Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech - novel in verse perfect for tweens (ages 10 - 13)

I just love it when a character's thoughts and moods meld with mine in my mind, growing and becoming part of me. Novels in verse - usually written in free form poetry - have a particular way of doing this, where the narrator's voice almost flows into me. Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech, is a touching story that will appeal to tweens who love realistic fiction. While some kids read fantasy to escape, others love realistic fiction to connect to characters. Heartbeat is a treat for kids who enjoy exploring character's thoughts and feelings.
by Sharon Creech
NY: HarperCollins, 2004
ages 10 - 13
available on Amazon and at your local library
Heartbeat is the story of 12 year old Annie, through a year when so many things are changing. In flowing free verse, Annie describes her love of running, the changes in her best friend Max, the birth of her baby brother and her grandfather's growing confusion and dementia. Annie's world feels as if it's unraveling with all this change.

As she runs for the pure pleasure of running, thoughts and questions race through her mind.  Why can't her grandfather remember so many things? What will the new baby be like, and what will it be like to have to share her mother? Why is Max so insistent on winning his races, and why can't he understand that she just wants to run? Here's a sample to get a sense of Annie's voice and thoughts:
"The shirt seems infinitely small
too small for any living person
and I wonder if the alien baby
can think now
and if it can think
what does it think?

And what did I think
when I was small
and why did I forget?

And what else will I forget
when I grow older?

And if you forget
is it as if
it never happened?

Will none of the things
you saw or thought or dreamed

I fold the shirt and replace it in the basket
and I race down the steps
and out the door
and leap off the porch
into the chilly air

and run run run
over fallen leaves
yellow and brown
glazed with frost:
crunch, crunch, crunch."
(Heartbeat, p. 43 - 44)
Annie's questions are deep and complex, as she wrestles with all the changes around her. While she is more thoughtful than many kids at this age, her musings feel natural in context for a bright, sensitive kid. Creech's poetry conveys these feelings perfectly, much like she did with Love That Dog. She balances Annie's questions with her everyday activities of school, art class, and running. As Annie hears the thump-THUMP thump-THUMP of her heart when she's running, we feel the rhythm of her life, her thoughts, her questions.

If you're interested, read the first few pages to get a feel for Creech's writing style. A preview of much of the book is available on Google Books.

I especially enjoyed reading Sharon Creech's note on her website about the inspiration behind Heartbeat:
"As I was writing this book, I felt as if I were taking the pulse of this young girl, Annie, who is trying to place herself on this spectrum of life. Where does she fit in? She wonders what it would be like to be old, and what it would be like to be an infant, and how she became who she is, and who exactly is she, and why is she here?

These are questions I had when I was Annie's age, when my grandparents were aging, and when my mother was expecting my youngest brother. I felt as if I were balancing on the cusp of some important life thread, and it was essential to try to understand where I was, in the larger scheme of things."
As one student said to me, this is a perfect book for kids who like asking abstract questions, who don't want easy answers. To me, it really reflects the transition that kids go through as they move into adolescence. Creech captures this in a wonderful voice, and her narrative free form verse is perfect for seeping into your soul.

Inside Out and Back AgainIf you enjoy this, you'll definitely enjoy Sharon Creech's other books, including novels in verse like Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, and her Newbery winning Walk Two Moons. Another novel in verse that I'm eager to try out is Inside, Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, about a young girl who flees Vietnam and emigrates to the United States with her family.

For more poetry to share with your children, be sure to check out Poetry Friday - it's hosted today by Diane at Random Noodling. You'll find a treasure trove of links and ideas, plus lovely treats for yourself as well.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. I loved this book. Annie has a good head on her shoulders. I liked that such important questions about life, death, etc. were discussed, but it never felt too heavy.

  2. Hi, Mary Ann. Thanks for this review. "Love that Dog" is one of my favorites. I will check this one out.

  3. Thank you for reminding me why I love this book so much!

  4. This is on one of my faves! I booktalk this one to sixth graders when teaching them about book talks. I loved the part with the grandfather when Sharon Creech shows us his Alzheimer's. It's so powerful and heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this as I sometimes forget that verse novels count as poetry!

  5. I loved this book, too. Your post makes me want to go back and read it again.