Blog

This week is the first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month, 2017.

I’m thrilled to welcome middle grade author Caroline Starr Rose to the blog today. Caroline’s got a new prose novel out, JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE. But today, she’s joining my month-long series of interviews with verse novelists.

Caroline, tell us about your most recent verse novel. What is it about the story and characters that led you to write the book as poetry?

Blue Birds is set in 1587 on the island of Roanoke and is about England’s first (doomed) colony in the New World. More specifically, it’s the story of a forbidden friendship between two girls — one Roanoke and one English. Verse felt like the right fit for this story for two reasons.

First, I love how verse strips away the unnecessary and gives a feeling of immediacy, which really helps in making historical fiction accessible to young readers. Second, because the story is told in two voices, verse allowed me to visually communicate the girls’ relationship in a way prose never could. Through line and stanza breaks as well as dual-voice poems, I was able to move readers from one perspective to the other, could contrast in “real time” each child’s reaction, thoughts, and emotions, and could show the slow drawing together they experienced. What verse did for this story was magical, plain and simple.

(Note from Laura: You can read more about this at my 2015 blog post about BLUE BIRDS.)

I love the way that historical verse novels communicate a time and place without feeling weighed down by background information. Why do you think verse pairs so well with historical narratives?

Verse is unique in that it is both direct and intimate. That directness cuts through layers that could bog down a historical novel by its straight-forward presentation, but also because it gives us access to intimacy with the main character. With verse, we climb into the skin of the point-of-view character and see the world as she does, experience it in time with her. Ideally, this helps the history not become an obstacle for the reader to unravel but the normal, everyday life of the character we are experiencing the story through.

Have you ever written a full or partial draft of one of your verse novels in prose (or vice versa), only to decide to switch? How did you go about making that change? What were some of your clues that you needed to rethink the form?

I wrote a very partial draft of my first novel, May B. (a historical novel set in 1870s Kansas), as prose but was frustrated with the distance I felt between the ideas in my head and the words on the page. The option of verse wasn’t even on my radar. I’d read all of two verse novels before writing May and had no plans to write my own. But when I set the draft aside and went back to my research, I found the stark, careful, spare ways pioneer women used to communicate in their personal writing as key. If I could mimic their style, I would have direct access to this character and her world.

I remember a few weeks later my mom asking what I was working on. I couldn’t really describe what I was doing (I was nervous to use the word “verse,” as I knew nothing about it at all), but I told her it was the most close-to-the bone, honest thing I’d ever written. I held to that conviction till the end of the draft (and avoided all verse novels so as not to feel inferior and give up part way through!).

That’s exactly why I encourage people who don’t consider themselves to be poets to try the verse novel form. There’s nothing like it for communicating first-person voice. 

BLUE BIRDS is written in more than one voice. How did you develop the vocabulary and the rhythm for each character? What methods did you use to differentiate the characters’ voices?

With Blue Birds, I tried to the best of my ability to see the world as both Alis and Kimi would and to translate that into the word choice, thought processes, observations, and perspectives each girl would have. One of the biggest differences would be who these girls are culturally. Both have been shaped by the people they come from, and this is evident in the way they make sense of the world. The dual-voice poems, where the girls are observing each other, is where the the contrast is most evident.

One of my favorite poems reflects their cultural differences but also shows a slow movement toward mutual respect for the other.

I also like how your book’s designer used font to differentiate the two voices.

Most of the middle grade and YA verse novels I have read are contemporary or historical. I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction novel-in-verse for kids. Do you think the form is flexible enough to stretch into other genres of fiction? Why or why not?

I feel form should always follow function. I’ve learned to listen to a story to get a sense of the best way to tell it. No piece should be shoehorned into any form — prose included! If an author has a story that is begging to be told in verse, then that’s the way it should be written, plain and simple.

Well-said, Caroline. Thank you for stopping by today! 

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable, Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices, KidsIndie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico. You can find her at www.carolinestarrrose.com.

It’s Poetry Friday! This week’s host is Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

My series of interviews with verse novelists continues next week with Leza Lowitz.

Here is the full list of posts:

4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.)

4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.)

4/10 Leza Lowitz, UP FROM THE SEA (Find the post here.)

4/13 Shari Green, MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS (Find the post here.)

4/17 Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, SOMEWHERE AMONG (Find the post here.)

4/20 Ellie Terry, FORGET ME NOT (Find the post here.)

