April is National Poetry Month. To commemorate this, we recommend some must-read, middle-grade novels written in verse.
A novel-in-verse for our times and of our times, Rez Dogs, by Native American author Joseph Bruchac, tells the story of a girl getting through the Covid-19 pandemic with the support of her family, her community, and a furry little friend. Malian goes to a Wabanaki reservation to spend time with her grandparents when all travel shuts down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the new virus comes fear of the unknown, but Malian perseveres. She protects her grandparents, and they protect her. She doesn’t go outside to play with friends, she helps her grandparents use video chat, and she listens to and learns from their stories. And when Malsum, one of the dogs living on the rez, shows up at their door, Malian’s family knows that he’ll protect them too. Rez Dogs is a moving story that celebrates the deep bonds shared by people of an Indigenous community that has cared for one another through plagues of the past, and that keeps doing so even today. Grades 3-7
Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles is a light and lyrical free verse novel that holds within its pages as much the magic of golden island sunsets as it does the hardship of being part of a family that is in the process of falling apart. The novel revolves around eleven-year-old Bailey whose parents are going through an acrimonious divorce. Bailey and her little brother Kevin are sent to an island town to live with their estranged grandmother. The townspeople are just reeling from a prophecy told by an eccentric minister that a stranger from the sea will come there and change everything. When Bailey stumbles upon a mermaid-shaped piece of driftwood, she starts believing in the prophecy and when a dolphin becomes stranded on the beach, Bailey forgets her own troubles and rouses the reluctant locals into action. United for the first time in years, the community works together to lead the stranded dolphin back to the bay. This collective act of heroism inspires Bailey and she finds new faith that her future will somehow work out, with the love of her now extended family. Grades 3-7
Poetry and a topic such as sanitation seem like two very different things to bring together, but Andrée Poulin with colourful illustrations by Sonali Zohra, manage to achieve that successfully in their book Burying the Moon. Latika lives in a rural village in India without toilets. This means that women have to wait until night to do their business in a field, where scorpions and snakes live freely, and there are germs that make people sick. For the girls in the village, no toilets mean leaving school when they reach puberty. The villagers agree that this is a shameful problem, but nobody is doing anything about it, until one day, Latika decides she has had enough. When a government representative visits their village, she sees her chance to make one of her dreams come true: the construction of public toilets, which would be safer for everybody in her village. For most people in the world, access to sanitation facilities is a given, but it disproportionately affects girls and women in many parts of the world and Burying the Moon brings their story to life in an engaging and evocative way. Grades 4-7