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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

X Marks the Spot (In My Heart)

As verse novel goes — The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is near perfection.  So many high caliber poems one after another with surprising, haunting, beautiful, raw, and revealing lines.

If I were to present it at a Newbery Committee meeting, I would definitely recite some of the following:

p. 24

Maybe because I can’t keep the billboard frown off my face,
the one that announces I’d rather be anywhere but here.

p.33 (about the experiences of males from her own life)

they are the only scales I have

How does a girl like me figure out the weight
of what it means to love a boy?

p. 45 (about Twin)

… I never told her
he didn’t fight because my hands
learn how to bleed when other kids
tried to make him into a wound.

page 103 (about how she experiences first love, connected to her poetic heart)

like I’ve been gifted a box of metaphor Legos
that I stack and stack and stack.

And these are all from but the first 1/3 of the book!

poetxIf I were on the Newbery Committee, I would not have the luxury of time to recite full poems but I would draw my committee members’ attention to certain poems such as

Oh — “How I Feel about Attention” (page 48).  I would remind others how the Medusa metaphor works so well through each and every stanza.

I would point out how the words and the tilted shape of “After” across pages 52 and 53 p. captures both textually and visually Xiomara’s constant existence under sexual micro-and-macro-aggressions and how visually impactful another shape poem “Ants” is from
page 198 to page 201 and how “Silent World” (p.223) is Raw and Angry and Real.

This is the book that takes on many themes: from body type, microaggressions, homosexuality, teen sexual awakening, religion and family dynamics, the power of words and poetry, etc. and weaves each one seamlessly into a cohesive and literary narrative.  Very distinguished in its presentation of themes.  Not to mention the skilled portrayal of the main and supporting characters and distinct narrative voice and style.

If I were on the Newbery Committee, I would have to  prepare myself to defend the work when “age range” queries arise.  I would also most likely compare it to other poetic narratives such as Rebound by Alexander or Martin Rising by the Pinkneys.

As a National Book Award finalist, The Poet X only received one nomination from Heavy Medal readers.  I definitely plan on nominating it for our November round.  Would anyone else add it to their top contenders list?

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Cherylynn says:

    I loved this book. The poetry was beautiful. I live in a mid-west community where sex is not discussed below a certain age and we have had many parents who don’t want a mention of sex in a book. In this book there were three poems basically pages 323-328 that make this really hard for me to see as Newbery material. It is one of the top three for Printz that I have read. For me all of my problems are the age question.

    • I agree about this book probably not being in the Newbery age range. I listened to the audio and loved this book but it never crossed my mind to consider it for Newbery because I just always thought of it as for an older audience. It should definitely be in the running for the Printz.

    • Pages 323 – 328 describe the scenes where X and A are almost having sex — they explore each other’s bodies & all the feels and at the end, she calls it quit and he respects her decision. This is one of the most sex positive scenes in young readers’ novels I’ve seen and I’m not sure that this alone makes the book beyond 14-year-old range. Last year’s Newbery honor included A Long Way Down, which features murder and revenge, with weapons and past wrong doings and a lot of deaths. I imagine very few people considered that for Newbery, either. But it did get an honor. So — are we saying that “mature violence” is more suitable than “mature sex” for young readers?

      • Cherylynn says:

        I did not consider A Long Way Down appropriate for 14 year olds in my small mid-west town either. I know that my opinion is more conservative than many towns. In a larger town with more violence in the middle schools I am sure that the book seems more appropriate, but explicit violence and sex we put in our young adult collection which is geared for those in high school.

      • I just didn’t consider this in the Newbery range because I pictured that I would be suggesting it to mainly older high school aged patrons in my public library. I was also caught off guard when LWD received an honor last year because I just didn’t see it in the Newbery realm. I pictured suggesting it to the same kids that enjoyed The Hate U Give and How It Went Down. I try to think about what how each title would come up in reader’s advisory situations and this is not one that I would think of to recommend to most readers within in the Newbery age range. But with LWD’s honor last year you just never know!

  2. I agree with Cherylynn. I loved this book, too. It was powerful, the poetry was astonishingly lovely, and Xiomara was a heroine I rooted for the entire time. To say nothing of the conflict and tension. This is superior writing, and it is a shoe-in for the Printz (and a Morris, I hope).

