Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 24, 2014

Verse Novels, Narrative Poetry

I’m having fun choosing books for a course I’ll teach this spring: Verse Novels, Narrative Poetry in the Simmons College graduate program in Children’s Literature at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. We’ll read and critique poetry for children and verse novels, which combine the pull of story with finely pared or lyrical language. We’ll consider book-length narratives that rely on formal elements such as meter and rhyme and those written in free verse, depending for their power on well-chosen nouns and verbs, startling conjunctions, and echoing imagery. Some poetry may be more musical than linear, with an emphasis on concision and pacing, but poetry and prose exist on a spectrum, and we’ll examine where borders blur.


Discussion questions will include, but certainly not be limited to: What distinguishes verse from lineated prose? Does verse require a different kind of reading than prose? Does each poem in a verse novel stand on its own, or do some sections seem there just to move the story forward? Whether enjambed or end-stopped, does each line have a weight and a reason for ending where it does? How effectively do line breaks and stanza divisions create tension or rhythm, layer meanings, prepare readers for leaps across time and place, or emphasize a silence that may bring out a point or feeling?

Simmons students and alum friends, I’d love it if you’d pass along word about this new graduate level course. I believe the course, held on Thursday evenings in March and April, will be open to students besides those enrolled for the MA or MFA degrees. It’s a special time to be focusing on verse novels, with Jacqueline Woodson‘s brown girl dreaming having just won the National Book Award. (It’s in the pile, north of Pat Lowery Collins’s brilliant The Fattening Hut and Marilyn Nelson’how I discovered poetry.) Let me know if you want more information. Or if you have favorites you think I should include!


  1. Ooh, what fun! Just re-read Brown Girl Dreaming – and have renewed my love for verse novels.

    • Oh, what a great tribute to Jacqueline Woodson’s work. I’m also a big fan of Locomotion, which you might teach? I’ll be including that with Sharon Creech’s books addressing poetry in classrooms.

  2. Can’t think of a better teacher for this course than you, Jeannine. Lucky students! And thanks for the photo of your “novels in verse” collection. I’ve saved it in iPhoto. Lots of fine reading experiences in there.

    • Yes, lots of fun to read, mull, organize, and re-organize.

  3. Hi Jeannine–Of my many favorites, there is one that I doubt is well-known, or well-enough known: 17 Kings and 42 Elephants, by Margaret Mahy and Patricia MacCarthy. Beautiful verse, beautiful illustrations, in a large format. You might already know this book, but just in case.


    • Thanks, Brad. This is new to me. Always great to get a recommendation — I like the title, and will look it up!

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