About Verla Kay's Books

Verla Kay writes in style of rhyme uniquely her own that she calls, “Cryptic Rhyme.” It has become her signature style for her historical picture books.

But what is cryptic rhyme and why does she call her style of writing by such an unusual name? Cryptic rhyme will not be found in rhyming textbooks. You won't find it listed in the dictionary or your poetry books. Why? Because it's Verla Kay's own term for her special style of writing. When she first started writing verses in this style, Verla had difficultly describing it to people, so she coined her own term for it - cryptic rhyme.

She calls it by this name because she writes her stories in short, clipped, descriptive verses that paint vivid, concise pictures using almost no full sentences. Much is left up to the imagination of the reader, who has to "fill in the gaps." Hence the term, cryptic rhyme -- verses with hidden meanings.

At first, Verla thought she'd created a new style of writing. She has since discovered that many others have also written in a style similar to hers -- they just didn't give their style a unique name the way she did.


Order Verla Kay’s books today at your local bookstore or online


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A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam
Illustrator: Larry Day
See some of
Larry Day’s artwork
Civil War Drummer Boy Trailer
This book gives children a glimpse of what it was like to be a drummer boy during the civil war. From the cadence of drum signals and lines of soldiers marching and hot balloons used for reconnaissance, to bayonets, smoking cannons and jam sessions at night between the enemies, this period of history comes alive in a combination of Verla Kay's unique style of cryptic rhyme and Larry Day’s incredible artwork.
A complete bibliography for research on this book can be found here: Bibliography.

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

S.D. Schindler Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-22928-0
Filled with humorous illustrations and enchanting language, this book will show children what it was like in 1754 to become educated in a one-room schoolhouse. John Paul and his big brother struggle to learn using the common methods of days gone by -- such as a hornbook, birchbark paper, an inkwell and a feather pen. The brothers bicker and are disciplined by the schoolmaster in the approved methods of the day -- with a thick rod and neck yokes! A great way for children to compare teaching methods of yesteryear with those of today.
Awards and Recommendations:

2014 Kentucky Bluegrass Award in the K-2 section nomination. This Award is a student choice program. The KBA promotes and encourages Kentucky students in kindergarten through grade 12 to read a variety of quality literature. All Kentucky public and private schools, as well as public libraries, are welcome to participate in the program.
A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

Kimberly Bulcken Root and Barry Root Copyright © 2010 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0 978-0-399-24483-4

See a 2 minute long trailer of Whatever Happened to the Pony Express?

This cryptic look at the history of mail service in the United States of America is shown to readers through rhyming text and letters between a brother and sister who live across the country from each other. In her signature style of rhyming text, Verla Kay shows how mail service has changed through the years. From steamships and stagecoaches to camels, the Pony Express, telegraph and trains, readers will get an intriguing look at the many difficulties of getting mail delivered in a timely manner.


Kirkus 2010: “Kay picks out the salient features in her compact verse, showing a nice hand with mood and landscape... Though the author’s telegraphic verse is effective, she adds human interest to the story’s bones by working a correspondence between and Eastern sister and transplanted Western brother into the mix. The letters are a testament to the life-changing importance of the swift completion of the mail’s rounds.

Booklist 2010: “...Kay catches a sense of the Pony Express’ urgency in the terse accompanying rhymes: ‘Orphans wanted, / Riders, rough. / Risk death daily, / Must be tough.’...Readers will come away understanding the era’s need for quicker delivery of news and mail, so the broad angle of this overview provides value as preparation for any of the plethora of more detailed accounts of the Pony Express’ brief ride....

Publisher’s Weekly 2010: ”This catalogue of various delivery methods, from cumbersome stagecoaches and camels to the Pony Express and telegraph, is sandwiched within a brief, epistolary story grown siblings who live across the country and share family news via these outlets; their colloquial notes and telegrams allow readers to glimpse their joys and hardships. ... packs more than a saddlebag’s worth of information.”

A 32 page Picture Book published by Tricycle Press

Adam Gustavson Copyright © 2007 All Rights Reserved
ISBN-13: 978-1-58246-184-7

This non-fiction biography, written in Verla's signature style of cryptic rhyme, tells the life story of Charles Darkey Parkhurst, a rough and tough stagecoach driver from the 1850's. Charley was noted as one of the best and safest drivers in the motherlode area of California during the 49er's gold rush days. Charley led an exciting life, filled with everything from stagecoach robbery attempts, to losing an eye when a horse kicked it out, to having a bridge collapse under the stagecoach during a storm. But the most amazing thing about Charley wasn’t discovered until Charley died.

Awards and Recommendations:

2008 Amelia Bloomer Project list of recommended feminist literature for young readers

Starred Review:

Publishers Weekly 2007: “...The twist regarding Charley...should come as a genuine surprise; readers will likely pore over the excellent timeline on the final spread to glean further details of this true and compelling story...”

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

S.D. Schindler Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-22928-0

Mother, Father and Baby John are determined to make a new home for themselves in California. Follow them as they bounce and jounce their way across the vast reaches of the untamed territory of the United States in a covered wagon. Experience the many difficulties of an overland journey of the 1800's, as well as some of its more satisfying moments, through Verla Kay's expressive cryptic rhyme and S.D. Schinder's delightful illustrations.

