YA Poetry Recs 2022

We’ve been reading a lot of novels-in-verse lately, so to celebrate National Poetry Month, here’s a list of some of our faves!

African Town
By Charles Waters and Iene Latham
448 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593322888 | Putnam BFYR
In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamplands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.

Alma Presses Play
By Tina Cane
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593121146 | Make Me A World
Alma’s life is a series of halfways: She’s half-Chinese, half-Jewish; her parents spend half the time fighting, and the other half silent; and she’s halfway through becoming a woman. But as long as she can listen to her Walkman, hang out with her friends on the stoops of the Village, and ride her bike around the streets of New York, it feels like everything will be all right. Then comes the year when everything changes, and her life is overtaken by constant endings: friends move away, romances bloom and wither, her parents divorce and – just like that – her life as she knew it is over. In this world of confusing beginnings, middles, and endings, is Alma ready to press play on the soundtrack of her life?

And We Rise
By Erica Martin
160 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593352526 | Viking BFYR
In stunning verse and vivid use of white space, Erica Martin’s debut poetry collection walks readers through the Civil Rights Movement – from the well-documented events that shaped the nation’s treatment of Black people, beginning with the “Separate but Equal” ruling – and introduces lesser-known figures and moments that were just as crucial to the Movement and our nation’s centuries-long fight for justice and equality. A poignant, powerful, all-too-timely collection that is both a vital history lesson and much-needed conversation starter in our modern world. Complete with historical photographs, author’s note, chronology of events, research, and sources.

Call Us What We Carry
By Amanda Gorman
240 Pages | All Ages | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593465066 | Viking Books
Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, these poems shine a light on a moment of reckoning and reveal that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School
Foreword by Tyehimba Jess
Edited by Peter Kahn, Hanif Abdurraqib, Dan “Sully” Sullivan, and Franny Choi
176 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593226810 | Penguin Workshop
For Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Spoken Word Club, there is one phrase that reigns supreme: Respect the Mic. It’s been the club’s call to arms since its inception in 1999. As its founder Peter Kahn says, “It’s a call of pride and history and tradition and hope.” In its pages, you hear the sprawling echoes of students, siblings, lovers, new parents, athletes, entertainers, scientists, and more – all sharing a deep appreciation for the power of storytelling. A celebration of the past, a balm for the present, and a blueprint for the future, Respect the Mic offers a tender, intimate portrait of American life, and conveys how in a world increasingly defined by separation, poetry has the capacity to bind us together.

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler
By Ibi Zoboi
128 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780399187384 | Dutton BFYR
From the New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist, a biography in verse and prose of science fiction visionary Octavia Butler, author of Parable of the Sower and Kindred. Acclaimed novelist Ibi Zoboi illuminates the young life of the visionary storyteller Octavia E. Butler in poems and prose. Born into the Space Race, the Red Scare, and the dawning Civil Rights Movement, Butler experienced an American childhood that shaped her into the groundbreaking science-fiction storyteller whose novels continue to challenge and delight readers fifteen years after her death.

Vinyl Moon
By Mahogany L. Browne
176 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593176436 | Crown BFYR
When Darius told Angel he loved her, she believed him. But five weeks after the incident, Angel finds herself in Brooklyn, far from her family, from him, and from the California life she has known. Angel feels out of sync with her new neighborhood. At school, she can’t shake the feeling everyone knows what happened – and that it was her fault. The only place that makes sense is Ms. G’s class. There, Angel’s classmates share their own stories of pain, joy, and fortitude. And as Angel becomes immersed in her revolutionary literature course, the words from Black writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston speak to her and begin to heal the wounds of her past. This stunning novel weaves together prose, poems, and vignettes to tell the story of Angel, a young woman whose past was shaped by domestic violence but whose love of language and music and the gift of community grant her the chance to find herself again.

We Belong
By Cookie Hiponia Everman
208 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593112229 | Dial BFYR
Stella and Luna know that their mama, Elsie, came from the Philippines when she was a child, but they don’t know much else. So one night they ask her to tell them her story. As they get ready for bed, their mama spins two tales: that of her youth as a strong-willed middle child and immigrant; and that of the young life of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god. Both are tales of sisterhood and motherhood, and of the difficult experience of trying to fit into a new culture, and having to fight for a home and acceptance. Glorious and layered, this is a portrait of family and strength for the ages.