    However, in addition to the tops-off make-out session, there are a handful of f-bombs and plenty of sh*ts that puts this firmly in High School YA territory. It would be hard to build consensus around this title as a Newbery possibility. To qualify my position: I thought Long Way Down and Piecing Me Together were both perfectly acceptable Newbery honors. They’d be in nearly any middle school library. This title? In my opinion, it’s definitely more high school in its content.

    Honestly, I think if we’re going to talk about firmly YA books as Newbery contenders, then we need to consider and discuss *more* YA books and have *more* posts devoted to them – like Blood Water Paint, Dread Nation, A Lite Too Bright, Bridge of Clay, etc. Limiting the discussion to just one or two YA books – especially if they only got *one* vote in the nominating rounds – seems pretty disingenuous to me.

    • Joe, not sure about the “disingenuous” comment here. X is a NBA finalist — and we HM bloggers decided to discuss all of them, including the upcoming Assassination Brangwain Spurge post. (By then, all five finalists and some long listed titles would have been discussed on this blog.) We are also still in October and I, for one, thought perhaps Blood Water Paint should be seriously looked at because some readers feel strongly about it. And I’m so excited about Dread Nation, too. Bridge of Clay is not eligible since the author is not American (right?) We might still post about other YAs that either us or others have fallen in love with.

      Even if we only discuss one YA because this is a Mock Newbery blog and our goal is to give readers a taste of the possibilities, processes, potential contention and discussion that a real Newbery Committee might face and not to cover every single possible title the Real Committee considers. (Last year, we did not write stand-alone posts on either CROWN or A LONG WAY DOWN, for example — and the Newbery Committee sure considered them!)

      This year, I decided to use Poet X as an example to showcase issues re Age Range and Format — I am, again, baffled by the “disingenuous” label…

      • The decision to evaluate all National Book Award finalists for Newbery criteria is new to this year, then? Last year, there weren’t posts for Far From the Tree, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, or What Girls Are Made Of. And maybe I missed that framing for this year, so I apologize.

        I think what I’m asking – and hindsight dictates that disingenuous was definitely the wrong word to use – is how the YA books are being chosen. It seems that in the first round of nominations, a lot of books rose to the top. Poet X was not one of the titles. Far from it, actually. And again, I must have missed the post where it was stated that, unlike last year, all NBA titles would be discussed.

        Ultimately, the three of you drive the discussion, and you get to decide what is discussed and what isn’t. Last year, you’ve changed the format for us to weigh in with nominations – and a final committee was selected, which I thought was awesome. Perhaps I misinterpreted those actions as your readers forming the base for discussion and the three of you facilitating discussion – and that’s why Poet X popping up threw me for a loop. Clearly my interpretation was incorrect. I retract the “disingenuous” statement.

        But I stand by my post: The Poet X, for me, is not a book that I think consensus could be built around, and reading other responses to this post mostly confirms that.

      • I don’t think we have a strict rubric over which titles to discuss, but this year we all thought that the five NBA finalists have Newbery potential and thus made the call. The Newbery 15 (or more) is still our plan (in January) and we are super excited to have those intense discussions again!

  3. I’d like to chime in agreement with Cherylynn, Katy and Joe on this one. Great book, sure to be strongly considered for Printz for sure (and Odyssey!), but truly not what I would consider for Newbery. Of course, I also don’t think HEY, KIDDO is as Newbery-appropriate as some of you do, so I may just be a bit of an old fogey :-)

    • I haven’t listened to the Audiobook, but every one of my friends who did has said it’s their #1 Odyssey pick. I’d love to see this book sweep Printz, Odyssey, Morris, and Pura BelPre.

  4. I loved this one – definitely a favorite for this year. I had not considered it for Newbery but as a strong Printz contender. I would happily support it as one of the best of the year wherever that conversation is being had. The writing is fantastic and the character and her story are so vivid.

  5. Are we saying that curse words automatically make a book not for Newbery? Why?

    • I said nothing to that effect. As I stated, Long Way Down had curse words and I found it perfectly suitable for the Newbery. Poet X has, in my opinion, an abundance of curse words.

