Guest post by Mia at Pragmatic Mom
My 4th grade daughter, PickyKidPix, came home furious a few weeks ago. She said that she was the only person in her grade that got poetry for her MCAS open response standardized test. Worse, I had kept her home sick during the one day they practiced poetry open response essays at school.
I’m sure it went fine, but she will be forever scarred associating poetry as something designed to confound her for a multiple choice Common Core Standard test. I had felt the same way about poetry too until just a few years ago. Sharon Creech‘s Hate That Cat novel in verse had completely blown my mind. I had no idea that 1) novels in verse existed, 2) that novels in verse could tell a story and 3) that I would actually enjoy it.
I read Love That Dog next also by Sharon Creech (out of sequence, I know) to see if I’d feel the same way about another novel in verse. And, yes, the water was fine!
The word of poetry, albiet limited to novels in verse, suddenly opened up for me and I welcomed this new-to-me genre. When Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai won a Newbery Honor, I wanted to read it. I bought it and handed it to my 6th grader, Music Lovers, to test it out. She said that she liked it — everything but the ending.
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
Without an emphatic thumbs up, it sat on my bedside table until one day I was brave enough to open it. And, again, I fell in love with novels in verse. Having grown up next door to Little Saigon in Southern California, I thought I understood the Vietnamese immigrant story. Not even close!
And that is the power of a novel in verse. With a minimum of words, it can a story in a very powerful way. And unlike those standardized test poetry passages, a Novel in Verse isn’t trying to confound you.
I’m just waiting for a good time to get PickyKidPix to give a Novel in Verse a try. This summer perhaps, when her test trauma is a distant memory, I think Sharon Creech will win her over.
That’s the thing about Sharon Creech. You can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can never take the teacher out of her! I just love that! Thank you, Sharon and other verse novelists, for introducing poetry as a pleasure!