Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt has a lot going on – a narrator (Kevin) who’s a bully, a missing notebook, unfriendly brothers, absent parents, teachers who sometimes ignore things, other kids who crave power. Kevin’s really not a nice kid, either. He’s mistreated other kids without any remorse. He’s torn pages from library books to leave mean messages about teachers around the school. He’s tough to like, so reading his story is a challenge. Did I really care what happens to him? Was I secretly hoping the kid he’d bullied would destroy him? It might be compelling, but did I want to read on?
It takes a while, but slowly, Kevin begins to change. When he’s sent to the office, he writes odes to his principal’s ties. His relationship with the school librarian hints at what he might be capable of with different influences in his life. There are ups and downs and many mistakes and failures. And by the end, he’s a poet, not just “poetry boy.”
Novels in verse can be a really wonderful way to introduce readers and young writers to a different kind of poetry. They’re not so overwhelming for struggling readers, and they hide little challenges for stronger readers. (How do you think the writer decided to break up the sentences? Would the story be different if it was written as a novel? Could you write a part of the story from the perspective of one of the secondary characters in free verse? How important is each word if you don’t have many of them?) If done right, they can be a great example of how language can be condensed into something intense and powerful. It’s a wonderful, quick way to show how writers use language to develop strong characters and use perspective to enhance a story.
Interested in other novels in verse? Try these.
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
The Crossover, Kwame Alexander
Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Witness or Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
Love That Dog or Hate That Cat, Sharon Creech
The Red Pencil, Andrea Davis Pinkney