10 Novels-in-Verse That You Should Read

In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to introduce some of my favorite novels in verse for young adults, in no particular order.



  1. Up From The Sea by Leza Lowitz


Lowitz imagines the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Northeastern Japan five years ago through the eyes of Kai, a biracial Japanese boy. At turns harrowing and heartbreaking, this book is ultimately hopeful.


  1. Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan


Set in 1965, this book follows the lives of a group of high school friends whose lives are impacted by the war in Vietnam, riots, and assassinations. But they also go to drive-in movies, fall in love, and go to parties.

HollyThompson TheLanguageInside book cover

  1. The Language Inside by Holly Thompson


Third Culture Kid Emma Karas finds herself in Massachusetts after living in Japan for many years. She begins to volunteer at a long-term care center, helping a poet with locked-in syndrome get her poems down on paper. Meanwhile, Emma stats spending time with a Cambodian dancer who is a fellow volunteer.


  1. Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai


After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mina Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are rounded up and sent to an internment camp in the middle of the desert. Nagai presents a shameful slice of American history with beauty and grace.


  1. Impulse by Ellen Hopkins


Talk about gritty, realistic fiction! Tony, Vanessa, and Connor battle self-destructive impulses ranging — pill-popping, cutting, and suicidal urges. Hopkins is the queen of intensity.


  1. Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham


One day Jane has just about everything a fifteen-year-old girl could want, the next, a shark bites off her arm while she’s swimming. Bingham explores disability and self-acceptance in this stand-out novel.


  1. The Good Braider by Terry Farish


Cultures clash in this story of Viola, a young woman refugee from South Sudan who tries to adjust to her new life in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Karma by Cathy Ostlere


This book is epic adventure set in India, just after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Fifteen-year-old Canadian Maya is visiting India with her father after her mother’s suicide, when she gets swept up in the mayhem.


  1. Fishtailing by Wendy Philips


Philips captures all of the angst of high school in this story of four teens in a Canadian classroom. Through distinct poetic voices, Natalie, Kyle, Trish, and Miguel share stories of domestic violence, sexual abuse, step-families, and rebellion.


  1. T4 by Ann Clare Lezotte


Lezotte, who is deaf herself, wrote this story of Paula Becker, a deaf teen in Nazi Germany, where people with disabilities were systematically eliminated, along with Jews and others. Sometimes the most difficult subjects are best expressed in the simplest words.


Aisatsu Will Save You

Typically, at my daughter’s school culture festival, there is a skit about the atomic-boming of Hiroshima and its aftermath. I remember one year the message was the importance of “aisatsu,” or greetings. One should always greet one’s neighbors, otherwise, they might not help you out when you really need it. Getting along with and being friendly to the other people in your neighborhood just might save your life.

Coming most recently from South Carolina, where everybody waves at strangers in passing cars, I’m pretty good with greetings. I say “Ohayo gozaimasu!” even to the people who ignore me. And whenever I greet my neighbors, that message from my daughter’s culture festival pops into my head.

There have been articles in the newspaper about disaster-hit communities in northeastern Japan helping each other out, and I think that’s great. But what about those who were not welcomed into the communities?

According to a report from Kyodo News, there were probably about 2,500 Chinese and Vietnamese foreign trainees in Fukushima, as well as 1500 each in Miyagi and Iwate. Some were believed to have been employed in or around the coastal areas.

From the report:

“It seems especially difficult to determine what happened to those foreigners who were working at companies in the region after entering Japan as interns, said Megumi Sakamoto, a professor doing research at Fukushima University…Sakamoto said some employers didn’t want foreign trainees mixing with Japanese in their communities, a situation that resulted in interns feeling isolated or even unsure of their exact whereabouts.

“‘It is very hard to determine the location of such foreigners affected by this kind of massive disaster,’ Sakamoto said.”

Read for Japan!

So I was thinking about what I could do to help the evacuees right now, besides sending money (which I have done, and will do again) and books for the kids to read (which I will do on Tuesday). Several writer/editors are putting together e-books of Japan-related writing to raise money, and I’ve sent in a story and an essay to two different projects. I like the idea of putting together a book, but then again, I recently put together a collection of Japan-related writing, my literary journal Yomimono, so why not donate proceeds from that?

So here’s the deal. If you buy a copy of Yomimono here, I will donate every penny that I get to the Japan Red Cross.