      • I don’t think curse words or sexual scenes automatically eliminate a book from Newberry contention. Joe, I see that you are in agreement. And my comment was a general and rhetorical one. Then what makes a YA too YA for Newberry? The overall subject matter or is it a stronger demand on either life experiences or literary appreciation abilities?

        I’d say a book such as Poet X could be easily appreciated by 13 and 14 year olds. Whileas Dread Nation might demand more background knowledge of the actual historical references or more years of practicing sophisticated literary skills.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I think Roxanne’s take is interesting and worth considering. There is a common tendency to view the Newbery age range through the lens of “mature content” – analogous to ratings systems for movies, TV shows, and video games. But perhaps that’s the wrong inference to make. I think Roxanne is suggesting that we shouldn’t look at content, reactions to which will vary with one’s social and cultural attitudes, but readability–that, for example, books like Ulysses, Lolita, Tropic of Cancer, etc. aren’t outside the Newbery age range because of the content that got them censored, but because they are beyond the reading capabilities of the 14-and-under crowd. Hmm, worth thinking about, though I doubt many will fully accept this approach–there are plenty of books that don’t demand over-14 literary sophistication that most people wouldn’t accept as Newbery-eligible–Stephen King is often cited in discussions like this.

      In case this is of interest to anyone, here is a link to a NY Times article about how profanity was considered in regards to getting a PG-13 rating in the film version of The Hate U Give.
      https://nyti.ms/2AhLFbr

      • Leonard, not to pat myself on the back, but I foretold this last year on the blog when discussing THE HATE U GIVE.

        http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2018/01/05/heavy-medal-finalist-the-hate-u-give/#comment-399224

        I guess the way I look at it, the film rating confirms what I said last year about the book. In order for the film to achieve a PG-13 rating, some of the source material needed to be toned down.

        I agree with others above, that the movie rating business is not a perfect analogy here… but at least it’s close. Just like the Newbery committee, the MPAA also has the job of deeming what is suitable for children in a particular age group.

      • But… “content” DOES affect readability.

        The criteria states: “The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

        To me, the word “abilities” directly relates to readability but words like “understandings” and “appreciations” directly relate to content.

  6. A few questions/comments:
    If young people are exposed to “foul language” from an early age, in all areas of media AND daily life, including the ones featured in “The Poet X,” why shouldn’t they read an accurate and authentic representation of adolescent life? One that includes that language because it’s appropriate to the character and situation–and not for shock value, etc.?

    I agree, that developmentally, it would not make much sense to include those words in a picture book, or even a middle grade novel. But a work intended for ages 13 and up (which qualifies for a Newbery) shouldn’t be automatically discounted because of this.

    Let’s not pretend that young teens don’t curse and aren’t exposed to this language often. They don’t live in a bubble. They also experience the early stages of “sexual awakening,” that I think The Poet X so lyrically presents with positivity, nuance, and age appropriateness.

    These awards are supposed to serve the needs of young readers, right? Not parents, administrators, or even librarians. Let’s “display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” Let’s respect children’s intelligence and emotional needs (including those young people who are 13-14 years old).

  7. Kate McCue-Day says:

    As a 5th/6th grade teacher for 22 years I have always thought of the Newberys as “their” books. I openly admit that I can be a prude!!! I know all the criteria for the award and I totally get it. I buy everything and read almost everything and I am sorry if I upset people by saying I sent Hey Kiddo and The Hate You Give to my friend the high school Librarian. I would never tell one of my students they can’t read anything but I have to protect myself when it comes to my personal classroom library. I don’t think swears and sex immediately rule out anything for a Newbery I just feel there are other awards that could be more appropriate. Sorry everyone but this comes from the lower age range teacher!!

  8. Jenn Hartley says:

    As someone who read books like this at 9-12 and a librarian who has worked in communities with children and teens who face similar issues as Xiomara and Twin from a young age, I completely think this book has a place in being considered as a Newbery. To call for this award to be changed to only go up to 11 and not overlap with Printz (and often also exclude younger readers in a call for only 3-6 grade), betrays the original intent of the award. And I agree that excluding the fairly mild sex in this book but being okay with the overt violence in Long Way Down says a lot about us a people.

  9. Jamalia Higgins says:

    Some of this discussion is missing the point of what a sizable group of folks think about including just about every book published as YA in the Newbery field. They’re all officially eligible, if they meet the policies, but 1) is that the *intent* of the medal and 2) is that the *expectation* of the public?

