KEESHA'S HOUSE (Young Adult: 12 and up)
Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Frances Foster Books

"If I'd known there were books like this, I would have started reading a long time ago."

10th grade student at South High School, Worcester, MA

(Note to young readers: There are LOTS of books you will love--talk to a librarian!)

2004 Printz Honor Book


Keesha's House Booktrailer by Christine Kalcso-Aten

and another by Jennifer Curnow.

Both book trailers were created in Sylvia Vardell's classes.


Keesha's House is now available on audio, in large print, in paperback, and in a downloadable Kindle format.

At Joe's house, Keesha has found a safe place to live, and soon it becomes known as Keesha's House. Other kids gravitate to Keesha, finding safety in the rooms of the house and friendship and support among one another.

Written as a sequence of dramatic monologues in traditional poetic forms, this novel for young adults weaves together the stories of seven teenagers as they struggle to hold their lives together and overcome their difficulties.


If you are interested in performing Keesha's House see: Keesha's House on stage.


If you want to try writing a sestina like the ones you've read in Keesha's House, here are some worksheets for the sestina form, as well as other forms.


June 17, 2006

Steve Coulter and Dee Wagner have been awarded the prestigious Southeastern Media Award at the Atlanta film Festival for their screenplay of Keesha's House.

For more information, see What's New.


Scroll down to find:

Awards and Honors for Keesha's House

Printz Honor acceptance speech (ALA Orlando, 2004)

Quotes from Reviews of Keesha's House



Michael L. Printz Award - Honor

White Ravens Award (2004)

American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults

Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year

Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library

Recorded Books Audiotape--finalist for an Audie Award

Nominations for State Book Awards:

The Gateway Book Award (Missouri)

Blue Hen Book Award (Delaware)

Eliot Rosewater Award (Indiana)

Sequoyah Award (Oklahoma)

South Carolina Young Adult Book Award

2010-2011--One School, One Book selection: Greensboro, North Carolina (Guilford County)


Book Links, American Library Association

Booklist, American Library Association

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Kirkus Reviews

School Library Journal, Starred Review

VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), 5Q5P


Printz Honor Acceptance Speech

June 28, 2004, ALA, Orlando

Helen Frost

Thank you.

I am honored to be in this room with all of you this evening. I am especially honored that the Printz committee includes people who knew Michael Printz. He must have been a remarkable person—I wish I had known him. I have been reading the Printz books for five years now, and my respect for your other choices, this year and in previous years, deepens my gratitude for your selection of Keesha’s House. I am at the same time enlarged and humbled by my inclusion in this company.

Conversation about Keesha’s House can lead in many directions—teen homelessness, novels-in-verse, the relationship between real people and invented characters, the use of traditional forms to hold contemporary voices. All of these topics interest me, but tonight I’d like to speak about two elements of the book that can seem elusive, but are important—race and poetry.

When I was writing Keesha’s House, I knew that it was risky to write in voices that differ from my own by virtue of age, gender, and cultural background. But if no one allowed themselves to do that, we would not be able to write about friendships that cross those boundaries. And in the settings of my book—the juvenile justice system, in particular—teens do form such friendships. I once heard two girls who met in a post-detention nonviolence group discover that they had been in adjoining cells a few months earlier. They had heard the guards call out one another’s names, but had never seen each other before that day, and may not have realized that they were of different racial backgrounds.

Or, if it mattered to them, they may have guessed, using all the clues my readers use when they want to know the race of my characters—most often, as far as I can tell, clues based on names and language. While working on the poems, I hired youth consultants to help me get the voices right. I told these teen readers that I had been listening carefully to young people for a long time, but it was still hard for me to get the different voices down on paper. They understood—one girl said, “That’s how school is for me all the time.” They were specific and helpful in their suggestions. Their perceptions about the race of the characters generally matched my own.

One reader said, “If you didn’t have Keesha, Dontay and Carmen, I would’ve thought ‘all these kids are white’ and shut the book.” I asked him how he perceived Joe—I hadn’t yet made up my own mind about Joe’s racial background—and he said, “Oh, him? I just figure he’s some foreign guy that doesn’t know you’re not supposed to let kids live in your house.”

I could say more about race, which, for all we think and talk about it, is not real. The more closely you try to look at it, the more it dissolves in definition. But I want to go on to speak about poetry, of which the opposite can be said: the more closely you look into poetry, the more vividly its reality comes into focus.

In 1968, in his office in the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University, Philip Booth put Elizabeth Bishop’s book, Questions of Travel, into my hands, and called my attention to the poem titled simply “Sestina.” Later that day in a bookstore on Marshall Street, I bought the book—it was probably the first time I bought a book with those three triangular fish swimming in opposite directions on its spine, along with the title and the author’s name and the initials of the publisher, FSG. And so our dreams are born.

