NCTE's 2023 Notable Books of Poetry and Novels in Verse

This year, members of the committee recognized 12 excellent books of poetry and six novels in verse as 2023 Notable Books. Picks include a range of formats—lively nonfiction, reflective verse, and moving verse novels—written by familiar poets and debut authors.

Interior art from Mother Winter written and illustrated by James Christopher Carroll (Creative Editions).

In 1977, the NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award Committee was created to recognize the work of outstanding poets who write for children. Since then, in addition to naming an exemplary poet every two years, the committee now selects an annual list of poetry and novels in verse. This year, members of the committee are pleased to recognize 12 excellent books of poetry and six novels in verse as 2023 Notable Books. Each selection was published in 2022.

Read and evaluated by each member of the committee, these titles are notable for their use of language, poetic devices, and application to children ages three to thirteen. The form or structure of the poems was evaluated to ensure that the mood and subject matter were accurately represented. This year’s picks include a range of formats—lively nonfiction, reflective verse, and moving verse novels—written by familiar poets and debut authors. For past lists and other notable poetry resources, visit


Notable Poetry Books

Carroll, James Christopher. Mother Winter. Creative Editions. ISBN 9781568463773.
PreS-Gr 2–A poetic picture book that personifies the winter season by inviting readers to join Mother Winter on her walk. “If you are awake/ on the longest cold night, when the wind curls and frost holds time,/ you’ll hear her bells and smell the first snow,/ when Mother Winter goes walking.” This beautifully descriptive text brings all parts of a winter landscape to life, from frosty fields and frozen ponds, to animals and children at play, to the winter stars rising as “loving eyes above it all.” Magical illustrations bring the story to life, and young audiences will enjoy the repetition of lines, and the cyclical nature of the journey, as they ride on Mother Winter’s “long coattails.”  

De la Peña, Matt. Patchwork. illus. by Corinna Luyken. Putnam. ISBN 9781984813961.
K-Gr 3–de la Peña’s text and Luyken’s subtle pastel illustrations join together in an exploration of every child’s many personalities harbored inside as they are “stitching together (their) very own story.” Even though “You were blue before you were even born…And here you are today,/ blue dressed in blue…sometimes your paintbrush at school/ hovers above the pink.” He observes that “You were put on this earth to dance” and “dream in one-two-three, one-two-three.” The rhythms inside of us “are also a kind of math.” de la Peña acknowledges the power of sports in our lives, yet he believes that “one day… You will spin couplets on your finger/ because you’ve always been a poet.” The class clown is recognized, “But the skill it takes to make people laugh/ is the skill you’ll use to help people learn/ when you become a favorite teacher.” Indeed, de la Peña acknowledges the potential of all children who are “more than a single noteplayed again and again.” Rather, they are “a symphony (of) mismatched scraps accumulated over time/ and stitched together/ into a kind of patchwork.”  

Elliott, David. At the Pond. illus. by Amy Schimler-Safford. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536205985.
PreS-Gr 3–Sensory poetry and peaceful illustrations combine to take readers through a day at the pond in this enchanting picture book. The poems each focus on residents of the pond ecosystem, with layered and complex illustrations depicting the habitat in which they live. The richly detailed illustrations complement the evocative poetry, inviting observation and perception from young readers. “The red-winged blackbird spreads his tail/ and sings his hello morning song;/ he has sung it since the bright/ and misty world began.” Detailed back matter extends the reader’s background knowledge about the animals presented through the poems. This book will be an essential addition to science classrooms, nature programs, and homes interested in learning and experiencing a day in the life of a pond.

Franco, Betsy. Counting in Dog Years and Other Sassy Math Poems. illus. by Priscilla Tey. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536201161.
Gr 3-7–This clever collection of verse highlights math concepts with creativity and lighthearted play. Tey's illustrations fill the pages with bright color, humor, and a wonderfully wacky flair appearing in the pages filled with robots, fish, pancakes, and mice. Among the witty poems is the quietly emotional "Math Makes Me Feel Safe," which gives readers the feeling of a soft place to fall and the concept of a short distance: "... It's knowing when night falls/ and darkens my bedroom,/ my pup sleeps just two feet from me." From multiplication to fractions to measurements of time, from washing machine magic to honeycomb shapes and the silliest lost and found, this collection of sassy math poems will have readers racing off and away to the wide, wide world of math.  

