Intro to Verse Novels: October Mourning by Lesléa Newman

October Mourning

See Lesléa Newman’s website for more information, including a teacher’s guide, about October Mourning.

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.




This entry was posted in Summer 2013, Verse Novel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Intro to Verse Novels: October Mourning by Lesléa Newman

  1. Denise Keogh says:

    I loved reading (and re-reading) this book. I teach a creative writing class for H.S. students and each student reads a novel in verse – this book is very popular. I also use the Notes to show students how fiction is often very dependent on solid research, the Explanation of Poetic Forms comes in handy later in the course when we cover poetry, and the Resources section justifies when I push the students to dig deeper for more information. All of the appendices are great, but the story is strong enough to stand by itself.

  2. Many of my students didn’t know about Matthew Shepard until I introduced them to this book after coming back from NCTE12. It shocked me. After telling them a little bit about his story, this book circulated around my room multiple times. It touched quite a few of my students and prompted many of them to look into his story.

    • CBethM says:

      My students didn’t know anything about Matthew Shepherd either until I shared this book with them. They were stunned. It was picked up and passed around several times.

  3. Jen Eiserman says:

    What a powerful book! I always get frustrated by the intolerance of some of my students that stems mostly from ignorance. They don’t think about the effects of their actions and words. This book would make them think! My favorite poem in the book is “The Fence (that night)”. I get shivers reading it. Even if students don’t read the whole book (although I would recommend it), I definitely want to share pieces with them. I might couple it with some verses from Mackelmore’s “Same Love” (I am kind of OBSESSED with the message of that song at the moment).

    • I really like the idea of sharing pieces of this book with students. I’d never thought of doing that. Great idea!

      • Jen, I’ve been thinking about what you said in this comment for a couple hours now. I kept thinking about your frustration over the intolerance and remembered a book that I have in my classroom that really helped one of my students. It’s called Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin. It’s based on the life of two very different teen boys and how their lives intersect. One is gay and the other is extremely racist/homophobic. It’s a powerful book. One of my students who is also racist (he admits it) saw it on my shelf and asked about it. I told him what it’s about and he decided to read it because he wanted to try and see things differently. It made a huge impact on him.

      • Jen Eiserman says:

        Wow! Thanks for the recommendation. It’s amazing what books can do for kids. I will definitely check out Freaks and Revelations. And, good for you for stocking your shelves with books of meaning; your students are lucky to have you.

    • danielle. says:

      That is a great choice of pairing–such a powerful song. I’m planning on sharing this with our GSA after a viewing of The Laramie Project. If you haven’t already, you should also read The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepherd & Shine by Lauren Myracle.

  4. BJ Neary says:

    As the librarian, I shared this powerful book with the reading teachers in my high school, the principal, and every student in Popular Contemporary Literature read this important book. With Newman’s verse, the students were affected deeply with the carefully chosen words and symbols discovering empathy for Matthew Shepard and those who loved him as well as harsh feelings for those who made Matthew suffer and ultimately cost him his life. The reading teacher would like to have this book adopted for the senior reading classes; let’s keep our fingers crossed. This is a book that must and should be read by all- high school students, teachers and adults. I thank my good friend and librarian buddy, Lauren Strohecker for putting this book in my hands; it definitely made an impact on each person who read it; I know I was changed.

  5. Taryn H. says:

    I really appreciated the notes at the end of the book that helped explain where the epitaphs came from and it helped me re-read the book with more insight the second time around. I remembered hearing about Matthew’s death, but didn’t quite follow the news with the follow through with his case. I ended up watching The Laramie Project after the second read through. I’m not sure all of my 6th graders would appreciate it at the same level as my 7th and 8th graders.

    • Taryn — I agree that the notes are what make this book so school-friendly. (“School-friendly” now seems like a terrible word choice.) Sure, the poems stand on their own, but those materials at the back can help us take students deeper into the creative process.

      I’ve had several Creative Writing students come up with that they say are inspired by Ellen Hopkins. I could see those same students being inspired by October Mourning.

    • CBethM says:

      The notes at the beginning and end of the book give some additional information that I know my students looked at when they read the book. Almost all of my students needed that information – they weren’t alive when these events transpired. But, sadly, they could make connections between this and other stories from the news stemming from prejudice and hatred and decisions that cannot be taken back.

  6. Terry says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments! I’m traveling for school and did not get a chance to read this before I left. I’m really glad to see such a powerful topic making such a positive impact, and I’m really glad to hear that the book has appendices (something I felt was missing in McCormick’s Sold, actually). Has anyone ever encountered any “pushback” or complaints from parents..? Again, I’m just so glad to hear this beautiful book has found its way into the hands of people who really respond to it.

    • CBethM says:

      I would gladly defend this book against any complaints it might encounter, but I haven’t had any. It’s not required reading in my class – but I have read aloud several poems to my classes.

  7. Jen S says:

    Loved this book and hugged it when I finished. I’d really like to give Matthew’s mom a hug – this book touched and tugged at my heartstrings. We are considering this book for our Freshman Common Read at the college where I teach. I think it would be very relatable and lend to excellent programming connections across the campus.

  8. Kim McSorley says:

    I was introduced to this book last spring by Jillian Heise. She had it as one of her books read on her wall. I was glancing over and wanted to read, just based on the cover alone. She got it for me right away. I read it that day. Powerful. What an amazing story. I got the opportunity to meet Leslea Newman at ALA13 and thank her for writing Matthew’s story. An 7th grade student had read the book about a week after I did. She was in awe. She had no idea poetry could be used in such a manner as storytelling.

    • Jen S says:

      Kim – Love this quote: “She had no idea poetry could be used in such a manner as storytelling.” That says it all right there – another writer born that minute.

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