4/24 Margarita Engle, MORNING STAR HORSE and FOREST WORLD (Find the post here.)

4/25 Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE CAMPING (Find the post here.)

4/27 Debut novelist Amanda Rawson-Hill (Find the post here.)

4/30 Holly Thompson, FALLING INTO THE DRAGON’S MOUTH (Find the post here.)

You can find a list of National Poetry Month blog projects at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. And check out this great list of recommended MG verse novels from educator Cassie Thomas at the blog Teachers Who Read.

30 responses to “NPM 2017: 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist, Featuring Caroline Starr Rose”

  1. I love the intimacy of verse too, Caroline. Bluebirds was a wonderful read, but I especially loved May B’s spirit and the voice in the book. Congrats & thanks, Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Maria. Both of Caroline’s verse novels are rich in character. The everyday details bring the history to life.

  2. Doraine says:

    I’m enjoying these, Laura. Thanks to you both, today.

  3. Thank you for this interview! I already e-mailed the link to a LA teacher in my school that is looking for interdisciplinary books for next year. Verse Novelists, you are my personal favorites…..and you make such a difference in the world of literature for kids. Thank you for that!

  4. Irene Latham says:

    Caroline is a wonder, plain and simple. 🙂 I love this encouragement to be open to whatever form suits the book. Thanks, ladies. xoI

  5. I do not know how I missed Blue Birds, but I am heading to the library to find it. I grew up in North Carolina and have long been fascinated with the story of The Lost Colony at Roanoke. I can’t wait to read this novel in verse!

  6. KatApel says:

    I couldn’t have read about historical verse novels at a better time. Thank-you.

  7. Linda Baie says:

    I just finished Blue Birds last week, and loved it, as I loved May B. It’s consistently amazing to me that so much can be shown in the poetry of a verse novel, the feelings especially of the main characters. What we say is meaningful even in a few words, and reading these shows that lesson well. Thanks, Laura and Caroline.

  8. Laura, thank you so much for hosting me and for the insightful questions. And thank you, readers, for your kindness!

  9. Alice Nine says:

    Thank you for today’s share! I love the peek into the writing of Blue Birds and Mary B. I’ve put Blue Birds on my BTR list; NC is close to my heart — birthplace, family stories, vacation memories at Hatteras.

  10. So much goodness in this interview, Laura! I felt a connection with Caroline when she said she gets “frustrated with the distance I felt between the ideas in my head and the words on the page.” That happens to me. All. The. Time. Love how she worked through it and the resulting book. Gives me hope. =)

  11. It’s always so interesting to hear how different verse novels evolve. It seems like sometimes they even take the author by surprise! Love the page Caroline shared today.

  12. Linda says:

    I love this series of interviews, Laura. I love Blue Birds and May B. It is so interesting to learn about the different ways verse novels come to be. Thanks!

  13. Great interview, Laura. I always love learning about the thought process behind some of these works, and this is very enlightening!

  14. I love learning about the process. I also find poetry can be a more intimate form. Fascinating series, Laura.

  15. Mary Lee Hahn says:

    I love this book! (And May B., too!) I have challenged my 5th graders to to try writing their narrative nonfiction piece in verse. A few have accepted the challenge. One boy is writing about lacrosse equipment in haiku. Another girl is creating a hybrid, with verse and diary entries. Very exciting stuff!

  16. Keri Collins Lewis says:

    Terrific interview! May B. just moved to the top of my list!

  17. Both of your books sound intriguing, I’m pulled towards stories where the characters are whittled down, and the author is reveling more. I look forward to reading both of your books, thanks, and thanks Laura for the interview!

  18. Thank you, Laura & Caroline, for sharing these insights into verse novels. I agree that the immediacy of the voice is one aspect that makes these books so appealing to kids.

  19. […]  4/3 Jeannine Atkins, STONE MIRRORS: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis (Find the post here.) 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

  20. […] 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

  21. […] 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

  22. […] 5 Questions for the Verse Novelist Featuring Caroline Starr Rose :: Laura Shovan […]

  23. Thanks for this lovely interview. I was so impressed by both of Caroline’s verse novels. They both sing. MAY B. made me fall in love with verse novels and BLUE BIRDS showed me the possibilities with having two voices in a verse novel.

  24. […] 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

  25. […] 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

  26. […] 4/6 Caroline Starr Rose, BLUE BIRDS (Find the post here.) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

Learn More