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Posts Tagged ‘novels in verse’

I picked up an ARC of Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan at the 2011 ALA conference.

From the publisher (Running Press Books):

(Purple Daze) is a young adult novel set in suburban Los Angeles in 1965. Six high school students share their experiences and feelings in interconnected free verse and traditional poems about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock ‘n’ roll, high school, and friendship.Although there have been verse novels published recently, none explore the changing and volatile 1960’s in America– a time when young people drove a cultural and political revolution. With themes like the costs and casualties of war, the consequences of sex, and the complex relationships between teens, their peers, and their parents, this story is still as relevant today as it was 45 years ago.

I met Sherry Shahan through Vermont College. She joined our “class” for graduation. She was a student who only attended the summer residencies–not because she was afraid of Vermont winters, but because she was too darn busy the rest of the year.

She was busy writing gorgeous and playful picture books.


She was busy off on adventures.

And participating in dance contests.

And enjoying her grandchildren.

Let’s just say she is not a typical grandmother!

I will freely admit to being a bit intimidated by Sherry and her accomplishments when we first met… except that she was way too nice and generous and enthusiastic to make me feel that way for long.

In talking to her, it doesn’t take long to realize the secret to her success: She works really hard.

But personal stuff aside, Purple Daze is an amazing, important book.

It’s absolutely a peek at the ’60s. There are even snippets of actual news events woven throughout the characters’ viewpoints. But there is also the more personal look at this volatile time period. One character is drafted to Vietnam, another enlists. The ones left at home have to decide if and when and how to protest the war. But they are also struggling with getting through their teen years. They have to deal with parents and peer pressure and figuring out how far is too far when it comes to sex and drinking and drugs. Hearts are broken. Lives altered forever.

And it’s all told in verse.

To me, the poems that belong to each character could each stand alone – this makes the story different than some novels told in verse. It makes it a more challenging read – but also more rewarding. It’s a collection of poems as well as a cumulative narrative.

I think this story and format will appeal to both teens and adults–and it absolutely brought out the former teacher in me. This book would make such an awesome keystone for a unit in English and/or History classes.

Especially if you get your class to read these poems aloud. I would love to see a group of teens each take a character to read. Maybe reader’s theater style. I get shivers just imagining it.

And then, the students would write their own poems – reflecting their own thoughts and struggles within this particular place in time. Have a poetry slam to share. Make a new book.

A book that keeps on giving. Like Sherry.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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