    These are the questions that I don’t feel ALSC or this blog are answering when including (nearly) the entirety of YA publishing in considering the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. There’s no right or wrong answer, perhaps, but to me this seems to be the core of the disagreement about this and other books being seriously considered.

    • Jamalia, perhaps you did not see some of our previous posts or comments — we definitely try to address some of the points you made here. Valid points, all.

      1. I believe that the “intent” of the medal must evolve with the changes in our society and our definition of what it means to publish/read books for children. 2. I don’t believe that ALSC or Newbery Committee should take into consideration what the public “expects” — oftentimes, I hear teachers and librarians say, “Oh, Newbery award is for Middle Grade Fiction” because the majority of the winners seem to have been for those demographics and those genres. They are not as aware of the Nonfiction, the picture books, the easy-readers, and the Young YAs that have been honored. So, ALSC and Newbery members, and we here at Heavy Medal, have the task to remind “the public” what the award’s terms and criteria are. And that Poet X (like A Long Way Down, honored by last year’s Newbery Committee) fits perfectly within the Newbery age range AND it is superb and distinguished literature. I agree with you that it is a daunting task to broaden the scope to include appropriate YA output — but at the same time, it’s also not that difficult to pinpoint the most distinguished few.

    • steven engelfried says:

      Jamalia’s point about “including just about every book published as YA in the Newbery field is a good one. Roxanne addressed the questions of “intent” and “expectations,” but there’s also just the practical aspect: how can members possible read all those YA books and everything younger? From my own experience on the committee, I definitely read a good bunch of 13+ books. But out of necessity, I had to be more selective compared to say, middle-grade fiction. Based on reviews, recommendations, sometimes author name, I would hope to capture the 13+ books most likely to have a shot at Newbery. The hope is that while I’m doing this, so are 14 other committee members, and among the group we’ll see a handful of 13+ books rise to the top of their group, with some garnering Nominations. Not a perfect process, and, but I think that’s how it most likely plays out. And over time, as more LONG WAY DOWNs and PIECING ME TOGETHERs are honored, we may see more books that fit just fine within the 0-14 age range, but are closer to the 14 than we’re used to….

      • Cherylynn says:

        Why don’t we see more picture books? I was thrilled when a picture book won the Newbery recently. For an award that is supposed to be all the way down to infants why do we only honor older books that are closer to young adult and not younger. If the picture book is perfect for that audience why doesn’t it win? We seem to be going older and older and not considering books that are just as good in their own way for the younger audience.

      • Last year, we saw both YA (Long Way Down) AND picture book (Crown) being honored while the winner is squarely sitting in the MG fiction spot (Hello, Universe). We also have posted about picture books and easy-readers right here on Heavy Medal this year, so I’m not sure that there is a going-higher-in-age-bracket trend.

  10. I just finished listening to The Poet X and agree with all the accolades. I also think that it is very much within the upper end of the Newbery audience. The language is spot-on for the characters and the sexual moments are never explicit, that is, they will be comprehended wherever the reader is and what they know. When I was on the Newbery Committee I consulted at length with our middle school (grades 4-8) psychologist about one book. He and I agreed that masturbation was very much within the world of this age group. In this one there is also some heavy petting (a dated term, I know:) which I also think it is within the upper age group of the Newbery. I’m sure he’d agree. We are, after all, thinking about almost-15 readers. Book seems perfect for them.

  11. steven engelfried says:

    I agree that THE POET X is within the upper end of the Newbery audience. That said, no committee has recognized a book with this level of maturity in language and subject matter. Which doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I’m pretty sure A LONG WAY DOWN is the first Newbery title to use the f-word. If I were a committee member advocating for THE POET X, I’d have to recognize this, even it’s clear to me that the book meets Newbery criteria. If I read it early enough, I’d want it to be an early nomination, so that other members who might have dismissed it as too old, or maybe not even read it, would have to look at it with that Newbery lens again. And my written nomination would have to include something about the age question, along with identifying some of the book’s distinguished qualities. What I’d hope for is that other members have thought about the age issue and, ideally, accepted my premise….and then the discussion around the table could focus on literary quality, as with the other books.

  12. Steven Engelfried says:

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