Doris recommends six poetry novels for you or the middle reader in your life.
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As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I am always searching for books that my students and I can enjoy together. I want to get to know my students better through the books I read, and I want them to be able to see themselves in books. I have found that stories written in verse are a perfect fit for us. Poetry is rich in theme, language, and emotional connections while the abbreviated length and minimal grammatical structure make it more easily accessible to my students. It has been a boon in recent years to find so many free verse books written from the diverse cultural perspectives that my students can relate to. Here are six of my favorites that are perfect for children and adults alike.
Inside Out and Back Again is the perfect story for the ESL classroom. The author, Thanhha Lai, was herself an immigrant to the United States after the Vietnam War, and she poignantly tells this tale of a family that must flee their home country knowing they’ll never be able to return. The children in the story experience sadness, culture shock, and discovery as they learn to survive and then thrive in their new home, school, and community.
The subtitle, Voices from the Panama Canal, perfectly sums up the message of Silver People. In it Margarita Engle gives voice to the forgotten men recruited from the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico to provide the manual labor for the building of the Panama Canal and the local women and forest creatures that were so greatly affected by its construction. This is an important title that provides a much needed perspective on the social and environmental impact of progress.
Part one of The Red Pencil presents a lovely sense of family and culture in the Sudan. Amira and her family are completely charming, so when war devastates their tiny community, the reader is left with a heightened sense of all that was lost. After a traumatic journey across a war torn country and time spent in a refugee camp, Amira is gifted with a small red pencil and finally begins to find her voice once more. The story is enhanced with illustrations that reflect the world that Amira experiences and mirror her own love of artistic expression.
Caminar is another story of children coping with war. This one is set in the civil conflict in the mountains of Guatemala in the 1980’s. Carlos is shocked to realize that he is the only survivor when his village is attacked. As he begins the trek farther up the mountain to his grandmother’s village, he meets a group of young guerilla soldiers and realizes that they are not so very different from himself. The poems in this book experiment with the structure of words on the page to heighten tension and help the reader visualize the effects of war.
Red Butterfly is set during the one child policy in China in the 1980’s. A baby girl born with a deformed hand is abandoned at birth and taken in by an elderly American woman who cares for her deeply and unconditionally at great expense to her family back home. When governmental policies tear their small family apart, Kara must learn to live a new life and eventually find happiness with a new adopted family in the United States.
Veda is consumed with dance and determined to make a career out of this passion. On the way home from winning her first dance contest, she is injured in a bus accident and has to have her right leg amputated below the knee. In A Time to Dance, Veda realizes how much her family loves and supports her and how much she believes in herself. It is also a beautiful portrayal of Indian culture and dance paired with the excitement of a first crush and young love.