Gianferrari, Maria. Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice. illus. by Jieting Chen. Millbrook. ISBN 9781728436609.
Gr 3–5–Eleven poems that contain scientific information introduce readers to the life of ice. The book starts with the poem "Ice Is Born," showcasing various shapes ice is born in—column, needle, pyramid, and dendrite. The next poems, including "Ice Grows," "Ice Flows," and "Ice Plays," present formations and structures of ice that change over time, depending on temperature, winds, and waves at sea. Rhymes and onomatopoeias, for example, “creaks and cracks,” “snarls and snaps,” and “Ring! Boing! Ding!,” with detailed illustrations, bring ice to life. The back matter provides readers with opportunities for performing scientific experiments and learning about water as a solid, liquid, and gas and a variety of ice formations. Further readings and links to online resources (e.g., photos, videos, and sounds of sea and lake ice) are included.  

Hagen, Hans & Monique Hagen. You Are the Loveliest. illus. by Marit Törnqvist. tr. by David Colmer. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646141289.
PreS-Gr 4–This little gem of a book is a mix of rhyming and free verse poetry that becomes a treasure trove of childhood emotions. Translated from Dutch to English, these tender and playful poems are richly illustrated and thought-provoking. From the heartfelt, whimsical term "sweetissimost" for a special someone, to the laughing "bubbles of spit," and cries that are "drops of sadness," young readers will be intrigued by these poignant and charming poems which are simple and fresh, yet contemplative and beautiful. As one poem says, shoes can be big enough to "carry this girl all over the world." A beautiful collection. 

Khan, Naaz. Room for Everyone. illus. by Mercè López. Atheneum/Caitlin Dlouhy. ISBN 9781534431393.
PreS-Gr 2–This playful story in rhyme tells the tale of young Musa and her sister as they board a minibus called a daladala for a ride to Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Throughout the journey, the bus starts to fill with a whimsical mixture of people and cargo, from “one old man and his bike with no seat,” to “five mamas with fish in their arms,” to “six stinky chickens that wouldn’t stop squawking.” At first, Musa protests that there is no more room on the daladala. But as the journey goes on, filled with “wiggles” and “giggles,” Musa discovers that there is always “Room for Everyone” on the trip to Zanzibar. Readers and listeners will absolutely love all the silliness that can be found in both the words and illustrations of this delightful picture book.  

Kooser, Ted & Connie Wanek. Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play among Figures of Speech. illus. by Richard Jones. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536203035.
Gr 3-8–This gorgeous collection of 30 imaginative poems are about unexpected objects that become poetic such as a winter tree, a thunderstorm, sleep, a TV remote, and even gas. Organized in four chapters: fire, water, air, and Earth, the poems contain sensory imagery, similes, and metaphors. For example, a delicious sandwich is compared to a book. The table of contents is mayo, the footnotes are peppercorn, the conclusion is a slice of cheese, and a romaine leaf is a bookmark inside. The poem “Harpist” begins with: “She has taken a great golden moth/ into her arms and with both hands/ she keeps its wings pressed closed/ to keep it from flying away.” Later, she smoothes the veins of the moth’s wings to comfort or to give it pleasure. As she brushes away sprinkles of dust, tinkling music is created. The colorful illustrations complement each poem adding to the verse. Simply splendid! 


Sehgal, Kabir & Surishtha Sehgal. Mother Goose Goes to India. illus. by Wazza Pink. S. & S./Beach Lane. ISBN 9781534439603.
PreS–Gr 2–In this vibrant and playful picture book, a collection of Mother Goose nursery rhymes is rewritten with an Indian flair. Tunga Bridge (one of the oldest bridges in Karnataka, a southwestern state in India) is falling down. The little sooar (pig) went to the bazaar (market). Little Jack Horner eats Diwali (the Indian festival of lights) sweets. Jai and Jil went up the hill to fetch a pail of panee (water). Buildings with Mughal-style architecture, trucks and cars on modern highways, Indian cultural artifacts, traditional clothing, musical instruments, and foods are beautifully depicted in detail throughout the book. For non-Hindi speakers, translations and pronunciations for the Hindi words are provided at the bottom of each page. Young readers will enjoy chanting the familiar nursery rhymes in Hindi, which might be a language unfamiliar to many of them, along with exploring the culture and traditions of India represented in the images.  

