These 18 Audiobooks in Verse Bring Poetry to Life for Tweens and Teens

Titles in verse are an especially ­welcoming genre, blending poetry and storytelling to create immersive experiences for any type of narrative, including fiction, history, memoir, and more. The audiobook format presents these works the way poetry is meant to be enjoyed—out loud.

Welcome to National Poetry Month, an annual celebration since April 1996 when the Academy of American Poets declared it so. That said, of course, reading poetry should be done anytime, anywhere, by anyone! Titles in verse are an especially ­welcoming genre, blending poetry and storytelling to create immersive experiences for any type of narrative—fiction, history, memoir, and more. You’ll find 18 recent titles here, all published since last fall, one not available until May. Mental health proves to be a dominant issue that’s explored through many of these remarkable titles, as do wise ­reminders of the lifesaving powers of writing and sharing stories. Listen in.


Early Elementary

Alexander, Kwame. An American Story. narrated by Stacy Gonzalez. 11 min. Hachette Audio. Jan. 2023. $4.99. ISBN 9781668621165.
PreS-Gr 3–Ms. Simmons needs her students to know, but “How do you tell a story/ this hard to hear,/ one that hurts/ and still loves?” Music—rhythmic, ­plaintive, chanting, beckoning—begins and ends Gonzalez’s powerful performance that confronts the challenges of teaching the horrific reality of slavery to young children. That the aural adaptation opens with dedications by both Alexander and artist Dare Coulter and finishes with “A Note from the Author” as well as “A Note from the Illustrator,” clearly indicates that to read and listen in tandem is the recommended method for the most edifying ­consumption. Coulter’s extraordinary visuals that took six years to create—clay and polymer sculptures, acrylic and spray paint on wood panels, ­charcoal drawings on gessoed ­paper—bestow upon ­Alexander’s verses heightened ­resonance. VERDICT Libraries should make all formats readily accessible to youthful readers and their parents, ­caregivers, and of course, teachers.


Middle Grade

Alexander, Kwame. The Door of No Return. narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. 3:35 hrs. Hachette Audio. Sept. 2022. $18.99. ISBN 9781668610770.
Gr 5 Up –Alexander’s latest novel introduces a planned trilogy, beginning in 1860 Asante Kingdom, now modern Ghana. Ghanaian-born British actor Holdbrook-Smith elevates Alexander’s verses into a transformative performance. Kofi, 11, lives with extended family amid friends, including a first crush. The colonial outside encroaches with the insistence to speak the “Queen’s English,” despite warnings from Kofi’s storyteller grandfather of inevitable “invaders.” When Kofi’s brother accidentally kills his royal opponent during a wrestling contest, the tragedy sets in motion Kofi’s agonizing journey through the door of no return. In between the rhythmic drums that open and close the extraordinary production, Holdbrook-Smith is every character: youthfully earnest Kofi; ­scratchy-voiced Grandfather; pretentiously nasally Mr. ­Goodluck Philip; the squeaky “small-small boy” in a cage; the vicious “men with no color”; proud Afua reminding “Do not forget to listen for the beautiful things” as she jumps to her death. VERDICT Libraries should expect consistent demand in all formats.

Applegate, Katherine. Odder. narrated by Alison Fraser, Yuuki Luna, Angel Pean, Nancy Wu & others. 2:22 hrs. Listening Library. Sept. 2022. $28. ISBN 9780593634240.
Gr 3-7 –Newbery Medalist Applegate introduces Odder, an orphaned otter pup in Monterey Bay twice rescued by humans, after losing her mother, and after barely surviving a shark attack. “Why try so hard to save/ one little otter?” Otters are among “keystone species.../ they are nature’s glue,/ holding habitats together” by feasting on sea urchins that might otherwise turn ocean floors into “barren wasteland.” Applegate’s exceptionally heartwarming verses are gifted with a full cast (with ending identifying credits!), led by Fraser, whose gentle, thoughtful voice dominates. Each otter is uniquely, vividly embodied, with Luna as Odder; Pean as her friend Kairi; Wu as Odder’s mother ­Ondine; Carlin and Ojo, respectively, as longtime aquarium residents Holly and Gracie. An author’s note shares facts about the real otters who inspired these fictional furries. VERDICT With essential lessons in environmental responsibility and human intervention—plus irresistible characters—this one promises broad appeal.

