Books can allow readers to experience other parts of the world than where they live, exposing them to new cultures. Novels in verse can be an especially accessible way to access these stories, since the sparse, vivid language focuses on images and emotions, painting a picture of other times, places, and experiences.
These novels in verse tell stories of struggles from around the world, and are great to feature for National Poetry Month and year-round.
Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg
A young girl in rural Haiti has a powerful dream of becoming a doctor. But can that dream overcome extreme poverty and a devastating earthquake? Her interest is in both traditional ways of healing and modern medicine, and her hope is to honor her brother who died as a child. This is an inspiring story beautifully told.
Caminar by Skila Brown
In this novel in verse, the horrors of the Guatemalan civil war serve as a backdrop for a young man’s coming of age. This can serve as a conversation starter for discussions on gender and war.
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
In this beautiful novel in verse Margarita Engle tells us the story of the Panama Canal and the people who built it despite incredible hardship and cruelty. This history was unknown to me, and will likely be unfamiliar to teen readers as well.
All of Margarita Engle’s books are fantastic, so don’t limit yourself to picking up just one.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pickney
An inspiring and revealing story of a young Sudanese refugee’s experience. Poetic verse and captivating illustrations make this a great book to hand to a reluctant reader.
The Good Braider by Terry Farish
In beautiful, sparse prose, Farish tells the story of a Sudanese refugee family making a new life in the United States. This is a long, hard, and ultimately hopeful journey of a young Sudanese refugee from a country terrorized by war to Portland, Maine, where cultural differences present a continuing struggle.
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Veda is an accomplished dancer, so when an accident causes her to to lose part of her leg, she’s devastated. This story is one of resilience as she learns to dance with a prosthetic and connects to dance on a more spiritual level. Teens can relate to Veda, who realistically experiences jealousy and frustration even as she’s determined to learn to dance again.
Do you have a favorite novel in verse that set outside the United States? Please share in the comments.
— Molly Wetta, currently reading If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo