Authors use poetry when prose isn’t adequate to convey emotional and heavy topics. Poetry can pack such an emotional punch into so few words that a reader is left breathless. The verse novel can be a perfect way to attract teens to literature for this very reason. Not only are verse novels usually quick and easy to read, they appeal to those who are thinking lyrically and symbolically. Teens are usually going through emotional and trying times and poetry tends to call to them. The verse novel can be read quickly and be taken at face value, or a reader can really delve into the meaning behind the imagery the poet decided to use. In reality, the verse novel can be much more detailed and challenging to read than a novel in prose. It can also be much more touching and beautiful. Teachers, parents, and librarians should be encouraging teens to close read these verse novels to truly connect with the story that is being told.
I chose to read Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate for the verse novel section of this class. I was surprised that I had already read all of the other choices: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and Sold by Patricia McCormick. The reason for my surprise is that I don’t view myself as a fan of poetry. However, I had picked all of these up at some point, either because I read a starred review (Inside Out and Back Again), saw it being checked out by a lot of teens (Crank), or liked the cover (Sold). And I loved all of them, even though I’m not a poetry enthusiast. I found they were beautifully written and appealed to my emotional state. Home of the Brave proved to be the same for me.
Home of the Brave is the story of Kek, a young refugee from Sudan. He has been brought to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin, Ganwar, who are also refugees. His brother and father had been killed in Sudan and he had been separated from his mother. Kek remains hopeful that his mother will join them in Minnesota but none of the other people in his life think he is being realistic. The story revolves around Kek and his experiences in America as well as his memories of his family in Sudan. His cousin, Ganwar, has had a difficult time adjusting to the American life but Kek seems to do better with his positive demeanor. His aunt says that “Kek finds sun when the sky is dark.” Kek ends up getting a job to share with Ganwar, helping a solitary woman taking care of a cow on a small farm. They find that this is one place that seems remotely similar to their lives as cattle herders in Sudan. The lonely cow, Gol, brings each of the boys comfort in their uncertain lives.
The beautiful simplicity of Kek’s story in verse evokes emotions a reader might not feel if reading it in prose. Here’s the beginning a poem called “Father” that exemplifies the benefits of writing in verse:
He had many cattle,
and the respect of our village,
but it was his voice that made him a rich man among men.
His voice was deep,
like a storm coming,
like the rain ending.
This verse creates an image of a responsible, respectable man who had a deep love of his family. The fact that this is spoken by his son demonstrates that his family loved and respected him in turn. Yet the imagery of a storm coming and rain ending brings a sense of doom even though it is being used to describe a loved father’s singing voice.
This story could have been about any struggling refugee child who is trying to make a home in a new country. I think that’s part of its appeal. Any teen that is struggling to find their place in the world will be able to connect with Kek. They will see how he had to search for something that would bring him comfort and they will respond to the lyrical way he does this. This is truly a novel that many teens will be able to relate to.
Learn more about Home of the Brave here.
Find out about Sudanese refugees who have a happy ending here.
Find out more about verse novels here.
Find out about the reasons verse novels work well for kids and teens here.