Awards and Recommendations:

Missouri Reading Circle Primary Grades' recommended reading list (Missouri State Teachers' Association)
State of Nevada Children's Choice Award Nominee
Recommended for grades K-3 in School Library Journal Curriculum Guide
NOTE! The text and some illustrations from this book are in a 7-year California 2nd grade social studies program

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

S.D. Schindler Copyright © 1999 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-23027-0

See a 6+ minute long mini-opera performed by 4th graders in Oakland, California in the spring of 2014.

Follow Jasper as he joins other forty-niner's in their race to get rich in California's gold rush. Experience the hard work and frustrations of the miners of 1849, and cheer with Jasper and his family when he finally returns home. Gold Fever was Verla Kay's first published picture book. It will enchant you with its combination of Verla's unusual cryptic rhyme and S.D. Schindler's delightfully fun illustrations.

Awards and Recommendations:

A Best Children's Book of the Year by Bank Street College of Education
Recommended for grades K-3 in School Library Journal Curriculum Guide

Also available in paperback with Puffin Books. ISBN 0-399-23027-0
Scholastics issued a special book club edition of Gold Fever in the spring of 2000.

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

Michael McCurdy Copyright © 1999 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-23119-6
More about Michael McCurdy

With ties and rails that thump and bump and spikes and nails that clang and bang, Iron Horses will let young children experience the building of the transcontinental railroad in a vibrant, expressive way. A combination of Verla Kay's unique cryptic rhyme and Michael McCurdy's dramatic colored scratchboard drawings make this special time in history come alive in a wonderful, new way.

Awards and Recommendations:

Children’s Book Council’s Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list for 2000
Society of School Librarians International Honor Book 1999
Children’s Book Council’s Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list

Starred Reviews:

Kirkus pointer review 1999: “Kay and McCurdy create a wonder-working setting for their book on the story behind the first transcontinental rail line. Words and image are of equal dramatic value, with McCurdy using his signature scratchboard illustrations washed in color, and Kay picking and choosing her words with such care that every one of them sparkles... Kay provides a verse for every page, bone-clean couplets that drive the story forward.”

School Library Journal 1999:
“Rhythmic text and engaging illustrations capture the drama and excitement of the race to build the transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s... (Kay’s) careful choice of words results in a narrative that is fairly easy to follow, even for readers unfamiliar with the topic... Iron Horses also succeeds with its intended younger audience, offering just enough information in an exciting, well-paced package.”

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

Dan Andreasen Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-23345-8

Join Thomas, Edward and Mary Jane as their family tears themselves away from the only home they have ever known in England to make the difficult journey across the ocean to the colonies in America. Groan with them as they eat wormy biscuits, drink from slimy vats and battle with lice and rats. Thrill with them as they carve a new home for themselves in this new land, so far from anything they have ever known before. Verla Kay's bouncy style of cryptic rhyme lets children of today experience the hazards and difficulties of the dangerous ocean voyages of the 1600's.

Awards and Recommendations:

2001 Best Children’s Book Award by Child Magazine
2002 Children’s Book Council’s Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list

Verla Kay’s Out of Print Books
Available only through Verla Kay ($20 each -includes autograph & shipping in USA -- as long as existing stock lasts)

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

ISBN 0-399-23550-7
Stephen Alcorn Copyright © 2002 All Rights Reserved
See more of Stephen Alcorn's work

Sample of text in Broken Feather:
Red flame flickers,
Warming hands.
Sunset glowing,
Painting lands.

Experience the joys of Broken Feather, a Nez Perce boy, as he fishes and hunts and lives the happy life of a free native, then agonize with him as his tribe goes to war and is ultimately confined to a reservation by the white people who took over his homeland. Written in Verla Kay's special cryptic rhyme, this story sensitively and lovingly tells of the heartbreak of the Nez Perce tribe and how they managed to stay proud and stand tall in spite of their hardships.

Awards and Recommendations:

Named a Best Children’s Book of the Year by Bank Street College of Education
A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

ISBN 0-399-23613-9
Ken Stark Copyright © 2002 All Rights Reserved

At least 150,000 orphaned, abandoned, and destitute children were placed on trains heading for farming towns in the mid-west beteween 1854 and 1929. It was hoped that they would find loving, caring homes by the families who took them in. Some of the children did. Some did not. Follow the joys and heartbreaks of three "placed out" children in this delightful historical fiction book written in Verla Kay's special style of cryptic rhyme.

Awards and Recommendations:

Recommended for grades K-3 in School Library Journal Curriculum Guide
Teacher's Association Missouri Reading Circle Primary Grades Recommended Reading List

A 32 page Picture Book published by Penguin - Putnam

Ted Rand Copyright © 2002 All Rights Reserved
ISBN 0-399-23417-9

This text opens with:
Homespun Sarah,
Braided head.
Warm quilt, snuggle,
Feather bed.

Experience the hardships and daily chores of life in the early 1700's in colonial America. See how Sarah lived and struggled to get new clothes in a land without nearby towns or stores. Written in Verla Kay's own special style of cryptic rhyme, Homespun Sarah brings this early period of colonial history alive to children in a fun and exciting way.

Awards and Recommendations:

Recommended for grades K-3 in School Library Journal Curriculum Guide
Nominated for the 2006 Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award by the Kansas Reading Association
Verla's Books