Playing Baseball to Heal Hearts

Today Japanese high school baseball officials made a decision on whether the spring national high school baseball invitational tournament at Koshien would be held. I haven’t heard the verdict yet, but I do know that many professional sporting events have been cancelled. This is partly out of respect for the earthquake and tsunami victims, and partly to save energy, and partly because many foreign teams and individual players have left the country.

Iranian-Japanese ace pitcher Yu Darvish  spoke out in favor of postponing the start of the baseball season. Although the Japan League will begin their official games next week as originally scheduled, the Pacific League, of which Darvish’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, is a part, won’t start till the end of April. Darvish was the  pitcher for his Tohoku High School team, which went to Koshien four times. Tohoku has been hard hit by last week’s tsunami.

I’m not sure if the team from that region would be able to make it to Koshien, but I can’t help thinking that a high school baseball tournament is just the thing to buck up the country right now. Wouldn’t it be inspiring to see the future of Japan out there on the field, playing their hearts out? Wouldn’t it give everyone hope? And maybe it would uplifting to watch the  teams play in another city that was once damaged by a huge earthquake and then rebuilt. My son, who is in favor of having the tournament, said that everyone would be able to see the team from Tohoku doing their best.

My husband, a former high school baseball coach, thinks it’s better not to hold it this spring. I do understand the argument against it. For many, it is unseemly to play at a time like this. Plus, it would cost  a lot of money better spent by the Red Cross or in rebuilding, and use up a lot of gas and electricity. And if the team from the stricken area can’t make it and/or isn’t able to practice, that would be unfair, wouldn’t it?

Prime Minister Kan says that Japan is in its deepest crisis since World War II. During the war,  the national high school baseball tournament at Koshien sponsored by the Asahi Shinbun was suspended. However, in 1942, The Ministry of Education decided to hold a special tournament to boost morale. It was called the “Promote the Fighting Spirit” tournament. Only 16 teams participated, instead of the usual (at that time) 23. The winning team was Tokushima Commercial High School. According to my husband, locals take no pride in that victory. “They shouldn’t have played,” he says. “It was during the war.”

Teaching Compassion in a Time of Crisis

Yesterday, the first day back at school after the week-end’s disaster, the third graders at my daughter’s school decided to gather pencils and notebooks and things for the children who had to evacuate their homes in northern Japan. The teachers discussed the earthquake with the kids, and they are making further plans to help out on a wider scale. My daughter brought a box of pencils to school today to donate.

My husband, who is a high school teacher at a school for the disabled, led his students in a moment of silence to honor the thousands of victims of the tsunami.

I asked my son what he did at school in relation to the quake.

“My teacher talked about it a little,” he said, “but we had to practice for graduation.”

According to my son, there was no further initiative to help the students deal with whatever anxiety or concerns they may have regarding the quake. Nor did I hear of any efforts to comfort or help the survivors, or remember the lives that were washed away. I found this incredible, especially since at every event open to parents, the principal talks about how the school is helping the students to develop kind, caring hearts. Can they really be so busy practicing for graduation, that they can’t spare an hour, or even fifteen minutes, or even a moment of silence?

Again today, nothing.

But then I was thinking about how, after school on Friday, I turned on the news and watched the approaching wave over and over – the houses washing away, the people scrambling desperately up the hills, the cars swirling in the water.  I could hardly tear my eyes away. I wanted my daughter to bear witness because these are her people. This is her country. And at almost twelve, having toured the Peace Museum in Hiroshima and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., having been deeply moved by these horrible events, I felt she was old enough to deal with tsunami footage.

Maybe I was wrong to make her watch it for so long. To make her wallow in tragedy.

At seven o’clock, she tried to find her favorite cartoon, “Doraemon,” on television, but every station was broadcasting tsunami and earthquake updates. She was disappointed, and I became irritated with her.  Was she really so spoiled and lacking in feeling?

She didn’t see any disaster scenes all day Saturday or Sunday. We made crepes together. It was a normal and fun activity. Usually, her weekend diary is about baking or cooking or maybe shopping. When I asked to check her homework, she showed me what she’d written Saturday evening.

She’d written about watching the news with me. She wrote about the earthquake and the big wave and the fires and houses that floated away. She wrote about how scared it made her feel. 

Maybe she’d had enough.