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Conveying Disability Through Verse

2014 April 21
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national-poetry-monthEarlier this month in honor of National Poetry Month, Geri wrote a post about novels in verse with some great recommendations for stories that are told entirely through poetry. Her post gave me some books to add to my to-be-read list, and as someone with an interest in books that include characters with disabilities, it also inspired me to think about novels in verse that center around characters with disabilities. Here are some great options for verse novels that convey the experience of disability.

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham – Told through a combination of free verse, newspaper stories and correspondence, this novel follows Jane as she recovers from a shark attack that ended with her having her arm amputated. She must relearn how to do day-to-day tasks and become as independent as she was before the attack. Moreover, as an artist, she must decide whether she can still make art in the wake of this experience. Readers who enjoy this book can follow her life further in the follow-up novel, Formerly Shark Girl, which is also told in verse.

beanballBeanball by Gene Fehler – Star athlete Luke “Wizard” Wallace loves nothing more than playing sports, with one for every season of the year. His future plans and his identity all revolve around his role as an athlete. In the first game of his new baseball season, all of this changes in an instant when a pitch hits him in the head, shattering his skull and blinding him in one eye. The story alternates between over 20 characters’ points of view, giving a picture of how an accident like this impacts an entire community and follows Luke as he tries to adapt to his new reality.

T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte – In the late 1930s, Paula Becker is a young German girl struggling to communicate with those around her and gain an education at a time when there are limited educational options for deaf children. Her existence is suddenly threatened by rumors that the Nazis have instituted a policy that takes children with disabilities from their families never to be seen again. Through verse, LeZotte tells the story not only of those with disabilities caught up in Action T4, Nazi Germany’s program to eliminate individuals with disabilities, but other groups persecuted and killed in Nazi Germany.

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer – Josie Wyatt has never felt that she fits in at her school due to her cerebral palsy. But, when a new boy moves in close to her, she not only begins to build a friendship that has nothing to do with her disability, but also learns to take control of her own life. In this Schneider Family Book Award winning book, readers understand not only disability, but also her emotions about the impact it has had on her life and her hopes and dreams for the future.

GunnarArdeliusI Need You More Than I Love You And I Love You To Bits by Gunnar Ardelius – Touching on emotional upheaval, first love, bipolar disorder and family life, this brief novel uses verse to tell the story of two teens in love in Sweden. The poetry captures the characters’ emotions skillfully, which is even more impressive given that it has been translated from the original Swedish. It is a touching and universal story that shows the power of free verse.

timetodanceA Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman – This book, which will be published on May 1st, is the story of Veda, a young woman in India who lives to dance. Despite her mother’s wishes that she study hard to become an engineer, Veda devotes her time to the bharatanatyam dance form and wishes to be a professional dancer when she grows up. After winning a prestigious dance award, she is in a traffic accident that crushes her leg and makes her a below knee amputee. Unwilling to give up on her dream of dancing, she finds a new dance teacher who is willing to help her relearn how to dance and reconnects with the spiritual side of dancing. Told through verse, the book conveys Veda’s emotions and vividly captures the power that dance has in her life.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad PoetsBeyond novels told entirely in verse, there are also some great books about disability that center around poetry even though they are not told in verse. These are a great option for those who love poetry or who aren’t sure that they are ready for a story told entirely through verse. Two great examples are this year’s Schneider Family Book Award winner and Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten selection, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which follows a young woman in World War II who ends up in a concentration camp with many women who are disabled due to Nazi medical tests, and a 2014 Morris Award finalist, Dr. Bird’s Sad Advice for Poets by Evan Roskos, which tells the story of James Whitman’s fascination with Walt Whitman as well as his struggles with anxiety, depression and serious family issues.

What are your favorite books that use poetry to convey the experience of individuals with disabilities? Let me know in the comments!

- Carli Spina, currently reading Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

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