorite activities is to take lines from poems of verse novels and put them around the classroom. Then I ask students to go on a "Treasure Hunt" looking for poetic and literary devices.

 Some of these include:

• Alliteration (The repetition of initial consonant sounds.)
• Assonance (The repetition of vowel sounds without similar consonants)
• Consonance (The repetition of consonant sounds across word positions, usually at the end). Note: Definitions of consonance vary
• Metaphor (drawing a comparison between two unlike things)
• Simile (using the words “like” or “as” to draw a comparison)
• Personification (giving human attributes to something non-human)
• Allusion (reference to another literary work, history, art, person, event, etc.)

Below Lisa shares her experiences at IRA:

During our verse novel session, I wanted to try and convey what a great tool verse novels can be for reluctant readers. I get many notes from teens that talk about how they don't like to read but they like my books. I also get notes from parents occasionally, and I shared one from a parent of a 14 year old girl with dyslexia. She told me her daughter had always hated to read because it was so difficult for her. It was bad enough working extra hard for school, she didn't want to work extra hard just to read a book for fun. But, somehow she ended up with a copy of my novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and for the first time ever, her mother watched as her daughter enjoyed reading a book. She told me her daughter would share lines from the book as she read, and it made the mom so happy. She said she had to write to me to let me know about the miracle that had occurred in her living room. I also talked about why I choose to write in verse at times -- for the atmosphere it creates and the emotional impact it can create. Mostly, I wanted the teachers to walk away excited to check out some recent verse novels and share them with their reluctant readers.

We concluded the session with each author reading poem excerpts. Each example was shown via power point with the section highlighted that demonstrated a specific literary or poetic device. Participants were asked to guess which device was being used. Examples of metaphor and simile from TAKE ME THERE and THE DAY BEFORE are underlined below:

“The River” from p. 209 of TAKE ME THERE by Carolee Dean

Blood is a river.
       One drop follows another
                    until they all reach the bottom
                                                             of the

Excerpt from “Together Again” from p. 192 of THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder

Back in his Beetle,
a dozen questions

circle my mind like vultures.
I can’t let them move in
on this moment though.

The entire institute was a huge success and got many great reviews. Teachers received a copy of the power point to use with their students.

The next time you're exploring a verse novel, look a little closer at all the literary elements the author includes in the poems. Just like my students, you might find a hidden treasure within the pages.


  1. Fantastic post and I wish I was at that panel. I have a verse novel coming out next year. I'd love to meet other verse novelists at ALA in June to discuss how our work is read by reluctant or struggling readers.

  2. I am fascinated by this as both a Middle Grade writer and Speech-language Pathologist myself. I know very little about verse novels, but you can bet I'm going to learn more now! I worked for several years in the High School Program at The Lab School of Washington, a school for children with Language Based Learning Disabilities. I will be sharing this with SLPs and teachers who are still there and using some of your wonderful ideas with some of my current clients as well! Thanks so much for the information.

  3. Thank you for this fantastic post. I have not read very many novels in verse (and this is especially odd due to my background in poetry).

    As and educator, I had not thought of novels in verse as a good option for reaching reluctant readers, but as you have explained it, it makes complete sense.

    I will now make a point to learn more about this genre.

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