LS 5663 Verse Novel

Hopkins, Ellen. Fallout. 2010. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN 9781416950097

Even a reader who hasn’t read Crank and Glass, the first two installments in this trilogy by Hopkins, can get an idea of Kristina’s character.  She saturates every poem, despite the fact that in this novel, she is never the primary speaker.  Fallout has an intricate triple plot, one line for each of Kristina’s oldest children, that eerily reflects itself as the novel continues.  As well as the teens’ (and one college student who is more of an adult than a teen) stories mirroring each other, together they create a fun-house warped reflection of Kristina’s teenage years.

While most of the poems are free verse, the actual form varies.  Some are concrete, most often forming letters or major symbols, some are non-rhyming (or almost-rhyming) couplets, and some (that I would argue as the most powerful) are scattered across the page, not unlike toys thrown across the floor.  These scattered poems almost always deal with explosive anger or consuming confusion.

The final poem shows the children finally realizing what the reader discovered far earlier (and what all three have been avoiding the whole novel), that while none of them are Kristina, all of them are somewhat like Kristina.

This is definitely a novel for high school students or older.  It provides a “real life” perspective (or three) to issues that some teens face on a regular basis.  I would actually recommend this for a high school’s required health class.  While it addresses the issue that meth is bad, it shows less of the effect on the individual taking the meth and more on those who are connected, family, friends, flings, and children, to the user.  This change in perspective is different from many drug prevention classes that, as Summer pointed out, bring out statistics and say stay away, but often don’t actually explain what happens to those around the meth user.

Spotlight Poem


Is tangled up

in those faces

I see. At least,

I’m pretty sure

it is. No one here

will tell me much

about why I’m here.

Other than the jail

thing, which I get.

But I  know I must

have more family

somewhere. Why

have they never

tried to get hold

of me? It’s all so

confusing, especially

when the people

I do have insist

on keeping secrets.

As I mentioned before, most of the poems that look similar to this one are either a character who is angry or confused.  The broken format lends itself to the illusion of these two emotions.  It would be an interesting exercise to assign the teens three emotions (lonely, confused, and content for example) and have them write poems that not only portray the emotion through words, but also with appearance.  For some, happy may be the most traditional looking (or sounding), for others sad may seem more traditional.  One thing that should be stressed is that there is no right answer.  It might even be worth pulling out e.e.cummings as an example of ignoring traditional form.


Pure Poetry 2010


Kirkus–“Their legacy is not only drug addiction but also the underlying malaise—half unhappiness, half boredom—that set up Kristina for addiction years ago. Parched for connection and excitement, these teens turn to love and sex, and sometimes booze and drugs, because their lives offer no other interest…”

Booklist–” Hopkins shifts the point of view from meth-user Kristina to her three teenage kids; it’s a brilliant tactic that shows just how deeply others are affected by a single person’s addiction. Before it’s over, the three kids Hunter, Autumn, and Summer will experience anger, longing, loneliness, drugs, pregnancy, homelessness, and even, believe it or not, hope.”

Kirkus Review. August 2010. Vol. 78, No. 15. Accessed via CLCD at

Kraus, Daniel. Booklist. Accessed via CLCD at






LS 5663 Recent Publication

Kennedy, Caroline comp. Poems to Learn by Heart. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. 2013. New York: Disney Hyperion Books. ISBN 1423108051

Poems to Learn by Heart is a beautiful collection of poems organized by theme.  In addition to an overall introduction, each section has an introduction.  This collection has something for all ages.  While many of the poems are childhood favorites (such as Jane Yolen’s “Homework”) others are far less familiar (like Robert Graves “I’d love to be a Fairy’s child”).

While Kennedy explains the importance, and historical significance, of memorization, some of the selected poems are extremely long for classroom memorization.  (Granted, Kennedy wasn’t speaking in terms of classroom memorization in her introduction, but many would likely take it as such due to the nature of modern memorization.)  For example, while “Casey at the Bat” has been a long time favorite of mine and I have the story and certain lines (especially the last one) memorized, I would not think of tackling the challenge the whole poem poses to memorization.