Bishop’s sestina went into my ear, into my heart, and her book traveled with me from one bookshelf to another in my own travels—to Vermont, to Scotland, to Alaska, to Oregon and Indiana. I read that poem many times; by the time I began writing the sestinas that would become Keesha’s House, I no longer needed to turn to it as an example of the form. By then I knew the form “by heart,” as we say of things we love enough to commit to memory. So it was that any connection between Bishop’s “Sestina” and Keesha’s House remained subconscious as I created the poems and structured the book.

On the evening I learned about the Printz Honor, that deep connection between the poem and the book came to the surface. Pamela Spencer Holley called to give me the amazing news, and an hour or so later, Frances Foster called to share it with me. In the quiet glow of those two conversations, I lit a candle in my living room and held the book in my hands. I looked at the beautiful cover design, that soft rain falling over the blue door, and I heard a line of poetry: “September rain falls on the house.” It was the first line of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina.” The poem is about a child living in a house with her grandmother in Great Village, Nova Scotia, when her parents cannot care for her.

How did that happen? How did that rain fall through Bishop’s poem, through the editors and designers at FSG, and find it’s way, some 30 years later, into my poems in such a way that R. Gregory Christie, the illustrator Frances selected, created that image for the jacket?

If I were writing a sestina about this, the end words might be: house, rain, room, language, light, and something else completely unrelated that would, in the last stanza, somehow allow us to see into the mystery of how all these things fit together.

But this is prose. Let me try to craft a sentence that will bring together the rain falling on the house in Great Village, the office full of books in the Hall of Languages, and my living room in that moment of quiet light. Let me try, at the same time, to say something of what this Printz honor means to me: We are all born into Great Village; with a little luck and the generosity of librarians, we pass through the Hall of Languages to a quiet place in our living room where a candle is burning and, somehow, we see it.



Richie's Picks Review of Keesha's House

Lyre Review, by Ashley Commings, grade 12

Calyx: Journal of Art and LIterature by Women: Frost's skill at using poetic forms is unobtrusive and deft, her storytelling skillis of the highest order, and the dramatic monologues which advance the plot are told in various voices that ring absolutely true....To "get right" the voices of seven very different teenagers, plus thirteen adults, and to do so in strict poetic forms, is an astonishing achievment. Ingrid Wendt

VOYA (5Q*5P): Compelling first-person accounts. . .grip the reader. . . succeeds beyond this English teacher's imagination. . .Sentences wrapping from one stanza into the next draw readers through stories that embrace all the uncertainty and fear of teen life when adults' failures force the teens into early marutity. . . these teenagers. . .find ways to reach out and help others in need. . . .Spare, eloquent, and elegantly concise, Frost's novel will reach reluctant readers as well as [other teen readers]. . .Public, private, and correctional educators ad librarians should put this must-read on their shelves. Cynthia Winfield

To view an article about VOYA's "Perfect Tens" go to:

School Library Journal (*): Revealing heartbreak and hope, these poems could stand alone, but work best as a story collection. Teens may read this engaging novel without even realizing they are reading poetry. Angela J. Reynolds, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR

Booklist:. . .this moving first novel tells the story in a series of dramatic monologues that are personal, poetic, and immediate. . . characters, drawn with aching realism. . .speak poetry in ordinary words and make connections. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association.

Children's Literature: . . .sestinas and sonnets. . .prove an . . .effective format for this poignant contemporary book. . ..Each [character] grows and learns. In the final chapter each is hopeful for the future....[Frost] is a published poet and has written many nonfiction books. This is her first novel. I hope it won't be her last. Janet Crane Barley

KLIATT: Recommended for junior and senior high school students. Michele Winship, Asst. Prof., Capital University, Columbus, OH

Kirkus Reviews: . . . in Frost's multi-voiced story of teens struggling to find their way in the world. . . Frost underplays her virtuosity to let readers focus on the characters and their plight. . . .In a surprisingly rigid format, the poems manage to seem spontaneous and still carry the plot easily. With a number of threads to follow, no one character is at the center, but there is great satisfaction in seeing the narratives gradually mesh as the isolation recedes and support is given. Impressive. (Fiction. YA)

Publisher's Weekly: . . .artfully revealed. . . Frost makes her characters and their daily lives seem relevant and authentic...Making the most of the poetic forms, the author breathes life into these teens and their stories, resulting in a thoughtfully composed and ultimately touching book.

Book Links: . . . the characters are drawn with immediacy and realism.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:. . . the final section is a crown of sonnets narrated by the teens, poignantly suggesting that the development of their own adult voices depends on the interconnectedness of their lives. . .the voices are authentic and complex; there is much potential hee for sophisticated analysis of both form and content. KC


If you, or someone you know, have run away from home, or are thinking about running, here is a place you can find help:
National Runaway Switchboard

More about Keesha's House at:

FSG Books for Young Readers

Keesha's House at IndieBound

Keesha's House at Children'