Rhyme Schemer

This is not your typical story about a middle school bully. K.A. Holt uses poetry to show the different sides of bullying in an authentic way that will appeal to readers in grades 5 and up.

Novel in verse, 167 pages
Interest level: grades 5 and up; high interest, lower reading level
5 out of 5 stars

The main character in Rhyme Schemer is Kevin, a 7th grader who comes from a large family with four older brothers and absentee parents who are both doctors. Kevin is the narrator, sharing his story in the form of poems that he writes in his journal and through poetry he creates by transforming pages torn from books into messages.

Rhyme Schemer is important because it shows Kevin as both a bully and a victim. Kevin is a likable character because we are allowed to know his inner thoughts through his journal entries. He openly shares his joy at bullying a classmate named Robin, but he also shares the turmoil and loneliness he feels at home. His older brother bullies him and he feels his parents don’t even know he exists.

When Kevin’s older brother throws his journal out the car window one morning, the plot shifts. Robin, the boy who was once bullied by Kevin, finds the journal and uses it to get his revenge. Robin has the upper hand now and begins to bully Kevin by threatening to reveal the poetry in his journal.

Holt has constructed the story and characters in such a way that even though Kevin was bullying kids at school, when the tables are turned, it does not feel like he is getting what he deserves. Robin’s form of bullying is much more personal and as Kevin begins to change how he acts and thinks, Robin is unrelenting. Kevin’s skills as a poet are recognized by the school librarian and she helps him find ways to use his skills in positive ways.

This book is of high interest to middle grade readers, who are looking for a less complex text that is short in length. The story can be used to begin discussions about bullying, and it would make a great text for a poetry unit. The poetry is written in the voice of a middle schooler so it will appeal. Additionally, the marking up of book pages to create poems would be a fun and engaging poetry-writing activity.

Gone Camping

This should be a must-have book for anyone who teaches poetry writing at the elementary or middle school level.

Novel in verse, fiction, poetry
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.5
5 out of 5 stars

Sam and Lucy, the siblings we originally met in Tamera Wissinger’s first book, Gone Fishing are looking forward to a family camping trip. Dad wakes up with a horrible cold and needs Mom to take care of him, so Grandpa gamely steps up and takes Sam and Lucy.
Wissinger narrates Sam and Lucy’s story using short poems. Some poems are told from Sam’s point of view and others are from Lucy. Each poem fits on a page or two and identifies whose voice is featured at the top. Gone Camping is more Lucy’s story, while previously Gone Fishing was Sam’s story.
All is good during the day, but Lucy worries about the creatures and critters who might visit their tent once the sun goes down. Lucy’s anxiety is deftly told by poems titled “The Walls of our Tent” and “Sleeping Bag Charm,” where through a charm poem, Lucy tries to ensure her sleeping bag will be a safe haven.
Wissinger’s deft poetry is accompanied by the charming illustrations of Matthew Cordell. His pen and ink illustrations are whimsical and fun and match the tone of the poems perfectly. I especially love how Cordell indicates the sun has set by shading the background of the night poems in gray. When the page turns white again, we know that Lucy has made it through the night.

Both Gone Fishing and Gone Camping are excellent stories that are told in verse. These books would both make excellent mentor texts for poetry units. The short poems are accessible to young writers and illustrate some of the many styles that poems can appear in. Wissinger also includes information about various poetry techniques in the back.

Gone Camping: a novel in verse
by Tamera Will Wissinger; illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-63873-0


This is a delightful story that plays with words and scores a nutmeg goal with the message that the best way to engage children with books is to let them select for themselves.

Chapter book, novel in verse
Interest Level: 5-8; Reading Level: 3.9
5 out of 5 stars

Kwame Alexander writes books that kids want to read. He adds sports and a true understanding of the struggles of tweens and teenagers to poetry and captures readers that would normally never look at a novel in verse. The primary and secondary characters in Booked are rich and well-developed.

Nick, the main character and voice of the story, is an eighth grader who loves soccer. He plays on a travel soccer team and has a friendly rivalry with his best friend, Coby, who plays on another team. Nick also struggles to deal with two bullies in his school, and he is trying to figure out how to talk to the girl he has a crush on.

Family is a big part of Nick’s story as well. He has a close relationship with his mother, but struggles to connect with his dad. His father is a linguistic professor who wrote a dictionary…a dictionary that he makes Nick read every night:

You’re the only kid
on your block
at school
who lives in a prison
of words.
He calls it the pursuit of excellence.
You call it Shawshank.

The changing relationship between Nick and his parents is another strength of the story. Nick’s parents announce they are getting separated and his mom is moving out. Alexander handles the confusion and mixed feelings that Nick goes through in a sensitive and honest way.

Throughout the book, Nick uses many of the fancy words found in his father’s dictionary. Alexander highlights these words by defining them in footnotes, just as they appear in the dictionary that Nick’s father created. This contrast between the hate that Nick shows for reading the dictionary and the extent that it has become part of his identity is interesting to observe.

In addition to celebrating words, Alexander celebrates books in the story. Nick ends up in the hospital and his parents make him read in order to earn time to watch TV. Forced into it, he luckily has an awesome librarian to help connect him with books that are interesting to a 12-year-old boy. Katrina Hedeen wrote in a review for Horn Book Magazine, “Alexander understands reluctant readers deeply, and here hands them a protagonist who is himself a smart, reading-averse kid who just wants to enjoy the words that interest him on his own terms.”

For students who are reluctant to read a book full of poetry, tell them that the pages have lots of white space, so it’s a pretty quick read! Then read them some of the poems:

Does it sink
like a wrecked ship in the sea?

Or wade in the water
like a boy overboard?

Maybe it just floats around and around…

or does it drown?

In Booked Alexander has crafted a book that will engage all types of readers, even many of those who say they don’t like to read. And you’ll never believe how this book ends…

by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
ISBN 9780544570986

Book review: Words with Wings; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Words with Wings book coverby Nikki Grimes
Novel in verse
Interest level: grades 3-6
Reading level: 4.3
Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2014
Young Hoosier Book Award nominee, 2016-2017
5 out of 5 stars

This novel in verse would make a wonderful classroom read aloud. It is shorter in length, with easily understood poems that come together to tell the story of Gabby. Gabby is a daydreamer who is struggling to cope with her parents’ divorce and moving to a new school.

Gabby originally began daydreaming to escape her parents’ arguing, but it starts to take over much of her life, taking the place of being mentally present in class, making real friends, and sharing life with her mother, who is less than understanding. Luckily, at Gabby’s new school, her teacher tries to understand Gabby and her daydreams, and helps design a classroom environment that will help her succeed in school and life.

The short free verse poems, switch between telling the current story, as well as letting us join Gabby in some of her daydreams. This would be a great mentor text for a free verse poetry unity about memories and everyday life, but it also can help children understand feelings associated with divorce. The teacher is also very inspirational and it is nice to acknowledge non-traditional thinking students.