Baldwin, Cindy. No Matter the Distance. narrated by Reena Dutt. 4:06 hrs. HarperAudio. Feb. 2023. $27.99. ISBN 9780063007024.
Gr 3-7 –Her father calls her “Lucky Penny.” He’s not wrong. Penny, 11, has cystic fibrosis, but her CF team—doctors, nurses, therapists, dieticians—remind her regularly “You’re so lucky,” especially with such loving parents, indulgent older sister Liana, and best friend Cricket. And then as spring break begins, Penny discovers a dolphin swimming in the family’s backyard creek. Penny and Rose, as Penny names her, develop an extraordinary bond that deepens when Rose is diagnosed with a lung infection by a local marine biology team just as Penny faces another CF hospitalization. Luck seems to be waning, with reminders of Cricket’s impending uprooting to hours-away Virginia. Versatile Dutt conveys Baldwin’s North Carolinian setting, convincingly overlaying a gentle southern accent throughout; she’s especially endearing as indulgent Liana with her French-inspired pet names. An author’s note revealing Baldwin’s own CF diagnosis is not to be skipped. VERDICT Dutt deftly ciphers Baldwin’s most personal fiction to date.

Baptist, Kelly J. Eb & Flow. narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt & Aaron Goodson. 3:05 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2023. $34. ISBN 9780593666753.
Gr 3-7 –Abbott-Pratt and Goodson dexterously channel seventh graders Eb and Flow, respectively, whose brawl over sullied sneakers results in a 10-day suspension. Abbott-Pratt is energetic Eb, rebellious enough to get her eighth suspension yet wistfully vulnerable trying to understand why her mother chose to make a home with someone else’s kids over her own. Her steadfast grandmother—who seems to be raising all her grands—is Eb’s only consistent adult. Goodson is thoughtful Flow, shocked his “I don’t hit girls”-insistence didn’t stop the cameras from showing something very different, especially remembering what his usually absent father did to his always-there mother. Meanwhile, missing school means enduring Uncle Reggie’s tough love. Eb and Flow take turns having their say; by suspension’s end, Abbott-Pratt and Goodson’s narration overlaps, embodying the tweens’ growing understanding of one another—and themselves. VERDICT A dynamic duo aurally transforms Baptist’s dueling enemies into free-versing, could-be-might-be friends.

Comrie, Courtne. Rain Rising. narrated by Angel Pean. 4:53 hrs. HarperAudio. Sept. 2022. $16.99. ISBN 9780063159754.
Gr 3-7 –Encouraging mental health support gets another impressive boost from Comrie’s debut about Black 13-year-old Rain who can’t escape thoughts of “You’re ugly./ You’re not good enough./ You’re worthless./ Nobody likes you./ Only bad things happen.” With her rich, versatile voice, actor Pean vividly strengthens Comrie’s verses and ensures every word gets distinctly heard. Home is hard for Rain: Mom’s always working to keep the family afloat; Dad’s neglectfully unreliable; at least brilliant, beloved big brother Xander is her greatest hero. When X is viciously attacked by racist white fraternity boys during a college visit, his subsequent withdrawal, even from Rain, leaves her without a lifeline. Seeking and accepting help—from authentic new friends, a school counselor, Circle Group—enables Rain Rising. ­VERDICT Libraries can support mental health awareness by making titles like this readily available.

DuBois, Caroline Brooks. Ode to a Nobody. narrated by Suzie Jackson. 4:03 hrs. Recorded Books. Dec. 2022. $12.99. ISBN 9781705093580.
Gr 5-8 –Even before the tornado hit her town, 13-year-old Quinn’s life was already shaky. Her perfect older brother went to college, leaving her alone with their acrimonious parents. Her BFF clearly prefers hanging out with cool-girl Jade. Quinn’s lackluster academic record seems to label her a “Failure.” With severe damage to their home, Quinn and her mother must move temporarily into the “Weird Old Man’s” basement apartment. Writing poems—which began as a school assignment—gives Quinn the space to process her internal chaos about family, friendship, and her own identity. “In just a few short months,/ I’ve moved from feeling like a big zero,/ a pretty good poet.” Veteran narrator ­Jackson empathically embodies Quinn’s “before/ during/ after” with energetic synergy. ­VERDICT DuBois’s sophomore verse novel offers another heartwarming lesson of “be who you are meant to be.”