Walker, Sally M. Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku. illus. by Matthew Trueman. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536203561.
Gr 2-4–This collection blends haiku with the detailed, vivid illustrations by Trueman to celebrate our world of stars and outer space. Beginning with Orion’s belt, “sleuth Galileo,” and the “Hubble telescope,” the book takes the reader from “one miniscule speck” to “far-flung galaxies/ two trillion and maybe more/ resplendent cosmos.” The “gaugy Milky Way becomes a “galactic pinwheel while a “brilliant nebula” transforms into “stellar infernos/ heat waves of radiant light/ blazing energy.” Haiku also elevates through a description of the planets including “moonless Mercury,” “Morning star” and “Evening star Venus,” “cld, barren Mars,” the “cyclops sentry” Jupiter, Saturn’s “rings of rock and dust” that serve as “cosmic Hula-Hoops,” “glacier-blue Neptune,” and even the “dwarf planet/ Pluto.” Even the moon landing is commemorated with the mention of “one giant leap for mankind” leaving “footprints in the dust.” Information for “Further Explorations,” a glossary, books for further reading, and some online resources round out the reader’s experience. 

Watson, Renée. Maya’s Song. illus. by Brian Collier. Harper. ISBN 9780062871589.
Gr 2-6–This biographical poetry book, crafted by Watson and elegantly illustrated by Collier, celebrates Maya Angelou’s life. After “her mother’s and papa’s marriage ended” in California when Maya was three, she was raised by her grandma in Arkansas. Watson tells of Maya’s grandma Miss Annie, who welcomes everyone, unlike the South’s whites-only stores. Maya’s physical abuse results in silence “for five years.” Maya’s mother encourages her, however, by telling her “Listen, child, you gonna be a preacher, a teacher,/ You gonna travel this world...” “Poetry Is Meant to Be Spoken” captures family friend Ms. Flowers’s inspiration for Maya to speak: “You can’t really love poetry till you speak it.” Once inspired, “Words poured out of Maya and she felt revived.” Maya’s teen pregnancy, singing career, and friendship with James Baldwin and Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. are chronicled as she lives in Ghana, returns to the States to write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and becomes the first Black person and woman to write and deliver a poem at the inauguration of a U.S. President. 

Wolf, Allan. Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from a School Garden. illus. by Daniel Duncan. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536204551.
K-Gr 5–An outstanding collection of children’s poetry, all about one school’s outdoor garden. “In our garden, can you see?/ A grand adventure? And it’s free!/ A green delicious fantasy?/ Behold our magical garden.” This anthology of school garden poems perfectly blends humor with factual information about all aspects of gardens and how they grow. Readers will laugh at poems such as “Diary of a Carrot” and “Bugs on Strike!” and they will learn from poems called “Germination Celebration” and “An Interview with the Sun.” The poetry in this book takes many forms, from concrete poetry, to poetry for two voices, and “young nature enthusiasts and budding gardeners” will find joy and excitement in planting and caring for their own gardens after reading, listening to, or performing this text. 

Notable Verse Novels

Alexander, Kwame. The Door of No Return. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316441865.
Gr 5-8–Verse novels have a tradition of recovering difficult histories and presenting them to young readers in relatable ways. Alexander contributes to this important tradition through the voice of Kofi, who loves to swim and has a crush on Ama, a girl in his village. In poems, stories, and songs, Alexander creates vivid portraits, first of Kofi’s family and community and then of the larger political and economic forces that lead to his eventual capture and imprisonment. In his afterword, Alexander thanks his parents for showing him “that while the brutal captivity and bondage of Africans was part of my story, it was not the first chapter, or even the second.” By placing Kofi’s passage through The Door of No Return near the end of the narrative, Alexander privileges the rich history of African life before enslavement. 

