Spooky Poetry in Middle Grade Books

Well hello, all you spooky readers! It feels like forever since I’ve chatted with you here in our #SpookyMG Crypt. And, yes. I have missed you.

*taps jagged fingernails*

So today, I’m bringing you a special treat! 🍬 In celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21st), I thought it would be fun to spotlight middle grade books, authors, or segments within MG stories that utilize poetry. I even have some examples from our very own authors.

Adding poetry in the form of a structured poem, song lyrics, scattered thoughts of a character, or even a spell from a favored wizard (Harry Potter) to a novel can do a many things.

Take Shel Silverstein use of poetry. He created quite the visual with this one. (Not to mention, I’ll be looking behind my back all day, now.)

When singing songs of scariness. 
Of bloodiness and hairyness, 
I feel obligated at this moment to remind you 
Of the most ferocious beast of all: 
Three thousand pounds and nine feet tall —
The Glurpy Slurpy Skakagall — 
Who’s standing right behind you. 

THE WORST – NIGHT, NIGHT KIDS

And then there’s THE GIVING TREE, which has been widely debated as an example of the sacrifice of parenthood or the way NOT to parent a child. Nonetheless, the use of structure throughout the story is brilliant. The staggering of sentences and thoughts, reactions from either the boy or the tree draw readers attention. It’s almost as if Shel was clapping his hands or pointing with his finger to say ‘Here, pay attention to this.’ The prose stops abruptly at places, yet subtly at others. The flow and placement of the poetry lends strength to the mood and tone as well. Here’s just a brief excerpt:

Can you give me a house ?’
‘ I have no house,’ said the tree.
‘The forest is my house,
but you may cut off my branches and build a house.
Then you will be happy.’

And so the boy cut off her branches,
and carried them away to build his house.
And the tree was happy.

I chose this segment for the limited about of words used and for the emotions it conjures. The break used between the lines is a perfect pause for the reader to ponder the word ‘happy’ and then be stunned by the word ‘cut’ in the next line – one word that causes pleasure, one word that causes pain.

Of course, I also must mention Edgar Allan Poe and his use of subtle yet eerie language. Here’s an example from the end of his poem ALONE.

From every depth of good and ill

  The mystery which binds me still:

  From the torrent, or the fountain,

  From the red cliff of the mountain,

  From the sun that round me rolled

  In its autumn tint of gold,

  From the lightning in the sky

  As it passed me flying by,

  From the thunder and the storm,

  And the cloud that took the form

  (When the rest of Heaven was blue)

  Of a demon in my view.

ALONE

Even without the first parts of this poem, you can see how he uses each line to draw the reader deeper into the imagery and mood he’s creating. And then WHAM! he hits you with the last line.

Poetry can . . .

  • bring a sudden or a subtle change to the flow of the story
  • introduce internal thoughts of a character in an unusual way
  • capture imagery in ways that urge readers to use their own imagination
  • be used with illustrations or graphics (IMHO, I love it when a book does this!)
  • be a great way to sprinkle clues or foreshadowing (I also love this one.)
  • shed light on specific details the author wants the reader to pay close attention to
  • create a diversion for the reader – opposite of the above point.
  • move the plot along more quickly or slow it down
  • set, increase, or change the mood and tone of a scene or plot point
  • deliver details of the world or setting in a fun way

And we could go on and on . . .

Or maybe just show a few examples of these using our very own authors!

If you have or have found additional ways adding poetry to spooky MG books can strengthen the story, leave it in the comments below! We’d love to hear.

Thank you for reading and chatting up spooky middle grade books with me!

Sheri☠️