Grimes, Nikki. Garvey in the Dark. narrated by James Shippy. 1:25 hrs. Recorded Books. Jan. 2023. $8.99. ISBN 9781705091609.
Gr 4-8 –Garvey found his voice in Garvey’s Choice, his singing so splendid his father “once said./ “Your voice could wake/ the dead.” Shippy returns to narrate prodigious poet Grimes’s companion title, again written in modern tanka, as Garvey faces 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown. Schools close, activities are cancelled, shopping devolves into a toilet-paper-grabbing stampede. Garvey’s mother must adjust to teaching on screen, as Garvey and older sister Angie endure virtual learning. Only Dad is allowed to leave, until the “Invisible Beast” makes him a dangerous prisoner in his own house. Outside, racist violence continues to kill—“Breonna Taylor,/ George Floyd, and way too/ many others.” Garvey must reclaim his inspiring voice: for family, justice, himself. Shippy consistently imbues Garvey with deliberate determination, confronting frustration and fear amidst unprecedented uncertainty. VERDICT A pandemic novel might seem premature, but Garvey’s authenticity should resonate broadly with youthful audiences.

Kuo, Jane. In the Beautiful Country. narrated by Sura Siu. 2:45 hrs. HarperAudio. Jun. 2022. $16.99. ISBN 9780063119017.
Gr 5 Up–Kuo’s debut verse novel is an autobiographically inspired, familiar immigration story, perceptively enhanced by polyglot Siu’s fluency in Cantonese. In Taiwan, she was always Ai Shi—her name starts with “love”—but at birth, Ba also gave her an aspirational American moniker, Anna: “That’s how long I’ve hoped/ for the beautiful country,” what the Chinese call America. In September 1980, Ba, Ma, and 10-year-old Anna are living in Los Angeles County, their new life rife with daily challenges. Ma and Ba run a fast food restaurant with limited English and few customers. Anna faces constant racist bullying as the only Asian student in her class. And yet neighborhood allies and new friends sway the family to stay. The upcoming Land of Broken Promises continues Anna’s story. VERDICT Siu’s soft, consistent delivery is a soothing balm even in the most uncomfortable moments; new immigrants seeking their stories in books will discover empathic resonance here.


Kuyatt, Meg Eden. Good Different. narrated by Sue Ann Pien. 3:17 hrs. Scholastic Audio. Apr. 2023. $24.99. ISBN 9781339004297.
Gr 3-7 –Pien, star of television’s As We See It about autistic roommates, who herself is an actor with autism, makes her audiobook debut in neurodivergent poet Kuyatt’s first novel. Pien embodies Kuyatt’s vulnerable verses featuring seventh-grader Selah who, despite being “the only dragon/ in a world built for people,” has navigated thus far with her “Normal-person mask.” Overwhelmed by unwanted touching, the resulting violent outburst makes her a “wild” threat at her once-welcoming school. Meeting others like her, discovering tools and accommodations, offers hope: “My story doesn’t have to be/ Selah vs. Everything.” Kuyatt earnestly reads her own author’s note about being “different.” Recognizing herself in a book with an autistic main character, she reveals, provided “a new ­perspective... everything started to make sense.” VERDICT This neurodivergent trio of ­author, narrator, and protagonist should resonate with their shared experience and those not on the spectrum.

