Everyone has those students who are just not interested in prose, and when it comes to poetry, the options in the past that are suitable for children have not been very robust. There’s the Where the Sidewalk Ends series for very young readers, but what about those upper elementary and middle school readers? Here are some recommendations that are modern, award-winning, and that kids love.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Winner of the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, The Crossover follows middle school twins Josh and Jordan as they take over the basketball court. The poetry is about family, brotherhood, and, most notably, basketball. It’s great for those students who like sports, but are tired of reading “sports” books (I’m looking at you, Mike Lupica). It’s a best-seller, and better yet, it’s a series, so once you get students hooked, there’s more to come!
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
This one has won so many medals they can hardly fit on the cover. Written in verse, it follows Xiomara Batista as she navigates life at home and at school in Harlem. It’s a book about exploring identity, religion, and belonging. Xiomara writes poetry to process these feelings, and the poems in the book are her own. The voice is authentic, relatable, and thoroughly now. For students who get hooked, Acevedo’s next book, With the Fire on High, came out in May.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
New in April, this book has already been recognized as A Newbery Honor Book, A Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and A Printz Honor Book. Written in narrative verse, the entire story takes place in sixty seconds—the sixty seconds in which Will decides whether or not to shoot the guy who killed his brother. The story takes place in an elevator, as Will travels down through his apartment building. Along the way, people connected to his brother get on the elevator and give him pause for reflection.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out and Back Again won a Newbery Honor and the National Book Award. It is a coming of age story about Hà, a Vietnamese girl forced to leave her home when the war comes too close. Told in poetry and inspired by true events, this book is appropriate for children as young as eight, and can be a great tie in to talk about historical events as well as current topics, like immigration.
I hope you give some of these beautiful poetry pieces a chance in your classroom. They are guaranteed to captivate your students attention and plant a new seed of appreciation for poetry in their heads.