What About Will
By Ellen Hopkins
384 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593108642 | Putnam BFYR
Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who’s five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at Little League. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury–everything changed. Now, seventeen months later, their family is still living under the weight of “the incident,” that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents’ divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize. But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.

When We Make It
By Elisabet Velasquez
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593324486 | Dial BFYR
Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Sarai questions the society around her, her Boricua identity, and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, learning to celebrate herself in a way that she has been denied. When We Make It is a love letter to girls who were taught to believe they would not make it at all. The verse is evocative and insightful, and readers are sure to be swept into Sarai’s world and rooting for her long after they close the book.

Poetry Month 2021

April is National Poetry Month! Here’s a list of recent books with rhyming text or novels-in-verse to share with all the young readers in your life.

A is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z
By John Robert Allman
Illustrated by Peter Emmerich
48 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525645405 | Doubleday BFYR
Step into the spotlight and celebrate a cavalcade of Broadway’s legendary ladies. Start with “A” for six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, then sing and dance your way through the alphabet with beloved entertainers like Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, Lea Salonga, Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara, and Liza Minnelli! Broadway fans and theater lovers everywhere will give a standing ovation to this one-of-a-kind tribute full of toe-tapping rhymes, with illustrations as bright and beautiful as the shining lights on any marquee.

Big Feelings
By Alexandra Penfold
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
42 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525579748 | Knopf BFYR
In their bestselling picture book All Are Welcome, Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrate kindness, inclusivity, and diversity. Now with Big Feelings, they help children navigate the emotional challenges they face in their daily lives. What should we do when things don’t go to plan? We may feel mad, frustrated, or overwhelmed, but by talking it through, compromising, and seeing another point of view, we can start fresh, begin anew.

I Don’t Want to Be Quiet
By Laura Ellen Anderson
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593117286 | Philomel BFYR
Sometimes it’s hard to be quiet. There are drums to drum and hums to hum, drinks to slurp, and burps to burp – so many loud and wonderful noises to make! So when this spunky little girl goes to the library, it’s extra difficult to behave – until the entire room tells her to SHHHHHH. It’s only then, as she discovers the wonders that live inside books, that she sees how much fun she can have in her own imagination – all without making a peep. In this bright and playful rhyming picture book filled with vibrant, cheerful illustrations, readers learn the joy that is possible when we really stop and listen.

I Talk Like a River
By Jordan Scott
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780823445592 | Neal Porter Books
When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him. Poet Jordan Scott writes movingly in this powerful and ultimately uplifting book, based on his own experience, and masterfully illustrated by Greenaway Medalist Sydney Smith. A book for any child who feels lost, lonely, or unable to fit in.

Just Like Me
By Vanessa Brantley-Newton
32 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525582090 | Knopf BFYR
From Vanessa Brantley-Newton, the author of Grandma’s Purse, comes a collection of poetry filled with engaging mini-stories about girls of all kinds: girls who feel happy, sad, scared, powerful; girls who love their bodies and girls who don’t; country girls, city girls; girls who love their mother and girls who wish they had a father. With bright portraits in Vanessa’s signature style of vibrant colors and unique patterns and fabrics, this book invites readers to find themselves and each other within its pages.

Natsumis Song of SummerNatsumi’s Song of Summer
By Robert Paul Weston
Illustrated by Misa Saburi
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265417 | Tundra Books
Natsumi’s nervousness about meeting her cousin from across the sea quickly disappears when she discovers that her cousin is a lot like her: they both love summertime’s hot sandy beaches, cool refreshing watermelon, festivals, and fireworks. Then Jill asks Natsumi about the strange buzzing sound that comes from the nearby trees, and Natsumi is nervous once again. What if Jill is frightened of Natsumi’s cherished cicadas, the insects that sing the music of summertime? This sweet and gentle picture book celebrates summer in Japan, as one little girl shares her love for bugs with her cousin who is visiting from America.

