Librarians on Verse Novels


For a School Library Journal  article,  I interviewed many librarians about their recommendations of verse novels to kids and teens in their libraries.  And I interviewed many writers about their process in writing verse novels.   A new direction was given to the article by SLJ and a lot of these wonderful speakers are not in the final piece.  The editor’s advice – Librarians know all that.  Tell them some inside story  about you,  something only they will know if they read this piece. So I scratched my head and tried to imagine that.

We took out the quotes from my librarian friends and colleagues.  However,  I have  them on record.  Full interviews with writers I interviewed are here on my site  under the category  Verse Novels, like this post is.   But, here are some gems from librarians and a poet  on the topic of verse:

“Hi Terry!  I would recommend a verse novel to a reluctant reader (and anyone else for that matter) for the simple reason that it is less intimidating to be faced with a small, self-contained episode, surrounded by a lot of white space, than it is to face a multi-page chapter of solid text.  Generally speaking, it’s one of those “potato chip” things–once you get started, you can’t read just one, and before you know it, you’ve finished a whole book.”  Diane Mayr, Adult Services Librarian/Assistant Director

“For kids, it’s not about the form. It’s about the story. If they heard about a book from friends – like  about an Ellen Hopkins – then they want it.  Helen Frost’s Crossing Stones, I recommend that all the time to teachers to add it to their list. I always recommend Frenchtown Summer. I tell the teachers, Put some good things on the list.  There is so much good stuff. Karen Hesse, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl  [Tanya Lee Stone], the Make Lemonade trilogy, Chasing Brooklyn.  Sold.  I book talk that book. I put down a $20 bill and ask ‘What could you get for this?’ A father sold his daughter for less than this, for $18.’  Covers make or break it.  The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf. I tell kids ‘Oh god you better read this’ [but the cover doesn’t hook them].”                                             Diane Sanabria, Young Adult Librarian, Leominster Public Library

“I love recommending verse novels, the fact that so few words can build a complex story make them perfect for both the reluctant reader (the extra white space makes it less daunting) and the voracious reader for the content. In my current position I do not find that I do much with curriculum related recommendations.  My current favorite book to recommend is Carol Lynch Williams’ Glimpse.  I would recommend this to any reader, it is a great hook book for reluctant readers, and complex enough for a strong reader.”   Susan Schatvet, YA/Reference, Seabrook Library

 “Hi, Terry.  Will look forward to your article on verse novels — excited that you jumped into the fray!   Usually it’s a young adult/teen patron that comes in and asks me where the novels in verse are.  Crank and the others by Ellen Hopkins would be the most popular, and usually the novel that gets them hooked on that format.  And, yes, the readers of her novels tend to be the reluctant reader type, and the type looking for high school situational stories with all that drama and some edginess.”                 Steffaney Smith

“Some kids don’t want anything to do with verse novels.  But the subject is more of a factor.  It’s always interesting to figure out how important format is.  Sometimes a reader is pleasantly surprised at how good a novel in verse is. Maybe most are for girls.” Ann Hoey, Youth Services Coordinator, New Hampshire State Library

“I might recommend a verse novel when someone [upper elementary]  comes in and says, “I don’t know what I want.” I give them something with simple language.   Sharon Creech has some.  They build up confidence because they have fewer words. It’s still fiction but it’s very simple. Not too simple so they’re not embarrassed. But simple enough so they feel competent. I work in the inner-city and we have people from all over the world.” Karen Isleb, Children’s Librarian,  Manchester City Library

A favorite discovery in my research into verse  –  a poem sent to me by  Albany, New York writer, Deb Livingston Picker.

When No Fire Can Warm Me 

By Deb Livingston Picker

It’s the rhythm

that grabs me

the pulse of the poem

it’s the rhythm that moves me

that takes me home

the speed of the sorrow

the languorous love

the movement that moves me

the lateral bud

it takes me where

explains me when

rocks me baby

like I’m ink in the pen

Here’s a link to  my article “Why Verse?”  in School Library Journal online, Nov. 18, 2013

6 Responses to “Librarians on Verse Novels”

  1. terryfarish

    You are one of the passionate readers. Deb Livingston Picker’s poem was a gift.

  2. Deb Livingston Picker

    Thank you Terry and kind readers for unwrapping my poem with such understanding! I love librarians (I was one, long ago) and then a professional storyteller/puppeteer for many years. I’m now in the thick of writing a YA novel, in verse, of course.
    Yes! Alan Wolf is wonderful. Each poem artfully constructed, and the many characters so clear and dimensional. Also love, “Jumped” by Rita Williams-Garcia.

    • terryfarish

      You are so welcome, Leslie and Anita. I feel like I’m just stepping into this and continue to learn.


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