Canada Day is coming up – July 1 – so I’m celebrating our super-talented, home-grown verse novelists.
For a writer, crafting a verse novel is a thrilling exploration of language, form and story. No niggling voices nagging about punctuation and capitalization – only free-floating ideas, images, playful language and that wonderful white space – the drama of the implied thought.
Writing a verse novel requires huge leaps of faith to soar over terrifying doubt. It’s a risky, sometimes crazy way to tell a story – but verse novelists have exceptional conviction: if they’re exhilarated by writing these narratives they believe that their readers will be too.
Canadian writers have been slower to experiment with this beautiful, thoughtful genre – American and Australian writers have been doing it much longer – but we have finally arrived. So, Canadian verse novelists – take a well-deserved bow. Our list may be short but every book on it is pure joy.
Ann and Seamus by Kevin Major, 2004, illustrated by Kevin Blackwood
In 1828, Ann and her father rescue 163 Irish immigrants from a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland. Inspired by historical events.
Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast, to-be-released October 2013
Sixteen-year-old Raphaelle says the wrong thing, antagonizes the wrong people and has the wrong attitude. She can't do anything right except draw, but she draws the wrong pictures that get her into a heap of trouble. This is a wild, bold story. Kudos to Gabrielle.
Burn by Alma Fullerton, 2010
Usually, when Casey's famous mom went on tour, Casey got to go. But since settling down with a new husband and baby, things have changed. Casey begins building fires to send smoke signals to her mother, hoping her mother will see her message.
Counting Back from Nine by Valerie Sherrard, 2012
Laren Olivier knows the rules, but her attraction to a friend’s ex-boyfriend is strong. When tragedy strikes, Laren finds herself struggling with a discovery so shocking it rocks the very foundation of her world. This quiet book sneaks up on you and then bam – hits you in the heart.
Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips, 2010
Natalie moves to a new school and entangles others in her forbidden world of partying and rebellion. A perfect book.
In this narrative poem, a storm overwhelms the Royal Canadian Mounties, scattering their horses in all directions and resulting in the mysterious disappearance of one horse. I love this book – though hard to find.
I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter, 2011
Set in Canada during the Great Depression, orphans, sixteen-year-old Ran, fourteen-year-old Nora, twelve-year-old Jim and little Addie find a way to make ends meet under the watchful eye of their dead parents. Told from multiple points of view, this book offers a compelling tale of faith and courage in the face of suffering and evil.
In the Garage by Alma Fullerton, 2006
A grief-stricken BJ deals with the aftermath of her friend Alex’s death as we read Alex’s journal.
After her mother’s suicide, 15-year-old Maya and her father travel from Canada to India for a traditional burial. The year is 1984, and on the night of their arrival in New Delhi, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated. The city erupts in chaos and Maya is separated from her father. This one’s mine!
Libertad by Alma Fullerton, 2008
When Libertad's mother is killed in an accident at the Guatemalan city dump where the family picks trash, Libertad and his little brother make the trip to the United States to find their father. Beautiful.
My book of life by Angel by Martine Leavitt, 2012
Sixteen-year-old Angel is coerced into drugs and prostitution by a man she meets in a mall. You’ve never read a verse novel like this one. Based on real events.
Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean, 2012
When Nix's older sister, Roxy, starts breaking the rules things spiral out of control. This is a heartbreaking story told with grace.
The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little, 2009
Ramon, 15, is a Jew forced to convert to Christianity. His family takes in Amir, born Muslim, also forced to give up his faith, during the Spanish Inquisition. Sophisticated and profound.
The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter, 2005
Emaline, 12, is maimed in a freak farm accident. Her father shoots the dog and storms off and doesn't return. Her mother, in need of help around the farm, takes in Angus, a gentle giant from the mental hospital. A Canadian classic.
Walking on Glass by Alma Fullerton, 2007
A young man's mother has attempted suicide and is left in a coma.
Yellow Mini by Lori Weber
Mark has inherited a yellow mini from his deceased father. Stacey, his girlfriend, Mary and Annabelle alternate voices as they find their niches, be it concert pianist or activist. Dramatic and perfect for teenagers.
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
Part Roald Dahl, part Dr. Seuss, this rhyming novel tells the story of Katrina, Morty, and the missing Zorgles. Sheer talent.
To see more fabulous verse novels from all over the world check out Sarah Tregay’s list.