No Buddy Like a Book
By Allan Wolf
Illustrated by Brianne Farley
32 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536203073 | Candlewick
Have you ever wanted to climb to the top of Everest with one hand behind your back? Kiss a crocodile all by yourself on the Nile River? How about learning how to bottle moonlight, or track a distant star? There are endless things to discover and whole universes to explore simply by reading a book. But books are only smears of ink without the reader’s mind to give their letters meaning and bring them to life. With a rollicking, rhyming text and delightful artwork, poet and storyteller Allan Wolf and illustrator Brianne Farley remind us that books, no matter how they may be consumed, give readers of every background an opportunity to expand their world and spark their imagination. With infectious enthusiasm, No Buddy Like a Book offers an ode to the wonders of language – written, spoken, and everything in between.

Raindrops to Rainbows
By John Micklos, Jr.
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
32 Pages | Ages 3-5 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593224090 | Penguin Workshop
Raindrops are falling outside, but there’s still a world of color to experience! Delightful rhymes and brilliant illustrations detail how a gloomy, rainy day might not actually be so gloomy after all when you get to spend time with Mom, Brown Bear, and the colors around you. And when a “beaming rainbow, bold and bright” cuts through the sky, everyone gets to experience the joy of all the colors that can only come after the rain.

Someone Has to Build the Dream
By Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Loren Long
48 Pages | Ages 5-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984814333 | Dial BFYR
Gorgeously written and illustrated, this is an eye-opening exploration of the many types of work that go into building our world – from the making of a bridge to a wind farm, an amusement park, and even the very picture book that you are reading. An architect may dream up the plans for a house, but someone has to actually work the saws and pound the nails. This book is a thank-you to the skilled women and men who work tirelessly to see our dreams brought to life.

Starfish
By Lisa Fipps
256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984814500 | Nancy Paulsen Books
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules – like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space – her swimming pool – where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life – by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space
By Candy Wellins
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
32 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593118047 | Philomel BFYR
Edward White was the first American astronaut to walk in space. But before his spacewalk, he was just a boy who loved the stars. As he grew up, he would look up at the night sky in wonder – he knew that, one day, he would visit the stars themselves. In this touching and poignant picture book biography, we see how Edward’s passion for the stars shaped the course of his life, and how he came to realize, even in the depths of space, what was ultimately most important to him – his family.

We Belong
By Cookie Hiponia Everman
208 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593112205 | Dial BFYR
Stella and Luna know that their mama, Elsie, came from the Philippines when she was a child, but they don’t know much else. So one night they ask her to tell them her story. As they get ready for bed, their mama spins two tales: that of her youth as a strong-willed middle child and immigrant; and that of the young life of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god. Both are tales of sisterhood and motherhood, and of the difficult experience of trying to fit into a new culture, and having to fight for a home and acceptance. Glorious and layered, this is a portrait of family and strength for the ages.

What Are Little Girls Made Of?
By Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
32 Pages | Ages 7-10 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536217339 | Nosy Crow
Think you know your nursery rhymes? Then think again! In this witty reworking of some nursery rhymes, Georgie Porgie doesn’t dare to make the girls cry, Little Bo-Peep’s sheep are all present and accounted for, thank you, and it’s a female doctor, of course, who fixes Humpty Dumpty. With the combination of clever rhymes and charming, witty illustrations, this remixed nursery rhyme collection is the perfect gift book for any child (or adult!), to read aloud or enjoy alone.

Wild Symphony
By Dan Brown
Illustrated by Susan Batori
44 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593123843 | Rodale Kids
Travel through the trees and across the seas with Maestro Mouse and his musical friends! Young readers will meet a big blue whale and speedy cheetahs, tiny beetles and graceful swans. Each has a special secret to share. Along the way, you might spot the surprises Maestro Mouse has left for you – a hiding buzzy bee, jumbled letters that spell out clues, and even a coded message to solve! Children and adults can enjoy this timeless picture book as a traditional read-along, or can choose to listen to original musical compositions as they read – one for each animal – with a free interactive smartphone app, which uses augmented reality to play the appropriate song for each page when a phone’s camera is held over it.