Monday, January 25, 2010

Another Verse

I never thought I would read a novel in verse. Somehow the concept made me think of William Wordsworth or Burt Bacharach. Or Dr. Seuss. And to be honest, I didn't want to read anything written by those people for 200 pages or more.

But last year someone gave me Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas. I ignored it for a while, let it sit on the shelf. But let me tell you, when I finally opened it, I couldn't put it down. I was blown away.

So this year I was actually excited when I got my hands on Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. I had seen positive reviews from people and the story sounded interesting enough: Kek, a ten-year-old boy from the Sudan, is shipped off to Minnesota in winter after his father and brother are killed and his mother disappears. But like other books I enjoy, it isn't just the story that pulled me in. It's the writing.

Kek moves in with an aunt and older cousin who had escaped the refugee camp earlier. He has so much to discover in Minnesota: snow, English, grocery stores. The words are written beautifully, but the book is funny, too. This passage with Kek and his cousin Ganwar before his first day of school made me laugh out loud.

That night,
I try on the school clothes
in the box Dave has brought for me.
I pick a button shirt with flowers on it
and soft red pants,
but Ganwar rolls his eyes.
Thos are pajamas, he says.
You wear them when you sleep.

I try again.
Ganwar shakes his head.
The kids will eat you alive, he says.

This is bad news,
since I didn't know that America people
like to eat each other.

Home of the Brave won the Golden Kite Award for Fiction, it's an SLJ Best Book of the Year. Of course, if you're like me, awards don't mean you want to read the book.

What I'm really enjoying about this book is seeing how the author can get a point across with very few words. If two people are talking outside in the cold, she doesn't say It's cold. She writes
His laughter makes little clouds.
Isn't that great? Here's a kid who has never experienced winter and what does he notice? Laughter makes little clouds. Brilliant!

Whether or not you enjoy novels in verse, if you are a writer, I highly recommend that you read one. Home of the Brave and Because I am Furniture are great choices, but there are plenty of others out there. I think Lisa Schroeder will be next on my list. Look at how the authors use language, how they  say so much with so little. Then think about how you can apply that to your own writing.

We're not all going to write novels in verse. But learning to be more economical with words is a lesson we can all use.


Laura Pauling said...

It would be fun to try and write just a chapter in verse. Just to see. :)

Kelly H-Y said...

I think you may have me sold! This one sounds wonderful ... the excerpt you chose pulled me right in. Beautiful, perfectly chosen words.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Well said, Sherrie. It's all about writing vividly and tight.
I love the excerpt you posted. I was not only in the scene, I felt it.
And I love Lisa Schroeder's verse novels. But, like you, I'm not an easy convert.

Kelly Polark said...

I have never read a book in verse. I need to! Thanks for the recs.

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, I feel you. I never thought I'd like novels in verse. I've picked them up in the bookstore. Was like, "What. Ever." But reading those just now, I totally want to try again!

Thanks for the suggestion.

Dawn Simon said...

I like your example with the laughter making little clouds. Also, you make a good point: we all need to learn to be economical with words. Nice post.

Bill said...

Eileen Spinelli has two Summerhouse Time and Where I Live that are two of my favorites. All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg came out in 2009 and made a few Newbery lists, including mine. Good choice on Home of the Brave, it's one of the best in my opinion.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post! Lots of new things to think about...

Jackee said...

Hmm... I've often looked at Home of the Brave at the library and wondered if I'd like it. Now I'll have to try it. Thanks for the recc.

Have a great night! (And have you been to the beach lately? I'm wanting to see new pictures.)


Z-Kids said...

Sounds great -- thanks for highlighting it!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Laura: Sometimes trying a different style can help tremendously.

Kelly H-Y: The entire book is like that. I was constantly amazed.

Tricia: This book was FULL of incredibly vivid images. I was blown away. Must check out Lisa Schroeder.

Kelly: As much as you enjoy poetry, I think you would really like novels in verse.

Elana: Me too! I think it helped that people put these books in my hands and told me to read them. I couldn't believe how good they were.

Dawn: My son read that sentence and said, "That's perfect. You DO make little clouds." I love the simplicity of it.

Bill: Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look for Eileen Spinelli.

Sharon: I'm always happy to provide food for thought :)

Jackee: The waves are huge right now with all these storms, but I haven't taken any photos. I'll bring my camera next time just for you!

Z-Kids: Hope you enjoy!

MG Higgins said...

I've read a couple of Ellen Hopkin's books in verse but none since then. Based on your excerpt I think I'll give it another try.

Lori W. said...

What a great excerpt you picked. Fabulous cover art, too. This one sounds great. After Thalia's book, I became a fan of novels in verse, too.

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