Another brilliant verse novel from author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust was my introduction to Hesse, and it is one of my favourite historical fiction novels which also won the Newbery Medal as well as the Scott O'Dell Award). As I have been reading a lot of Newbery award books this past school year, I have come to appreciate even more the historical novel (which is what happens, I suppose, when you only read award/honor winners... they are the cream of the crop!).
This is not one of them. I chose it because April and National Poetry Month are looming, so I grabbed a pile of poetry books from the local library's children's section, and Witness was just picked up on a whim (I'm always on the lookout for more books to add to the perpetually growing wish list for the school library).
The layout of Witness is like a play. You have your dramatis personae:-
The sepia photographs loan this book a verisimilitude that makes an unforgettable impression (of course the subject material does that too). The novel is about the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan into a small town set in 1924 Vermont. There are five acts. Each character has a unique point of view to relate, the verse giving each perspective an emotional flavor which just adds oomph to an otherwise well covered tale (there are so many of these kinds of stories, real and imagined!) I love how D.W. Griffiths' black and white movie The Birth of a Nation is thought of by the sheriff Percelle Johnston as a bad influence (having slogged through the 133 minutes of this incredibly long and somewhat painful movie I can see how it would affect people... the Ku Klux Klan was remarkably romanticized to look like the good guys).
The verse novel has become increasingly interesting to me over the years, it is a type of story telling that is very new, and old all at the same time. I have seen students become interested in this format, when chapter books have put them off. I really loved this book, it brought to mind the Shakespearean drama of which I am a huge fan, and a deeper appreciation of what verse can really do for a story. Makes me hungry for more! I'm ready for National Poetry Month...are you?