Applegate, Katherine. Odder. illus. by Charles Santoso. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250147431.
Gr 4-7–Beginning with an irresistible sea otter on the cover inviting readers inside this delightful and moving story, Applegate creates an animal story in the vein of The One and Only Ivan that is sure to become a classic. Using humor and relatability, the verse captures the hearts of the reader and escorts them through the adventures of the endearing little sea otter, “Odder, the Queen of Play.” Odder’s curiosity and bravery are her trademark, but an unfortunate encounter with a great white shark humbles her and offers her a series of coming-of-age lessons for a young otter that are relatable to young humans as well. “Grab, gulp, grimace:/ You spit the offending item into a napkin/ no harm, no foul./ Same goes for the shark,/ who quickly/ reconsiders and/ retreats./ Of course, by then it’s often/ too late for the surfer./ And almost always/ too late for the otter.” The lively and sweet verse will leave readers with a warm connection to sea otters and an understanding of how our worlds are intertwined with theirs. 

Hill, Amanda Rawson. The Hope of Elephants. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781623542597.
Gr 5–8–This poignant and heartwarming verse novel is interwoven with family struggles, hope, and resiliency. On her 12th birthday, Cass learns her dad’s cancer has returned and she has a 50 percent chance of inheriting his genetic mutation for Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which increases her risk of developing cancer. Cass must take a genetic test to see whether she carries the mutated gene, but she is hesitant to take it. There are still so many things she wants to do—play basketball, study elephants at the zoo, travel the world with her best friend, and go to the World Series, which is a family tradition. As her dad’s condition worsens, Cass’s life changes. She is homeschooled and can only see her friend for a short time outside to avoid germs. In this difficult situation, however, Cass never gives up. She keeps moving forward to fulfill her dreams and keep her family tradition alive. At the end, readers will feel full of love and hope.  

Lowell, Rebekah. The Road to After. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. ISBN 9780593109618.
Gr 5-8–Captivating verse weaves together a story of survival and resilience in this debut verse novel. The novel opens when Lacey, her younger sister, and her mother are assisted by her grandparents in escaping their abusive father. Since the novel begins at the point of escape, the abuse is never dealt with firsthand, making this story an accessible and sensitive way to facilitate conversations around a challenging and personal topic with young readers. “The First Step/ Thunder/ banging on the door./ Voices yelling—/ like lightning./ But—/ Daddy already left for work./ A loud crack tells me/ the door to outside is wide open./ Light pours in.” Using the metaphor of growth and new life throughout the story, each section reveals Lacey’s journey to understand, move on, and grow from the trauma she and her family endured. A powerfully unique perspective on the experience of childhood abuse, this book is a memorable and moving debut verse novel. 

Salazar, Aida. A Seed in the Sun. Dial. ISBN 9780593406601.
Gr 4-6–In this verse novel about the 1965 Delano Grape Strike, Salazar not only documents an important historical event, she also reintroduces the girls and women whose activism was central to the farmworker movement. Readers experience events through the voice of Lula, who begins the narrative with the words, “I sometimes think about how/ I lost my voice,” but through the steady love of her mamá and the support of her older siblings, she regains her voice and learns that she is stronger and braver than she imagined, “no longer a seed but a sunflower/ holding many other seeds in me and our movement/ reaching high above the ground/ to touch the sun.” In her afterword, Salazar emphasizes the contributions of girls and women as well as the difficulty of finding either primary or secondary sources that acknowledge their crucial role. Her vivid, graceful language and Lula’s engaging voice combine with a largely recovered historical account to create a compelling, informative read.  

Sanders, Rob. Blood Brothers. Reycraft. ISBN 9781478869276.
Gr 5-8–Calvin, Charlie, and Curtis’s secret is out. All three hemophiliac brothers have HIV from tainted blood. Based on a true story from the 1980s, this verse novel contains vivid language, interesting imagery, and different poetic forms. Even though a judge proclaims: “No reason/ medically or legally/ to keep the Johnston brothers/ out of school,” the community still shuns the family and kicks them out of church, Scouts and Little League. “But I don’t want/ those kids with my son./ It’s not safe./ Not healthy./ Plain and simple” says the reverend. Garbage is thrown in the family’s front yard, graffiti is sprayed on the walls, and they are harassed day and night by anonymous phone calls, showing readers how fear and hate can be like a virus. Calvin writes poetry to help him cope with all of the challenges and to share his thoughts that have been frozen for a long time. This haunting novel is heartbreaking and impossible to put down.

NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award Committee: Mary-Kate Sableski (chairperson), Gabrielle Atwood Halko, Ryan Colwell, Deanna Day, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Joe Pizzo, Junko Sakoi

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing