How to read a verse novel

When you first pick up a verse novel, you’ll probably think it’s a collection of poems. People often ask me if the way to read it is just to dip in and out.

The answer is no, because, just like a prose novel, a verse novel tells a story, so you need to start at the beginning and read through to the end. Someone once suggested that a reading a verse novel is like reading a lot of tiny chapters, which I think is a great description.

You will find that it is both a fast and a slow read. Sounds weird? A verse novel might have between 40 and 100 poems (Farm Kid has about 40, Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) has about 60), of which many will be quite short. So you could read a verse novel quite quickly if you wanted to.

But because a poem can pack in so much more in terms of images and ideas and suggesting things to think about, it can take a while. Many readers like to read all the way through for the story, then read again and take the time to think about all the things the poems create in their imagination.

Often, the poems in a verse novel can’t stand alone. There are some poems in Farm Kid that have been published in magazines on their own, but in Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!), most of the poems are strongly linked into the storyline and don’t have as much meaning out of their context.

If you are a teacher, reading one of my verse novels to your class (and I hope you will, as poems are great read aloud), treat it like a prose story. Depending on how long you want to spend, you could read either book in thirds or quarters. I’d suggest you read it all the way through before you start talking about the poems. You might not want to tell your class you are reading poems to them! My verse doesn’t rhyme, and many of the poems naturally lead on to the next, because together, they create the story.