I never thought I would read a novel in verse. Somehow the concept made me think of William Wordsworth or Burt Bacharach. Or Dr. Seuss. And to be honest, I didn’t want to read anything written by those people for 200 pages or more.
But last year someone gave me Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas. I ignored it for a while, let it sit on the shelf. But let me tell you, when I finally opened it, I couldn’t put it down. I was blown away.
So this year I was actually excited when I got my hands on Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. I had seen positive reviews from people and the story sounded interesting enough: Kek, a ten-year-old boy from the Sudan, is shipped off to Minnesota in winter after his father and brother are killed and his mother disappears. But like other books I enjoy, it isn’t just the story that pulled me in. It’s the writing.
Kek moves in with an aunt and older cousin who had escaped the refugee camp earlier. He has so much to discover in Minnesota: snow, English, grocery stores. The words are written beautifully, but the book is funny, too. This passage with Kek and his cousin Ganwar before his first day of school made me laugh out loud.
I try on the school clothes
in the box Dave has brought for me.
I pick a button shirt with flowers on it
and soft red pants,
but Ganwar rolls his eyes.
Thos are pajamas, he says.
You wear them when you sleep.
I try again.
Ganwar shakes his head.
The kids will eat you alive, he says.
This is bad news,
since I didn’t know that America people
like to eat each other.
Home of the Brave won the Golden Kite Award for Fiction, it’s an SLJ Best Book of the Year. Of course, if you’re like me, awards don’t mean you want to read the book.
What I’m really enjoying about this book is seeing how the author can get a point across with very few words. If two people are talking outside in the cold, she doesn’t say It’s cold. She writes
His laughter makes little clouds.
Isn’t that great? Here’s a kid who has never experienced winter and what does he notice? Laughter makes little clouds. Brilliant!
Whether or not you enjoy novels in verse, if you are a writer, I highly recommend that you read one. Home of the Brave and Because I am Furniture are great choices, but there are plenty of others out there. I think Lisa Schroeder will be next on my list. Look at how the authors use language, how they say so much with so little. Then think about how you can apply that to your own writing.
We’re not all going to write novels in verse. But learning to be more economical with words is a lesson we can all use.