Lai, Thanhhà. When Clouds Touch Us. narrated by Brigid Mai Khanh Leahy. 2:17 hrs. HarperAudio. May 2023. $27.99. ISBN 9780063047037.
Gr 3-7 –“The style is called prose poems,” Lai prefaces the lyrical sequel to her 2011 National Book Award–winning debut, Inside Out & Back Again. “This is to convey what it’s like to think in Vietnamese, a naturally poetic language... I’ve kept the prose-poem voice... because Vietnamese still swirls inside Hà’s mind two years later.” Tween Hà is finally feeling settled in ­Alabama, where she and her brothers arrived with their mother as refugees after fleeing Vietnam. The promise of better opportunities in Texas, however, causes another reluctant uprooting. Again, Hà is “always the only Asian” as she attends her “third sixth grade/ within thirty days.” ­Despite relentless challenges—grueling work, cultural disconnects, always the racism—­creating a lasting home together becomes a binding motivator. Vietnamese Irish American Leahy makes her aural debut as Hà’s optimal ­bilingual cipher, effortlessly moving between languages with youthful, hopeful vocalization. VERDICT ­Libraries should prepare for significant ­demand in all formats.

Mendez, Jasminne. Aniana del Mar Jumps In. narrated by Jasminne Mendez. 4:43 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2023. $38. ISBN 9780593634721.
Gr 5-9 –Mendez makes both her middle grade fiction and narrator debuts, ­reciting her verse novel comprised of “several ­poetic forms”—including haiku and tanka, and also concrete/shape poems (­albeit the page might be better suited for ­appreciating “Turtle Shell,” “Fish Food,” as examples). Aniana and Papi’s “daddy-daughter dates” enable Aniana to secretly attend swim practice and meets without Mami knowing. Since losing her brother to drowning as children, Mami’s forbidden Aniana from the water, never mind that Coast Guard–employed Papi is seabound for weeks at a time. When a mysterious illness debilitates Aniana’s mobility, Mami insists she’s being punished for lying. Her diagnosis says otherwise: juvenile ­idiopathic arthritis. Aniana knows—­supported by doctors—that swimming is her best medicine, physically and mentally. Improvement will require she boldly claim that del Mar—“of the sea”—moniker. VERDICT Mendez reads rather than performs her girl-power story, but she ensures her characters are affectingly heard.


Young Adult

Arango, Andrea Beatriz. Iveliz Explains It All. narrated by Raquel Merediz. 3:23 hrs. Listening Library. Sept. 2022. $56. ISBN 9780593611920.
Gr 6-10 –“I’ve moved on from everything/ that happened,” Iveliz insists. “I don’t need anyone’s help but my own.” The seventh grader regularly pens verses in her journal to record her “true inner thoughts./ And if you can’t trust a girl and her poems/ well.” She’s taking her meds, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother is moving in, a new friendship looms. Despite her declared self-reliance, she’s missing her father, avoiding her mother, her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s proves unpredictable, and facing racism and bullying at school. Mellifluously bilingual Merediz effortlessly enhances Arango’s ­Newbery ­Honor–winning debut, notably punctuated with untranslated Spanish stanzas. Merediz’s impressive emotive range—from denial to aching to regret to glimmering hope—­ensures attentive engagement to the satisfyingly concluding, “how lucky I am/ to finally be seen/ by people who understand.” VERDICT Share with anxious tweens and teens facing loss to show they’re not alone.

Cole, Olivia A. Dear Medusa. narrated by ­Olivia A. Cole. 6:50 hrs. ­Listening Library. Mar. 2023. $50. ISBN 9780593667590.
Gr 10 Up –“My whole life is how it feels/ when you get your purse stolen,” 16-year-old Alicia admits—initially only to herself in this verse novel, in which Cole also deftly makes her aural debut with a ­solemn, smoky-voiced narration. “This world is full of wolves”—men who hunt young prey—a ­lesson Alicia learned at 14 when a ­21-year-old violated her. Her lifelong BFF abandons her for “sleeping with guys.” ­Everyone’s favorite teacher targets her. School becomes a daily battleground. Wolfish abuse becomes shockingly commonplace. Alicia’s ­detached single mother and estranged older brother underscore her isolation. And then anonymous notes in her locker reveal another victim. Stubborn classmates, at least, won’t abandon her, offering true friendship and perhaps even a chance to love. VERDICT Cole embodies Alicia’s vulnerability with aching authenticity.

