Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 4, 2014

Novels in Verse: A Time to Dance and Caminar

I like novels in verse for lots of reasons, and one is the way that many good ones take readers into corners of our diverse world. If, like me, you’re eagerly waiting for Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming to come out next month, in the meantime you can be moved by these two new wonderfully written novels for teens.


A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman follows the dreams and setbacks of Veda, a dancer who loses her leg in an accident early in the book, and must adapt to using a prosthetic. The novel is divided into nicely titled poems, while keeping the pace of a fast-moving but elegant dance. I liked the themes of resilience, a bit of romance, art, and spirituality (and art as spirituality), all weaving in and out of what many will find a familiar and beautifully unfamiliar world. A Time to Dance is framed with poems about the Temple of the Dancing God. Both poems refer to costumes and feet sculpted from bronze or carved in stone. There are sounds of cymbals and scents of white jasmine, but in the final poem, there’s a stronger emphasis on the inner life. The music of applause has deepened, and the fears and hopes of a young dancer have turned to acceptance and joy.


Walking (caminar means “to walk” in Spanish) keeps the plot moving in a new verse novel, which is more like a collection of poems in that most, though usually short, have a completeness of their own. Caminar by Skila Brown is set in Guatemala in 1981and tells the story of Carlos. The first poem sets the place, comparing where he lives to a hand. The particular fingers and thumb named here are important throughout, as Carlos walks, meets people, changes his mind, faces violence, and climbs the mountain we see on that first page to warn others about the soldiers who invaded his village. The beginning poems also set up trees, animals, and “nahuales,” or animal spirit protectors, which appear throughout.

The book covers a lot of time and the leaps between poems makes such time-passing graceful, and also suits the themes of courage and coming of age. How each poem appears on the page is given a lot of thought, with patterns of words sometimes mimicking sounds. Some conversations seem to zigzag, while others are broken or speckled over the page so we get a sense of many talking at once. Some shape poems look scattered like ammunition, or at a moment of terror rely on a single word.

Both books use lyrical language to show hardships faced, bringing together beauty, pain, and courage. Highly recommended!

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Heidi at my juicy little universe.





  1. Thank you for your response to these, Jeannine. I haven’t heard of A Time To Dance, but have Caminar waiting to be read. Thank you, and Happy Independence Day!

    • Caminar is an incredible work, and I think some of your students would be moved by the courage of the dancer in a Time to Dance. Hope you have a happy fourth, too!

  2. Hi, Jeannine. You are the second person who has mentioned Caminar today. I’m also interested in spirit animals and I’m looking forward to reading a verse novel where they play a role. Thanks for the recommendations.

    • Yes, thinking about your post after I read it made me think of Caminar, but I didn’t go back to mention that, so I’m glad other hands are pointing you to this novel in verse. There’s not a lot about animals as guides, but as everything is spare, everything is also powerful. I read it after seeing Irene’s recommendation on her impressive Book a day posts!

  3. I was not familiar with either of these, Jeannine, so thank you for your thoughtful reviews. Many, many years ago, I took Indian dancing lessons – reading about “A Time to Dance” takes me back to those experiences. This might be a book for me to read just for my own pleasure and need to time travel. Hope you are enjoying a dry Fourth – it’s raining here in New Jersey!

    • That would be a lovely way to time travel. And maybe using a poem or two with your students would also give them a glimpse into your past. The plot of A Time to Dance sounds rather wrenching, but there’s more beauty than pain in it.

      I’m afraid we’re seeing mostly rain here, too. I think Peter and I will be watching Cosmos and eating pasta and hearing the rain tonight.

  4. I am so happy to see CAMINAR get the attention it deserves. And Skila Brown is a terrific writer – we’ll see more from her, I’m sure! Thanks for posting about it, Jeannine, and I’ll add A TIME TO DANCE to my list of books to get hold of.

    • Julie, congratulations to you and Sharon Darrow who I see from the notes helped guide the ms. along. It must have been a wonderful, intense project to work on, and I, too, look forward to seeing more from Skila Brown.

  5. Always looking for terrific verse novels– thanks for the recommendations!

    • Glad you are on the look out for good verse novels!

  6. My relationship with verse novels needs some [ahem] development, and here’s a great place to start. I’m really intrigued by the distant and diverse settings of these and look forward to experiencing for myself the strengths you so intriguingly describe.

    • Thanks, Heidi! I hope you like these. I’m always happy to toss other titles your way, too!

  7. Caminar sounds like a book that would fit our current reading theme quite nicely. Thank you so much for sharing these two novels-in-verse. So many good ones recently, I really do have to catch up. 🙂

    • I hope you and your students like Caminar. Yes, it’s a joy to see great new verse novels showing up!

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