Muth’s watercolors are the perfect complement to the selected poems.  He doesn’t allow the image to outweigh the words.  In fact, on some pages, the majority of the painting is a wash of a single color with some small detail in a contrasting color.

While Kennedy clearly aims this at school aged children (she implies such in both the general introduction and the introduction to school poems), I feel that, especially for the generations that didn’t grow up with “Casey at the Bat,” it can easily appeal to college aged students as well.  (For that matter, adults would probably love finding old favorites beside new-to-them verses.)

Spotlight Poem

Liberty by Janet Wong

I pledge acceptance

of the views,

so different,

that make us America

To listen, to look,

to think, and to learn

One people

sharing the earth


for liberty

and justice

for all.

There are many different places this particular poem could be used in a lesson.  I could be civil rights, or the waves of Irish immigration, for that matter it could be speaking of today’s problems.  It could be used in a political science class or an English class.

For a different take, it would be a springboard for allowing students to “update” the Pledge of Allegiance.  Would they stay true to the spirit of the original, or would they paint the US as a darker place than the Pledge seems to be speaking of?


Kirkus—“As if Kennedy’s rich poetic finds weren’t enough to hook adventurous youngsters, Muth’s shadowy, evocative watercolors render submission inevitable. From the sonorant and strange to the profound and challenging, the poems and paintings collected here are sure to capture readers of any age.”

Kirkus Reviews. May 2013. Vol. 81, No.10. Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5663 Poetic Form

Janeczko, Paul B. comp. A Kick in the Head. 2005. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763606626

A Kick in the Head is a bright, straightforward, and crafty guide to poetic forms.  First of all, the forms it covers run the gambit from standard forms, like the couplet and sonnet, to poems most casual readers may not even be aware of, such as the clerihew and tanka.  Not only does each type, which usually is on a single page with the occasional two page spread, have its own illustrations and definitions, but each form also has a little image in the top corner by what the form is.  In the introduction Janeczko explains that these little symbols are actually clues to the rules of the forms themselves.

Raschka’s artwork is quirky.  Some of the pages are wonderfully intricate, even for an adult reader, while others have the blocky color and texture that would appeal more to younger readers.  Most of the human figures seem more like caricatures than actual people who the reader is expected to relate with.

A Kick in the Head is the kind of book that can span years of learning about poetry.  For very young children, the bright pictures are entertaining, but as a book for independent study, I wouldn’t suggest it.  The actual explanation on each page is in a very small font, and some of the forms (especially the villanelle and the pantoum) state the fact that they are confusing or difficult.  That being said, it can provide a foundation for the most popular forms as well as inviting an older reader (if they can get past the illustrations) to explore the more complex forms.

Spotlight Poem


William the Conqueror

Ousted King Harold in

Ten Sixty-Six,

Sacked Anglo-Saxons and,


Cut off their heads and dis-

Played them on sticks.

This double dactyl is the perfect example of using poetry for more than just English class.  (In fact both double dactyls in the book are historical in nature.) Perhaps the most fun way for students to approach the double dactyl from the historical side is to allow each child (likely this would work best with pre-teens and teens) to pick their favorite historical figure (without worrying about repeating since each poem is a single sentence).  It would also be fun to do double dactyls for Olympic athletes.


Claudia Lewis Award, 2006

Lupine Award, 2005


Booklist—“ Clear, very brief explanations of poetic forms (in puzzlingly tiny print) accompany each entry; a fine introduction and appended notes offer further information, as do Raschka’s whimsical visual clues, such as the rows of tulips representing the syllables in a haiku. Look elsewhere for lengthy explanations of meter and rhyme.”

Engberg, Gillian. Booklist. March 2005. Vol. 101, No. 14. Retrieved from CLCD at