McBride, Amber. We Are All So Good at Smiling. narrated by Amber McBride. 3:45 hrs. Macmillan Audio. Jan. 2023. $10.99. ISBN 9781250877413.
Gr 9 Up –McBride presents another affecting author/narrator performance of her sophomore novel in verse, repeating the dual-credited success of her 2021 National Book Award Finalist debut, Me (Moth). Her opening “A Note Before Entering the Forest,” which warns of “clinical depression, self-harm & suicide,” sets a somber tone throughout. Atmospheric music announces each new chapter in the recovery journey of two teens, Whimsy and Faerry, who meet while hospitalized. The members of their group therapy circle to which Whimsy “assign[s] each person a Fairy Tale name” will play vital roles in the pair’s survival. An author’s note insistently reminds, “Stories keep the world intact.” Whimsy & Faerry’s Playlist follows, ending with acknowledgments that underscore the lifesaving power of poetry. VERDICT McBride’s self-described “book about depression & pain & hope” is a healing balm for suffering souls.

McCullough, Joy. Enter the Body. ­narrated by Joy McCullough, Valerie Rose Lohman, Annie Q & Victoria ­Villarreal. 4:23 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2023. $38. ISBN 9780593663448.
Gr 9 Up –“I love Shakespeare,” McCullough points out in her author’s note, but “he was far from infallible. There is much to criticize in his plays.” Reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s iconic drama, Top Girls, McCullough spotlights four of the Bard’s best-known dead teen girls—Juliet (13), Ophelia (15), Cordelia (17), and Lavinia (19), who was mutilated into eternal silence and still can’t speak here, but McCullough ensures she’s heard. The setting is “the trap room beneath all the stages, anywhere.” McCullough herself directs, enabling her characters, explicating scenes for her audiences. Lohman is an emotional, energetic Juliet, a pawn in an unforgiving family feud; Villarreal a soft, lyrical Ophelia misled by fickle Hamlet; Annie Q a wise-beyond-her-years Cordelia fatally betrayed by her own father and sisters. VERDICT An undeniably powerful quartet delivers a ­reclamatory, empowering performance.

Ogle, Rex. Abuela, Don’t Forget Me. ­narrated by Ramón de Ocampo. 3:30 hrs. Recorded Books. Sept. 2022. $10.99. ISBN 9781705078846.
Gr 9 Up –Ogle and de Ocampo are three for three in hauntingly enlivening Ogle’s memoirs-in-verse trilogy: Free Lunch, Punching Bag, and now, Abuela. She is, as Ogle explains in his foreword, “the most important person in [his] life.” Living with dementia, “she is forgetting me.” Writing is his response: “My memories of a wonderful woman are written in words and verses and fragments in this book, unable to be unwritten.” Once again, de Ocampo becomes Ogle’s cipher, his voice slightly scratchy, achingly vulnerable as he recalls Abuela’s house, her kindness, her never-ending support that saved Ogle from his mother’s abuse, expulsion by his father for being gay, his own doubts, and self-harm. Together, author and narrator present an exceptional homage to the healing power of unconditional love—and the power of words—that nurtured a young boy into an accomplished writer. VERDICT Libraries should ensure ready access to Ogle’s trilogy in all formats.

Wilson, Kip. One Last Shot: Based on a True Story of Wartime Heroism: The Story of Wartime Photographer Gerda Taro. narrated by Juliette Goglia. 4:04 hrs. HarperAudio. Jan. 2023. $27.99. ISBN 9780063286993.
Gr 9 Up –Wilson first learned of Gerda from a 2018 Google Doodle. While she insists “this is a novel, not a biography,” her fictionalized history in verse endows first-person intimacy to a remarkably accomplished, fiercely independent photojournalist whose career and, tragically, life, were truncated in 1937 while covering the Spanish Civil War. Gerda shares her German Jewish upbringing, her teenage anti-Nazi activism, her escape to Paris where she meets Jewish refugee André Friedmann—and their dual reinvention as Gerda Taro and Robert Capa. Wilson reunites with Goglia after 2022’s The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin; Goglia’s crisp enunciation too often ends in exaggerated -ts and -ds. Her German veers occasionally toward garbled, although she certainly earns kudos for recognizing artist Joan Miró with (rare) accurate Catalonian pronunciation. VERDICT Providing ready access in all formats to overlooked female heroes should be requisite for all libraries.

Terry Hong was LJ’s 2016 Reviewer of the Year for Fiction and Audio.

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